With or without brain?

16 Jan

Just as I was finishing my previous article, I remembered another ad that raised my blood pressure.

As far as I remember, it was also glorifying some domestic cleaning product. My memory is holding the picture of thousands of women who have tried and approved of the great product that five scientists developed. Nothing wrong with that so far? Those thousands of women, presumably, are all good housewives, wives, women, and mothers. They are all pretty like a picture. All young, well maintained and with kind smiles on their faces: perfect women! Very much the opposite to those five scientists with stern looks and white boring coats. Among her male colleagues, there is a female – plain, bad hair and glasses.

One would say that perception of a woman has changed, obviously not that much. Those thousands of women represent what a good woman should be like. She should always strive to be perfect in her appearance plus be the perfect housewife, a great mother and an excellent lover. I cannot think of any cliché that would describe a woman at work outside household. Therefore I’m asking: are commercials responsible for more than selling products? Would our society look any different if no stereotypes were used on TV? Commercials’ purpose is to reach targeted audience. Well, if several times a day repeated message says that cleaning products are meant for women, how is that going to help in sharing household duties? And also, how do the girls receiving messages such as this one feel?

I’ve looked into it. The study I have found says that female scientists acknowledge the fact that they feel threatened by their male colleagues, although their fellow workers claim they don’t make any stereotypical remarks. It is what women think. The message is so deeply embedded in our brains that we are our own worst enemies. Numbers of women in science are low, so low that even European Commission has realised that and they are trying to improve the situation to our advantage. Well done. But who came up with the idea for this infamous campaign? Who and why portrayed us as flirty and interested only in fashion and then set us in the laboratory as if our role there was only to distract that hard working, white-coat-clothed male scientist?

I was thinking how many female scientists in history I know. Not that I am particularly interested in science, but everybody knows names like Einstein, Bell, Nobel, Pascal, Darwin, Chomsky, Freud, Rontgen, even though they may not remember why. I could come up with only one female name. Marie Curie. So I went to look for more. One website mentioned more than fifty, to me mostly pretty much unknown names. Thank you, Google. Why do I not know these names? Is it my fault, because of my lack of interest? My parents’, because they didn’t push me? My teachers’? The government’s, because they are responsible for Curriculum? Actually, just recently they have taken one great woman out of pupils’ reach – Mary Seacole. Why, because she is a woman? Because she is a black woman? Because she is someone who would, with her endeavour, be a great role model to identify with? I have not been educated in this country, maybe you, readers, will be able to tell me whether you were told in school about Maria Sibylla Merian in whose honour six plants, nine butterflies and two beetles were named? Or Maria Winkelmann, who observed the comet but her husband was credited for? She should also be famous for observing the Aurora Borealis and other achievements. Or Mary Somerville whose ‘book was made a standard text for advanced students at Cambridge University’1 and her other significant accomplishments? I dare say they were all brilliant, and still, I have never heard of them. Don’t we deserve to hear and inspire from them alongside of Churchill and Cromwell, Mr Cove! It is school’s responsibility to educate children, to discover their hidden talents and help them to develop them. The girls see models and actresses in pop culture and they want to be like them. The same goes for singers and sport personalities. If they saw that being a scientist is an option, too, they would be more likely to follow the path.

So the reason why I am writing this article is to send a message to those girls who LOVE scientific subjects but probably don’t even know that there is a possible career. That there may be something or someone who is holding them back even if they can’t put their finger on what it is. Listen carefully to what is said to you. But not obsessively, you don’t want to waste your energy in a wrong way. Ask questions. If you feel that somebody is trying to diminish you, confront them. We need to stand up for ourselves. Look critically at everything that society presents to us and be brave.

Girls, if you have desires, you have potentials. There is the reason why we were kept away from  high positions for such a long time – prestige, money, fame, independence – they are still important attributes and there is a big competition as it is. We have brains, capability, resilience, stamina, creativity, we can achieve what we want. But we are failing in one skill – confidence. With all education and potential we are still capable of saying ‘I’m not good enough’. Of course, it is hard to change very well established preconceptions. Remember that only two world wars were the reason why we were fully admitted into economic force. Let us be the missing role models for future generations.

1from A World Without Women by David F. Noble, 1993, page 280

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About the Writer: Zdena comes from Slovakia but has made Wales her second home, that is when she is not travelling, which she can’t live without. Two important things in her life are books and Scrabble and she also loves world cinema.


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