Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Are You as Human as I am?

Recently I read about another controversy—this time over graphics on student t-shirts and hats that were photo-shopped out of yearbook pictures. The t-shirt allegedly said “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” What? The fact that women are people is controversial enough to require censorship? Really? Actually, when I used the same concept previously in a flip response on Facebook, a man reminded me being human isn’t a given for women. I thought he was delusional. Is the mere word feminism so potent that it can raise blood pressure all by itself? The point of the quotation was to clear up the many, many misconceptions that have seeped like pus from threatened egos since the word was first coined. The point was to defend females as equal human beings. 

Last week my husband and I watched a NOVA episode on PBS: “Picture a Scientist,” and I realized exactly how far from being equal human beings women still are. I was shocked at how many myths I’ve accepted over the years. For example, I recall my teacher advising us that females have lower math ability. It isn’t true. As human beings, women have the same range of abilities as men, but they’ve been taught they are lesser. In textbooks and elsewhere, female accomplishments (in science, medicine, and elsewhere) are often attributed to men or ignored altogether. 

In ”Picture a Scientist,” notable female scientists described the sabotage often leveled on them by their male counterparts. One man who traveled to Antarctica with his university graduate supervisor and another student watched passively as the supervisor threw pebbles at the female as she attempted to urinate, blew crystalized glass ash into her eyes, and even pushed her backward down a hill of scree. The male student didn’t think there was a problem because the girl didn’t act out in response, and the supervisor was known for his distaste of female students. The female couldn’t pursue a complaint until she had tenure as faculty to protect her from dismissal. The fact that 93% of a class of 100 female scientists dropped out, even though science was their true love, was attributed to the nature of women. In fact, many women decided the prize wasn’t worth the degradation. Sexual harassment is most often psychological attack. Mothers are a common target.

My sister-in-law is a former decorated scientist and long-term university administrator. She is the most even tempered of beings, yet even she can recount many instances of being insulted, ignored, or over-ruled simply because she was speaking as a female. A woman of faith, she refused to surrender and even now, as a retiree, she sits on at least seven boards. Sadly, minority women (and sometimes men) face double the obstacles.

When you consider the thousands, maybe millions, of brilliant minds that have been pushed aside by prejudice before they could make their contributions, you begin to realize the waste. During Women’s History month, we get an idea of the scores of contributions in all avenues we owe to females whose names we never knew, but how many more contributions went totally unnoticed or credited to someone else? And how many brilliant minds and skilled bodies were redirected to more “womanly” pursuits by counselors, boyfriends, mothers, and husbands? What tremendous steps forward never happened? What have we lost?

A simple test demonstrated in the NOVA program revealed how deeply our biases run. When we picture a scientist or doctor or director, we picture a white man. The present American president has acted to recognize not gender but ability and experience in his cabinet assignments, and people feel discomfited. We’ve been indoctrinated to trust male voices, men who are taller, male leaders—physical strength and ruthless competitiveness. Recent events have warned us to reassess those values. Many men don’t want to share power or recognize the resources others wield. To them, sharing is losing. I get it. 

Intelligent women simply want to do what they CAN do, because women are, indeed, humans. During a pandemic when women (especially young women in STEM jobs) are overwhelmed trying to care for stay-at-home families while maintaining their careers, women in professions are more endangered than ever (according to the NYT). They need to be regarded highly enough for the system to want to help them survive to make the contributions that lie in their professional future. I’m hoping gender bias is finally going out of style. Having increased numbers of intelligent human beings functioning at full capacity on the planet can’t be a bad thing.

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