For several years, October 15 has been marked to acknowledge the accomplishments of female scientists. It has taken the form of “Ada Lovelace Day,” in honor of the woman widely regarded as the world’s first computer programmer. Articles discussing Anna Lovelace and the recognition of women in science are written cogently on most major news outlets, and this entry is not meant to repeat Lovelace’s biography or discuss. It is meant to be a simple observation concerning several of these articles.
The established fact of women’s underrepresentation in science has deservedly drawn mainstream attention. There are STEM programs catered toward developing interests in the field and various Women in Science Days across America, including ones that I’ve personally organized at my own small alma mater. Despite these growing efforts, there is still the pervasive assumption that women are the “other” in science, needing special inclusions into the empirical domain.
Case in point, in the aforementioned articles on Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer visionary, she is first acknowledged by her relation to her father, Lord Byron, the Romantic poet. In both this Al-Jazeera and New Yorker article, Lovelace is presented by her heritage before the articles mention her invention of the first piece of software – an algorithm for Charles Babbage’s analytical engine. While this is a small critique, I believe it demonstrates that even today a genius female scientist’s work comes second to her societal and familial position, in articles written expressly for the purpose of discussing women in science.
This is not to poo-poo the articles entirely. They are thoughtful, well-written, and provide mainstream coverage to an important topic. But I do consider it important to be very intentional in conversations of women in science, because the goal is not to encourage more “women scientists” but more scientists who are women; expanding science to attract more women rather than changing women to be more attracted to science.