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How Nancy Hopkins and her tape measure revealed the extent of sexism in science

How Nancy Hopkins and her tape measure revealed the extent of sexism in science

2023-03-27 07:48:50

Nancy Hopkins, molecular biologist, professor of biology, MIT, 2020.

Nancy Hopkins confirmed how the Masschusetts Institute of Know-how systematically awarded extra lab area to males.Credit score: Everett Assortment Inc/Alamy

The Exceptions: Nancy Hopkins, MIT, and the Combat for Ladies in Science Kate Zernike Scribner (2023)

Nancy Hopkins’s skilled profession has been partly outlined by the ‘nice males of biology’ she has labored with. Hopkins, a molecular biologist on the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how (MIT), recounts being mentored by James Watson, yelled at by Eric Lander, slighted by David Baltimore and groped by Francis Crick. However her precise legacy rests in her scientific achievements in most cancers biology and zebrafish genetics — and within the consideration she drew to discrimination in opposition to ladies in science.

One evening in 1993, seething at the truth that her male colleagues routinely took up greater than their fair proportion of laboratory area, Hopkins acquired out a tape and measured the size of every lab, workplace and tools room in her constructing to quantify the variations between the areas granted to men and women. Her work led to a seminal 1999 report from MIT during which the college admitted to having discriminated in opposition to feminine members of its science college for many years. That led to a nationwide reckoning about how establishments of upper schooling routinely held again ladies in science.

In The Exceptions, journalist Kate Zernike particulars Hopkins’s journey from a younger scholar satisfied that academia was a meritocracy to a seasoned college member who noticed that the alternative was true. Zernike’s account particulars extra than simply the journey of 1 scientist — it supplies a deeply researched dive into the historical past of gender discrimination in US increased schooling. The ‘exceptions’ of her title are the distinctive ladies who pushed by means of discrimination in science to have completed careers, as Hopkins did. Though the primary occasions transpired a long time in the past, they continue to be remarkably related at present given the sexism, racism and different injustices that also permeate academia.

MIT was maybe an unlikely place for this reckoning to unfold. Positioned in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a stone’s throw from the elite bastion of Harvard College, MIT was imagined to be a meritocracy in contrast, a spot the place proficiency in engineering and science levelled the taking part in discipline of privilege. MIT’s first feminine scholar graduated in 1873, a century earlier than Harvard totally deigned to confess ladies.

However the few ladies who really enrolled at MIT confronted an uphill battle. Campus housing was nonexistent at first; a ladies’s dormitory was added within the Nineteen Sixties, however it was nonetheless inadequate. Ladies had been sidelined, propositioned and assaulted as they tried to work and research. As late as 1985, three years earlier than I entered MIT as an undergraduate, the college confirmed pornographic movies in massive auditoriums as a start-of-semester custom.

After ending her postdoctoral research with Watson and Robert Pollack on the Chilly Spring Harbor Laboratory in Laurel Hole, New York, Hopkins arrived at MIT in 1973 as solely the second girl ever on the college within the biology division. She was going in opposition to the recommendation of Nobel laureate geneticist Barbara McClintock, who warned her to not take any college job due to the probability of discrimination. She had already made necessary discoveries in cell and most cancers biology, and was about to pioneer work on the position of retroviruses in most cancers. But she was nonetheless continuously informed that by working in science she can be taking a job from a extra deserving man, and that she couldn’t educate genetics to undergraduates as a result of they’d not belief scientific info coming from a girl.

Hopkins’s beforehand unpublished notes from this time reveal a searing image of injustice. She is intentionally demoted on a precedence listing for tenure regardless of her formidable software; excluded from the income of a biology course that she co-developed; and sexually assaulted by a colleague. After twenty years at MIT, she lastly realizes that science shouldn’t be an unblemished seek for the reality however fairly a scrum of salesmanship stuffed with competitors, greed and harassment during which males have the higher hand. All of it culminates, in Zernike’s narrative, in Hopkins’s notorious tape measurement.

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This may need remained only one dramatic late-night episode, had been it not for Hopkins becoming a member of forces with 15 different ladies on the MIT science college to deliver the discrimination to gentle. They went to the science dean and, together with his encouragement, produced the 1999 report on the standing of ladies at MIT. The college launched the research, which concluded that the discrimination had endured throughout generations of feminine college members. Inside days, Hopkins was giving media interviews around the globe.

Zernike lined that story as a reporter on the Boston Globe. She now illuminates its backstory, putting the MIT expertise within the historical past of US increased schooling, from how universities struggled to deal with the feminist revolution of the Nineteen Sixties to the Title IX legislation of 1972 that banned discrimination on the idea of intercourse in federally funded establishments.

It’s a single story acutely informed, with a historic context that enriches and deepens its narrative. Zernike doesn’t, nonetheless, tackle gender discrimination at different establishments or embrace context from academia exterior america. Problems with intersectionality, during which gender, race and different elements mix to amplify discrimination, are explored, however not at size.

So why inform Hopkins’s story now? The tape measure is now in the MIT museum, however that doesn’t imply issues have modified. A study released in January by the Scripps Establishment of Oceanography in San Diego, California, discovered that its feminine scientists have, on common, simply half as a lot analysis area allotted to them as their male counterparts. Thirty years after Hopkins’s measurements, discrimination in academia stays alive and effectively.

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