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Women, Science and Technology


All people have equal rights to persecute their happiness and rights for education and participation in activities as they find meaningful without discrimination and prejudice to race, religion, ethnicity, or gender. However, proclamation of equality cannot protect people from traditional forms of behavior, which contribute to the domination of one group over another. Studies on gender and the consequently developed theory and practice of feminism have considerably changed approaches to understanding of stereotypes concerning males’ and females’ behavior and roles in the scientific field. Gender and sex differ in the social connotation. Sex is a factual physiologically stipulated difference of humans while gender is a socially constructed category (Samovar, Porter, McDaniel, and Roy 145).

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This paper focuses on the analysis of gender stereotypes in the course of technological and natural science development. It reviews what role women have played throughout the history of scientific knowledge enrichment and how new achievements have changed ideas of gender.

The Role of Women in History and Development of Scientific Knowledge

At the end of the Middle Ages, monasteries reduced their impact on social life. It initiated economic growth of cities and strengthening of their political power. There appeared the growing prestige of education, but with limited access for women. Famous women scientists were ladies from aristocratic circles where females were valued not only for their beauty, but also their mind. Prominent women of the English society of that time were Anna Conway and Lady Mary Montagu.

Anne Conway was born in 1631 and received traditional education at home. Being a young girl, she started showing interest in science and mathematics. She studied the works of Descartes. At the age of 19, Anna married. She continued self-education and studied mathematics and astronomy independently. For the first time, A. Conway’s book The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy appeared in the manuscripts of Francois Van Helmont in the Netherlands in 1690. He was an alchemist and philosopher and published Conway’s works after her death. They played a significant role in creating Leibniz’s philosophy of nature. Today, the name of Anne Conway is nearly forgotten. Her ideas are often referred to by F. Van Helmont who was an editor and publisher of her works (Kourany 35)

Lady Mary Montagu (1689-1762) acquired her scientific knowledge independently. Her father, the Duke of Kingston, had an excellent library. In Istanbul, where her husband served as a British ambassador, she learned about the possibility of preventive vaccination against smallpox. It was widely used in China, India, the Middle East, but was unknown in Europe at those times. In the XVIII century, up to 45 thousand people died from smallpox epidemics each year only in the British Isles. Lady Mary Montagu introduced the practice of vaccination against smallpox in the UK (Kourany 38).

While women could not have secular education, they got their knowledge from fathers, brothers, husbands, often working with them on researches. Such cooperation was the only form, which allowed women to meet their interest in science and take part in scientific investigation. For example, in 1783 Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) opened three new nebulas thanks to collaboration with her brother William Herschel. He became the court astronomer of King George III. Carolina ran the household of her brother and helped him to polish mirrors for telescopes. She developed an interest in astronomical observations and began to study the sky with a small Newtonian reflector. Such observations led her to significant scientific discoveries. Carolina learnt the basics of mathematics under the guidance of her brother. In 1786-1797, she opened eight new comets and a few nebulae. In 1787, the king appointed her an annual pension in the amount of 50 pounds as an assistant astronomer to the royal court (Gornick 41).

The XIX century was the time of medical advances. Increasing number of physicians who received university training and competition for the right to engage in medical practice led to a decrease in the status of women physicians. Their access to education and work in the scientific field became very problematic in England. Therefore, one English woman decided to pretend being a man. In 1812, dressed as a male, Dr. Barry (1795-1865) finished medical school in Edinburgh and became an outstanding surgeon. In 1857, after working in Africa, Malta, and the Crimea, she was appointed the chief inspector of all Canadian hospitals. There are other examples when a woman wore a man’s suit for the purpose of education, but Dr. Barry had pretended all her life. The truth became known only after her death. (Gornick 45).

Her contemporary, a physician and educator Salome Halpir managed to become a doctor without hiding the fact that she was a woman. She was born in 1718 in a family of tradesman near the town of Novogrudok in Belarus. A 13-year-old girl was married to her doctor, a German Yakub Hal Pira, and the couple headed to Istanbul. The husband was engaged in medical activities and Salome began to assist him. Due to the natural observation, she quickly mastered methods of treatment and began to practice medicine independently. Knowledge and experience allowed her to receive an official permission for medical practice. Salome worked as a doctor in many countries, based on her practice in teaching of health and physical education. All this, together with achievements of pharmacology and surgery created a flawless system at that time, according to which Salome Rusetskaya worked in "ophthalmology" as she called herself (Gornick 49).

The first computer device programmer in the history was a woman. Countess Ada Lovelace August (1815-1852) was the daughter of the English poet George Byron. She worked in the 30s of the XIX century with Charles Babbage on the development of the first programmable computing device. She developed a part of the program and managed to create little during her short life. However, her invention became a turning point and her name was forever inscribed in the history of computational mathematics and computer science. Ada Lovelace’s series made in 1843 retained their fundamental importance for modern programming and her definition of “cycle” is almost word for word the same as the definition in modern textbooks on programming. In recognition of the enormous merit of Lady Lovelace, one of the modern programming languages has been named Ada (Gornick 57).

