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The gender bias in science fields still keeps women out of the STEM areas, even when they have historically been equal contributors when they have a chance.
“For whatever reason, I didn’t succumb to the stereotype that science wasn’t for girls. I got encouragement from my parents. I never ran into a teacher or a counselor who told me that science was for boys. A lot of my friends did.”– Sally Ride (first American woman in space)”
What we know: 5%, what we don’t know: 10%, what we don’t know that we don’t know: 85%.
Study of science knocks on the doors of the third bracket of 85%. It’s a cognitive and pragmatic hubbub comprising the fastidious research of structure and etiquette through constant observation and experiment.
In simple words science ventures into that category of collecting new information, and scrutinize, ameliorate, and discard the old theories. It’s a way of unearthing the universe and make it work as per today’s world. It is used to embellish new technologies, treat diseases, and the process is ongoing; it’s a constant uptrend in the graphic statistics in search of knowledge. Science is a discovering of the secluded facts and a cogent and radical understanding of the magical cosmos.
While we all know about most men who have contributed enormously in terms of science, here I’d like to speak of women, feminism, and women’s contribution to science.
Rewinding a few years, we have a long list of women savants who have immensely contributed to society through science. To name a few: Emilie do Chatelet (Mathematician, physicist and Author), Chien-Shiung Wu (Experimental Physicist), Francoise Barre-Sinoussi (virologist and winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine), Asima Chatterjee (Indian chemist with mastery on Organic Chemistry and Photochemistry), Rajeshwari Chatterjee (The first woman engineer).
Speaking personally, too, I dared to venture into Mechanical Engineering which was considered only for boys at the time. I am no scientist, nor a Noble Prize winner, but I emerged as a topper and bagged a gold medal only to be hated by own classmates. Doesn’t matter, I know what I am, where I belong, and I also know my contribution to society either through my corporate career or social work or as a preacher or as a dancer and most important through technology and science.
It’s rather shameful that our society still remains biased about the fact only a man can be a science scholar, knowing fully well that women have made major contributions in the field of science. But we get to know the names of only a couple of them.
A new analysis of science has started emerging through contemporary feminist critique writers. The anastigmatic of feminist dogma brings into focus certain masculine distortions of the scientific enterprise, creating a prospective predicament. Despite the fact there is an eternal conflict between feminism and science; the women have proved it wrong time and again.
Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, the French biologist, has immensely contributed in the research of HIV/AIDS. She shared the Nobel prize in 2008 which she shared with her mentor Luc Montagneir, the French virologist for their being the pioneers of identifying the illness bring the disease and deaths under control through breakthrough in medications. The fact the women scientists face ridicule from the society it only helps them burgeoning a strong bond between feminism and science. The feminist thoughts might as well help in irradiate and simplify the anatomy of science which might have been bygone into manipulation in order to preserve what science is, and in order to be more factual.
From a feminist birds’ eye view, the most predominant dimension of the affinity between literature and science is the degree to which both enterprises are grounded on the use of metaphor and image. The explanatory models of science, like the plots of literary works, depend on linguistic structures which are shaped by parable and allegory. The feminist reader is perhaps most sensitized to those symbolic structures which employ gender as a major protean or merit.
The relationship between women and science took on a special significance for Evelyn Fox Keller in the mid 1970’s. As this article says, “As a woman scientist, a mathematical biophysics specialist, she felt she could no longer avoid the questions swirling around in her head on the role of gender and the making of science. Much of this interest was a direct result of two fairly recent avenues of scholarship: the social studies of science and the feminist theory. In the social studies of science, the task was to examine the development of science in a political and social context. For feminist theory, the task was to address the absence of women in the history of social and political thought. By combining the two, Keller hoped to determine how the making of man and woman (the ideology of gender) affected the making of science. The essays contained in Reflections were the culmination of ten years of analysis on the historical, psychological, and philosophical aspects of the role gender played in science. It is Keller’s contention that a gender-free science would be more beneficial as well as more humane”
The equilibrium of competence in the world will only materialize when there is equal contribution of men and women in the society through their benefaction in science.
Reports Sandra Harding a distinguished Research Professor of Education Emeritus at UCLA, says in The Science Question in Feminism “Feminist empiricism, which identifies only bad science as the problem; the feminist standpoint, which holds that women’s social experience provides a unique starting point for discovering masculine bias in science; and feminist postmodernism, which disputes the most basic scientific assumptions. She points out the tensions among these stances and the inadequate concepts that inform their analyses, yet maintains that the critical discourse they foster is vital to the quest for a science informed by emancipatory morals and politics”.
Women have contributed to science in an extensive way but they all stayed low profile, and their work spoke on their behalf. To name a few: Maria Agnesi, Agnodice, Virginia Apgar, Florence Bascom and lot more.
