A Very Brief History of Sexism in Science
It All Started with a Blinking Neutron Star

I just made a great discovery about science today. Now, granted, my background isn’t in science and is severely limited. In over 250-hours of college, graduate school, and post-graduate school, I have had only one 10-hour class in geology nearly six decades ago. While that was not quite as long ago as the time of the dinosaurs, it was some time ago.

My majors were in philosophy, theology, history, and humanities. Nonetheless, science has always intrigued me. It surely started with Carl Sagan and the Cosmos series in 1980. In fact, I wrote to him about one of the Cosmos programs. I could hardly believe that he answered me. Along with Sagan, there is Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, and Michio Kaku. Beyond the commonality of all four of these geniuses is that they can communicate to the common person on the street. Being brilliant and processing that ability to explain their scientific insight enough for the ordinary person to grasp sets them about from many others in their field.

In my world of the various fields of the humanities, I have explored questions about being human, what we believe about life, why there are wars, or what makes a beautiful painting. I could bore many by quoting famous philosophers or theologians and also quote verbatim, more or less, poets and writers. While I am not a genius, I am fairly well-informed about issues within the realm of the humanities.

However, in the vastness of my Weltanschauung of the humanities, what single issue has caused me the most consternation across all those fields of study? Sexism. Even though I am a guy, it was abundantly clear that sexism is the common thread that connects all of the areas of the humanities. Starting with the Greek philosophies to the present, what do you think the ratio is between male and female philosophers. Take theologians, and you will find the same discrepancy. What about historians? This incongruity can be seen in the visual arts like painting, sculpture, and architecture also. A similar reality can be seen when it comes to novels and poetry.

While there are more women in the world, and they live about a decade longer than men, the weaker sex is being discriminated against by machismo men. I mentioned, in other essays, about having to memorize poetry and prose while in high school. It was not something that I relished. However, that curse has turned into a blessing in my adult life. I can rattle off parts of many numerous poems and prose.

In 1961 during my senior year in high school, I stood in front of Mrs. Davis before school started and recited a paragraph written by George Eliot. It was from her novel, Silas Marner. George Eliot was merely a pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans. Women weren’t considered artistic enough to write adult novels. Some women might be able to write stories for children, but that was all. Interestingly, when I stood reciting from Silas Marner, it was precisely a century after her novel was published.

In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's.

To be honest with you, I just rattled off my issue with sexism in the humanities. What about the sciences? Well, in the world outside the world in which I feel comfortable, I read about Jocelyn Bell who was born in Northern Ireland in 1943. As a postgraduate student at Cambridge working on her doctorate, she discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967. A pulsar is a neutron star, which emits a beam of radiation. When seen from the Earth, it appears as regular radio bursts. Bell was the first person to discover this blinking from deep space. Interestingly, when in 1974, the Nobel Prize was awarded for this discovery to two men: Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle. Hewish was Bell’s professor to which she showed her findings. However, he and his colleague got the Nobel Prize. I’d call that scientific sexism.

If you can read Bell’s graph, you can see the notion of a blinking star.

Bell’s neutron star

Look into the night sky, and you might see that neutron star blinking a critical message to our world, S-T-O-P B-E-I-N-G S-E-X-I-S-T. We have missed the message for two hundred thousand years.