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AIBU - sexist science homework

(520 Posts)
Litchick Thu 17-Sep-09 09:06:29

Lst night's science homework was to write a short passage about a famous scientist, what they discovered and its applications today.

Fine except that each question said 'he'.

Eg what was his name? What did he discover?

DD and I chose Marie Curie and changed everything to she.

AIBU to make the point on the prep sheet or just touchy?
Does it matter? It felt to me like it does. Grrrr

Portofino Thu 17-Sep-09 09:11:24

I see your point but you have to admit that there are MORE male famous scientists. I;m no expert but can't think of another female one off the top of my head.....

<<awaits inundation of famous female scientists>>

slug Thu 17-Sep-09 09:11:59

YANBU!!!! Of course it matters, why do you think so many girls do not study sciences. Anyway, what is wrong with using the non-gendered 'their' and 'they'.

Your DD might like to read Hypatia's Heritage

RubberDuck Thu 17-Sep-09 09:13:34

I don't think that you're being unreasonable. That would have totally pissed me off too and I'm a mother of boys.

RubberDuck Thu 17-Sep-09 09:15:06

A list of female scientists for Portofino.

Romanarama Thu 17-Sep-09 09:15:18

Mary Somerville, Rita Levi Montalcini? There are loads. But technically speaking "he" is the correct generic. It could have been appropriate in the context to use "he or she" all the way through. Or even 'she' to make the point.

slug Thu 17-Sep-09 09:16:19

Portofino, there's:
Ada Lovelace who did all the mathematical work to make modern computing possible.

Rosalind Franklin whose photographs of DNA molecules were used by Crick and Watson to prove the double helix structure of DNA

And many others listed here

LovelyTinOfSpam Thu 17-Sep-09 09:17:29

Rosalind Franklin is the other off the top of my head. That's pretty sad

Mind you I'm a physicist, maybe more female action in the other disciplines.

YANBU it certainly sends a message. Yes most famous scientists were men but that was due to women not getting much opportunity at that point in history (again thinking of physics - not that clued up on the others). To word the question like that is wrong - leave it non-gendered. it definitely sends a message to the girls on the course.

thedolly Thu 17-Sep-09 09:18:01

Lazy on behalf of the teacher unless he/she has a plan up their sleeve.

I would save your point for a later date just in case.

tingler Thu 17-Sep-09 09:18:15

YANBatallU. There's a French lady from the 17th (18?) century too who introduced calculus into France.

There's Temple Grandin (who is not only female but also disabled) who has changed the way the slaughter industry works massively reducing animal suffering (would love to imagine your teacher's face if you'd chosen her!)

There's Dorothy Cheyney who discovered how monkeys have different "words" for different kinds of predators.

I think the "core" book on this subject (written from a history of science perspective rather than a women's studies perspective) is by Eveylyn Fox Keller: "Reflections on Gender and Science". Published in 1985: quite good.

Stigaloid Thu 17-Sep-09 09:18:46

YANBU - sexist and backward - there are plenty of female scientists who have made breakthroughs in modern society.

*Trotula of Salerno* was an Italian scientist, who is known for her works in the field of obstetrics and gynecology. She taught men about women's health and wrote books, which were used by physicians for hundreds of years. Trotula suggested the theory that men suffered from fertility issues, which was considered controversial then. She even promoted opiates that dulled the pain of labor during childbirth. However, this was opposed by church, which asked women to suffer the pain of childbirth without medication. Trotula was an important figure in the understanding of women's health. Major works: Passionibus Curandorum or The Diseases of Women

*Marie Curie* is one of the most famous women scientists of her time. During 1867 to 1934, she lived in Poland and France, where she attended the Sorbonne. She even received a chemist's license in physics and mathematical sciences. Curie won a Nobel Prize, becoming the first woman ever to be awarded this distinction. She devised a method to isolate radium, to study its properties. This discovery later paved the way for cancer therapy. However, Marie Curie died of leukemia, which is supposed to have been caused by her high exposure to radiation. Major works: Discovery of the elements Radium and Polonium

*Maria Mayer* was a German physicist. She is known for determining the shell structure of the atom and the shell configuration, wherein the electrons are positioned. It is her model that is used by most of the teachers within the classroom, to explain the composition of the atom. To the surprise of many, Mayer also assisted on the atomic bomb project and was awarded a Nobel Prize for her contribution in the separation of the isotopes of uranium. Major works: Determining the shell structure of the atom and the shell configuration

*Rachel Carson* was basically an important environmentalist who made the society aware of the effects of DDT on crops and water systems. In effect, she was named to the Ecology Hall of Fame and to the Top Twenty Most Influential Scientists and Thinkers for the Twentieth Century. Her books are still read worldwide. Major works: Effects of DDT on crops and water systems

*Gertrude B. Elien* was an American scientist, who lived from 1918 to 1999. She is well known for her contributions in cancer research. Ellien is accredited for discovering many anti-cancer drugs. For her efforts, she was even awarded a Nobel Prize. Major works: Discovery of anti-cancer drugs

