I read Eileen Pollack's The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys Club followed by Rachel Swaby's Headstrong: 52 Women that Changed Science and the World. Very different books. Glad I read both and one after the other. I'm plotting on how to get as many students in our county as possible to read Swaby's book.
The Only Women in the Room: Why Science is Still a Boys' Club by Eileen Pollack
I'm glad to see that Penguin Random House has this book listed as biography/memoir, because my main disappointment with this book is that I was expecting something different. When I received the advanced review copy the book was listed as nonfiction with no other specifier. Given how the book was described I expected more analysis exploring the question of why science is still a boys' club. Because of this, I was impatient with the first two thirds of the book because it was the author's personal narrative from early schooling through graduate school. The last third of the book she goes back and interviews teachers and peers from her past to see what their perspectives were (What did her teachers think about her abilities? Or about women in physics generally? What did other female students in the sciences experience?), as well as interviewing some successful women in science (Note: Author gets major kudos for noting that Meg Urry sounds a lot like Meg Murry.)
So I definitely would suggest this book if you are interested in better understanding many women's experience in science (from young children in school to trained professionals), but go into it knowing that Pollack is sharing her experience as the foundation for asking questions and exploring a complex issue. Recommendation: This is a validating book for women who have had similar experiences. Like me. [At a former men's only private high school, I was one of three women in AP Chemistry... somehow we were all dropped from the course within 3 weeks. I ended up in a course where the man who was teaching said, "I'm sure you're good at English or Art or Foreign Languages." [Gee, thanks. By the way, I wasn't.] In college, as a double major in Physical Anthropology & Human Biology and then Russian Language & Linguistics, a chemistry (again!) teacher asked me why if I was studying anthropology I needed chemistry, "surely social scientists don't need chemistry..." Just want to say, I had an awesome Honors Bio professor in college who was a renaissance sort of person who wanted us to connect scientific inquiry and knowledge with the arts and humanities and would call out sexism and discrimination without any compunction. But that person was the exception, not the norm.] I also wish some (not to be further specified male family members who don't read very often) would read this book so they would understand how wide the chasm of understanding is when they say something like, "Women have the right to vote, so there already is equality." It is the small, pervasive stuff that drags you down... well, that and people in the privileged group not have any idea that your experience isn't the same as theirs.
Here we are with 7000 different posts and articles about getting more women into the STEM fields in the US... It sounds like a priority. I hope those interested read Pollack's book. Just throwing money at women in science programs is not the same as fundamentally changing men and women's social expectations.
Pollack's Only Woman in the Room will be out in mid September. Not quite summer reading, but here is a taste of Pollack's writing:
Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science? by Eileen Pollack, The New York Times, Oct 3, 2013
Headstrong: 52 Women that Changed Science and the World by Rachel Swaby
Onward! I loved this book. Watch out family and friends, you may get a copy for whichever holiday with requisite gift-giving comes first. And if you are not a ready reader, Swaby was nice enough to organize this book in short chapters featuring one person, and she notes that there are 52, so you can spread them out across the year. Nice try. I made it two days.
So when you read this book, imagine what it would be like to have had these women and their experience as just a normal old part of your history books, science classes, and primary school (on through) education. I know Rachel Carson, Barbara McClintock, Sally Ride, Ada Lovelace, Florence Nightingale, Rosalind Franklin, and Heddy Lamarr get airtime in other places, but really, what do you know about them other than maybe their name and roughly what they might be noteworthy for?
One other decision that Swaby made was to only include women who are no longer alive. I think this was a good idea. Any currently living women in science who have similar achievements will have to be wait to be in Headstrong Part 2 or 3 or 4.
I definitely think this book should be on your summer reading list. Enjoy.
Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, Nobel Winner, Dies at 103 by Benedict Carey, The New York Times, 2012
Just in case you missed this:
Nobel scientist Tim Hunt: female scientists cause trouble for men in labs on June 10, 2015 UK News on The Guardian.com. Falling love and tears. Wonder what Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini would have said to that?