Naomi Oreskes’s piece, Objectivity or Heroism? On the Invisibility of Women in Science, is important for the context of our course because it continues the discussion about how certain minorities are ultimately treated differently compared to their peers, especially in the field of science. In this piece, Oreskes discusses the environment around female scientists in the twentieth century and how objectivity is not always present in the workplace. She says, “The types of work that women have done in many branches of American science fit conventional notions of objectivity” (Oreskes, 1996). Ultimately this underlines the idea of how there may have been double standards for males and females in the science field when it came to contributions in the field.
In the paper, Oreskes discusses how the main goal of a scientist in the twentieth century was to ultimately be considered “heroic.” Often times this perception caused difficulties for women in the workplace and objectivity was not always present. One example of this is seen when Oreskes talks about Eleanor Lamson, a female scientist who wanted to participate in the S-21 expedition. Lamson was eventually unable to participate because “her work was rendered invisible by the rhetoric of heroism in the public sphere” (Oreskes, 1996). The perception that women were not considered heroic severely clouded the judgement of superiors even though Lamson was actually a scientist and should objectively qualify for the voyage. Again, these double standards were prevalent.
But why is this the case? These double standards have been prevalent for centuries where women are apparently considered to be “weaker” or less “heroic.” But why? Oreskes proposes that this ideology is widespread because of the idea that men are seen to be more dominant and powerful. They are always considered to be the “heroes.” It is because of this preconceived notion that many women in our history have been robbed of the credit they deserve. One famous example is that of Rosalind Franklin whose work is central to the understanding of DNA. These internalized ideologies are prevalent in many forms of our own popular culture, and the idea of heroism and how it affects the scientific field is also seen in the 2016 film, Hidden Figures.
In this movie, the ideas of gender and racial subjectivity are clearly seen. Three female African-American mathematicians who work for NASA experience the culture of white supremacy and the prevalence of preconceived notions within the workplace and the field of science. They are often treated less than their white peers, and the movie also follows the narrative that the white colleagues are ultimately “heroic.” This can be traced back to Okun’s argument that white supremacy is prevalent within the science field and the workplace.
Melfi, T. (2017, January 6). Hidden Figures [Biography, Drama, History]. Fox 2000 Pictures, Chernin Entertainment, Levantine Films
Oreskes, N. (1996). Objectivity or Heroism? On the Invisibility of Women in Science. Osiris, 11, 87–113. (PDF)