Women Demand Equality in Science

This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email sftp.publishing@gmail.com

Equality for Women in Science

By the Editorial Collective

Science for the People’ Vol. 2, No. 2, August 1970, p. 10 — 11

Most letters to the editors of Science, the regular publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAA$, a promotional and public relations org to keep the science establishment in bucks) have one signatory. A few have more than one—two or three ocassionally. After several hundred people (members of the AAA$ attending the Dec. ’69 meeting) signed a resolution demanding Equality for Women in Science, and a member of the AAA$ Committee on Council Affairs suggested it be sent to Science; the Women’s Caucus of Science for the People submitted the resolution for publication. The response was indeed revealing. The editors of Science clearly belong to the master group—MEN, and statements that question their special position are not going to be published!

In addition to the machismo mindfuck that infects the old men of the AAA$ (of course they do have a token woman as president), they are also sick with the usual elitist mindfuck prevalent in the science establishment: their rejection-form postcard had, as part of the preprinted form, “Dear Dr. _ _ _,”.

So we decided that if these self-serving old establishment fats wouldn’t publish as important a document as the resolution on Equality for Women in Science, maybe we would. To see what the response might be we ran through the voluminous correspondence on our last issue of SESPA News which had reported on the resolution with a few-line synopsis. When we saw the candid prejudice of Mr. Khanduri juxtaposed to the mealy-mouthed rejection by the editors of Science, we knew we’d have to publish the Equality for Women in Science Statement. After all what better answer to them both. . . . .

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for sending me your newsletter. I wonder if you can also publish some articles that deal with “Science and Society” — I may like to contribute some.

I do not agree with you when you are raising the question of “Equality of Women in Science”. Men and women are two complementary aspects of life and it is extreme stupidity to compare the two. They are like day and night; right and left. They have been made for different purposes. Women should stay at home, be mothers, housewives, etc. I can write a big article on this subject. So please withdraw this question of “Equality of Women in Science”. This is extreme stupidty. I agree with your ideas under “Science for the People”-Science should serve the people.

N.C. Khanduri

Washington, D.C.

The stated goals of the AAAS are:

to further the work of scientists,

to facilitate cooperation among them,

to improve the effectiveness of science in the promotion of human welfare, and

to increase public understanding and appreciation of the importance and promise of the methods of science in human progress.

None of these objectives can be realized while women in science are relegated to second class status. Female scientists do not escape the oppression faced by all women in our society. They are oppressed economically and culturally—trained for inferior roles and exploited as sex objects and consumers.

Such sexual discrimination is no accident. It serves, in a variety of ways, the interests of those who dominate the economy of this country. It provides them with a source of ideologically justified cheap labor, and as a consequence drives all wages down. It establishes ‘wives’ as unpaid household workers and child raisers, as well as a body of willing consumers. At the same time, the limitations on the creative development of women deprive society of the full contributions of over one half its members.

It is important to note that sexual oppression is both pervasive and institutionalized; within the scientific community it takes many forms. Educational tracking by sex from elementary school on channels women into subordinate roles and stereotypes. While men are trained to develop ‘logical’ patterns of thought, women are encouraged to be ‘intuitive.’ Math and science are seen as male perogatives. Vocational counselling in high schools and colleges pressure women into family roles, clerical work and, if professions are considered, into the service fields: teaching, social work, nursing, etc. Those few women who manage to transcend such socialization and choose scientific careers, encounter a vicious circle of exploitation. Quotas are placed on graduate school admissions and justified by the self-fulfilling prophecies that most women will be unable to finish because they will marry, have children, and lack the emotional stability and drive to meet the arduous initiation rites of the profession. The still fewer who complete their training continue to find themselves faced with male chauvinist ideology. They are forced to choose between family and profession, while men never make that choice.

As scientists, they are limited by being placed in subordinate positions, rarely being given their own labs or first authorship on papers, and, the most glaring inequity, being paid less than their male colleagues for equal work. They are automatically and illegally barred from certain jobs, particularly in industry and cut off from tenured and supervisory positions.

Moreover, the psychological harassment is constant and debasing. Casual remarks continually define the female scientists simply in relation to her sex, from compliments on her looks to ‘you think like a man.’ She is placed in the schizophrenic position of being treated as either a dehumanized worker or a feminine toy.

Universities hold a strategic position with regard to all manifestations of this problem, since they help create and transmit the ideology of male supremacy.

Moreover, the practices of sexual discrimination which permeate all institutions where AAAS members work and study are contradictory to the declared goals of the AAAS. Clearly we cannot ‘further the work of scientists’ while denigrating in so many ways the contributions and potential of women in the profession. Sexual discrimination makes ‘cooperation among scientists’ an ironic platitude. The ‘effectiveness of science in the promotion of human welfare’ is hardly furthered by denying half of humanity the opportunity to pursue scientific careers, or by wasting this tremendous resevoir of talent.

We therefore propose the following resolutions be adopted at the general Council meeting of the AAAS, and be fought for by AAAS members where they work.

  1. That universities and other institutions where AAAS members work be immediately required to comply with the law of the land and pay equal wages for equal work to men and women.
  2. That graduate school departments and medical schools admit 1/2 women and 1/2 men, regardless of the proportion of applicants, and that they take whatever steps are necessary to recruit sufficient women to comply with this demand.
  3. That vocational counselling in high schools and colleges be totally reoriented so as not to channel women into low-status, low-potential occupations.
  4. That the universities and other institutions give priority to the hiring and promotion of women, increasing the proportion of women to 50% at all levels.
  5. That birth control and abortion counselling be provided by university and company health services to all women.
  6. That the curriculum of courses in psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. be thoroughly revamped by women, to end the perpetuation and creation of male supremacist myths.

Further, that sex inequality be added as a topic to all courses and texts which cover social inequalities, and that new courses be created by women in their history and oppression.

  1. That the universities and government sponsor programs to investigate and change the subordinate status of women in our society.
  2. That it be recognized that the actual practices of hiring, promotion and tenure discriminate against women, and that institutions have not accepted their responsibility for such inequalities.

As a first step in the right direction institutions should provide:

a) parenthood leave and family sick leave for all employees, both female and male;

b) half-time appointments for mothers and fathers who want them must be considered (Since childrearing is a social responsibility, it is preferable for both parents’ work to be slowed down than for the mother’s to be stopped entirely.);

c) free child care centers should be open to the communities where the institutions are located, controlled by the parents, staffed equally by male and female teachers, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for infants to school age children and after school for older children.

While we realize that the ultimate liberation of both women and men in our society will only come with a total social and economic revolution, we feel that it is important for us to make steps now toward destroying false notions of superiority which do not serve science, scientists, or humanity.

>>  Back to Vol. 2, No. 2  <<