Sample Term Paper on Women in Science and Technology

Women in Science and Technology

Science and technology are largely male dominated fields. Although this statement can be refuted, it is largely the lack of exposure, prominence, and reporting that is to blame for the existence of such a statement. Women contribute in a major way in the field of science and technology. Nevertheless, societal prejudice and stereotype against women in science, technology, and engineering, has and proceeds to downplay, and even trivialize the contribution and role of women in the advancement of science, technology, and engineering. Throughout history, there have been women scientist, technologists, and engineers, with some gaining prominence as world-class scientists. What is important however is the fact that women have and continue to play an instrumental role in the development of science, technology, and engineering, especially with the recent rise in the quantity of females in science and technology (Hill, Corbett and Rose xiv). The advancement and change in technology, as well as the input of women in these fields has had a great impact on the societal outlook on gender. Of importance is that the contributions made by women in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering are edging towards breaking the gender bias against women. Although the breakdown of the gender stereotype is not complete given the challenges that women face in their pursuit of these technical fields, major strides have been made, which have paved the way for women’s recognition and advancement in the fields. The essence of this paper is to look at the contributions of women in the development and advancement of science and technology, and the effect of the technological change on the role of women and the ideas of gender.

Like any other field, Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), has a long history. Over the thousands of years of the existence of STEM, little has been credited to women. In fact, the field has largely been regarded as being devoid of women contribution and participation (Ambrose xi). It is however important to note that the field indeed had women contributors and participants who benefitted the field with their insight. Far more important is the fact that in the recent past, more than 1000 early women scientists have been identified, in addition to their contemporary counterparts, who have and continue to make a tremendous impact and contribution in STEM (Ambrose xi).

The bias of history in undercutting women scientists is evident in the fact that even in the earliest of the women scientists, dating back 6000 years; few if any have their names recorded (Ambrose xi). Largely, these women were physicians with little known about them. The earliest of womenfolk in science and technology were mostly physicians, and a number of the recorded contributions hail from the Middle East. The pioneer among women to be named in science was an ancient Egyptian known as Merit-Ptah. Although not much is recorded about her, she was a Chief Physician, as described by the High Priest, her son (Ambrose xii).

The Middle East, especially areas around Mesopotamia, was an expanse of many inventions. This perhaps attests to the fact that many of the earliest women scientists hailed from this region. Tapputi-Belatekallim was among the first chief chemical engineers hailing from Babylon. Working in the perfume industry, she developed and used her own steps and methods in the preparation of perfumes. Her name suggests that she was in charge of the production processes. This is in addition to another woman engineer, whose name is not recorded, but also participated in the perfume production industry in Mesopotamia (Ambrose xii).

Evidence indicates that there was active participation of women in the architectural and engineering fields. The hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was commissioned and partly designed by a woman; Queen Semiramis (Barnett and Sabattini 3).  Additionally, Queen Artemisia built the Halicarnassus, one among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, honoring her spouse with the Mausoleum. She further was an exceptional botanist of ancient times, in addition to being a medical researcher; having discovered several plants and therefore today remembered by the plant genus of Artemisia (Ambrose xiii).

Although the sum of women in the ancient world was low, the number of prominent women increased between 600 B.C. and 450 B.C., largely in relation to the prominence if Greek culture and civilization during this time (Ambrose xiii). The Greeks allowed for exploration by women, in addition to providing contexts within which women could engage in academic pursuits, with the inclusion of science. This is in contrast to the period of European Renaissance, a time when science was at its peak in Western Europe. This period was specifically harsh to women, giving them only four options of arranged marriage, admission into the convent, and work as maidservant or joining prostitution (Barnett and Sabattini 4). Although there was education in the convents, the women were largely “taught poetry, music, embroidery, and other skills useful for managing a household. Some were taught art, others singing, but science was certainly not part of their instruction” (Barnett and Sabattini 4).

Thus, while the males outside the confines and stone walls of the convents were allowed to freely experiment and make inventions in science and technology, with such names as Galileo and Leonardo Da Vinci, women were “conveniently” married off, taught household chores, worked as maids or wasted away in prostitution.  The segregation follows the social-role theory of societal prescribed gender roles. The predominant idea here was the inherent predisposition of men and their intellectual ability to process technical ideas and thought—abilities that were apparently absent in women (Barnett and Sabattini 5). This is in addition to the fallacy that women were and still are less competitive than men (Committee on maximizing the potential of women in Academic Science and Engineering, Committee on Science S-4).

Such ideas, however seem to forget that through history, and before the European Renaissance, there were a number of women mathematicians, chemists, and physicians. Apart from those earlier discussed, Theano was an accomplished mathematician, having studied under the tutelage of Pythagoras, her husband (Ambrose xiv). Theano became a teacher, and was interested in mathematics, physics, and psychology, writing treatises on the different subjects, including the principle of the Golden Mean that is still one of remarking contributions of the Greek to social philosophy (Ambrose xiv). By continuing the work of her husband, Theano was able to spread the thoughts of the Pythagorean schools, which had great influence on the works of great philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle.

Arete was also among the female scientists of antiquity, especially as a teacher and philosopher. She not only studied philosophy under her father Aristippos, but also continued with the work of her father, rising to head the school of philosophy after her father’s death for 35 years, writing more than 30 books and laying claim to more than 100 philosophers who were her students (Ambrose xv). Her achievements were especially pronounced as the inscription on her tomb stated that she possesses some of the qualities of great philosophers and writers, such as Socrates and Homer.

Aspasia is yet another woman of antiquity with a contribution to philosophy and science. Defying the Greek order of seclusion, which also forbade women from public appearance, she attended Plato’s Academy taking interest in philosophy and science, in addition to making friends and associating with some of the greatest philosophers of that time, even becoming a Socratic teacher. Further, Aspasia persuaded the Athenian ruler, Pericles, of the need for opportunities to be given for women’s intellectual development.

Pythias, additionally, contributed tremendously towards the advancement of science and technology in the ancient times. As Aristotle’s wife, she not only assisted in the publication of an encyclopedia incorporating botanical, biological, and physiological research, but also nurtured a specialty in histology and embryology (Ambrose xvi). The two were also front-runners in the advancement of embryology through the study of vertebrates’ eggs, and used logic, making up for their lack of instruments.

The year around 300 A.D. gave birth to a world-famous woman alchemist, who revolutionized, to this day, chemical processes and apparatus used in laboratories (Ambrose xvii). Maria of Alexandria, also known as Mary the Jewess invented a number of chemical apparatus used in distillation and sublimation, making alchemy possible. Maria is accredited with the invention of the water bath, an apparatus and process still in use today. She was an ardent instrumentalist, inventing much of the chemicals and equipment that were in use over the 1000 years of alchemy preceding her.

Past the women of science in the ancient ages, the new age of the 20th century ushered in even more contribution from women in science, technology, mathematics and engineering. Among these was the Nobel Laureate Gertrude B. Elion, who received a Nobel Prize for her invention of drugs for cancer treatment, rheumatoid and arthritis, among other diseases. This is in addition to developing azathloprine, a drug preventing organ rejection during organ transplant (Nobel Foundation n.p.). Elion’s contemporary in biology was Rita Levi-Montalcini. She was a researcher and a Nobel Prize winner in medicine for the discovery of the nerve growth factor and epidermal growth factor (Art and Science Libraries 1).

Among the prominent women in science and technology of the 20th century was Margaret Mead, an anthropologist. She was an authority in anthropology, with her work on the impact of culture on gender roles being among the best known. Margaret was additionally a prolific writer, publishing widely on subjects, such as race, family, and women in world cultures (Art and Science Libraries 1). In contrast, Annie Jump Cannon was a specialist in astronomy. As an astronomer, Annie was adept in the spectrogram, formulating the star taxonomy system. Another exceptionally talented woman was Chien-Shiung Wu, a nuclear physicist who got the National Medal of Science in 1976, for her experimental work in the accurate measurement of a number of interactions, such as sickle cell anemia, gamma, and X-rays (Art and Science Libraries 1).

These contributions show the capability that women have and the potential that involving them in the technical fields has on not only the women, but also the society. Important to note is that with the end of the dark ages and the period of European Renaissance, much has changed technologically, as well as within the societal outlook on women. No longer are women confined in convents to learn music and ways of bettering homes. Current statistics show that the number of women is fast increasing in gaining and using academic qualifications. Such a positive outlook points to a change in the idea of gender, even as women continue to occupy junior positions to those of men, even with similar qualifications (Parliamentary Assembly n.p.). The stark truth however is the fact that male hegemony pervades at nearly all levels, particularly in mathematics, science, technology, and engineering, as well as in industrial research (Parliamentary Assembly n.p.).

