April 5, 2009

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: Men, Acts and Science Fiction

My International Baccalaureate physical science class is watching MADAME CURIE, the 1943 classic film starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Though heavily fictionalized for dramatic effect, it is nonetheless, a grand story. One note in it however, sounds terribly flat – the council (of men) at the University of Paris, Sorbonne in 1902 where the Curies met, refuses to fund further research. The reasons they give for the refusal is that the Curie’s have not proved their discovery of the element radium. They also believe that Madame Curie is young, inexperienced…and a woman and together all three preclude the importance of her research…

The book of Acts in the New Testament, is replete with men doing great acts for God – and as often as not, being martyred for their beliefs. All but one of the original twelve plus one disciples of Jesus (Peter, Andrew, James, John, Phillip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the Lesser, Thaddeus, Simon and Judas (by his own hand) and at the hands of mobs and crazed emperors. James was stoned; Peter and Andrew crucified in various positions; James was run through with a sword; Phillip was murdered in Phrygia; Bartholomew, flayed and beheaded; Thomas run through with a spear; Matthew murdered in Ethiopia; James the Lesser murdered in Egypt; Simon and Thaddeus crucified or hacked to death; Matthias (the thirteenth disciple) stoned then beheaded) met gruesome ends. Only John was arrested and exiled to the island of Patmos, where he received the visions that became the Book of the Revelations of John. Few women are mentioned and none of their writings are preserved.

Science Fiction and Fantasy is filled with men writing and women hiding their identities or changing their names because they didn’t think anyone would take them seriously with the name they had. James Tiptree, Jr. is of course, Alice Sheldon. C.J. Cherryh’s editor didn’t believe that anyone would take a SF writer with the last name of Cherry (her given name) seriously – and shortened her first two names to initials. Even today, the SCIENCE FICTION (protestors please note the capitals) has few practitioners who are women – Bujold, Cherryh, Czerneda, Finch, Slonczewski, Kress, Latner…and a very few others. (http://www.mikebrotherton.com/?p=1069#comment-32297) Even so, I might point out that the number of women writing SF is NOT 49.76% – which is of course, the current percentage of women in the planetary population.

All this to say that at least in the sciences, religion and SF – women have had little opportunity to show what they (now that my son has moved out for paramedic training, I live in a house with a wife, a daughter, and sundry female pets. I am in a decided gender minority ;-)) can REALLY do!

It’s quite time to see what will really happen – and what can we do to help? Encourage…no, INSIST…that the women we know actively pursue careers in science, explore religion and set down the laptop and type up the best novel that they can!

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