In the 60s of the XIX century, a broad movement of women for the expansion of their rights officially opened doors of universities on an equal base with men for the first time in the European history. It happened in the Dutch universities. In the 70s of the same century, institutes and colleges in Switzerland and England followed the example. In Germany, women gained the right to study at higher educational institutions only in 1890.

Women started participating in the creation of a number of scientific organizations and took high social positions at the beginning of the XVIII century. For example, Prussian Queen Sophie Charlotte, a student of Leibniz, facilitated establishment in 1700 of the Berlin Academy of Sciences. Madame Rambouillet Richelieu initiated creation of the Paris Academy of Sciences.

At the end of XIX century, conservatism was overcoming the educational system. That process deprived women of access to higher education. This movement was in line with the overall process of democratization. Female scientists in several European countries claimed their right to work in science in accordance with their abilities and scientific status. For example, Maria Sklodowska-Curie was the first female professor in France and the first woman in the world who had won the Nobel Prize in physics and chemistry. She was one of the inventors and developers of the new radioactivity, which had great importance as the “first step” on the way of science in the world of elementary particles. In late 1910, at the insistence of many scientists, she was nominated for election to the French Academy of Sciences.

There were no women members in the entire history of the French Academy of Sciences. Therefore, nomination of Maria Sklodowska-Curie led to a fierce battle between supporters and opponents of this step. “My candidacy - she wrote in her autobiography - filed a keen interest and essentially raised the question of women's participation in the Academy. Many members of the Academy opposed it” (Kitetu 39). After months of offensive controversy, in January 1911, Maria Sklodowska-Curie’s nominee was rejected by one vote in the election. Several months later, Marie Curie was awarded the second Nobel Prize in Chemistry by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences “for outstanding achievements in the development of chemistry: the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, radium isolation and study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element” (Kitetu 39). She was the first double winner of the Nobel Prize. In 1932, the Nobel Prize was awarded to her daughter and son, Irene and Frederic Joliot-Curie, for their discovery of artificial radioactivity.

Science and Technology Stipulated Changes in Understanding Gender

Modern society tends to democratization and humanization. The priority task is providing equal access to opportunities for realization of intellectual and creative potential for both sexes regardless of gender, age, and social status. Many countries of the world signed and ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women on September 3, 1981. 136 states constitutionally recognize the equality of all citizens and non-discrimination against women (Kitetu 29).

Despite this fact, the problem of women's equality in the global society persists. Gender segregation is increasingly seen as existing social barriers for women in career advancement, especially in countries of the third world. The term "glass ceiling" implies gender segregation and explains the fact of existence of many invisible organizational barriers, which women can face in the development of their academic promotion (Lederman and Bartsch 38).

There are Different Approaches Explaining the Phenomenon of "Glass Ceiling"

The first approach is based on the concept of human capital as an explanation for unequal pay between men and women. According to this theory, women are inferior to men in terms of labour because the quality of work done by women is lower than that of men. It happens because women have less experience and devotion to career due to family responsibilities and birth of a child. Women leave science twice more frequently than their male counterparts and are often forced to choose between professional career and family responsibilities. It is due to simultaneous imposition of favourable age for having children and promotion in academic career. Women in modern conditions are increasingly unable to combine research activities and family responsibilities. Automation work at home through the use of household appliances promotes release of time that women can devote to career development, thereby increasing professional experience. Despite significant changes in the labour market legislation, intellectual and occupational segregation persists. Such causes are an example of hidden mechanisms of discrimination against women in their professional and academic growth (Lederman and Bartsch 38).

According to the second approach, discrimination against women by employers was the basis of G. Bekkera’s theory of addiction (Sonnert and Holton 90). The result and cost of an employer-discriminator are more profitable than in cases of adherence to the individual’s promotion. Women’s labour is traditionally cheaper than the same work done by men.

The third approach is based on the theory of labour market segmentation, which concerns division of professions into male and female. Of course, scientific activity can be attributed to both sexes. Manifestation of the theory is in the fact that women do not get experience required for promotion. Assignments allow proving oneself as a candidate for a senior position and women have to show high levels of motivation and initiative when they want to be engaged in experimenting and analytical activity. For example, in the US women scientists and engineers receive more than 45% of PhD degrees (Sonnert and Holton 93). At the same time, only 21% and 5% of management positions are held by women.

The fourth approach contains the view that when a woman acts as a researcher, she can reconsider conventional theories and methods and re-assess the object of study.

Such views on the role of women in science are called “feminist point of view” and they are the basis of gender theories of occupational segregation.