This trend of keeping women away from the pursuit of knowledge and employment areas of science and technology, which play an instrumental part in modern society, is not only harmful to the women but the society as well, which denies itself of their skills. One of the most important skills necessary for pursuit of a career in science and technology is arguably mathematics (Hill, Corbett and Rose 3). Although boys have traditionally outperformed girls in mathematics, in the recent past, the girls have narrowed the gap on performance, and are even currently performing slightly better than boys are (Hill, Corbett & Rose 3). Even more is the fact that girls have narrowed the high performance gap between them and the boys from the 1980s ratio of 13:1 to the current ratio of 3:1 (Hill, Corbett and Rose 4). Such improvement points to the fact that girls (and women in general) have the potential and skills to contribute to such an important field as science and technology is to a country and the world.

It is worth noting however that with the advancement of technology across the world, even the more conservative countries are beginning to open up and accept the idea of women pursuing education. While women in the Middle East had taken an active role in the advancement of science and technology in antiquity, they had for a long period at the dawn of the 20th and 21st century been relegated to nothing more than homemakers, with strict cultural and religious norms tying them. This is however changing, as more of the women of these regions are pursuing academics and professions related to science, technology, and research.  According to the Unite Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), only 29 percent of the world’s researchers are women, with Asia, Latin America and Europe having 15%, 46% and 32 percent respectively, as women researchers in 2009 (UNESCO 4). These statistics reveal strong regional disparities for women in science and technology, as well as socio-cultural foundations of such inequalities. A look at the same statistics a year later reveals a change in the number of women researchers. Thus, apart from Latin America that shows a drop (45.2 percent), the rest reveal an increase in the number of female researchers (Asia 18.9%, Europe 34%) (UNESCO 1).

The change in Asia shows the opening up of the region for women. This change has a lot to do with technological advancement in the wake of the Arab Spring, largely driven by technology through the social media. More women in these regions are therefore allowed to pursue academics, join the workforce, and contribute to the general increase in women participation in science and technology in the region, as well as the change in the idea of gender and gender roles. This is a trend also visible in the United States, where institutions continue to enroll even higher numbers of womenfolk in science and engineering. Specifically, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has 51 percent of its science undergraduate students as women, with another 35 percent being women enrolling for engineering undergraduate (Committee on maximizing the potential of women in Academic Science and Engineering, Committee on Science S-1)

To encourage the participation of females in science and technology related fields and programs, many governments and institutions have instituted measures to ensure that women take up positions in science and technology related industries and institutions. Sadly, however, inequalities are still present in these institutions and industries. Much concern is especially on the ability of institutions to attract and retain women students and faculty members in these fields (Committee on the Guide to Recruiting and Advancing Women Scientists and Engineers in Academia 3). Both women faculty and students have to endure hostile environments from peers, managers, coworkers, and superiors.

Attracting and retaining female students into science and technology is continually a problem, starting from secondary schools. Fewer women intend to pursue programs in science and technology, and for those who pursue, more women than men switch to other non-science and technology related programs, with only 29 percent of women graduating in comparison to 82 percent of men (Committee on the Guide to Recruiting and Advancing Women Scientists and Engineers in Academia 41). Part of this arises from the inequality within faculties, where women earn less than their male counterparts, spend more hours in the classroom than their male counterparts, even less are administrators, which eventually shows a poor example to any of the women pursuing the science and technology programs. Unless some of these challenges are addressed, women may continue to make insignificant inroads in STEM.

The rise and participation of women in STEM has not, and continues to be riddled with hurdles. Women have fought and continually fight against social norms and beliefs, which out rightly reduce them to second fiddles to men. Through history, women have made tremendous contribution to philosophy, science, and technology, with some defying societal norms and others even sacrificing their lives in their pursuit of inclusion and participation in science and technology. Although challenges abound in their pursuit, they have weathered these challenges and made tremendous achievements and contributions, some of which sadly go unreported and unrecognized. Although enrollment and performance in education show that women and well capable of intellectual ability and reason, it is sad that most do not continue in their high-level academic pursuit in STEM. Current economic and technological developments on the other hand, are slowly changing the notion of gender, with requirements of diversity and intellect for survival, regardless of gender or nationality. With this, more women are graduating with bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in STEM, as well as working their ways up in the employment hierarchy. It is a positive step for women, even as men still dominate high-ranking jobs and positions across the employment divide.