The Male Ego and the Perception of Women in Science
In the beginning, there were as many women in science as there were men. Most myths and religions credit women for the invention of agriculture, law, civilization, math, time measurement, and medicine (Newintro). Think about how many different goddesses there have been in mythology. Since then, politics, power, pride, and prejudice have motivated many men and some women to discourage women in science. Male perception and ego have shaped contemporary thinking on women in science.
Often, women were much more prevalent and influential, in science, than was later recognized. More contemporary historians worked at discrediting women, because they refused to believe women capable enough (Alic, 3). Even today, attitudes often work against the female of the species. A textbook published in 1958 had no mention of women at all! This book was supposed to be about the history of science from 1450 to 1800.
Man's history (yes men) is dominated by wars and other such memorable events, and much less by advances. The history of science is thought of as the history of a very few men (namely Aristotle, Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein). Many of the thousands of "lesser" thinkers of history, that made the universe altering leaps of those "very few" possible, were women (Alic, 1).
Another factor, affecting the perception of historical women in science, is the historians' focusing on the universities as the center of intellectual life. The universities of the 18th century did not all deserve this reputation (Schiebinger, 17). Many socially prominent women dominated the gatherings at salons. The salons, which were held in the homes of socially prominent people, were the true centers of thought in the 18th century (Schiebinger, 30).
In "Rare Bird", Sarah Anne's brother, Christopher, holds gatherings, of intellectual friends and acquaintances, that fit the description of the salon gatherings that dominated France. Sarah Anne was often at the center of the intellectual discussions. Only later when her brother became stodgy and conservative did she become stifled and more secretive of her intellectual considerations.
The countess, Lady Anne Finch Conway (1631-1679) is very closely resembled by Sarah Anne. It is very probable that "Rare Bird" was based on Lady Anne's life or one of so many other women scholars of the 17th and 18th centuries. Sarah Anne and Lady Anne are both archetypal of women in science of their time. Rigorously self-educated and a member of the aristocracy, Lady Anne made discoveries that were ignored, forgotten, or miss-credited (Alic, 5). The countess was part of a circle of thinkers that included, Gottlieb Wihelm von Liebniz, Henry More, Descartes, Francis Mercury von Helmont, Electress Sophia, and Elizabeth of Bohemia. The countess' home became a salon, a center of intellectual life. Both the Lady Anne and Sarah Anne started their education with their brothers and then...