In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Elle tells us about another woman breaking ground in science! Read on!
A couple of months ago when I was talking about Dr. Fabiola Gianotti, I focused on how important it is to have positive role models of women in science. The universe apparently listened to me, and presented me with another awesome lady scientist. Dr. Victoria Kaspi, the director of the McGill Space Institute, has become the first ever female winner of the Gerhard Herzberg Gold Medal. The award is the top science prize in Canada, and has thus far only been awarded to men. (It “only” took 25 years to give the award to a woman. Progress?)
To be fair/depressingly aware of the lack of lady scientists in Canada, there don’t seem to be a lot of women in the top realms of the sciences to give the prize to. According to Mario Pinto, the president of the organization responsible for giving the prize (aka the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council), women account for only 14 percent of the full professors who receive funding from the council. That number falls to 9 percent if you take out the life sciences. And who needs those floofy subjects like “life sciences”?
Dr. Kaspi is breaking the sexist mold due to her truly stellar work on neutron stars. (You see what I did there? My friend M may or may not be infecting my brain with puns.) I have to admit that I don’t understand her work much past “it is cool and involves space and physics,” but that doesn’t mean that I can’t recognize her epic achievements or her years of hard work. Dr. Kaspi is also using her win as a platform to discuss issues of sexism in academia. Referring to her own avoidance of having been blatantly sexually harassed as having ‘“lucked out’” (and isn’t that a terrifying way to have to think about that?), as a mentor Dr. Kaspi tries to remain aware of gender issues, and advocates for universities to better support female academics so that they do not need to choose between careers and families.
Dr. Kaspi’s win puts her up with Dr. Gianotti in the pantheon of female scientists whose accomplishments are receiving some international acclaim and reinforcing the idea that yeah, women can totally be awesome scientists. Though women in the sciences are still likely to face tons of external pressure, it’s possible that having role models like Kaspi and Gionotti will inspire them to persevere. And maaaaybe it will inspire men in the sciences to be less sexist and judgmental. Maybe. Heck, we just proved that gravitational waves exist, anything is possible in these crazy times.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not celebrating the advancement of women in the sciences, she studies gender in popular culture.