It’s a bitter fact that science and gender equality aren’t the best companions; even in these progressive times, women are still heavily marginalized in fields pertaining to science and technology. For centuries, women have grappled for recognition of their academic achievements, and they rarely received it during their lifetime. In the words of Chien-Shiung Wu, experimental physicist, “It is shameful that there are so few women in science. There is a misconception in America that woman scientists are all dowdy spinsters. This is the fault of men.” Time and again women have had to fight to prove their contributions to science.
Sudha Murthy, a computer scientist and engineer is the perfect example of those who spoke up against gender discrimination. She wanted a job at Tata Motors which had specified “Only male candidates need to apply.” In a fit of rage she wrote to Ratan Tata about the discrimination, and Mr Tata did a justice to her by recruiting her with Tata Motors, but only after she cleared the gruelling technical sessions. To be very honest we find very few men who are supportive and treat a woman with respect and equality, of which Ratan Tata was one. There may be many more but the question still prevails – why do we need to struggle so much to prove our intelligence? We women have grey cells in our brain as well. God did a justice to us too, we are all born with a cognitive mind.
Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to travel into space. She fought out against 400 contestants and 5 finalists and executed 48 trajectories of earth in her three days of space.
Hypatia was the first women mathematician from Egypt and major contribution was in Arithmetic which was back then known as “Arithmetica”.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie, the first woman to be awarded a double Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry both for her work on radiation.
Elizabeth Blackwell, was the first woman physician and also co-founder of the National Health society way back in 1871.
Nora Stanton Blatch Barney, was the first woman to grab a degree in Civil Engineering from Cornell University in 1905. She later turned an activist in protest against women’s suffering.
Mary Edwards Walker, was the first female surgeon from the United States later turned into an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, and the first woman ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
So history has been a witness to the fact that women had to fight out themselves in this patriarchal society, and science in particular was a taboo for women and, it still is, though the nation claims that women are given equal status quo. Well not, women are still fighting their battles and that’s why feminist activists are coming out in more numbers. Feminism is all about equality so why is it so difficult for our society to give a justice to women? The men who claim women should be given equal rights are the ones who will equally try to drag down a woman.
I would like to conclude by sharing my personal experience on how I had to fight gender bias too. Born to a family of academicians, I chose to study Mechanical Engineering, a field considered only for men but after clearing the Joint Entrance Examination. I refused to settle for Dental Surgery but barged into this category and was ridiculed.
I was the only girl among 60 boys, each day I had to listen to the taunts “This is not your area, better go for a different field; you are wasting your time”. I bore their sexist remarks: “Wear your clothes properly, you are here not to impress us”, while I only wore salwar kameez with dupatta. I faced the worst possible ragging from the seniors and each of them chased me to date them, which I refused only to add fuel to their anger and frustration. My professor, a debauch, gave me the lowest possible grade in his subject, as I refused to sleep with him – there were many women who agreed to his demands for marks and that was the only reason he approached me and I declined.
In spite of so many hardships I still managed to be a topper of each semester and emerged a first class gold medalist but with the remark from my classmates: “It was her looks she impressed the professors, she knows nothing of engineering!” But the fact was that we had both internal and external paper checkers. I fought them alone which they found hard to digest. It was President Abdul Kalam who handed over the medal to my mother ,as I was unavailable given to the fact I had already started working with a firm. Not to forget my very own seniors that too women, would remark “She will hardly get any marks that field is for men, she chose a wrong path!” Oh yes, I chose a wrong path only to prove how wrong you all are.
There were several interviews I faced where they wanted only male candidates, irrespective of the fact I succeeded the initial phase of written interview, second phase of group discussion and final round of face to face interaction only to be said “We care for your safety, we would wish to hire a man, do you know to drive? How will you handle it alone?” There were interviewers who were more interested in juicy gossip rather than asking technical questions, and I had no choice but to stop the interview in between. Yet those same people who acted nasty with me now want to connect with me through social media. Sadly for them, I am no more interested. I have forgiven everyone, each insult thrown to me for choosing Mechanical Engineering and being a topper, for touring alone for vendor visits, inspections, developments, but I haven’t forgotten the mental trauma I faced.
It’s time women speak up and stand up against this gender bias. Science is not only for men, women are equally talented, and history has proved it time and again.
Gender equality is not a women’s issue, it is a human issue and it affects us all. Real freedom can only be achieved once women have freedom from oppression, we have power within us, just that the world needs to see our wisdom, our intellect, our courage and how we change the world. Science is one of the major contributor through which that change can happen, which we women have proved it earlier and can prove it even today.
Published here earlier.
Image is a still from the movie Hidden Figures
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Rimli Bhattacharya is a First class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, an MBA in supply chain management and is engaged with a corporate sector. Her essay in the anthology “Book read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, indivisual posts do not necessarily represent the platofrom's views and opinions at all times.
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