Newton is supposed to have said that he could see far, because he stood on the shoulders of giants. We do not appreciate that many of the support systems we enjoy today have been created for us by the efforts of preceding generations. This is especially true in the context of gender equity that we talk so much about today.
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Picture a Scientist , directed by Ian Cheney and Sharon Shattuck, handles the volatile subject of sexual harassment faced by women in science, by following the paths of three scientists. Nancy Hopkins’s initiative gets MIT to file a report on the subject that has what no scientist can brush aside: data-based evidence of gender bias and harassment of women and marginalised communities, and the effect of this – the infamous leaky pipeline . As Nancy says later in the film, “This is not a problem for the women but for science, because if you say women are as good as men in doing research, you must be losing half the good scientists in this process.”
The film documents the incredible bravery of the women in taking up the issue, even in the absence of conversation, empathy or support from the environment.
Sexual harassment is not just being forcibly subjected to unwanted attention or being asked for sexual favours; this is but the tip of the iceberg. The submerged part of the iceberg is what we often ignore: alienating behaviour, disparaging comments, differential pay scales, opportunities denied, and much more as the film brings out.
It takes great courage to continue unfazed in the face of sexual harassment, and often this appearance of nonchalance hides scars that hold memories of the pain long after the incidents pass. This very nonchalance can be interpreted as a self-sufficiency, leading to non-interference from colleagues who otherwise would be supportive. Ultimately, “Speak out and stand up!” is the message conveyed by the film.
Picture a Scientist is currently streaming on Netflix