Guest Post by V. SUJATHA
That the first woman to win the Fields Medal for mathematics in 2014 was an Iranian is important to note. Not only because Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman to make it in the field of mathematics which is considered to be a male bastion, but also because her Persian background deserves some attention. There are certain enabling factors in Eastern cultures that facilitate women excel in the hard sciences, in spite of entrenched patriarchy. The point is not that everything is great in the East versus the West, but that cultural stereotypes about women are not homogenous; they vary from culture to culture and produce gender asymmetries with different effects. This is a sociologist’s
delight; let me explain.
During a literature survey in sociology of science, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the figures on women’s entry and achievements in science and technology education (S&T) in the global south were not only not bad, but were better than the countries in the Anglo-Saxon world that offered better civil liberties for women (Sujatha 2015). While there were fewer women in apex positions in the S&T sector and even lesser numbers to receive prestigious awards everywhere in the world, it is a fact that women from erstwhile socialist countries and from Asian and Latin American societies enrolled in larger numbers in science and technology courses and also made it higher in the career ladder in S&T than their counterparts in western Europe and North America. The literature on women in science however, attributed everything to the ‘glass ceiling effect’ i.e., soft variables like gender bias in the organisational processes. I do not deny it, but it seems to me that this does not explain why the glass ceiling worked differently in some countries. Continue reading “Scientism, familism and women scientists: V Sujatha”