The trouble with talented women

If a taxi is picking me up and know they’re expecting a Professor Donald, when I turn up they tend to go, “Ah, I was expecting a man”. And that’s not even being an experimental physicist – they’re surprised that I’m a professor.  Athene Donald.  Professor Dame Athene Donald at The Royal Society
professional women Speaking

The trouble with talented women is that it’s difficult to categorize them. Whether they should be known for their main discipline, or as an all round achiever.

On 13th August 2014 there were two mathematicians in the news.   Although most news was about Robin Williams’ death there was an interesting connection in that his film Good Will Hunting first brought maths and the Fields medal to peoples attention.  The Field medal  is the Noble prize in the world  of mathematics. Professor Maryam Mirzakhani, was the first woman to win the Fields medal

How interesting that it should be a matter of comment, that a woman wins it.   Two aspects of Diversity to draw attention to, are that not just she’s a woman, but she comes from Iran, and that her education was in the USA.   There was some discussion, when she was congratulated by the President of Iran, over whether she should be pictured with or without head scarf.

Should we be doing more to cherish our girls and strengthen their self belief?

The Lord mayor’s project Driving Diversity, in the city, has a focus on women, but other of  aspects of interest are age,  both longevity and achievement.  Kathleen  Ollerenshaw died at the age of 101. She had many achievements to her name. but the most outstanding was as a mathematician, a career for which she had to fight, as her disability was deafness form the age of eight.   However, the disability directed her towards maths.

Perhaps little by little women’s’ achievements are being reported. But we need them on the front pages of the media, we need TV programs celebrating their achievement, so that they become household names.

“The one subject in which I was at no disadvantage. Nearly all equations are found in textbooks or shown on the blackboard as the teacher speaks. Mathematics is a way of thinking. It requires no tools or instruments or laboratories. It may be convenient to have a pen and paper, a ruler and a compass, but it is not essential: Archimedes managed very well with a stretch of smooth sand and a stick.”  from her auto biography written when she was 93

Another aspect of diversity, not just that she was a woman mathematician, but a Northerner.  Because she was born in Manchester, she had access to teachers who had trained in lip reading

Later she became Mayor of Manchester.  The discussion over women and work needs to take note here.  She had a family, married with two children, was an astronomer, with a department named after her.   She was largely instrumental in setting up the Royal Northern School of music, a politician and advisor to Thatcher.  Also a hockey blue at Oxford, this is the kind of Oxbridge educated woman we need in government.   Here’s what she said about education for girls “more was needed than…..a diluted or merely modified version of the traditional education provided for boys”. Girls, she wrote, must be educated for work as well as marriage, with greater encouragement to study maths and sciences.

That was 1958, as education advisor to Thatcher.

There is a concern for more women, for more STEM students, in STEM subjects.   Departments have a real concern that this country is falling behind in these areas (Science, Technology Engineering and maths.)  Now we’re talking about Britain has talent.

Is not this amazing woman a much more fitting role model than the “slebs” of reality TV? Yet most people reading this will never have heard of her. (if you had, please comment.)

Perhaps little by little women’s’ achievements are being reported. But we need them on the front pages of the media,we need TV programs celebrating their achievement, so that they become household names.


About the author

City Eye became interested in Overlooked and Overshadowed women, both in contemporary times and through out history. The former would include the women passed over for the Nobel in favour of their male colleagues. The later would be the wives of famous men, such as Mrs. Mandela. Her study of women written out of history, led her to interviews with interesting and inspirational women, (and some men). Extracts will be published in the articles. In no way is this men versus women, as to who is better. Simply that an overly macho, military, testosterone fueled environment, mainly men, needs the balancing attributes, often, though not exclusively, assigned to women: caring, conciliation, communication. Find out more: City Eye Blog ©christina

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