Woman

The Universe in Verse: Astrophysicist Janna Levin Reads “Planetarium,” Adrienne Rich’s Tribute to Women in Astronomy

The Universe in Verse: Astrophysicist Janna Levin Reads “Planetarium,” Adrienne Rich’s Tribute to Women in Astronomy

Caroline Herschel, the first professional woman astronomer, was a remarkable woman who lived a long and pathbreaking life. Her parents deemed her too ugly to marry and envisioned for her a life as a servant — she became the Cinderella of the household, tending to the domestic needs of her parents and her eleven siblings. But Herschel, though incredibly humble, had a tenacity of spirit that kept her quiet passion for the life of the mind burning. She went on to pave the way for women in science, becoming the first woman admitted into the Royal Astronomical Society — the era’s most prestigious scientific institution — alongside the Scottish mathematician Mary Sommerville (for whom the word “scientist” was coined).

Exactly 120 years after Herschel’s death, the great poet and feminist Adrienne Rich (May 16, 1929–March 27, 2012) — a woman who espoused the political power of poetry and believed that “poetry can break open locked chambers of possibility” — commemorated Herschel’s far-reaching legacy of unlocking a universe of possibility for women in a beautiful 1968 poem titled “Planetarium,” found in Rich’s indispensable Collected Poems: 1950–2012 (public library).

At The Universe in Verse — my celebration of science through poetry, which also gave us Neil Gaiman’s new feminist poem about the dawn of science — astrophysicist and author Janna Levin brought Rich’s masterpiece to life in an enchanting reading:

PLANETARIUM

Thinking of Caroline Herschel (1750–1848)
astronomer, sister of William; and others.

A woman in the shape of a monster
a monster in the shape of a woman
the skies are full of them

a woman ‘in the snow
among the Clocks and instruments
or measuring the ground with poles’

in her 98 years to discover
8 comets

she whom…

Study Finds Women in Academia Do More Unpaid “Service” Work

In today’s unsurprising news, a new study has found that women in academia perform more unpaid labor than men. Researchers writing in the journal Research in Higher Education say female professors are more likely—and more expected—to give their time to students, while their better-compensated male colleagues use those same hours to publish, conduct research, and advance their careers.

Education experts culled data from the 2014 Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE), which asked nearly 19,000 faculty members at 143 colleges about their interactions with their students. They also dug into detailed faculty activity reports at two institutions.

The results showed a significant difference in the way academic men and women spent their time. Female respondents to the FSSE spent an average of 30 minutes more per week on service tasks like advising students, serving on committees, and leading extracurricular activities. Even among full professors, women devoted significantly more time to service activities than their male counterparts. This was true even after the researchers controlled for variables like race, academic department, and university.

The paper’s authors couldn’t pinpoint the root cause (or…

Woman Visits Her Son’s Grave, A Bird Shows Up And Gives Her A Sign

Nature has a beautiful way of comforting us just when we need it the most. For example, take this little bird who showed up next to Marie Robinson’s son’s grave on the third anniversary of his passing. The grieving mother, who lost her 4-year-old son Jack to brain cancer in 2014, was visiting the cemetery when a beautiful robin appeared and started flying around the woman.

The birdie wasn’t afraid at all, and at one point, he even landed on Robinson’s foot. But it gets even better.

When the woman started filming the bird, he took perch on…

Lady Deborah Moody, the Dangerous Woman Who Started a Colonial Town

Being dubbed “dangerous” in colonial days was almost as bad as being declared a witch—women who fell afoul of social norms were often killed. So Lady Deborah Moody did what any dangerous woman with her wits about her should: She grabbed a bunch of her friends, left civilization as she knew it, and started her own village instead.

Born Deborah Dunch in Wiltshire, England around 1586, the future lady had it much better than many of her contemporaries as the daughter of the man in charge of the Royal Mint. She later married a man named Henry Moody who, like her father, worked hard to elevate himself in a world constricted by inflexible class roles. Her husband became a knight and then bought himself a baronetcy, which earned him a higher place in society, but not necessarily other people’s hearts. As sheriff of Wiltshire and a notorious poacher, he made plenty of enemies, and may have made one of Deborah herself when he was accused of illegitimately fathering a child around 1620.

When Henry died in 1629, Deborah found herself impoverished. Then in her forties, she was forced to sell much of the family property to pay her late husband’s debts. But she found comfort in religion, attending Quaker services in London and becoming a fervent Anabaptist—someone who believed that children shouldn’t be baptized at birth, but instead when they were old enough to decide for themselves. This was seen as nothing short of revolutionary at the time, and the word Anabaptist became shorthand for anyone who went against the grain. With her outspoken religious views, Deborah soon found herself firmly in that category.

Not only did Deborah have controversial religious views—she also had legal trouble. After moving to London from her country home, a local court forced her back to her hereditary lands “as a good example necessary for the poorer class.” Incensed by her lack of physical and…

Overnight, Bulgaria’s Capital Gets the City’s First Monuments to Women

Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, has plenty of historic monuments to men. But there are no statues of real, historic women in the city (as opposed to symbols like “a mother”). In the entire city, only 6 percent of memorials, like plaques, honor a female figure at all, according to official city data. But, on March 24, seven new monuments seemed to pop up overnight, Mashable reports.

MONUMENT #1—an art piece by Irina Tomova-Erka—highlights the lack of women’s accomplishments celebrated throughout the city by adding new, neon-colored busts of female figures. Well, just one figure, actually—the artist herself.

