Marie Curie, ed most known for her research into radioactivity; Rosalind Franklin, treat the chemist who famously contributed to the discovery of the structure of DNA; Hedy Lamarr, the actress and inventor who developed the very technology which allows us to have wireless communication today and Dorothy Hodgkin, the scientist who used X-ray crystallography to determine the structures of insulin, penicillin and vitamin B12 – all incredible, historic women in science and technology whose efforts have benefited the world in ways that cannot even be put into words.
Perhaps educators, writers and critics have taken this too literally though, for it is all too uncommon to find the names of these remarkable women in our school textbooks, in articles or even on the Nobel Prize awards list. In fact the number of women to have won a Nobel Prize for a science is just 19. For men in science, this is 642.
Looking at these figures, it’s easy to see why women like Chien-Shiung Wu and Ada Lovelace barely get a mention; if we do not acknowledge the successes and triumphs of women in science with prestigious awards like the Nobel Prize, how can we ever expect to share their stories with children and teenagers around the world?
Education is the only way we can solve this blatant disregard for the respect and dignity that these scientists deserve – it starts in school. I’ve learnt about wireless communication, radio waves, DNA replication, X-ray imaging, global warming and titrations, but I am yet to hear about the women behind the important discoveries that often make these fields so plausible. Watson and Crick, Meselson and Stahl, Fick and Hardy and Weinberg are all male scientists whose theories, equations and discoveries we study in the AS Biology course that I do at my sixth form. While it’s important to commend and acknowledge the efforts of these academics, I can’t help but feel let down by the syllabus for its lack of cognisance regarding women.
This doesn’t just go as far as emphasising an absence for the respect of women in science. When we fail to educate future generations on their efforts, we install a belief in young girls that science is just “not for them”. As of 2016, women made up just 14.4% of the STEM workforce in the UK, girls make up just around 20% of A Level Physics students, we have the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe and despite girls dominating undergraduate degrees in Medicine and Veterinary Science, we make up roughly 11.5% of STEM management. We are clearly doing a great disservice to young women who adore science and flourish in their study of it when we fail to promote their advancements and breakthroughs.
I propose that we do better. The teaching of theories and research into fields of science that have been conducted by women must be a necessity in the courses this country offers. We have got to nurture this idea that the study of science is not gender-specific, but gender-neutral. Women of colour can be scientists. Teenage girls can be scientists. Elderly women can be scientists.
By opening up this pathway to the next generation, we bring forward a whole host of enthusiastic and dedicated young girls who will thrive (and get those Nobel Prizes).
2016 was, sickness as Kylie Jenner accurately predicted, diagnosis the year of realising things. In a clip uploaded to Youtube on January 20 2016, the youngest of the Kardashian empire mused that ‘this year is really about, like, the year of just, like, realising stuff, and everyone around me, we’re all just like realising things.’
Youtube: Kylie Jenner
Outside of her largely teenage fan base, aka the Kylie Jenneration, Kylie was widely mocked for this public realisation. However, as it turns out, Kylie was right. Fully, completely, undeniably correct. 2016 actually did turn out to be the year of realising stuff. As pointed out by High Snobiety, in 2016 we realised that the post-Cold War political era is over, that we live in parallel partisan worlds, and that bigotry is okay again. We realised that facts don’t matter anymore; that truth and expert opinions are irrelevant. We realised that misogynist slurs and a history of sexual harassment allegations can help win you, rather than lose you, the most important election of the year. We realised that, even with just a few days of the year left, tragedy can still strike, with the loss of more icons and household names. We realised that, finally, after years of knowing it was coming, it is time for the UK to say bye felicia to American Apparel.
So, after all this realising, what for 2017? The usual rhetoric that accompanies the end of a bad year (‘new year, new life, new me’), doesn’t feel quite right here. After all, Donald Trump wasn’t actually president in 2016, and in 2016 Article 50 wasn’t actually triggered. This year, both will be. From realisations to actualisations. So, how do we face it?
One response to this would be to give up. The world is f**ked so, realistically, what can we do about it? Clearly, though, given the circumstances, this isn’t a viable option. Especially as young people. Especially as young women. Ultimately this is about our futures, so we better make sure we stop everything going to s**t.
Another response is optimism. Maybe it won’t be that bad. The clear advantage, here, is that it is easier to stay politically active and make calls to action with a bit of hope. However, the danger of optimism in times like these, as Chimamanda Adichie pointed out back in December, in direct reference to the US election, is it leaves no room for resilience. And it is resilience, arguably, that we need above all else in 2017. To be resilient requires being brutally honest about the year, and the world we are facing, and be ready to take it on anyway. We must admit that the world is f**ked, yet feel empowered to unf**k it. Remaining engaged. Holding on to our values. Staying woke.
In 2016 we realised things. In 2017 we must be resilient to them. For it is only with resilience, that we can confront them, challenge them and, ultimately, put up a serious fight.
Written by Naomi Alexander Naidoo
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