Saturday, November 16, 2013

Extraordinary Women in Science. Florence Nightingale.

This is a fascinating article about a new exhibition which offers information about the lives and work of 32 female scientists of the past.  I feel the urge to write a post about this partly because of that comment from a misogynist I talked about in a prior post:

Woman are subhumans. The world was a better place when they had the same rights as slaves.

Some are intelligent, some are strong, some are hard working.

But all of them are emotionally instable and not able to rationally decide when it matters. Therefore they should do what their men (fathers, brothers, husbands) tell them.

And yes, I know that the vast, vast majority of men and women do not regard women that way.  But during my life I have heard the argument of women's lesser intellectual capacity (though usually in more sophisticated forms) too many times to count, and it is to combat those messages that I wish to highlight women's intellectual achievements.  Because the stereotypes hurt both girls and boys.  (So this is not (my dear MRAs) yet another feminazi post about why only women's issues matter.  Nobody debates the ability of men to do science.  If they did, I would write about that false stereotype.)

If you read the article in the link, you might notice both the resistance these women faced AND the support and mentorship they received.  History is often quite complicated.

And also in other ways than the frequent simplification of removing either the opposition or the supporters from the story (or both, as in the idea that "women were given the vote").  Take, for instance the way this article begins:

Florence Nightingale, a statistician?

Yes, she was, though she was self-taught in that field (for fairly obvious reasons).  Indeed, one could argue that she spent the most of her life on topics based on statistics, such as the best way to build hospitals, the needs of India for certain types of health care and so on.  That this is not better known is because of the way the Nightingale myth was created (during her lifetime):  She was "the lady with the lamp."  the caring and kind and semi-angelic figure willing to go and take care of soldiers in the Crimean war, despite herself coming from the upper classes and being but a frail woman.  She then became ill herself and spent the rest of her life (many decades!) languishing on her bed.

That myth then produced both exaggerations and the expected critiques of her actual role.  But all of those were responses to they Nightingale myth, not the woman herself.

Much of her political work to change things gets shrouded in that, and so does most of her later life.  She had considerably power, through her ability to make the powers-that-be to listen to her, and those bed-ridden decades were almost all spent in ardent work.