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My Sister is an Alchemist

My Sister is not an Alchemist. That was misleading. The thing is:

  1. My Sister is a Chemist. A very good one.

  2. February 11th is International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

  3. My Sister is my favourite person to troll. This will never get old. Ever.

  4. I have a blog.

  5. I am not sorry.

I refer to her as an Alchemist to annoy her. Standard sister stuff. Alas, to my eternal disappointment she is so used to me referring to her as an Alchemist that I don’t get a reaction anymore.

This blog article has upped the stakes, I will keep you posted.

Also - in my defence, there is no Alchemist without Chemist!

That joke does not go over well with my Sister either.

But in all seriousness, today is about important stuff.

Firstly, why do we need an International Day to recognise Women and Girls in Science?

Well, because ‘History is written by the Victors’. It is written by those in power. And sometimes we need to highlight that there are alternative narratives to those that we have been told. This is not always a dichotomy of right and wrong, just sometimes there is more.

Oh wait, you just realised this was political? Yes, indeed. But you have made it this far, so you might as well keep going.

The thing is, we all have internalised prejudices’. Oh, yes you do. Calm down, it is a fact not an accusation.

We are all the result of the constructs of our environment and culture. So acknowledging our internalised prejudice means we can take note and address it.

Let me ask you this, when you think of a Scientist – who do you envisage? Personally, I see Einstein.

Did you miss that?

Let’s re-cap.

My Sister is a Scientist. But I instinctively envisage Einstein as what a quintessential Scientist should be. Do you see what I am getting at?

Cultural Norms.

Let’s try another exercise.

How many Famous Scientists from history can you list? Off the top of my head there is:

  • Newton

  • Einstein

  • Curie

  • Frankenstein

I said what I said.

And I have only one female in my list.

Let’s delve a bit further. Last year two female scientists won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Read about it here.

Indeed, the title of this article is: ‘Two Female Scientists Awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry’. Why is it so notable that they are female, that this is the headline?

Turns out 2020 was the first time this Prize has gone to two female scientists. I concede, that is a big deal. But please read the article because the research is also a big deal.

Like in many industries which are predominately male-dominated, we see too frequently ‘Female Scientist’. Not ‘Scientist’. Because a Female Scientist is not the 'Norm'.

Let’s flip that.

Shout out to the Female Scientists: Do you even want to be the 'Norm’?

Wouldn’t it be nice if when we read ‘Female Scientist’ we were to read it and think: ‘Now, there is a woman who has overcome barriers. Someone who was held to a higher standard and slayed.’. It's a badge of honor.

But that is not what happens when we see ‘Female Scientist’. We read ‘being female is so far outside the normal that it is a more notable then the actual contribution’.

And because of our cultural conditioning, more often than not we don’t even realise that we read this. It’s a blind spot.

Similar debates circulate about ‘Female CEO’. And let’s not start on the debate of infantilisms in the ‘Girl Boss’ label...

Simply put, Norm is in our heads.

But now you realise he is there, you can do something about it.

It won’t be easy.

What barriers will we face? Let’s take a look:

  1. With the decentralisation of our news and the emergence of platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook we have seen the ease of spreading misinformation.

  2. We also have the challenge of everyone Shouting into the Void. A place where legitimate thought leaders are drowned out. I mean, it is International Women and Girls in Science Day and you are reading my self-indulgent blog designed to annoy my sister.

  3. And then we have the Echo Chambers, places where we hang out online. Places such as a Facebook Group where we feel safe because everyone has the same core values and our beliefs are reinforced by repetition and insulated from rebuttal and challenge.

These barriers are significant, but not insurmountable. So long as we are brave enough to acknowledge the power structures so ingrained they become cultural blind spots.

Because with that same technology that gives us barriers, we have the opportunity to write our own narratives.

No offense Norm, but you have to change.

And words can change the world.

If you are in a STEM field, the truth is you need us artsy types with our waffly words. Those are our tools used to subvert cultural barriers and blind spots.

And we need you to quantify our waffle and give us credibility when we write a blog post without a single source... please.

You see, the fascinating power of a narrative is to be able to make someone think and examine their fundamental core beliefs. An idea that we weave into a story can resonate in the mind long after the pure facts of the matter are forgotten.

Each time you read ‘Female Scientist’ you are now going to notice those words. Ideas are powerful like that.

Final question - did anyone ever ask you what label you wanted? Because I am asking. And I want to know.

You can decide if you want to be a Female Scientist, a Female CEO, a Lady Boss, a badge you have earned because of the glass ceilings you have smashed.

Or you can be a Scientist, CEO, Boss - because you should be on an equal playing field and there should be no 'us' and 'them'.

I like to think Norm is waiting to become Norma and just needs our help. You can boost your profiles, use your tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn to reach those beyond your echo chambers.

Show you are not the exception to the rule. You just Rule.

At the end of the day, I would probably understand more of what my Sister does if she just said ‘Magic’. And if asked, she would probably surmise what I do as ‘Waffle’.

But what we can all agree on, is that you can blame her for the time you lost reading this post.

Because when I mentioned the 11th was Women and Girls in Science day and my Sister said sarcastically ‘What, are you going to write a blog about me?’, she really should have seen this coming.


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