No, not me. Sophie Germain. I took a study break last night and was reading about her.
Unfortunately, I got absorbed in my reading and the next thing I knew, it was 2:30am. I’ve been sleepy all day. I know that I’m too young to be “too old for this,” but today I sure felt like it.
Sophie Germain (1776-1831) was a French mathematician who overcame sexual discrimination to achieve great things. She first got interested in mathematics by reading the books in her father’s library. But her parents disapproved of her interest because it wasn’t considered suitable for a young woman. So she started sneaking the books up to her bedroom at night and reading by candlelight.
When her parents found out — well, I guess it was a different era. And maybe her parents were a little crazy. They took away her clothes and kept her bedroom ice cold, but even being naked and freezing couldn’t stop her from studying mathematics. So they gave up trying to stop her.
French society hadn’t given up, of course. The university wouldn’t admit her as a student because she was a woman. To get her education, she eavesdropped at the doors of lecture halls and borrowed lecture notes from male students.
She started writing mathematical articles, using the pen name of Antoine LeBlanc to hide the fact that she was a woman. Eventually, she wrote to the greatest mathematician of the age, Carl Friedrich Gauss. When Gauss discovered her true identity, he became her dedicated supporter. He wrote that she had “the most noble courage, extraordinary talent, and superior genius.”
Urged by Gauss, in 1831 the University of Gottingen decided to award Germain a doctorate for her work in mathematics. That was an almost unheard-of honor for a woman in a sexist society. Sadly, Germain died before she could receive the award. But her example of courage and determination can still inspire us today. Even when we’re so tired that we feel like we’re “too old for this.” 🙂
(Blog post #195!)
Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.
And you were what?!
Silvio Berlusconi is the Prime Minister of Italy.
I was only kidding about the love toy part.
Lately, Berlusconi has been denounced because he seems to jump into bed with anything that’s female, even if it’s a minor. But in spite of his piggish and possibly illegal behavior, more than half of the Italian population still supports him. What’s going on?
What’s going on is that a lot of people still haven’t caught up with the 21st century. That doesn’t make them bad people, but it does mean that they might support bad things.
Besides being prime minister, Berlusconi owns about half of the television stations and news media in Italy. According to Chiara Volpato, a professor of social psychology at the University of Milan in Italy, that enables him to reinforce sexist viewpoints:
In Berlusconi’s media, women and minors are denigrated to a “decorative” role. This representation cements women’s subordinate position in Italian society.
As a result, the World Economic Forum’s 2010 report ranked Italy 74th in equality of women.
There’s a reason that I’ll never be anyone’s “decoration.” It’s not just that I have self-respect: that’s an effect, not the cause. The cause is that my society gives me freedom, rights, opportunities, and a status (mostly) equal to men. Women haven’t always had those things.
Let’s review human history. Up until fairly recently, societies were organized mainly by violence. People who were physically strongest, most aggressive, and most driven to dominate others were the ones who ended up running things. Unsurprisingly, they were mostly men. Not all men are like that, but more men are than women.
Violence still plays a role, let’s not have any illusions about that. But as civilization has developed, violence has gradually become less important than thinking, negotiation, and cooperation.
Men can throw a spear farther than we can. They can outrun us and overpower us physically. But when cooperation replaces violence, women become just as powerful as men, though in different ways. In general, we’re better at cooperation. We don’t care as much about “dominating” others. We just want to make sure that everyone is included and taken care of.
When civilization advances to that point, the old stereotypes and social roles begin to break down. Women are no longer forced into the roles of servant and plaything for men.
Berlusconi and other defenders of the old order are fighting to stop that evolution. But in the long run, they can’t succeed. Nobody wants to go back to living in caves: for one thing, you can’t get cell phone reception there.
Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.