November 17, 2016 at 5:53 AM

Are We There Yet?

November 17, 2016 at 5:53 AM

Women have always been the essential foundation of every aspect of our lives, but they have consistently been deprived of their rights, and their talents and achievements have often gone unrecognized while those of men are routinely praised.

Charlotte Bronte the famous English author said, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”  Yet, in her time, she was precluded even of publishing her books under her own name, and her most famous book, “Jane Eyre,” was first released in 1846 under a male pen name. After that, from 1848 to the mid-1850s, she fought for her right to have her own name on her own books as author. She, alongside many other women, fought for women’s basic rights and accomplished much. But the question today is: “Are we there yet?”

Let’s look at one case.  A question such as why a towering figure in the fields ofphysics and astronomy, Dr. Vera Rubin, has not been awarded a Nobel Prize, is not a new phenomenon.   Dr. Rubin uncovered the discrepancy between the predicted angular motion of galaxies and the observed motion, by studying galactic rotation curves. However, she was not allowed to use the Palomar Observatory apparatus until 1965, even though she already had obtained her PhD in 1954 - over 10 years previously. Before that, women were not authorized to access that facility, or many other scientific facilities, in the way men freely used them as their birth right. Her work and discoveries in the field of Astronomy have earned her great acclaim and several awards, and she gained a prominent place in the history of science.  Yet the Nobel committee has not selected her for that well-deserved ultimate award, the Nobel prize, even though she was a pioneer, with Kent Ford, in finding dark matter in the 1970s through those studies of galactic motion, one of the most fundamental discoveries of our time in astrophysics. The discovery of dark matter has opened a tremendous gateway for scientists, which has allowed them to discover much more about our universe. 

Her struggle to be accepted as a scientist has haunted Dr. Rubin all her life.  When she applied to Princeton as her graduate school she was rejected, as Princeton did not accept women in the field of astronomy; a policy that was not discarded until 1975.  During her time at Carnegie, Rubin became the first woman to legally observe from the Palomar telescope in San Diego, blazing a path of equality at that observatory. Provoked by her own experiences of prejudice and discrimination and her battle to gain credibility as a woman astronomer, Rubin has been active and outspoken in encouraging women to pursue careers in the sciences, and continues to encourage young girls tofollow their dreams of investigating the universe.

Today, Vera Rubin is 88 years old; an accomplished scientist who cares less for fame than what she learns and gives to the world.  She says:  “Fame is fleeting; my numbers mean more to me than my name. If astronomers are still using my data years from now, that’s my greatest compliment.”  She is humble and seems indifferent towards the Nobel Prize, but my question is why this gifted scientist has not received it?

Does the boy’s-club hold the final decision, as it does in so many other fields?  Why is it we still see so few women in science and technology careers?  Needless to say, many more young women are being used in advertising so that their beauty and sex appeal can produce more sales.


- Nasreen Pejvack, author of Amity

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