Some Aspects of Women in Science, 1974

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Invitational Paper for the Scholar and the Feminist Conference: May 1974

Barnard College

"Discrimination against women, denying or limiting as it does their equality of rights with men, is fundamentally unjust and constitutes an offense against human dignity."

--Article I UN declaration on the elimination of discrimination against women, unanimously adopted Nov. 7, 1967. I have been asked to address myself to three questions; note that the very personal standard of evaluation suggested does not entirely meet with my approval:


What has been the impact of feminism on my own scholarship?

What has been the impact of feminism on my understanding of women?

What has been the impact of feminism on my understanding of my own


The answer to all three queries is NONE. (For the opposite view, see Keller, 1974.) As such, my answer to the first question is probably dishonest, albeit innocently so. There may have been some subtleties I have blissfully missed and am honestly unable to dredge up for this occasion. And my answer to the second question should be tempered by the observation that I possess no great "understanding of women." _And finally, my answer to the last question is coupled with more than just average knowledge of my own field, I do hope!

I stand before you, a well nourished middle aged, tenured geneticist who has won a few prizes, published often, and been provileged to teach some swell students. I have been married since my teens for two decades to a nice chap, a professional himself, and

we have jointly produced a couple of inordinately frisky children.

Isn't this mundane? Perhaps I am obliged to complain to this audience, more than that —— to whine, to detail punctiously my suffering at

the hands of men who adjudicated at every stage of my career, more +5 at every stage of my life. Nah -— not so. All things considered I've gotten what I deserved —- even the setbacks, even the repulses. Had I been a better scientist, these rejections would or might not have

occurred. Had I been a better scientist —- not a female scientist,

not a male one, just a more productively competent one ... this then,

is what I wish to harp upon, addressing those incipient scientists in this audience, suggesting to them that they forget, even temporarily, whether they developed from an XX or an XY zygote, suggesting instead that they study science and "do" genetics or biology or engineering

or physics or whatever. Participation in scientific research and endeavor represents a privilege, a privilege to which a very few have or are being admitted. Earn this admission with prolonged, uninterrupted attention to the literature of this field, and without making excuses for the failings that each of us experiences.

Now, having pontificated, I must earn my lunch by-documenting in perhaps fragmentary fashion, the position of women in science. I shall confine myself to recent years; there is nothing to be gained at this sanguineous point in time by bemoaning essentially "prehistoric". blows to our sex:

' Since I notice that no engineer will talk this morning, I refer listeners and readers to Women and the Scientific Professions, published in 1965 (edited by Mattfield and Van Aken), following a symposium on American women in science and engineering held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its purposes were:

1. To acquaint girls seriously interested in a career in science and technological fields with

the mythical and actual difficulties that they may expect to encounter, and to convey to them that these are not insurmountable, and that the satis- factions and rewards of such careers are high;

2. To bring together outstanding men and woe men, some already active in these fields, some in education and in industry, to focus their attention on the concerns of women preparing for careers in science and technology, in the hope that they may be stimulated to suggest new approaches and dis- cover new solutions to the existing problems through discussion with the students and each other; and

3. To attract the favorable attention of industry, other educational institutions, and the public at large to the present successful contribu- tions of women in these fields and to the desirability of decreasing the present barriers that now prevent maximum utilization of the abilities of qualified women in these areas. (Van Aken, in Mattfield and Van Aken, 1965)

_And the list of contributors to this important anthology is at once

diverse and impressive. Concluding for them all, Erikson (1964) wisely recites Mary Bunting's stress on the necessity to "maximize continuities," a desire I voiced early in my harrangue. Erikson is correct; when women are able to come into their own, shedding assort- ed sources of restrictions and bondage, so will their children. And we are all, regardless of sex, children of women.

Continuing our appropriate concern with engineering specifically, in 1970 Perrucci wrote of a visible minority group in the American occupational structure, women, who deemed science and especially engineering deviant from their ideal model of rational professions. This she found evident when her female subjects (from a large mid- western university) first entered the labor market and the "deviant" status became more pronounced during her subjects‘ subsequent careers. Minority status, regardless of its base, i.e., ethnicity, religion, or sex, is important if not often crucial in occupational placement. Female dominated professions or jobs seem to have always been held in

generally lower esteem than those that are male dominated. This esteem

is partially regulated according to that awarded by women themselves.

