Happy International Day of Women and Girls in Science!
History is a funny thing. In school, it feels like history is a dead subject, a series of static, solid facts that are the absolute version of the truth. In that sense it probably feels a bit like science to some people.
Fact #1: Both History and Science are living, breathing subjects.
The world is constantly changing around us. Every day new events happen in the political climate and new scientific discoveries are occurring. We know more about our world today than we ever have before but we don’t know as much as we will know tomorrow! Women and girls can and will be a part of both our future history and our understanding of the world around us.
Fact #2: History is actually full of opinions and biases, which often mask the real, more complex, version of the truth.
Just like journal articles, historians backup their own biases and opinions with carefully crafted viewpoints and references. This is quite worrying when we realise that many of the first historians were men as it means we have versions of the truth that collectively minimise the role and contributions of women. In her book ‘Inferior’, Angela Saini dedicates a chapter called ‘Women’s Work’ to exactly this, where she talks to many anthropologists who study human societies and cultures and their development in the past and present. Some anthropologists, including Sally Linton and Adrienne Zihlman, noted that men were glorified as hunters whilst women were diminished as gatherers. The important thing to note here is that gathering was arguably the bigger source of food for the family dinner, so the role of women was just as important as that of men.
Fact #3: Women were the very first scientists.
Did you know that? How does that make you feel? Remember the historians I mentioned above? The fact that they often leave out women has led us to the wrong perception that women are not scientists. This is why omitting the full truth is so dangerous.
I came across this Neil Gaiman poem recently which beautifully highlights the role of women as the very first scientists. For me it was a powerful reminder that women always have been and can be scientists. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t, because they are wrong. No ifs, no buts, no maybes.
Fact #4: You can be whatever you want to be.
Happy International Day of Women and Girls in Science budding scientists. We can’t wait to see what you will discover.
THE MUSHROOM HUNTERS
by Neil Gaiman
Science, as you know, my little one, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe.
It’s based on observation, on experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe the facts revealed.
In the old times, they say, the men came already fitted with brains
designed to follow flesh-beasts at a run,
to hurdle blindly into the unknown,
and then to find their way back home when lost
with a slain antelope to carry between them.
Or, on bad hunting days, nothing.
The women, who did not need to run down prey,
had brains that spotted landmarks and made paths between them
left at the thorn bush and across the scree
and look down in the bole of the half-fallen tree,
because sometimes there are mushrooms.
Before the flint club, or flint butcher’s tools,
The first tool of all was a sling for the baby
to keep our hands free
and something to put the berries and the mushrooms in,
the roots and the good leaves, the seeds and the crawlers.
Then a flint pestle to smash, to crush, to grind or break.
And sometimes men chased the beasts
into the deep woods,
and never came back.
Some mushrooms will kill you,
while some will show you gods
and some will feed the hunger in our bellies. Identify.
Others will kill us if we eat them raw,
and kill us again if we cook them once,
but if we boil them up in spring water, and pour the water away,
and then boil them once more, and pour the water away,
only then can we eat them safely. Observe.
Observe childbirth, measure the swell of bellies and the shape of breasts,
and through experience discover how to bring babies safely into the world.
And the mushroom hunters walk the ways they walk
and watch the world, and see what they observe.
And some of them would thrive and lick their lips,
While others clutched their stomachs and expired.
So laws are made and handed down on what is safe. Formulate.
The tools we make to build our lives:
our clothes, our food, our path home…
all these things we base on observation,
on experiment, on measurement, on truth.
And science, you remember, is the study
of the nature and behaviour of the universe,
based on observation, experiment, and measurement,
and the formulation of laws to describe these facts.
The race continues. An early scientist
drew beasts upon the walls of caves
to show her children, now all fat on mushrooms
and on berries, what would be safe to hunt.
The men go running on after beasts.
The scientists walk more slowly, over to the brow of the hill
and down to the water’s edge and past the place where the red clay runs.
They are carrying their babies in the slings they made,
freeing their hands to pick the mushrooms.