“The sculptures are a portrait of me, as I wanted to take a strong personal, public stance as a contemporary woman and artist,” Tomova-Erka says in a press release. “However, they are also anonymous, as they do not bear my name. They are only marked by a sign ‘The first monument of a woman in Sofia’. In…

Why Women Couldn’t Wear Pants on the Senate Floor Until 1993

So many of the conventions that ruled how men and women interacted were “unwritten rules” that everyone understood, but were not legally codified. Conformity came from social pressure from the majority of people who just knew that “that’s the way it is.” Such was the dress code for the U.S. Senate that expected women to wear dresses long after those in other professions were wearing pantsuits, uniform pants, or jeans to work.

As the upper house in the U.S. legislature, the Senate has always been more formal and reserved than the House. Even during the 1980s, pants on women were apparently too much for that august chamber to handle. Individual Senate offices had their own rules, but on the floor, women wearing pants were verboten, which could necessitate quick changes. “We’ve…

Did the Election Change How Men and Women Negotiate?

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Men have become much more aggressive with women in their negotiation style since Donald Trump became president, according to a new Game Theory simulation-based study. More aggressive tactics by men are leading to reduced mutual benefits and a destruction

Accordingto a study to be published in the May issue of American Economic Review, mens’ negotiation style with women has become much more aggressive since Donald Trump became president.

The authors of the study, Corrine Low and Jennie Huang from the University of Pennsylvania, used a “Battle of the Sexes” game theory simulation to gauge whether men’s negotiation styles had changed since the 2016 election.

According to the rules of the study’s “Battle of Sexes” simulation, each pair of subjects was given $20 to split. They had only two options: One person would get $15 and the other would get $5, or vice versa. If an impasse were reached, both would get $0.

In this study, pairs were randomly assigned, and weren’t necessarily male-female. The researchers informed some pairs about the genders of pair members, but withheld that information in the case of other pairs. The researchers used an online chat tool to track the communication, and used third-party observers to code the interactions as either “aggressive” or “cooperative”.

Acording to the study, Trump's election “disrupted community norms around civility and chivalry.” (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)
Trump’s election “disrupted community norms around civility and chivalry,” according to the authors of the Game Theory simulation-based study (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

The experiment’s first simulation was conducted before the election (October), and researchers found that, in normal unstructured communication, men were less likely to use tough negotiation tactics when paired with female partners, and also that they were more likely to offer the higher reward of the game (the $15 payoff) to female partners.

When the…

Hooked on the Heavens: How Caroline Herschel, the First Professional Woman Astronomer, Nearly Died by Meathook in the Name of Science

Hooked on the Heavens: How Caroline Herschel, the First Professional Woman Astronomer, Nearly Died by Meathook in the Name of Science

“If I were king,” the trailblazing mathematician Émilie du Châtelet wrote in the 1730s, “I would reform an abuse that cuts out, so to speak, half of humanity. I would allow women to share in all the rights of humanity, and most of all those of the mind.” It took a century for her fantasy to take on the first glimmer of reality.

In 1835, a quarter century before Maria Mitchell earned her place as America’s first woman astronomer and led the way for women in science, Caroline Herschel (March 16, 1750–January 9, 1848) became the world’s first professional woman astronomer. Together with the Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville (for whom the word “scientist” had been coined a year earlier), 85-year-old Herschel became the first woman elected Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society for the eight comets she had discovered in her prolific life as a “sweeper” of the stars.

Caroline Herschel

Herschel’s monumental legacy and her ninety-eight years of earthly perseverance — a lifespan that exceeded the era’s average life expectancy by decades and stretched through the French Revolution, the Civil War, the rise and fall of Napoleon, and the invention of the railroad and the telegraph — are all the more impressive against the backdrop of the inordinate hardships she had to overcome from a young age.

Of her ten siblings, four died in early childhood. At the age of eleven, Caroline contracted typhus fever, which nearly killed her. She would later recount the aftermath of the attack in Memoir and Correspondence of Caroline Herschel (public library):

For several months after I was obliged to mount the stairs on my hands and feet like an infant; but here I will remark that from that time to this present day [at age 71] I do not remember ever to have spent a whole day in bed.

The illness damaged her left eye and stunted her growth. For the remainder of her life, this tiny woman of four feet and three inches swept the skies with her twenty-foot Newtonian telescope and one good eye.

But many more obstacles stood between her and astronomy, perhaps most crucially her mother — an illiterate woman who was determined to make Caroline useful in domestic duties and was adamant that the girl shouldn’t be distracted with education. It was the father, an admirer of astronomy, who secretly taught her music and science when his wife was “either in good humour or out of the way,” and who one frosty night took young Caroline out to make her “acquainted with several of the most beautiful constellations [and] a comet which was then visible.”

He eventually arranged for her to be tutored by a young woman whose parents lived in the same Hanover house as the Herschels. To receive her lessons, Caroline would rise before dawn, meet her tutor at daybreak, and study until 7 in the morning, at which point she would have to resume her duties as the household’s Cinderella. But this faint promise of scholarship barely lasted a few months — tuberculosis claimed her young tutor’s life.

Hand-embroidered runner for Caroline Herschel by Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party.
Hand-embroidered runner for Caroline Herschel from artist Judy Chicago’s 1979 project The Dinner Party, a celebration of women’s legacy in creative culture

The summer after Caroline’s sixteenth birthday, her father had a stroke, which paralyzed the entire left side of his body. He died several months later, leaving the young woman in stupefied grief. To alleviate her mourning, her brothers William and Alexander suggested that she join them in Bath, England, where William, to whom she was deeply and abidingly attached, had taken a position as an organist at a local church. William beseeched and beseeched, but the mother was unyielding. In a bout of desperation, Caroline knitted two years’ worth…