What advances have women made in the sciences? Well, we're here, for starters, which you couldn't say about us in general even half a century ago. Strangely enough, women entered the field of writing in substantial numbers well before they had such representation in the sciences. Yet now we're having a (great) conversation about women science writers and how they seem to remain hidden while male science writers allegedly engage in a mutual boys' club of promotion and back slapping and otherwise perpetuating their version of the Athanaeum Club, no women allowed (well, not until 2002, anyway). This reversal of fortune for women in science and writing seems ironic, as though somehow science writing had suddenly joined forces with ESPN and precipitated a discussion about women in the locker room. Cover up, gentlemen, because here we come.
In the many posts I've now read on this topic, I've seen a careful explication with some fabulous comments, a "bring it, I refuse to hide" attitude, and a "Sure this is great for women to discuss, but the men need to get involved, too" call to participate. It's been a great discussion. Kate Clancy has rounded up a variety of posts addressing this topic of women who write science, especially women who blog it.
Discussions like these always leave me in reaction limbo. I don't discount that people have blown me off throughout my life because I'm female. In fact, I know they have. They've also blown me off because I'm somewhat short, have a cherubic face, and speak with a long Texas drawl. But I'm always at least briefly confused about how to respond to such brushings away that are based on my sex. If I respond by following my instinct, which is to surge forward, push it, show what I can do and do well, ovaries be damned, then won't I be perceived as a woman not acting quite womanly enough and get the cold shoulder as a result? If I don't do that and instead put my head down and persevere, but quietly, what the hell good is that doing anyone, women, cherubics, short people, or Texans?
Thus, I've often chosen to be who I am, which is a woman with a blunt voice, a sharp mind, an expansive interest in science, and a way with words that I've been cultivating since 1972. If this somehow belies me as a woman, then I can live with that, because it doesn't compromise me as a writer. Being female just is what it is, and it happened to me when I was conceived. I had no control over it. But being a writer and a scientist? That took work. That took ambition. That took years.
Lying in my wake are years of education and experience with both science and words and yes, some of the accouterments that often come with being a woman: a spouse, children, cooking dinner, driving a minivan, derailing from the tenure track. All of these aspects of my life percolate through my writing and my writing choices just as much as my thousands of hours at the books and at the bench. With them comes perspective, sometimes a unique perspective that occasionally transmits to the reader. What defines me--woman, mother, scientist, writer, autism parent, endocrinologist, penile and gonad researcher, herp-o-phile, Texan, brunette--has shaped me and will inevitably shape my words, my viewpoints, and what I write about. Any one of my characteristics might contribute something worthwhile to the scientific conversation.
Yes, my voice is a woman's voice. But it speaks with an accent and years of baggage related to many factors other than my sex. What makes it a voice worth hearing is ultimately that it says something worth saying. For that reason, I'll continue to cast aside any worries that by using that voice or promoting that voice, I'm not being "womanly" enough. And I'll continue to listen to and promote the voices of others whose writing and perspective I admire. Oddly enough, many of them are women. I can't imagine why that is.