Prompted by the skewed gender representation of a recent survey of science blogs, Zuska asks why there are no great women science bloggers. That’s an ironic question, of course: there are great women science bloggers, but there is a strange blindness to their contributions, just as they are neglected in the greater blogosphere, and in science, and in politics, and in everything other than raising babies and making attractive centerpieces for the family dinner table, etc. It’s a curious phenomenon that we have to try consciously to rise above, an effort hampered by the fact that there seem to be a lot of people who want to argue that you aren’t allowed to make a special effort to avoid gender bias — it’s apparently “unfair” to try to overcome a history of unfairness.
Anyway, something that came up independently: here I am teaching this new freshman biology course, and the last few weeks have been a survey of the history and philosophy of science — basically, Aristotle to Bacon, with the latest lectures on 19th century geology and natural history as a prelude to Darwin. It’s a bit depressing when you look back at it that there are a few thousand years of history there where women don’t seem to be present except for the important business of laundering the togas. I’m conscious of it and a bit uncomfortable about the absence of women in the story so far (there will be a lecture dedicated to women in science this term), and when I was composing the first exam the other day, I had a long section where I was grilling them on a bunch of Dead White Guys, so I tossed in these two questions:
14. Hey! Have you noticed the lack of women scientists so far? Briefly speculate about why they’re missing.
15 (2 pts extra credit). Name a female scientist of any era.
The answers to question 14 so far have been consistent: because women weren’t given opportunities. Because they were told to make babies and cook meals. Because men didn’t give them any respect. (There were several that said that despite past oppression, everything was changing for the better now; I’m going to have to engage in a little disillusionment sometime.)
Question 15 was supposed to be a gimme, a really easy question that they should have answered easily, especially since we’d just had the freshman biology major mixer the night before, where they were introduced to 3 women biology faculty. I have a bunch of students who left question 15 blank, or said they couldn’t think of any! Now that was depressing.
Just to compensate, though, and this is something that might cheer Zuska up a little bit, there were a handful of women students who gave the best answer ever: they named themselves. I’d give them a big gold star, but that kind of self-confidence is its own best reward.