Hello and welcome to our hundredth issue. Yes, that’s right our hundredth issue. Where has the time gone? The is our second Women in Space feature issue, following the massive success of the first one last year. There’s something about space that gets people energised. Most people we feature in Womanthology can trace their career choices back to some point in their early childhood when they discovered something they really loved to do. That sense is even more palpable than usual for this space issues. The reason? I suppose it’s the thrill of the unknown and the idea of (quite literally) infinite possibilities.
I love the childhood space stories that involve hours spent crafting homemade rockets out of tin foil or doing ‘experiments’ at home. Sci-fi usually played a big part too.
Men are given awful advice too sometimes
I’m always interested in #IDidItAnyway stories, where members of our community were told, usually also at an early age, that their idea, ambitions, hopes and dreams were too outlandish. In true Womanthology spirit, those who tell #IDidItAnyway stories decided to follow their dreams anyway, often to prove the doubters wrong. I’ve always found that being given spectacularly bad advice isn’t gender specific. Yes, it’s true that women are often subjected to being talked out of career choices that aren’t deemed ‘girly’ enough by careers advisors or the like, but it can also happen to men are also urged to give up on their dreams.
Case in point comes from one of Womanthology’s greatest male champions, Craig Brown from Innovate UK, who experienced this first hand when he told a careers advisor he wanted to work in the space sector and he was told not to be ‘silly’, and encouraged to become a teacher instead. Now don’t get me wrong, teaching is a noble profession but it’s literally a world away from working in the space industry.
I was glad to hear that he did it anyway, and not only did he pursue his dream of a career in space – sparked by a love of all things Star Trek and a meeting with Nichelle Nichols a.k.a Uhura, the Star Ship Enterprise’s communications officer – but he also became a champion for gender balance and diversity more broadly, as well as social mobility. More of this please! In this issue, Craig shares his tips for male champions of gender balance, one of these being for male colleagues to volunteer to help, even if they aren’t approached directly.
You have most likely seen the wonderful @manwhohasitall Twitter feed, which calls out the peculiarities of gender stereotypes in society by flipping language. One tweet in particular that sticks in my mind, which coincided with Tim Peake’s mission to the International Space Station in 2016 was this:
"I'm not hung up on the term 'spacewoman' because I know it refers to both women & men." Tim, age 44, male spacewoman
— manwhohasitall (@manwhohasitall) May 3, 2016
The ironic ridiculousness sums it up. I’d like to think that Tim Peake is a great advocate of gender equality and that this tweet would make him smile.
Gender flipping is a really fascinating way to examine our feelings about gender and our biases. Check out the hashtag #FlipItToTestIt on Twitter, which asks broader questions.
This got me thinking about all the masculine connotations with all things space. The iconic songs, Rocket Man and Space Oddity don’t give women a look in, other than as bag packers and wives. Neil Armstrong spoke of “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. Would a woman have got away with references to womankind? Probably not.
Looking on the bright side though, and I think there is one, the incredible calibre of women who took part in this issue give me hope that we will reach 50/50 in the future. The more they share their stories, the more of the next generation who decide that one day they would like to make a giant leap for womankind, and we’re all right behind them.
Nichelle Nichols image credit: By (NASA/Bill Ingalls) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons