Women’s Invisibility in the Spheres of Science and Technology

Article Posted in: Research Articles

by – C. Susila, Vol. III, Issue. XXXIII, October 2017


            The place of women in India has been perceived as inferior to that of men. They could not actively participate in public events as men do. Their access is limited to domestic space alone, and they are expected to look after their families than going out for a living. This is why many women have to sacrifice their dream of getting into scientific research which requires lots of time and concentration. Thus this paper proposes to explore how in modernity women are equal in the site of law but still face marginalization cum oppression and gender stereotyping at the workplace.


Science is the fulcrum on which the world revolves. The curiosity to know what something is and why something does happen is constantly leading to new inventions. The globalization of today’s world could not have happened without science. Many technologies and inventions have been found for the betterment of humanity. Though Galileo said “Science is for people,” the question that arises is who can invent and discover? Are women not adequate to do scientific research? Should there be any gender discourse in science? This paper then tries to explore the place of women in the world of science and the persistent challenges and barriers faced by them to be successful.

The place of woman in society is fluid and dynamic. It changes from time to time. Women have been perceived inferior to men, across countries through many centuries. They are considered the “Other”. Even the Greek philosopher Aristotle claims that women are passive and inactive. In the patriarchal society, women are discriminated in multiple ways. In India, the situation is ironical. On the one hand, woman is considered goddess, but the practical scenario is totally contradictory. They are oppressed and discriminated in various forms. Thus women’s position is always marginalized.

In this patriarchal system of the society, women’s space is limited to family alone. They are expected to take care of family and children than going out for a living. In past, there were no economic possibilities for them. In Britain, the only economic possibility for a woman is to be a governess, which is also an option for poor women only. The wealthy women could not acquire any profession. Moreover, a woman is not entitled to have property. The law decreed that the property of women becomes the possession of the husband once she is married. This issue is brought forth to light when Caroline Norton lost all her property due to her divorce from her husband. Infuriated by her husband’s treatment and the law which allowed doing so, she determined to change the marriage and property laws in favour of women. She became the source for many women activists for future movements.

Education is an important means for women to get emancipation as well as economic independence. But initially, women were denied the right of having an education. Thus, feminist movement made an important concern for education. Though gradually women achieved a prestigious place in education, still there are many disciplines in which women’s entry is not welcome. One of them is science and technology where women are not acknowledged as men.  When one thinks of scientific achievements, only men’s contributions are remembered, women are forgotten. So there is an urgency to rethink the place of women in science and research. One should analytically find out whether women did not participate in science or their efforts have been hidden or unrecognized. When we search, we can find that there were many women in the field of science and mathematics, who did excellent works as men. But how did they disappear from the history? Why had their voices not been represented? It should be analysed from social, cultural perspective.

There were many justifications for women’s less participation in certain fields. For instance, women were called soft and emotional. Science and philosophy require rationality, which is not appropriate for women. But, this is not the right view. Women can actively do research as men do. When rediscovering history, one can find many women excelled in the field of science and mathematics, whose works were not recognized and buried. There are many reasons for this.

Gender discrimination is an important factor.  Scientific research requires more time and concentration. The feminist philosopher Sandra Harding asserts the view as follows “women have been more systematically excluded from doing serious science, than performing any other social activity except perhaps frontline warfare.” (Harding, 31) In Indian society, this becomes a problem for women to stay up late to do their research. But this was not a hindrance for the early female scientists. In Sir. C.V Raman’s laboratory, female researchers used to stay there in the night and slept under the desks.  From the surveys and analyses, it is evident that women’s participation in undergraduate courses is higher than their continuation in the same fields.

Another important factor would be marriage. When a woman is married, she is expected to look after her family and husband. She cannot spend adequate time in research. She has to choose either family or education. Most families would not allow them to choose education. For example, during the nineteenth century, Lalitha Chandrasekhar, though she is good at research, due to her love for Chandrasekar (Physics Nobel Laureate) was forced to quit her research.

Another reason would be the male prejudice in institutions. In C.V. Raman’s laboratory, he often underestimates women and does not allow them to act freely. Women cannot do these researchers separately which needs special laboratories and intellectual advancement and guidance. Thus in formal, or modern science, women struggle to prove her identity as a good researcher for which she must sacrifice many things.

In research too, the number of women engage themselves but they do not practice it and end up in teaching careers. In the US also, women have been admitted as students, not as researchers in academic institutions like universities. Thus the scientific interest from female students is wiped out by these societal barriers.

Gender disparity prevails not only in academic institutions but also in the workplace too. They are assigned junior designations and they are not often promoted, though they are eligible as their male counterparts. Their absence for maternity and other issues are taken as a means to reduce their opportunities for promotion.

There were some women who successfully overcome those societal problems and engage themselves in research. But they were also not acknowledged. This is due to the politics in the patriarchal society. Thus in modernity, women scientists face inequality and discrimination cum oppression. Though laws and amendments have been formed, in practice, they still face discrimination in multiple forms. Either they are paid less or promoted less frequently.

Currently, many measures have been taken to increase the participation of women in advanced science and technology. Many funds have been granted to promote more scientific research. This should be analyzed not only from gender perspective but in a social perspective of improving the economy of a country in the world arena. Not only were the field of science but Engineering and Mathematics also denied for them.

Women show their excellence of research in informal science also. Informal science refers to the local and small-scale industries, in which, women do not necessarily have high intellectual advancement to work. But there is no visibility and acknowledgement for them in informal science also. But this is a proven model proposed by Gandhi who promotes the value of small scales industrial works like spinning and weaving. This does not affect their family life also. They can stay at home and work as they wish. There will not be much discrimination from men.  Women can also be economically independent in this method. But again, it should be questioned that whether they get acknowledgement as professionals and get equivalent treatment as men scientists.

In the pre-colonial and colonial India, though women’s education was questionable, there was an exception for life sciences, particularly the field of medicine. This is due to some gender and societal constructs women were not allowed to be examined by male doctors.  Ida Scudder, a missionary woman, after viewing that many women lose their lives due to this gender customs resolves to become a doctor and she opened up CMC in Vellore for women’s education. In the early centuries of India, women candidates were denied admission from entering into medical colleges. During colonial times, many girls were married at a very early age which hinders their dreams. There were many women born in orthodox families but fought for education and excelled in many fields like medicine. Some of them are Anandhibai Joshi and Rukhmbai. Their life would be an interesting source to motivate women to enter into science and medicine. Anandibai was married at the very age to a widower who is three times older than her. But she went to the US and she is the first qualified doctor in India. But due to her untimely death at 21, she could not practice medicine and Rukhmbai was the first practising doctor. She was also married at a smaller age and her husband petitioned against her studying and in court, he requested the judge to make her come home and live as an obedient wife. But she refused to go and the court offered her two options either to choose to live as a wife or to face imprisonment. She boldly asserted that she was ready to face imprisonment for violating orders than to live a life which she does not like.

Janaki Ammal would be a good instance to prove that women have been facing multiple forms of oppression in the field of science. Born as a half-breed of Indian and British heritage, she encountered gender as well as caste discrimination. She is the earliest cytogeneticist from India whose excellence has been buried under the patriarchal nature of Indian society. She was a botanist from Kerala who went abroad for her research. During her times, the society was more orthodox and they have confined to kitchens and domestic space alone. She worked on sugarcane plant and increased the sweetness. She was the first woman to obtain her PhD by the University of Michigan. Her contribution to the field of research has been unacknowledged during her lifetime. Only by the rediscovery of some recent researchers, many women scientists like Janaki Ammal have been found out.

Even today, successful women scientists can be counted on fingers. In every field, there are only a few who got acknowledged for their research. But there are many women who have been buried by male prejudices. Education should be free from gender disparities and that leads to the equality of women in all spheres. It should also be understood that science is for both, not for men alone. Women’s studies should not be ignored by men. Women’s participation in science should be encouraged and it should be viewed as the country’s sustainable development.

Introduction to the Author: 

Ms. C. Susila is pursuing her full- time Doctoral Degree at Department of English, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu since January 2016 under the guidance of Dr.D. Laura Dameris Chellajothi, Assistant Professor, Department English, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli. She has completed her M.Phil in English in 2015 and she has cleared UGC-NET twice in June and December 2014. Her present area of research focuses on women’s life writings, and feminist literature. Her research Supervisor is Dr. D. Laura Dameris Chellajothi, assistant professor of English, Bharathidasan University Tiruchirappalli- 620024, Tamil Nadu.


Works Cited

“Caroline Norton.” Digital. library Server at Penn Libraries, digital.library.upenn.edu/women/norton/nc-biography.html#section6.

Ferry, Georgina. “Women in Science | Women | Britannica.com.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, inc., 2015, www.britannica.com/topic/Women-in-Science-1725191. Accessed 22 Feb. 2017.

Gupta, Rishibha. “Ladies First: 3 female doctors who have changed the face of medicine in India.” India Today, 1 July 2016, indiatoday.intoday.in/story/3-female-doctor-achievers-medicine-in-india-firuza-parikh-indira-hinduja-lifest/1/705360.html. Accessed 22 Feb. 2017.

Harding, Sandra G, editor. The Science Question in Feminism. Cornell UP, 1993.

“http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/remembering-janaki-ammal-a-scientist-who-sweetened-sugarcane/story-gtEI11mI4OHKt2eyrYEsGO.html.” Hindustan Times, [New Delhi], 4 Nov. 2014, www.hindustantimes.com/india/remembering-janaki-ammal-a-scientist-who-sweetened-sugarcane/story-gtEI11mI4OHKt2eyrYEsGO.html. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.

Pal, Sanchari. “Meet Janaki Ammal, the Legendary Botanist Who Sweetened India’s Sugar.” The Better India, 2016, www.thebetterindia.com/75174/janaki-ammal-botanist-sugarcane-magnolia/. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.

“What is Informal Science? | InformalScience.org.” Welcome to InformalScience.org | InformalScience.org, Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education, www.informalscience.org/what-informal-science. Accessed 21 Feb. 2017.

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