Here we are, weeks away from the March For Science (22 April) and I find myself inexplicably battling snarky thoughts such as, “how does it feel to have your life’s work demoted to a mere historical footnote right before your eyes?”
And I have to ask myself, “Self, why are you thinking such sneering thoughts?”
And a light bulb turns on as I realize my snarkitude is directed at the men of science, because we have somehow allowed science to be classified a “man’s world” while women everywhere, but especially women in science, have always been dismissed; victims of the banging drum that repeats over and over women don’t, can’t, won’t and (in the case of science) are not biologically programmed to do as well as men in these very challenging fields.
Don’t believe me? Reread your history books.
If you think about it, other than Marie Curie (who I am convinced must have had a an amazing agent), how many “scientific women” were in your sixth grade history books? Or your tenth grade? Or even your senior year?
Maybe a Jane Goodall? Perhaps a Sally Ride?
Which means the general category of women get maybe three contribution paragraphs if we are lucky, and if you are a woman of color, well, you are quite simply shut out.
Well, at least you were…until a funny thing happened on the way to selling non-fiction books. Someone, a woman, a woman of color, a black woman, Margot Lee Shetterly, wrote – and got published – a little book called Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race. And amazingly it became a movie. And didn’t that movie just blow the door off the hinges of the tomb of lost and hidden women of science!
And while I am not one to quibble with a Hollywood ending, I do think we should acknowledge that Katherine G. Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, was not allowed to be in Mission Control for final sequence. She apparently was “allowed” however to watch it on a small tv near her desk. Bitter. Sweet.
So it turns out, not only are women in science everywhere, in every shape, size and color, we have all been victims of this equal opportunity wholesale discounting.
There’s Rosalind Elsie Franklin (DNA Double Helix), Chien-Shiung Wu (Disproved the Law of Conservation of Parity), Nettie Stevens (Sex and the 23rd Chromosome) and Lise Meitner (Nuclear Fission), all women who made critical discoveries in their fields only to see their NOBEL PRIZES GIVEN TO THE MEN WHO CLAIMED THE WORK AS THEIR OWN.
And when a woman named Dorothy Hodgkin shockingly does win the Nobel Prize in 1964 (Crystallographer who Mapped Penicillin), the newspaper headlines trumpeting her feat read, “Oxford HOUSEWIFE Wins Nobel”.
And I am not sharing this as some simplistic feminist diatribe. I share all this because power unchecked determines what we believe we know.
Men rule the world. Men get the Nobels. Men determine our scientific reality.
(Which leads me to thinking perhaps this is why Viagra is covered by insurance, but not “the pill”… just musing out loud.)
Until Now. From Reshma Saujani’s Girls Who Code to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In to Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls – women are embracing and achieving in Science Technology Engineering and Math – decoding, spinning, breaking it down and making it all elemental.
We are so putting Sexy into Smart!
But just as new heroines are emerging who are sexy-smart and proud to be somewhere on this STEM spectrum, the spectrum is being attacked. Climate Change – Bah! Darwin’s Theories – Hah!
Which brings us full circle… so, how does it feel to have your life’s work demoted to an historical footnote right before your eyes?
The hard fact is, it is up to all of us to get out there and March for Science. But it is also up to Science to right their wrong and celebrate the women who helped get us where we are, so together we can all get us where we need to be.
…Or, alternatively, we can all “lean back” and concede 2+1=4* and Charles Darrow invented Monopoly.*
* Correct Answers: 2+1=3 and Elizabeth Magie patented “The Landlord’s Game” three decades earlier, which Parker Brothers ultimately conceded and eventually paid her $500.