A Mother's Day memoir of a scientist who beat the odds

"To become a scientist is hard enough. But to become one while running a gauntlet of lies, insults, mockeries, and disapproval — this was what my mother had to do." Mother's Day was yesterday, but you'll still want to read this fantastic essay from 2002, written by journalist Charles Hirschberg about his mother, geophysicist Joan Feynman.


  1. Dang, that is a nice article.

    Slightly off-topic, does anyone have any suggestions how I (a woman) can make my partner (a man) understand the extent of the sexism in working environments that still exists today? He’s wonderful otherwise, but he responds with disbelief when I tell him about my experiences and those of my female friends. He thinks that we must be exaggerating or blaming gender bias for our personal failings.

    He does care about the issue, but he seems unable to grasp how his privilege blinds him to some of the more insidious problems around him.

    1. Short of seeing bias in action in person, I can’t think of anything that will convince him since he seems to have already made up his mind that it doesn’t exist. Ironically, that’s yet another form of such sexism.

    2. You could start secretly recording all the conversations you have at work. Then you’d have documentation. Might also get you fired.

      BTW, I take your claim that you sometimes face  blatant sexism at face value, and understand that you probably face more subtle issues every day. Used to think it couldn’t really be all as bad as I heard, but then I learned better.

    3. Does he believe you when you tell him about other things? Point out that this is no different.  In effect, he’s prioritizing his view of reality, which means at some level he’s saying “you must be lying”.  Hopefully that would bother him.

      You’re seeing something he can’t because he doesn’t have the right perspective.  It’s like color blindness: just because someone can’t see red and green doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

  2. It is difficult to understand unless you have experienced it or see it first hand.  When I started working 18 years ago it was assumed I was the admin (I am an engineer).  It has changed somewhat, but I am still often the only woman in a meeting.  It helped when I started going out to lunch with other women engineers I met to talk about how it felt and to come up with ways to cope with subtle (and not so subtle bias).   I also have tried to mentor younger engineers-especially women and even given presentations at my sons’ schools just so the kids realize there are women out there in science.   The article was great.

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