“Textbooks are full of stereotypes”

Barbara Mcclintock. Inge Lehmann. Or Angela Ruiz Robles. To the vast majority of citizens these names will not tell you anything. But if we talk about Albert Einstein, Alexander Fleming or Erwin Schrödinger, it is very likely that they know who we are talking about. The former were also brilliant scientists but Because of her status as a woman, her merits were taken by a colleague and they were relegated to oblivion.

With the objective of repair that outrage, and in the framework of the celebration this Thursday of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the #NoMoreMatildas campaign has been launched. The initiative has been promoted by the Association of Women Researchers and Technologists (AMIT), with the support of the Office of the European Parliament in Spain, and is an idea of ​​Gettingbetter Creative Studio, with the collaboration of Dos Passos Literary and Communication Agency and the Kamestudio production.

The movement aims to publicize the Matilda effect, named in honor of Matilda Joslyn Gage, the first activist who denounced him, and thus make visible those who should never have been invisible. For a question of justice but also to offer girls examples that help awaken their scientific vocation. Those responsible for the initiative echo studies of the University of Valencia and the Complutense that reveal only 7.6% of female references in the educational materials of the ESO compared to their male counterparts and 12% in the citations of works academics.

In this context, in Spain the presence of girls in some STEM careers is on the decline. This is the case of computer engineering, where in the 80s they represented more than 30% and today they barely reach 12%. Or mathematics, a degree in which in 2000 the proportion of female students was 60% and in 2018 it had fallen to 37%. And in those where there is parity or even the graduates are the majority, they later face the glass ceiling.

To help alleviate this situation, #NoMoreMatildas has prepared an annex to the 5th grade textbooks, “because it is the first year in which the figures of scientists are beginning to be studied”. In that insert appear some of those pioneers who were denied authorship of their findings. Through three stories, the project also invites us to reflect on what life would have been like for Einstein, Fleming or Schrödinger if they had been women.

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The “traps” of the research career

“There is another fundamental message, more subliminal but that is also in the whole campaign, and that is that the research career has many traps and if we encourage girls to dedicate themselves to science we have to make sure that when they reach university or a job do not find a hostile environment full of stereotypes. This requires strong measures and they are not easy, “adds Carmen Fenoll, president of AMIT. Within this difficulty that she recognizes, she claims to increase the number of women in the highest positions of the profession and is a” staunch defender “of the measures of positive action “because without them it is not possible for an underrepresented group to progress”.

This biologist also points out as the main issue “to intervene against these unconscious biases motivated by education and environment“that make even” the most feminist people “doubt that women are the most suitable for a position or a promotion:” The only way to oppose them is to be aware that we have them and to fight personally “.

“Who decided what was the proper height of the bar of a bus to hold on to? A 1.80 man.”

“The greatest happiness that #NoMoreMatildas has given us is to make the problem visible. When a problem becomes visible, society is ready to address it and change its way of seeing it. That is what we need. And that institutions, universities, centers researchers begin to seriously apply policies to end underrepresentation in some fields “, claims Fenoll and warns that without these professionals”half the talent that could solve tomorrow’s problems is being lost“.

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The perspective of women has changed many scientific processes and should continue to be. Just 30 years ago, medicine did not take them into account in its clinical trials and even today not all research includes both sexes. “The same thing happens with engineering. Who decided what was the proper height of a bus bar to hold onto? A man of 1.80. For that to have begun to change, the entry of women into these disciplines has been essential “, explains the president of AMIT.

Fenoll adds that now the main challenge is in artificial intelligence, where the female quota barely reaches 15%: “The way in which machines are trained to manage issues is with examples and if the examples we give them have a biased representation of society, the solutions they are going to give us are not going to be good. We will be designing a future that will not be worth anything“The conclusion is clear:” We cannot do good science without women. “

“At this rate it will take us a couple of centuries to achieve equality”

Carmen Fernoll, president of AMIT.

Carmen fenoll

  • Carmen Fenoll (Madrid, 1956) chairs the Association of Women Scientists and Technologists (AMIT). Doctor in Biological Sciences from the Autonomous University of Madrid, she is a professor of Plant Physiology at the Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Biochemistry of the University of Castilla-La Mancha. He also directs the Group of Biotechnology and Molecular Biology of Plants.

Is there a case of a Matilda that is especially bleeding? All those in the annex are. But there are hundreds more collected and well documented in books of historians and historians. The most terrible thing is to think how many more there have been of which we know nothing. It could be thousands and we will never know.

Marie Curie was an exception? He also had it more difficult. The first Nobel was given to her because her husband stood before the committee and said that without her, he would not accept it. It is the example of a partner who does not look down on his partner, curious but not so exceptional. The second was granted alone and it was not a dish of taste because it was given to him in the midst of a despicable controversy about his private life. They treated her that way because she was a woman.

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Is it an effect that continues? Not with that gravity. Today science is a collective task. It does happen, especially where women are still a minority –computing, some engineering, mathematics …– and where research groups are large and work is distributed, that the merit of the discovery is attributed to men, while to them They are recognized for their great work, their effort, their positive influence… It shows in the letters of recommendation from the mentors. Those who write for a young scientist are very different than for a female scientist.

Will they expand the campaign with more materials? We would love to, but the work that needs to be done is much more fundamental and consists of changing the school books from top to bottom. The iconography on display is full of stereotypes that do not benefit girls. They appear inventing, flying a plane or acting, and they, caring, nodding, being ambles … It can’t be. Changing that is an effort by all the agents involved.

Have you contacted the Ministry of Education to work on it? The minister [Isabel Celaá] She was at the presentation we made on Monday and is deeply committed to the campaign. The Minister of Science [Pedro Duque] so is and what is more important, the first vice president [Carmen Calvo] and she represents the government. We do trust that things will be done immediately.

AMIT turns 20, how has the situation evolved? It has come a long way. I would say that Spain is one of the countries with the most progressive laws in this field. But society has not changed that much. At this rate, it will take us a couple of centuries to achieve equality in the main positions, in decision-making and in some disciplines.

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