Let’s be clear—the word “woman” is a noun. It is not an adjective.
And yet the inclusion of the word “woman” as an adjective, to subtly yet profoundly undermine the notion that women are capable, is everywhere. This prefix is not accidental, it’s diminutive, an inherent nod to the notion that women are somehow out of place in the sciences. The word “woman” as an adjective is used to suggest that there’s some kind of novelty to a female working as a professional scientist; “Look at this woman scientist—she’s even wearing a lab coat! Isn’t she trying her best? Adorable!”
Take, for example, the comments made recently by Nobel laureate Tim Hunt. At the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea, Hunt described the trouble with girls: “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 criticize them, they cry” (You can read more about his comments at The Guardian).
I’ll be honest you guys….I’ve cried in lab. A little saline never hurt a tissue sample, right? I just don’t understand how a NOBEL LAUREATE could think that the experiences he’s had with a few women in his laboratory could ever possibly be extrapolated and applied to ALL women?
In 2013 Fang, Bennet, and Cassadevall published a study in which they analyzed the 228 instances of scientific misconduct reported to the Office of Research Integrity and found that over two thirds of the cases involving fraud were committed by men, a number that “exceeds the overall proportion of males among life science trainees and faculty.” But who is talking about that? Where is the female Nobel Laureate condemning men at scientific conferences, decrying their role in labs; “Good point, Hunt, you really got me there. I was just about to kiss you and cry, but I thought I’d make this counterpoint first; the trouble with boys in lab is that they lie and make up data and ruin their careers and yours in the process. I’d love to hire more men, but you just can’t trust ’em. Plus they’re so tantalizing. Does anyone have brownies?”