Analysis of Women Hold Up Two-Thirds of the Sky

Analysis of Women Hold Up Two-Thirds of the Sky

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Analysis of Women Hold Up Two-Thirds of the Sky


The essay " Women Hold Up Two-Thirds of the Sky - Notes for a Revised History of Technology " was written by Autumn Stanley in 1983. She begins with a few quotes, which are extremes in sexist views on history and technology. She then states the purpose of her article. The purpose is to imagine what this revised history would look like. She makes the claim that the " very definition of technology would change , from what men do to what people do." By doing this, she makes the broad assumption that the majority of people define technology as what men "do". In no way does she back up this definition; you'd be hard-pressed to find it in a dictionary. While I understand that the author has the right to define certain terms for the purposes of her article, she should base these in reality, using outside sources. This broad assumption is problematic from the very beginning, meaning that there are problems throughout the article whenever this assumption is implied. She does this several times throughout the article, stating her own definition, and assuming that the reader shares it, or doesn't want to think about it enough to disagree, as they are often extremist or full of holes.

She states that the definition of significant technology would also change. Once again, there is the problem of her broad brush strokes in saying what the accepted definition of technology is. Although she never explicitly says these definitions are accepted, in the context of a sociological critique, it is implied. Apparently, significant technology of today focuses on war and machinery, while it should focus on medicine, advances in food science, child care, and environmentally-friendly technologies. When the author says this, she is ignoring massive amounts of technology. While in 1983 computer technology was not nearly what it was today, the fact that she completely leaves it out because it doesn't help with child-rearing left a bad taste in my mouth. In addition to that, these days it most certainly does help with all the things she listed. She only skims the surface of the technologies; how can one talk about food preservatives without talking about war (MREs - Meals Ready to Eat) or industry (canning and processing, for example.

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) By not addressing all sides of the issue, she makes the article short enough to read, however, I feel that the gaps in her arguments should have been addressed, as they are often quite obvious and serve to diminish her credibility. She tries to redefine standards without taking into the account the old standards.

A major problem I had when reading the article was her statement "the digging stick would be classed as a simple machine, the first lever;". Although I agree that the digging stick is a lever, I don't see the point of her statement. Doors, pencils, light switches; all these things are levers, yet the majority of the public doesn't recognize them as such. Several times through the article, the author singled out an invention that seems likely to have been invented and used mostly by women, and complains that the women aren't given the recognition, or the technologies aren't recognized as technologies at all. In several of these cases, however, the "technologies" not being recognized are as commonplace as other ignored technologies (doors, pencils, light switches), or ancient tools such as a digging stick which are not in common use anymore (but are usually recognized in places such as natural history museums).

Another statement I had trouble with was "In short, if we consider history and prehistory, women hold up at least two-thirds of the technological sky." She justifies this number that materialized out of thin air by saying "in short" as a justification, but it is still too broad a statement to be making. In an academic paper of this type, there should be more facts than opinions and guessing; the opinions and guesses should be based on the facts. To state that women are solely responsible for at least two-thirds of all technology sounds like nothing more than a guess. She offers no justification or estimates for how she reached this number, and it seems to me that she ignores many technologies when saying this. There are practically infinite technological advances; to quantify this and attribute so much of it solely to any one group is misleading and impossible to accurately do.

The next section of Stanley's article deals with the invention of fire. Dealing with the invention of fire is the first step in the wrong direction. Things like fire and the wheel are not invented, they are developed over millions of years. Even today, we are improving on the wheel (advances in engineering technology) and we are still very much at the mercy of nature when it comes to fire (how many acres of land are lost a year to acts of God, and how many people are killed each year from fire-related injuries or incidents). She nails down the invention of fire to a 25,000 year-time span, and puts it in a precise place. This is another example of how the author tries to make a guess at something that can't accurately be guessed at. She makes it seem as if fire was invented, and then the European Neanderthals sent out an e-mail telling others how to do it; fire was most probably developed by separate cultures, at separate times, as they needed it.

Thankfully, the author acknowledges the fact that fire was not invented in one place and time. She cites a number of different myths and religious texts telling of the development of fire. I have nothing against these myths or religions, but most of them focus on humans learning the secrets of fire from gods, or stealing the secret. Because many of these myths involved a female goddess as the protector of fire, the author assumes that fire was invented by females. First, referencing myths and religious texts as scientific and historic evidence is inherently awkward. The Bible and other religious texts are often written to be interpreted and analyzed for their religious and spiritual insights. For Stanley to cite various creation myths is ridiculous. Most texts like she references are only very loosely based in reality (For example, the Greek myth of Prometheus stealing fire from the Gods is allegorical; The word Prometheus comes from the word for the process of making fire). There is little to no historical evidence backing them, and in some cases historical, geological, and other scientific evidence disprove these myths, at least from a realistic view-point. I wouldn't take a cosmology course and expect to learn about creationism; why does the author feel that mythical and superstitious arguments are valid in this context? By using these arguments, I felt that the entire section she had devoted to the development of fire was invalid. If she is writing for other academics in a peer-reviewed journal of some sort (which I assume was the original context, if not something similar), I think that they would probably feel the same way.

The second section of the essay focuses on medicine; one of the areas of technology she said should be the focus of technological studies today. The majority of this section consisted of her listing numerous medical advances that women either invented, or helped develop, but aren't given credit for. I had trouble reading this section. While the author may feel that she is getting her point across by listing any number of these technologies, it is hard to follow, and doesn't give any convincing new points. At best, it backs up her implied assumption that medicinal technologies were mostly developed by women, and therefore need to be recognized as the most important. For the reader, however, it begins to run together. I couldn't tell you more than two or three of the technologies she listed, and even those I can't give you a name to put with them; I can only guess it was probably a female who developed them, but isn't "on the books" as having done so. I felt that this section was not very convincing. It was full of facts, but didn't help the reader interpret them or see the big picture.

One big aspect of technology that the author ignores is development. New technologies are seldom invented - rather they are developed in between the revolutionary strokes of genius that advance them on a large-scale. She focuses on these revolutionary strokes of genius instead of these developments. As a chemistry major, I study revolutionary strokes of genius and their applications. It is much less important to memorize names and dates than it is to recognize the significance of these steps, and then study their development and applications. Rarely is any one technology used exclusively by either males or females. To ignore how technological innovations spread into common use, only focusing on the biology of their inventors, doesn't accomplish anything. I'd be happy if I could contribute something to society that eventually helps the masses, even if not everybody knows my name, and I'm willing to guess that many of the scientists and inventors responsible for the development of technologies in use today might feel the same. In short, technologies are invented in one day, but developed over thousands of years; that's what makes them technologies.

Overall, I felt that the holes in the author's arguments, specifically her assumptions, lack of credible reference for a major section of her essay, and her almost total ignorance of the most important aspect of her topic (development of technology rather than isolated invention) left a lot to be desired after reading her essay. Her essay could have been improved if she had focused more on the development of technology rather than unsubstantiated myths and stories about isolated discoveries. In the section on medicine, her references are good and the stories are mostly based in historical evidence, but it still misses the big picture. Stanley tries to focus on a small area of an extremely broad subject. This has to be done for purposes of brevity and readability, however, in this case she misses the forest for the trees.
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