In a recent article in The Guardian, Afua Hirsch quotes University College London physicist’s claim that when ‘girls’ are allowed inside laboratories ‘you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry’. As the only girl studying sciences at my high school, I can assure you that I did not fall in love with anyone. I did, however, cry a few times.
The newly sparked row over whether women belong in the sciences stems from Alessandro Strumia’s recent speech at the Cern stating that women have made no contribution to science. This idea that women are too sensitive and too inexperienced for the science field very obviously originates from a toxic masculinist discourse; it can, however, be said to makes sense when considering the fact that women have been shut out of the scientific field for centuries and were therefore never allowed the possibility of gaining the experience freely provided to men.
There is no need for me to state the many women who have contributed to scientific research – some dating back to the Ancient Egyptian era – nor to remind you of the effects of male entitlement in professional and academic spheres. There is, however, a need to mention that the fact that some women break down or are unable to make ground-breaking discoveries in the science world is maybe due to the immense pressure they are under – a pressure to succeed, to prove to others that they are more that ‘just women’, and to disprove the many prejudices that their male colleagues might have.
My physics teacher during my last year of high school was a woman, bright and determined to succeed. This success nevertheless depended on the approval of her thesis – and its sponsorship – by a panel of men; it was never approved, and to this day I do not know whether she is still a teacher, or the scientific researcher she had been striving to become for many years.
As the only girl in science I was not discriminated against nor made fun of. On the contrary, I was pushed to exceed the boys and to prove myself beyond my own capacities. ‘What do you think?’ ‘You should really think of pursuing a career in physics.’ ‘Some additional homework would do you good.’ Not that I am in any way ungrateful for this support, especially from my female teachers. But this also led me to hold back tears when I answered wrong, or to feel useless when I couldn’t answer a biology question about the period cycle or pregnancy. But wasn’t I learning at the same pace as the others?
Today, I study English Literature.