Assist. Opinions Editor
Remember in elementary, middle, and high school, when we were taught about these ‘amazing’ men that had created or done so much in history? Remember how our teachers and history books praised them for making or doing something extraordinary during their lifetime?
I do, but I rarely remember women ever being featured for their accomplishments in my textbooks. All I ever read or learned about were men. For centuries, cis-gendered, heterosexual males have been taking credit for the accomplishments of their female counterparts. Due to advancements in researching history and cataloguing, historians have been able to bust accreditation errors and thefts from the past. Even if these men didn’t plagiarize a woman’s work, they still overshadowed them.
The Matilda Effect is “systematic under-recognition of the contributions of women to science in favor of their male colleagues.” Margret Rossiter, a professor at Cornell University, coined the Matilda Effect in 1993. This was because of her experience of being a 24-year-old college student at Yale University devoted to science. She would attend every regular, informal gathering of her department’s professors and peers; she did this to be accepted mostly by the male enclave because she feared that they would alienate her.
During one of these gatherings, Rossiter asked the question, “were there ever women scientists?” The answers she got were horrid; all the men said, “no. Never. None,” in an authoritative tone. When Rossiter asked if Marie Curie was a scientist, the men laughed it off and said that Curie’s husband was the real genius, and that she was just the mere helper in that case, not the scientist. Rossiter wanted to say something, but she didn’t, and it’s something she regrets now at the age of 76. I feel for her because I understand that feeling: when you want to say something, but you can’t because the men in the room make you feel stupid.
This experience caused Rossiter to create a life-study called Women Scientists in America, which uncovered more than a decade of toil in the archives that brought to light forgotten or stolen contributions made by women. Then, she created another study, Struggles and Strategies to 1940, which went in depth about how women are deterred from the field of science. It discusses amazing women scientists (astronomers, chemists, biologists, and psychologists) and the obstacles they faced when trying to establish themselves within the science field. Margaret Rossiter has contributed a lot to the American scholarship, yet wasn’t recognized as being ‘significant.’ This is why she coined the term the Matilda Effect; like her, many women have not been ‘significant enough’ to history. Rossiter named the effect after Matilda Gage, whose work was overlooked by many historians, and was erased because she discussed women scientists just like Rossiter.
Women are often erased from history because they aren’t seen as ‘reliable’ sources from men. For instance, sometimes, when women are trying to get a patent for their scientific discovery, the predominantly male committee will often reject it because it came from a woman. Later on, the scientific discovery is picked up by a man and he is credited the patent, as he is a more ‘reliable source’ because he is a man.
This is so wrong. Why does a man get to take all the credit for a woman’s work, without actually doing the work? We live in a sexist world, where most men believe that women can’t bring good contributions to the table. There are so many examples of men stealing ideas from women solely because they are women. I hope, as time goes on, more women are credited for their amazing contributions to society, and that the men who stole their ideas are discredited and removed from all history books. Women deserve to be celebrated and written about in history books along with men. We should not be forgotten.
Chien-Shiung Wu, a Chinese-American physicist, worked on the Manhattan Project while she worked at Columbia University. She did extremely indispensable work on disproving the Law of Parity. That law assumed that two physical systems (i.e. a nuclei or a subatomic particle) must behave in an identical manner. For over six months in 1957, Wu worked on disproving this theory. This was based on the hypothesis of theoretical physicists Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang. Wu ended up disproving the theory, depicting that physical systems don’t always behave in the same manner, nor are they symmetrical.
Guess who got all the credit for Wu’s work? Lee and Yang — the two men who created the hypothesis, but did not prove that their hypothesis was true. Both Lee and Yang got a Nobel Prize for their “work,” even though they did not do any of the heavy lifting. Chien-Shiung Wu deserves the recognition for her contributions to physics, and these men need to be revoked of their Nobel Prizes. Men need to stop being greedy, and give credit where credit is due. Stop stealing ideas from brilliant women!
Not only has history erased women, it has especially erased women of color. When most people think of the women’s suffrage movement, they think of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Alice Paul — the women within our history books. This erases the women of color, who shaped this movement just as much as White women. According to Sally Roesch Wagner, who received one of the first doctorates in the country for women’s studies, Indigenous women had the voice to be political first, not White women.
The Washington Post interviewed the Bear clan mother of the Wakerakatste, Louise McDonald Herne, who stated: “It was our grandmothers who showed White women what freedom and liberty really looked like. [ . . . ] They began to witness for themselves a freedom that they had never seen before.” This means that many native women became an example for White women to gain a voice.
Moreover, the suffrage movement can be traced back to the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, in which Native activists gathered in New York for two days to draft the Declaration of Sentiments, which was signed by 68 women and 32 men. This document argued that the anti-women laws should not hold any authority, and that men and women should be equals. One of the people that signed the document was said to have spent the summer with the Seneca Nation, one of the largest of six Indigenous nations that made up the Iroquois Confederacy. Indigenous women inspired the suffrage movement, and need to be credited for it because, without them, Congress passing the suffrage amendment, the 19th Amendment, wouldn’t have been possible.
The stealing of ideas also often happens to Black women. At the moment, Black culture seems to be the blueprint of this century’s “trend” of what we should look and act like. This is seen in fashion, music, dance, beauty, creative content, and language. Yet, Black women aren’t given the credit they deserve for these “trends,” as they are often credited by non-Black creators or celebrities. Even Black women’s bodies have become a trend on social media: big lips, big butts, and curvier bodies. These are the types of bodies that are sexualized by Instagram, and other social media companies.
Many companies take the ideas or creations made by Black women, and credit them as their own in order to create trends and profit off of them. An example can be seen on an episode of Shark Tank, when two White women decided they wanted to sell bonnets, but with a new name, “Kookn Kap,” and a higher price. This is extremely offensive, as Black women have been using bonnets for centuries to preserve the health of their hair, and ensure that their hairstyles last. Not to mention, Black hairstyles have become “new” and “innovative” when seen on White women, but unprofessional when seen on a Black women. This isn’t fair; why do White women get to cherry pick what they want from any culture, and superficially call it ‘fashion’ or ‘beauty’? Hairstyles, clothing, and food are all a part of cultures and history; they’re not a trend, and should be given credit to where credit is due. Cultures deserve appreciation, not appropriation.
Women need to be heard and given the recognition like men are given. Respect is the main aspect that women need in order to thrive. Once men start respecting women and giving them the same opportunities they give other men, this world will start to change and flourish. The contributions of women are what have helped us, as a society, get to where we are today — not just men. Women are scientists, writers, philosophers, doctors, and anything we want to be. Nothing should stop or get in the way of that.
Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus