Biology vs botany

margaret bolick mbolick at UNLINFO.UNL.EDU
Fri Jun 2 16:20:17 CDT 1995

Nancy Morin asks about the relationships among botany, zoology, and
gender in pre-Linnean times.
     From the 13th to the 17th centuries, at least in Europe,
women and lower class men who studied herbs and healing ran a real risk
of being burned at the stake as a witch.  This and the increasing
organization of the medical practitioners into a profession that
required university training effectively eliminated most women as
serious students of either botany or zoology.  As long as these
disciplines were virtually all-male, the occasional women could be
seen as an oddity rather than any threat to the status of the group.
     Women who were burned as witches were also often charged with
sexual crimes -- enticing and entrapping men or being the devil's
lover.  The sub-text of this is that sex is dangerous for women.  I
suspect that when women did begin to get education that botany with
its emphasis on "alternation of generations," "gametophytes," and
"sporophytes"  seemed a lot safer as an area of study than dealing with
the more obviously sexed animal kingdom.
     And finally my linguistic pet peeve is the indiscriminant use of
gender to cover all differences, both biological and cultural, between
males and females.  I suggest that those who are unclear about the
distinctions between the terms sex and gender check the Modern Language
Association's publication that discusses this:  "Language, Gender, and
Professional Writing" by Francine W. Frank and Paula A. Treichler:
gender generally refers to the cultural baggage that accompanies the
biological fact of sex, of being female or male.  (End-of-soapbox

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