Women's History Month - No More Matildas

Writing a blog post about women’s history month is a little bit like going to a women’s conference for me. I wish women’s contributions were always acknowledged. Just like I wish that women were welcomed and well-represented at all conferences, I wish we didn’t need to have to make separate efforts to recognize women.

But, we have to shine the spotlight because the erasure of women’s contributions continue. I’ve written about the book and movie Hidden Figures which highlights the erasure of not only the key NASA mathemeticians Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, but the hundreds of other women whose calculations put a man on the moon and satellites into orbit.

It’s just as important for us to remember the other women who worked at NASA because that’s how erasure happens. Katherine Johnson herself remarked that by focussing on her story alone, it was made to appear that she was alone when she was anything but alone.

There’s something called the Matilda Effect which is when a woman scientist and her contributions are ignored or attributed to her male colleagues. There are many studies on this continuing practice.

The most recent case involved Dr. Elizabeth Iorns, founder of the Reproducibility Project Cancer Biology. In several top media outlets such as the Washington Post and NPR, Dr. Iorns is never mentioned.

Only one reporter, Ed Yong the Science reporter for The Atlantic got the attribution correct in his article. In a related matter, Ed Yong recently tweeted out that he did an audit of his sources for reporting and increased the number of women sources from 25% to 50% and said that “anyone can do it.”

So, let’s unerase women from the past. More importantly, let’s open our eyes to the contributions of the women around us. Let’s hope that more reporters do what Ed Yong did: audit their sources and add more women to their lists.

(shout out to @jkamens telling us about the Matilda Effect)


Barbara Clarke