I just read a new book* this summer. As you already know I love reading but my reading list likes to grow exponentially during the summer. It seems summer brings about a loose structure and schedule (it's a blessing and a curse for me) and invariably more heat. So I find myself at coffee shops or hiding in my apartment with fans swirling as I read.
This new book is called "Headstrong" by Rachel Swaby. Swaby writes biographies for 52 female scientists who have influenced our every day life. It's a very inspiring and educational to read about women throughout history who have changed science and our world. These are women I never learned about growing up. I wish they had been in my text books in school but I usually only learned about male scientists.
When you think about it, sexism has limited us so much. Today, as I worked on an art project with a second grade boy I was again reminded of strict gender rules. He exclaimed that he wanted his superhero to be ugly and so he would color him pink of course! Because pink is a girl color! I explained to him how this can sound insulting (as his sister's favorite color is pink) to women in general that whatever color a female would dare to like is inherently ugly. I explained how the rainbow includes all the colors. There aren't "wrong colors" In fact, the color pink is not actually owned by girls. Thankfully he was receptive and decided his super hero was now going to be very cool AND colored pink and purple.
There is no "wrong gender" to have a certain career. For years, women have been discriminated against in the science world. The book talks about Helen Taussig who wasn't allowed in Harvard's medical school because of her gender. However women could attend the School of Public Health but their efforts wouldn't EVEN earn them a degree! She didn't let that stop her and went on to become the founder of pediatric cardiology. One would hope we've moved from the 1890's but it was only recently that we heard this stunning and ridiculous sexist remark from Tim Hunt, who has since resigned from his position, "Three things happen when girls are in the lab-you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry" So I guess it's understandable why so many females have shed their lab coats and have chosen to go a less difficult route and apparently controversial route.
The hard part about this book is that there are 52 very short biographies about all these women. I think I wanted to keep reading about one particular woman. I wanted to know more about her personal life, her family, her hobbies, what she did on Saturdays. It made me curious about who these rock star women were; who were publishing the first mathematics book, revealing the importance of fluid and salt for bodily functions, serving as the American Heart Association's first female president, as well as coming up with cures and inventions that still influence us today. (how food fuels our muscles, penicillin, the cotton industry, leprosy, just to name a few) I wanted it to read more like a conversation over coffee and less like a text book in all honesty and I wanted to create a multi-faceted image of these incredibly brilliant women in my head.
If you're not a scientist, it might be tricky to read. Don't even get me started on the math and technology section. Swaby does a good job of breaking it down for you but you have to have an attention span for it because it can sound clinical and sterile at times. (especially if you are not used to this genre)
While I am not a scientist myself, I really resonated with this book because ultimately I hope that little girls and women everywhere know that they can be scientists and that they don't have to fit the narrow and rigid gender stereotypes that have been thrust upon us for centuries. They don't just have have to use the color pink to influence and impact their world. They can use green too. And any other color they like.
*I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for this review