The Nobel Women


At the time of writing this, four women have been awarded the Nobel Prize in the fields of Chemistry, Literature and Physics. This is an anomaly considering that the previous years there have been far fewer women winning and that the field of Physics has only four Nobel laureates so far. The historic gender disparity in the Nobel Prize winners has been attributed to the low presence of women in the respective fields, a problem perpetuated by the existing norms of patriarchy then and now[1].

The first thing that came across to my mind as these wins are being publicized is that, “Oh there you go, a patch-up operation post the #MeToo movement”. As a cisgender man my initial reaction took me by surprise, as I anticipated that these awards had a lesser meaning because they seemed to be given to women as a reaction to their under representation in the Nobels. I saw the women getting the Nobels as being symbolic and I imagined the work of someone more deserving being ignored. My imagination, conditioned through years of bias, wanted the people to be men.

The recognition of women in their respective fields through the lens of the Nobel prizes emancipates countless women across the world to aspire for similar meritorious recognition. But such a movement needs consistency rather than figurehead prizes handed out because of political backlash. This means that the Nobel Prize Committee should be held accountable for any future gender disparity as it puts the legitimacy of the prizes itself at stake[2].

This consistency can have more conversations built around it with respect to gender identities (the idea of a man's worth being built on external validation) and racial representation, as most of the prizes still go to the white men and women. There is a long way to go in all fields from the arts to the academia for a more universal representation in line with the diversity of the real world, but the first step is always is to recognize the problem. In this context this year's women Nobel Prize winners represent both a victory of academic eminence and gender politics, a victory that should not be forgotten anytime soon.

[1] This chicken and egg problem also exists with the racial disparity in the Nobels. An argument can be made that eminent Universities are situated only in the West, an argument that conveniently ignores Colonialism and other historic oppressions over which current civilizations have been built.

[2] The same goes with the Oscars post the gender and race diversity controversies. Though this year's Oscars weren't that different from the years before, any change that comes up must be consistent and not a one-off response with a handful of prizes given to women and people of color.

#gender #race #equality #colonialism