by Hilda Ching
In Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940, Margaret Rossiter describes how women scientists were caught between two 19th century stereotypes: as scientists they were atypical women, as women they were unusual scientists (1). While women have increased numerically in many fields of science in the 20th century, they still face variations of these stereotypes, of being treated as exceptional women and eccentric scientists at the end of a "normal" scale.
Because of predicted labour shortages in the future, more women are being encouraged into scientific careers especially in engineering. However, the few women who are now in science are mostly in biology and biochemistry and in jobs which pay less than men's and with fewer opportunities for advancement.
In this paper, I discuss some contradictory and contrasting feelings about women. To change the conditions of both science and women, I suggest making some connections. If we are going to encourage and increase the numbers of women in science, we need to understand and change the constructs of science and women.
Science and gender are complex and diverse subjects which feminists such as Keller, Hubbard, and Mura have criticized (2). Science as a subject, as a career, an institution, and a way of doing things must change to accommodate women. Harding has asked how a science which is male dominated and capitalistically driven can be used to emancipate women (3). While many women have rejected science to assure their femininity, some women have done very well in their careers following the male style of learning within a hierarchical structure. Can science change in focus to become women-centred as science has been man-centred? Some intriguing research by Canadian feminist scientists demonstrates how collaborative work on interactive research can result in empowerment of knowledge and social change (4).
Both men and women need to analyze the present conditions of women and science in order for women scientists to be successful in our society. Inevitably, when I discuss barriers that women have encountered in obtaining education and employment, there is at least one woman in the audience who claims not to have been treated differently because of gender. Young women who are studying in graduate school lack the awareness of the discriminatory employment situation. Other more experienced scientists tell me of sexist treatment, of outright rejection of their gender by professors and employers, of the intense competition and the need to sacrifice other interests in doing science.