Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Why Girls Need Science (1955)

Via Prelinger Archives comes a 1950s educational video explaining just why girls need more than a single year of science in high school. High school daughter Betty doesn't see the point to taking science in her senior year of high school - she, after all, is going to get married and have a family, just as soon as she finds the right catch! But, her mother and father have something else to say about that (via the Prelinger Archives):

It's always interesting to see exactly what stereotypes existed and were being worked against in earlier time frames. The science fiction news site io9 has a great article collecting clips from the 50s that reassure women they can be scientists without being seen as mannish. Mary Summerfield, Ph.D., reassures "girls" that science won't render them "unfit spinsters", so made sure to always stress she was a scientist and a homemaker, and that "Cosmic rays and cake baking are both lots of fun." Also in the io9 list:
  • Dr. Gladys Hobby tends "thousands of flasks--as solicitous about her molds as an anxious mother might be about a sick infant." The same article in Woman's Home Companion says that pharma companies research chemical compounds "in the hope that they will have valuable properties--just as an experimental cook will invent a new cake in the hope it will taste good."

  • Seventeen magazine told girls that, if they were good in the kitchen, they might also make good chemists - it's just a different sort of baking, after all!

  • Another article in Seventeen has male scientists reassuring the magazine that women make great lab techs; nimble fingers for fine motor skill tasks, and they're so good and nurturing with the animals.

Of course, as io9 notes, for the most part, if women wanted to be more than lab technicians they were out of luck - it was the rare woman, like Dr. Summerfield, who did become researchers in science fields, and even when they did, they did their best to emphasize their femininity, to assure girls they wouldn't lose something by pursuing that traditionally masculine field. I can't decide if this is an early indication of feminism, or if it's a sad example of the era, and the need to keep women in very gendered roles.

And as many things are, this is personal - my aunt very much wanted to be a veterinarian, but was told that being a doctor of any sort was "not a woman's job." By whom? Her parents, and specifically her father. It's hard for me, only a short 40 years later, to even understand that sort of mindset, but it's the mindset that turned her into a nurse, rather than pursuing the career she actually wanted.

I think that might be why I find these retro pieces, be they educational videos or magazine articles, TV shows, etc, so fascinating. For women my age and younger, it's hard to see, and remember, just how different the world was such a very close time frame ago.

-Kelly (with help from io9)

No comments: