We’ve all heard the phrase ‘behind every great man stands a great woman.”
It might sound like a compliment for women, but if you stop to think about, it’s not. It implies that a woman can only be successful in support of a man, or that their successes will always be tied to that of a man.
That is changing now, but through much of the 20th Century, the accomplishments of women were put aside or hidden as part of a man’s work.
Take Maud Menten, forbidden from doing independent research in Canada in the early 1900s, even though she was a University of Toronto medical graduate. But in 1913 Berlin, one of her discoveries led to the process that allowed enzymes to be purified, modified, and targeted as drug therapies.
Then there are the women who worked at the Harvard Observatory as “computers,” doing calculations and detailed examinations of the glass plate photographs shot by the astronomers.
Though they received little public recognition, they were responsible for a number of advances in astronomy, including the system still used for cataloguing stars.
This isn’t to say women were never recognized for their contributions. There have been many famous female artists and writers, for example, and even the occasional scientist like Marie Curie. But the overall idea that women weren’t suited to some kinds of work—even though they were quietly contributing greatly to those fields—is something to be ashamed of.
It’s all about building a better society where we all have an equal part. When our great-great-great grandchildren are looking back at us a century from now, let’s hope they’re not ashamed of our record.