Memoirs by Scientists vs. Memoirs by Women Scientists?

There is an interesting blog post on National Geographic about Memoirs by Scientists. It started via a twitter crowd-sourcing effort to find good examples – as Carl Zimmer noted: “I started thinking about especially good examples–in particular, ones that manage to balance the personal experiences of the author with the professional accomplishments.” Then, a Gap Junction Science member tweeted this:

I started to wonder a few things (and here they are in handy list form):

  1. As Mallory Bowers pointed out, few of the Memoirs by Scientists on the list were by women (I didn’t check myself, but I rely on Bowers in all things) (though we don’t know each other. But she has posted on GJS’s facebook page and that is reference enough for me, plus it sounds truthy). Is that because few Memoirs by Scientists by women are getting recommended? Or are there few Memoirs by Scientists by women at all?

    I could also call this post “Beyond Marie Curie.” Or I could caption this picture: Marie Curie is thinking about the question I pose at the end HARD.

  2. There is a lot of interesting scholarly and popular writing about women’s literature being a genre unto itself – sort of by force. Like, Literature: we won’t let you into our club! Women: Ok, I guess we’ll start a Women’s Literature club then. Literature: Yeah, we represent the human experience. Which just happens to be a certain type of men’s experience. You only represent women. You’re like a special interest group. Women: What’s new, alligoo? (No one actually says this, including women, no one). Literature: It’s too bad that your writing just doesn’t speak to us. Surprisingly, only writing by “serious heterosexual guys” does. Women: What’s new? That’s why feminism. Oh right, I’m making a point here, but this conversation IS AWESOME and its pretty fun imagining Literature speaking to Women. Anyway, I wondered: Would people think of Memoirs by Scientists by women as an even more particular subgenre? A subsubgenre, if I may? Just because, you know, there’s scientists and there’s women scientists. So there’s Memoirs by Scientists and there’s Memoirs by Women Scientists. Without invoking women explicitly, and using a category that implicitly (and often explicitly!) excludes women, would the average person think of women? (Hint: Research says No.) (That wasn’t really a hint, was it.)
  3. I could imagine that people aren’t thinking about Memoirs by Scientists by women to recommend, and that’s probably a major reason why few are being recommended. But I also thought that there probably aren’t that many written to recommend; I COULD BE TOTALLY WRONG and I’m the first to admit it because I have not done a “rigid search” to quote my favorite hilarious search-related line. Without casting aspersions of writers of memoirs, I wonder what it takes to see one’s self as worthy of self-memoirizing. On one hand, wouldn’t we all like to think that one day we will feel like our lives and contributions have been important enough to merit a memoir? Um, for those of us who have enough enoughness to even think about that. On the other hand, women tend to be socialized to think of themselves as team players rather than leaders, as nurturers rather than pathbreakers (these are all false dichotomies but that doesn’t mean they have no realness), and men tend to be socialized to think of women this way too. And, All The Research shows that women tend to be penalized more for success exactly because success contravenes gender norms.

So what would it take to have a list of Memoirs by Scientists that included women and wasn’t called “Memoirs by Women Scientists”? And other minoritized identities? Obviously feminism and social justice. Solved! But, seriously, what concrete, real steps would it take?

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