An engineer writing in 1974, Miriam Lipschutz Yevick refers to herself

_ as "one of the boys," repeating a friendly, putatively helpful, directive.

I myself have been complimented on what must have been a good day, for "thinking like a man." I urge you to read Lipschutz Yevick's "Some Thoughts on Women in Science" (1970) for at once, both entertaining I and didactic case histories. Again we read that career continuity is the main problem. How on earth to order temporally education, employment, marriage, childbearing, and


fUtilizing favored terms of geneticists, what is a viable degree of

eoverlap, if any? What is a viable degree of inversion, if any? What

is a viable degree of deletion, if any?‘ What is a viable degree of duplication, if any?

By 1970, a lead article in the prestigious, widely distributed journal, Science, considered Women in Academe (Graham, 1970). This was published before conferences such as the one we are all participating in today were almost routinely convened, and Patricia Graham, then associate professor of history and education at Barnard qollege, empha- sized the need for the stimulation of undergraduate women with a parallel alteration of undergraduate curricula. Those of us in Academe, regardless of our sex, do indeed realize the difficulty in initiating such alterations. Our species is basically, perhaps inherently, lazy methinks.

In 1972 and again the following year, the staff of Chemical and Engineering News surveyed the scene and reported on the average lower salaries awarded women chemists. Twenty years or more to salary equality

by sex by chemistry as a profession was the depressing prediction.

Gloria Lubkin (1971) simply inquired, "Do we really need more women in physics?" In that recent year, only eight percent of all women in the natural and mathematical sciences were physicists. (Chemistry had 39%, biology — 26%, and mathematics - 21.0%). Sure, said Lubkins' respondants, physics is so very interesting, why shouldn't women share the interesting lives physicists lead? Considering child care, another pointed out that "you must be lucky to have a good husband who is able to understand and

help you..." Lucky — how random, how wishful, how passive to just be

’lucky! My husband was raised by a successful, working mother.‘ (She

still works). He is more militantly feminist than I: We deliberately

arranged that I complete my doctorate nearly two years before he finished

ihis D.D.S. and subsequent training, so that if we raised a family, I'd be

professionally more secure first. After eight years of marriage (almost five past the acquisition of my Ph.D.), we had two children back—to—back whereupon my husband underwent a vasectomy. During child rearing, we enjoyed abundant assistance from a complete set of young grandparents who were then only in their fifties. Their aid plus professional help made it possible for me to miss less than two weeks of work after the

birth of each child (and I nursed them both).


To be sure though, there are psychological, often in the form of I 

social kafiaéoas to women in science (White, 1970). We do not do well in


our chosen professions just because we are excellent scientists. Rather,

our professional efforts must earn the approval of our peers. This approval must often be bestowed upon proposed efforts as well as more or less completed ones. Women, especially those with interrupted or dis- continuous careers, suffer limited opportunities allowing colleague interaction. Kashet, Robbins, Leive and Huang reported the same for women microbiologists very recently (1974), documenting the lower

status of women compared to that of men in microbiology.

How can women in science help themselves? Minimize or eliminate interrupted or discontinuous careers. Keep alive in your profession: Keep in touch with others in your field, attend professional meetings, keep up with your journals; — need I go on? I can if I must.

By 1973, we arrive at a report on "One Hundred Years of Women at M.I.T." (Technology Review, 1973, and also see R. Nichols in this same


June issue.) In 1871, Ellen Swallow a graduate of Vassar, was admitted

as a special student in chemistry and confined to narrowly restricted, out of sight‘ laboratory quarters. She did graduate. ’Finally, Baranger (physics), Eastwood (engineering), Potter (psychology): Rothschild

(mathematics), Ruderman (graduate student, biology) and Tooney (biophysics)

“offer us current goals for women in science (1973). These goals are

'innumerated in terms of high school, undergraduate college, and graduate

science education; college and university faculties, governmental intramural science and that within industry; fellowships, grants, contracts and committees are also surveyed as warranting altered, aug- mented inputs and outputs via women scientists. And this panel of pro- fessional women is right. But let us put a chunk of the blame and a bigger chunk of the burden squarely where the burden must initiate: Women are not as equivalently successful as men in science because they do not work hard enough. With Mary Bunting, "I'm willing to place a bet on the woman past 40 (past 30?) who returns to scientific work." Right now, I'd rely on them more fully than upon younger women, but

I'd rely most fully on men as students and colleagues of my own. I anticipate with glee, a future that will prove I am in error.

