Last week I came across a chronicle by Sindra Peterson Årsköld, Associate Professor in biochemistry at Lund University, entitled chemist and feminist? Yes sure! But beware of gender coaches. Here is the link to her chronicle (written in Swedish):
After reading her chronicle, which I really liked, I tried to sum it up, check up the people she referred to, especially in gender sciences, wrote a few sentences, deleted them again, rewrote and deleted … and never really managed to formulate anything. But now I decided that I will not close my Mac until this blog is done and out in Cyber space.
First of all I checked up a statement by Moira von Wright cited by Sindra. Moira von Wright who is professor in pedagogics at Södertörns Högskola wrote a few years ago, that physics textbooks for high-school students need to contain gender conscious and gender sensitive physics, which would mean a new angle on physics and removal of some of the traditional scientific knowledge. This sounded quite unbelievable to me, and I remember to have heard similar statements about geology a few years ago when I was asked to include a gender perspective in my geology teaching and my research (!). I never did because I could by no means figure out how or why I should change a science subject and scientific explanations to include a gender perspective. Mountain building, erosion, tectonics and landslides have no gender. However it does come to gender when we start looking at the effect of landslides or climate change, to name just a few examples (more about this in a new blog). But back to Moira von Wright. I checked her homepage and the web for her statement, which received numerous comments. She herself was obviously misunderstood and misinterpreted and she writes that she takes back what she had said about physics. That was good news! Physics needs to remain physics, chemistry needs to remain chemistry, and geology needs to remain geology. Science and scientific knowledge is one thing, and I can by no means see how a gender perspective on my research would change the way I analyse my samples or interpret my results. However, I can understand that transmitting science knowledge to a wider public can need some gender angles, so that not only boys/men or only girls/women find science fascinating and understandable. I guess that those who claim that we need to include gender science in our natural science disciplines would probably need to increase their knowledge on how science works and how it is done.
But back to Sindra’s chronicle. Most of all I liked the last paragraph, which refers to how gender equality could be accomplished in chemistry (my free translation of Sindra’s Swedish text): “What is needed for women as for everyone else in science is enough quality time without being interrupted, enough resources, a rich network, a mentor, possibilities to obtain/gather scientific merits, and a stimulating research environment. Although everyone has this wish list, it is unfortunately still much more difficult for women to have all of this. Therefore it is important to pay attention to women around you, especially those who are at the beginning of their science career. Provide support without making them feel inferior. Give them a chance to excel – and they will succeed”.
I completely agree with Sindra – it is the working environment, the support, and the mentorship that count. And this goes for all natural science disciplines.
Maybe we need some education in gender science to being able to act as normal human beings, or maybe we just need some eye-opening comments that make us aware of the fact that we should think twice? I would prefer to make people think twice, and to skip any kind of gender certified geology, just as Sindra would like to skip gender-certified chemistry.