In 2029, Russia aims to complete a space mission to the moon and are trialling the mission by testing out a space simulator using a crew made up entirely of women. To prepare for the mission, the six outstanding scientists will be locked in a contained environment for six days to simulate the conditions they will experience in the expedition.
Prior to be locked inside the simulator, the six women answered questions at a press conference and unfortunately faced a barrage of horrendous sexism.
The women who have carved careers in biophysics and medicine were interrogated about how they were possibly going to cope without being able to do their hair and make-up. The tone for the event was set by the scientific director of the experiment, Sergei Ponomarev, who said:
“We believe women might not only be no worse than men at performing certain tasks in space, but actually better.”
Sergei Ponomarev’s comments could be considered poor wording, but the series of questions the women faced from the media were certainly not the result of miss-phrasing. The group of scientists were asked how they would cope without men or makeup for the next week, and the all-women group of scientists greeted the sexist comments with suitably sarcastic remarks.
As shocked as people are about these comments, these are patterns of opinion that women regularly have to face.
The perceived successfulness and the perceived aptitude of women is heavily intertwined with their physical appearance. Women who are attractive are often seen as intellectually incapable and women who aren’t considered physically attractive are often seen as ‘unfeminine’; it is a double edged double standard.
These attitudes towards women worm their way into all aspects of their lives, and women in STEM industries also face these stereotypes.
It would be excellent if the questions these Russian Scientists faced were an anomaly, but sadly they are not. Earlier this year we heard Nobel prize winning chemist Tim Hunt publicly state his sexist opinions regarding women in science, referring to them as a distraction and stating:
“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.”
Like Newton’s third law, whenever women make progress economically, socially or politically, there is always an equal and opposite reaction. It truly saddens me that these fantastic scientists cannot do their job without their gender and appearance being bought up as a relevant factor. However, these events do bring the opportunity to encourage discussion about the issues women face in STEM and these comments make it hard for the issues to be ignored.