Feminist criticism of discrimination against women in the economical aspect was expressed by Vivian Gornick who tried to explain the problem of gender inequality in terms of psychoanalysis. According to the scientist, social unwelcoming of women in leadership positions in traditionally “male” fields, including science, is associated with the fear of men to lose their gender identity and priority (Gornick 87).

In addition, a significant role in discrimination against women originates from gender stereotypes due to three factors. The first factor is the gender role, according to which men traditionally occupy more important scientific positions than women.

Unequal sharing of family and household chores and responsibilities is another factor contributing to segregation in labour and scientific fields. Scientific research shows that women spend 1-4 hours less than men on the paid job and care for family members (Maccoby 31). The next factor is wage discrimination. One research conducted by American scientists shows that the wage gap between women and men in the US is more than 30% due to effects of gender occupational segregation (Maccoby 31).

Difficulties mentioned above provide women with less ability to identify leadership qualities or, at least, feel equal roles in creating a particular scientific product. At the same time, those women who have managed to occupy key leadership positions do not only show extraordinary intellectual potential, but also become an example of extraordinary leadership qualities and initiatives. Unfortunately, those examples are an exception rather than a common trend. In science, politics, and higher executive positions in business, proportion of women remains much less frequent than of men.

Tools to solve this problem can be promotion of education and vocational training of young women and financial support for scientific research and professional improvement of females. Introduction of statistical monitoring of gender at all levels of science and implementation of programs of gender equality in education can contribute to solution of the problem.

The Analysis of the Gender Representation in Modern Science and Technology

The first half of the XX century was the time of totalitarian system dominance in a number of European countries. The second half was marked by a rapid growth in the field of science and higher education. The growth in the number of women in science was evident at the end of the nineteenth century until about 1930, which coincided with the first wave of mass movement for women's rights. Within 30 years of the XX century in most European countries, as well as in the US and Canada, there was a reverse trend. Finally, in the 60s, a rapid growth in the number of women scientists began again. Researchers explained it by the rise of the feminist movement and growth of the educational level of women. Currently, participation of women in scientific and technological activities is mostly promoted in the United States, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Canada, Eastern Europe, and former USSR. The feminist movement history shows that women took predominantly low-paid areas of scientific activity (Kourany 65).

Despite the fact that more women are getting university education in engineering and natural sciences, they are still inferior to men in the occupation of high positions in the scientific hierarchy and in obtaining advanced degrees. In the United States in 1997, women accounted for 33% of doctorates in these areas. Maximum success was achieved in social sciences where from 1954 to 1997 a share of females in the proportion of doctors increased from 9 to 51%. In engineering sciences, the percentage of female doctors remained at 12% in 1997 (Kourany 65).

In recent decades, the US has seen a steady increase in the absolute number and percentage of doctoral degrees in natural sciences awarded to women in academic institutions. This trend has been contributed by two factors, which include political initiatives of governmental and independent organizations aimed at promotion and funding of women in scientific research and a significant social change brought by the feminist movement (Kourany 66). Since the establishment of the Nobel Prize in 1901 and until 1998, ten women scientists became winners (on the whole, from 1901 to 1998 the Nobel Prize was received by 449 scientists) (Kourany 66). Women have been more likely to receive the Nobel Prize since 1963 and a marked increase in the number of female doctors has been noted since 1966


Women scientists have been present in every culture throughout the history of development of the society. However, they could achieve some success only in an environment with a positive attitude towards their scientific pursuits. It has been found out that career of women scientists depends on social conditions and traditions prevailing in a particular country. When women marry, they either interrupt or pay less attention to their academic promotion. Women professors are three times more frequently single than their men colleagues.

Strengthening of the role of technology in the functioning and development of the society has become one of the characteristic features in the distribution of advantageous labour in the period of transition from an industrial to an information society. Post-industrial era demands reconsideration of professional values and abilities. Under these conditions, there is a tendency towards feminization of the sphere of science. However, the process has negative affects as well. Financial independence and leadership of women lead to the crises of masculinity. Nowadays, men can complain about being discriminated. Problems of women working in science are common to those of men and nowadays the significance of inventions matters more than sex, ethnicity, or even income. Technology has made people equal in the competition for the best ideas and innovations. Competence and leadership qualities have become aspects of the utmost importance.

At the same time, it would not be correct to say that there is no gender discrimination in science nowadays. Women are often forced to perform tedious, almost technical jobs needed for development of subordinate scientific disciplines. They are often only participants of minor projects, work as a part of a team, and do not get any recognition or personal satisfaction. To achieve high academic results and acknowledgement, a female scientist should be internally organized and be ready to follow rules of competition in the market relationships. Women scientists should have enough strength to be ready for loneliness. They have to face ridicule by men who are jealous of encroachment on what they consider to be their prerogative. In developed countries, women have equal access to higher education and face challenges of modern technology at the highest levels of the scientific hierarchy. They prove their right to be equal members of the scientific community by years of hard work and results of research and extraordinary inventions.

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