By Heather O.
I live in the D.C. area, so I take the Washington Post. There was an interesting article today about some insensitive remarks that Larry Summers, controversial President of Harvard, made about women in the sciences. I don’t know how to link to the Post, so I’ll copy the parts of the article I found interesting:
[Summers] saw what he considered to be a dearth of women in ‘high-end
scientific professions’ and had offered up his own personal
conclusions. Maybe it’s because women do not have the same
‘intinsic aptitude’ for these fields, he suggested,
or maybe they make trade-offs when it comes to balancing work
with family. Maybe, he said, the discrepency wasn’t about
socialization–girls being encouraged in certain fields, boys in others-
-but rather about taste.
The article’s focus was not necessarily Summers’ remarks, but rather one woman scientist’s response to those remarks. She called them “uninspiring and false.” The article then went on to chronicle this woman’s incredible career as a scientist. Vera Rubin is “an esteemed scientist whose pioneering research on galaxies is considered some of the most significant work in her field. She has raised innovative questions about the movements of galaxies and the existence of dark matter. She’s one of the world’s outstanding astronomers and one of the great Carnegie scientists.”
She’s also a mother of 4.
How did she do it? Well, as the Post put it, “There were blips.” The Post also states, “…after…she had her first child, she found herself outside academia and frequently in tears at the playground with her toddler son. ‘I wept’, she says, ‘thinking of all those people out there studying science’.”
Um, does that sentence resonate with anybody else?
The article goes on to say that Vera and her husband, also an astronomer, had to make adjustments. She enrolled in a graduate program, got babysitters, etc, etc, and now her 4 children all have Ph.Ds and are as brillant as she is.
Ok, so why am I posting about this? 2 reasons:
1) I like to celebrate a mother’s accomplishments outside of just baking banana bread (which is what I did this morning), especially in a field that is so overwhelmingly dominated by men.
2)I’m hoping to spark a discussion about whether or not the messages we get from the Church about being mothers also contributes to us being mediocre in other areas of our lives.
We hear that we should stay at home, raise our families. I am a stay at home mom, so clearly I believe in the benefits of being there for my son. But being a stay at home mom has not made me a better speech pathologist, at least not the last time I checked, which frankly, has been a while. I am not particularly interested in science, like Vera Rubin, but if I were, could being a Mormon mother also allow me to be a world class scientist, like she is? Vera’s story shows us that we can be good mothers and world class whatevers, but if she were Mormon, do you think she would have gotten the support she needed along the way? As it was, the article said that she was overwhelmingly discouraged by professors, etc, as was her daughter, interestingly enough. Her daughter was even told that she should quit and go get married. Needless to say, the daughter chose a female mentor after that.
I think the church wants women to excel at being mothers, that the home is the first line of defense against the evils of the world, with the mother being the one in the trenches. I believe that, wholeheartedly. But are there more subtle messages that keep us from fulfilling our potential outside of the home? And is being an excellent mother a significant enough contribution to the world that we don’t need to worry about doing things like discovering radon, or teaching deaf and blind people how to read and write? Don’t get me wrong–I am NOT trying to devalue the good of raising well-adjusted human beings. I just wonder if the messages about being an excellent mother we hear so often makes it impossible to be anything but mediocre everywhere else.