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Women In Science: The Distracting Damsel In The White Coat

Posted: June 14, 2015

Women in the sciences are a distraction, says Nobel laureate Tim Hunt. How long will we have such men who assume that “she” is an intruder in “his” world of science?

Hello there!

My scientist chicks in white coats behind the microscopes looking at the bacteria, making solutions in test tubes, casting gels or juggling with pipettes, tips and eppendorfs: please be careful (!)  as the Nobel laureate working next to you might slip and fall in love with you.

Ms.Marie Curie to Ms. Sunita Williams, you excel in every field. I have witnessed you everywhere, starting from homemakers to school teachers, doctors, engineers, IAS, IPS officers to state secretaries, Prime ministers and what not.

You lovely distractions (!), you are less than 13% in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics!

What brought you here, in this world, ‘his world’?

What have you done, my dear Juliets across the globe?

You were better knitting booties, making round chapattis or doing all the odd household chores while our 72 year old British Romeo, Tim Hunt, was addressing his “trouble with girls” and struggling hard to kill his “love” bug.

Were you not aware that you are not accepted in this, “his world” since you are not expected to be bold, intelligent, smart, beautiful and independent?

You brave lasses, you leave every comfort behind and enter this challenging world of science, spend sleepless nights wondering if that expensive restriction enzyme is going to work or not, if that was the correct protein marker you have used, if that is the correct signaling pathway responsible for spreading the demon cancer or replication of those difficult viruses and I know the list is endless for you, my science mates.

While you were busy dealing with such deadly challenging microorganisms and invisible biomolecules, you did not realize your eureka moments from “here is THE protein” to “THAT hypothesis was wrong” might sound like “I love you” to not only to Nobel laureates like Tim Hunt but to many others belonging to the league of R.K Pachauri, the Padma Vibhushan!

I royally choose not to address them as Professors or Doctors, as they unfortunately are; with such sexist comments  and misdeeds, they have reduced themselves to those notorious tiny infectious microorganisms that need cure and attention before they spread an epidemic with that extra strand in their double helix DNA which they apparently possess.

In India, we talk at great length and rely on the fact that education is the key to address the gender issues in our society. But then, what’s wrong with these highly educated and reputed men? Such incidents are alarming as it seems the challenge is not only to emerge safe out of the dark streets and the lonely places but to be able to work with dignity in labs, universities, hospitals and in the nicely lit, tall multistory buildings of MNCs.

With the national and international efforts to elevate the number of women in STEM education, and with the open discussions in various panel meetings to redefine the government policies to make women more comfortable in their respective niches, let’s be prepared to welcome our new women force in science, raise the bar from 13% to 100% and most importantly, challenge the stereotypes such as “dress down” when working in science!

And let’s get rid of “his or her world of science” and create “our world of science” where it’s absolutely perfect to dress nicely, cry/ laugh as much as you want and whenever you want, fall in and out of love with whosoever you wish to and where a “typical geek” and a “girly girl” is judged by the kind of scientific work they deliver and probably not by the way they appear.

So, dear damsels: do not just whisper, but shout it out loud when you come across such an atmosphere violating your fundamental rights (PDF) and expose these Tim Hunts and Pachauris in the making who are hiding behind the cloak of nobility and  degrees.

female scientist image via Shutterstock

A scientist by training and science administrator by profession. An enthusiast traveller by choice and

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Monika, it is really interesting to read your perspectives on this recent news. Do not read me wrong, but I feel that in SOME areas, women are contributing equally in sketching some stereotypes, which has been a great advantage to the patriarchal men. Some examples are:

    1. A wife, mother, sister or mother-in-law (of the boy), telling the man to go and watch tv or do his work, whenever he takes interest to do some household work. they tell him that it is not HIS work.

    2. The mother taking great pride in saying that “oh my husband cannot handle the kid all by himself and I have requested my ma or ma-in-law to babysit the child. (‘the child’ is HIS child too, right?!) Why ‘handling difficulty only in fathers, whereas the women act as if they have been ‘born mothers’. If the passion is there, then any job can be done by anyone… !!

    3. The family comes home tired after an outing or trip, the woman rushes to prepare something ‘yummy’, whereas, the others are relaxing after a ‘tiresome’ trip. Ok, she is the weaker sex, and hence could prepare everything without getting tired, I get it !!

    4. When a parent (I said parent, so the responsibility is with both father and the mother), asks the daughter to serve the guests and help in household work, and the son goes to play with his friends, after just saying a ”hi’ to the guests. Explanation given by the parents – “anyway she needs to learn these when she marries a man and goes to another household. We do not want anyone to tell us that we have not brought up our daughter well”.
    GREAT….so, daughters are ‘GROOMED’ from foetal stage, to satisfy the rules of some other family. But the son is groomed to earn and take care of himself and his parents?!

    Despite knowing all these, the woman would not assert herself (she may be a CEO in a reputed organisation, training all her staff in assertiveness), because she is ‘scared’, that she would be called ‘arrogant’, cultureless woman, rude, not ideal wife, mother, sister or whatever role she plays……she does not risk getting such ‘bad names’ and wants to be goody good all the time.

    If women know their strenghts and weaknesses in every household, then they will know where to play strong and where to let others play, without losing her self-respect. The woman who thinks that if her husband cooks better than her, is going to lose her position, then she is wrong. Because she has not shown the family, that cooking is just one aspect and she may excel the husband in another skill. The children of parents, who play by their strength complementing each other, would know that it is the skill that matters and not which gender does it. ALL of our mindset get their roots in the family practices. Change that, the world will change.

    Please do write more, Monika….we enjoy it.

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