Recent visitors to the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum were greeted with some unpleasant news: the museum was contaminated. Not by asbestos or toxic chemicals, mind you, but by far more noxious substances: racism, sexism, and anthrocentrism. To protect the unwary, warning labels throughout the halls identified which of the museum’s venerable dioramas were infected by which ideological error. “Female animals are being portrayed in ways that make them appear deviant or substandard to male animals,” warned a label next to an exhibit of American hartebeests. A beloved family of lions at a watering hole was also branded for sexism, because the standing male and reclining female suggested to the museum’s gender police a pre-feminist division of labor. A leaping Bengalese tiger was dismissed as too predatory, a violation of the communitarian animal ethic.

The Natural History Museum is not the only Smithsonian...

 

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