Can women have babies and do science too?

I wanted to share a quick article that popped up on my Facebook feed and, interestingly, was very relevant to the essay I am finishing up. My essay pertains to women in academia and the gender disparities they experience. The full length version of the article can be found here: http://www.nature.com/news/scientist-disinvited-from-speaking-at-conference-because-of-her-pregnancy-1.18946?WT.mc_id=FBK_NatureNews. The purpose of the article was to describe a recent situation experienced by a female scientist who was rescinded an invitation to speak at a conference due to her being 7-months pregnant. According to the article, the woman accepted an invitation to speak at the European Commission (EC) conference in Brussels. When making her travel arrangements, she told the agent that she preferred to travel by train as opposed to airplane because, at the time, she would be 7 months along. After that, she was contacted by someone from the conference rescinding her invitation. They claimed they did not want to compromise her safety that late in pregnancy. When she pursued the matter further, a variety of other excuses were made and, though they apologized and said they would look into the matter further, there was no change in their decision for her to not speak.

This is an interesting article because it brings up an important gender difference that we cannot ignore. Women can have babies and men cannot. There is nothing in science (yet) that can change this. However, how society treats and makes assumptions about pregnant women can. For examples, in this situation, they claimed that the EC was concerned about this woman’s health. Her health and the health of her unborn child is no business of theirs. How and where she can travel are between her and her doctor. So what is the underlying reason for the cancellation. Is it really her health? Or is it the perception that a pregnant woman is a fragile being who couldn’t stand the stress of travel and/or speaking in front of colleagues?

2 thoughts on “Can women have babies and do science too?”

  1. This is fascinating the way we construct arbitrary meaning around social characteristics such as gender. More importantly we treat people different based on these classifications. There should be more accommodations in academia, conference structures, travel structures, etc to support pregnant women. But, since we believe pregnant women should be stationary we don’t come up with innovations to make life more accessible for this part of the population.

  2. It is just sad that people still think like that in the 21st century. Thank you for sharing this with the class. I think the best way to approach this type of sexism is to call it out when you see it. I totally agree with you, her health and safety are noone business and her pregnancy is noone business as well.

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