When you flip through a textbook, there are many of the same faces; black and white stills of old white men discovering some boring concept. In science, it’s almost exclusively white men, and yes, these accomplishments are amazing feats that have accounted for the ongoing discoveries our world is shaped by to this day. Without Darwin’s understanding of evolution, Mendel’s pea plant genetic studies, and the countless scientists who have worked for the purpose of scientific discovery, it has taken us a long way. However, as we look back, we don’t see the labor and discoveries of women who have also greatly contributed to the work of the science that we know today.
The prime example being Rosalind Franklin. Famous for her work on x-ray images of DNA, her work was basically stolen by Watson and Crick and has been unrecognized for her work and key contributions. Without the images she provided and the work that she put in, Watson and Crick would have great difficulty making the discovery on their own. Instead, due to her unfortunate passing away before the Nobel Prize could be awarded, her discoveries were lacking and thus the nature of her work was lost in the sweeps of history giving credit where it was not due.
Another famous example is in the case of Henrietta Lacks. An entire book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is dedicated to the life of this one woman, who led a good life though a hard one, which was ended too soon by cancer. However, upon her death her cells were collected without the consent of her or her family. The cells were discovered to be “immortal” due to the fact that they didn’t die along with her and are still alive to this day. They are sold to companies for research without the consent or payment of the family. Her life and her bodily autonomy exploited, the scientific world is taking advantage of the disadvantaged and taking a toll on the lives of those they seek to help most. All without a word of credit, or a cent of the profit going towards her family who still grieve her loss.
There are too many instances of women’s achievements being ignored and forgotten, erased in history by the overshadowing of men’s great deeds and thereby ignoring women’s even greater achievements. These two women are but short examples of the people we are missing out on in our understanding of science and history. If we want to foster the potential the younger generations have on the future, we need to provide equal opportunity for success, which means opening our books and our knowledge to the existence of women in history and science. Their lives and their work are important as well, and the voices of those who advocate for them need to be heard.
As a woman in the science field, it would have been much easier had I known women even existed in the science world. Often it feels as though science is a “boy’s club,” especially with the existence of predominantly male shows that display science nerds, such as The Big Bang Theory or Silicone Valley. There is a lack of women, and especially women of color, in the field of science. By increasing the exposure that children have to women working in the science field, the more normalized and integral the idea can become into their lives and futures.
This is more than just recognition and credit, this is ensuring that the world can foster good female leaders in science as well as male ones. This is to ensure that no one is harmed in the way of science, in the attempt to further research and public health. The Lacks family shouldn’t be in a financial pit while their daughter’s cells are raking in millions of dollars in profit. If science and health discoveries do not benefit the people, if it hurts the ones it seeks to help, then what is the point? The fact of the matter is that current science limits itself from making discoveries and progressing further for the personal prejudiced agenda of those who want to see a white male world.
So when I look back on the world of science, when the next generation goes to school and sits in a science class, I want them to see the women that shaped their being, their environment and society, and know that they are important role models for themselves. I want them to know that they can make it and do great things, and although there will be struggles, at least they know it is possible, they are capable, and that there are greater things to be done for the good of all.