*Jane Goodall* is a well known woman scientist. She was born in England and is acknowledged for her work with the African Gombe chimpanzees for over thirty years. She is an ecologist, who was the first to discover the use of tools amongst animals. Even now, she spends around three hundred days a year lecturing and sensitizing young people to improve the environment. Major works: Work onAfrican Gombe chimpanzees

*Rachel Zimmerman* is a Canadian scientist, who invented the Blissymbol Printer. It is a device that allows non-speaking people, such as those afflicted with severe physical disabilities like cerebral palsy, to communicate. It helps the user to correspond with the help of a program by pointing to various symbols on a main page board with a special pad. On touching the symbol, the "Blissymbol Printer" translates them into a written language, which can be communicated via e-mail. Major works: Blissymbol Printer

*Virginia Apgar* was born in Westfield, New Jersey. She is known for developing the Apgar Newborn Scoring System, which significantly increased the infant survival rates. She even indicated that the usage of some anesthetics during childbirth can negatively affect the infants. She pioneered anesthesiology and also helped to refocus the March of Dimes Organization, from polio to birth defects. Major works: Apgar Newborn Scoring System

*Rosalind Franklin* was born in 1920. From 1951 to1953, she worked on the DNA molecule. She took photographs of the B version of the molecule, with the help of x-ray crystallography. Though her role largely went unacknowledged during her lifetime, she was later acknowledged for discovering the helical structure of DNA. Major works: Discovered the helical structure of DNA.

*Alessandra Gillani* was born in 1307. She was a surgeon and anatomist. While working as an assistant to Mondino de Luzzi, who is well known as the ‘Father of Anatomy’, she specialized in dissections for demonstrations and research. She pioneered the technique of injecting colored liquids to trace the circulatory system. Major works: Discovery of blood vessels and circulation

LovelyTinOfSpam Thu 17-Sep-09 09:19:44

Oh and me of course! I am scientist and am pretty famous in the town where i live. Not for science though grin

tingler Thu 17-Sep-09 09:20:10

"But technically speaking "he" is the correct generic"


Poledra Thu 17-Sep-09 09:20:21

Another YANBU here <declaration of interest: Pol is a female scientist, though sadly not famous grin>.

What about Rosalind Franklin, involved in the discovery of the DNA helix, though the male scientists hogged all the glory?
Jane Goodall, the chimpanzee woman.
And a personal favourite (and still alive smile) Nancy Rothwell, the neuroscientist, who did the Christmas lectures in the late 1990s.

morningpaper Thu 17-Sep-09 09:20:44


Litchick Thu 17-Sep-09 09:21:26

Glad I'm not alone in thinking this was off.

The science teacher is actually a woman so I was a bit surprised. She probably didn't think anything of it when she typed it up...

I dunno - it seems petty but this stuff does matter.

RubberDuck Thu 17-Sep-09 09:22:22

"he" should not be the correct generic when there are huge drives to get more women interested in science, particularly at school level.

It really doesn't take that much more ink to write "s/he". I agree in a long book or paper, it's worthwhile to pick one gender throughout and put a disclaimer/explanation at the front. In homework instructions though, there is no reason why "s/he" or even the more long-winded "she or he" can't be used.

Litchick Thu 17-Sep-09 09:22:48

I think it's also worth recognising that many more women were probably at the forfront of science but let their male partners take the credit in order to be published.

thirtypence Thu 17-Sep-09 09:23:04

I once called a company up and complained when their 82 year old MD was on the news saying that engineering needed "more good men." I told them they may get more engineers if they joined the 21st Century.

Good for you for changing it.

morningpaper Thu 17-Sep-09 09:23:24

or even "they"

I'm happy to sacrifice perfect grammar for inclusivism

posieparker Thu 17-Sep-09 09:23:39

It's only the same as every baby book saying 'she'...does it really matter?

GrendelsMum Thu 17-Sep-09 09:24:36

Actually, the whole 'famous scientist' thing really annoys me. I think that it emphasises individual discovery and a notion of innate genuius at the expense of team work, building on the work of others, and gradual discovery which is much truer of science today.

And why does it always have to be a 'famous' scientist - why can't we have something like 'find a contemporary scientist and write about what they're doing'. We could even have 'find a young contemporary scientist and write about what they're doing'. There are lots of web pages on University sites etc which give very comprehensible descriptions of what people are working on .

RubberDuck Thu 17-Sep-09 09:25:26

I agree, morningpaper. "They" scans well even if it isn't technically good grammar (and lets face it, there's plenty of crap grammar around in homework questions anyway...)

tingler Thu 17-Sep-09 09:25:49

I think it does posieparker because little girls and teenage girls don't want to be considered "unfeminine" so it's useful if they feel that one can be feminine and also a scientist.

tingler Thu 17-Sep-09 09:26:59

Yes, "They" is very useful! (ooh I sound like Eliza Doolittle!)

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