In the interval, I am unlikely to write about this subject again.

I'll be occupied by the concerns of population genetics - that, for which I have trained so long. May I plead for equivalent concerns for

you, ladies? After all,

Men fear women because they have not been

taught how to work with a woman. Women are mothers, wives, sweethearts, girlfriends, relatives. But co—workers? Colleagues? Our society affords men few opportunities to learn how to work with women, to know women other than in their stereotyped, culture—conditioned roles.

J.W. Schoonover, March 21, 1974 "No. They are not born to rule.“ ~ New York Times, p. 41. Do consider the fact that now, in my field - genetics, there are both expanding and numerous opportunities for women. .Genetic

counseling involving primarily interpretive tasks, is concerned with

all afisects of birth defects and requires at least the Master's degree

_level of formal training,(The National Foundation / March of Dimes,

iBox 2000, White Plains, New York 10602 publishes a helpful, free

booklet about this new profession, "Genetic Counseling.") With a Ph.D. in genetics the opportunities are even broader, encompassing,

in addition to counseling, analytic and research work as well as teaching at various levels. Genetics, as other specialties, includes a number of subdivisions, among them the aforementioned population genetics, plus biochemical, molecular, cytological, mathematical, microbial, botanical, human and even behavioral genetics. This last is a new fertile hybrid between psychology and biology with its own biochemical, statistical, and psychiatric aspects. It is bolstered by a new journal, "Behavior Genetics" (Plenum Press, New York).

To sum, professional genetics without doubt requires hard, devoted attention spanning long hours, but I honestly see no current impediment to the success of women in genetics just because they are women. I know of only one firm biological requirement: Stamina— of the

sort that derives from sturdy physical health!

Judy Koopmann, science librarian, State University of New York at Purchase,.

helped me in the literature search and criticized this manuscript.


Baranger, E., Eastwood, E., Kistiakowsky, V., Milburn N., Pless, V., Potter, M., Rothschild, L., Ruderman, J., & Tooney, N. 1973 Goals for Women in Science. Technology Review 75(7):48—57.

Chemical and Engineering News 1972 Women Chemists Still Earn Substantially Less Than Men Chemists. 50:9,l7.

Chemical and Engineering News 1973 Job Picture Varies for Federal Scientists. 51:17.

Graham, P. 1970 Women in Academe. Science 69(3952):1284—l290.

Kashket, E., Robbins, M.L., Leive, L. & Huang, A. A 1974 Status of Women Microbiologists. Science 183(4l26):488-494

Keller, E.F. 1974 A Biomathematical Analysis Of A Social Problem —— Women in Science. (to be published).

Lipschutz Yevick, M. ‘ 1970 Some Thoughts on Women in Science. Technology Review 72(9):42—46.

1974 Letter: On Being An Engineer — and a Woman. Technology Review 76(4):4.

Lubkin, G. 1971 Women in Physics. Physics Today 24(6):23—27.

Mattfeld, J. & Van Aken, C. (eds.) 1965 Women and The Scientific Professions. The M.I.T. Symposium on American Women in Science and Engineering . Cambridge: M.I.T. Press. pa Vlo ' '

Nichols, R. 1973 Women in Science and Engineering: Are Jobs Really Sexless? Technology Review 75(7):43—47.

Perrucci, C. 1970 Minority Status and the Pursuit of Professional Careers: Women in Science and Engineering. Social Forces 49(2):245—258. '

White, M." . 1970 Psychological and Social Barriers to Women in Science. Science l70(3956):413—416.

Technology Review 1973 100 Years of Women at M.I.T. 75(7):42

1973 Goals for Women in Science. 75(7):48—57.