Even today, talented women still have to fight for their place - in science, in academia, and in general. But they are no longer willing to remain silent.

"What?!" My eight-year-old granddaughter's voice carried genuine shock. We were embarking on a new memory game themed "Inventors and Inventions. I laid out 25 cards each featuring a historical figure alongside their significant invention, spanning over 500 years of human ingenuity, from Gutenberg's printing press to Dov Moran's Disk-on-Key. I anticipated that we would both glean valuable insights from this game—about human capabilities, breakthroughs, and the perseverance and drive toward goals and achievements. 

Yet, the first lesson turned out to be very different from what I expected - it wasn't about invention - it was about representation. As my granddaughter surveyed the cards I had arranged for her and the first thing she asked was. "Why are there only three girls here?"

Her observation caught me off guard. Until that moment, I myself hadn't noticed, but it was the first thing that caught her eye.

I checked. She was right. Among all those innovators, only three women.

Now try explaining to her that not so long ago, in most places in the world, women weren't even allowed to study, making it almost pointless to speak of recognizing their achievements. Try telling her that Marie Curie wouldn't have received her first Nobel Prize if her husband and research partner, Pierre, hadn't insisted on it; that the American Inventors Council didn't accept actress Hedy Lamarr despite her groundbreaking technological inventions, suggesting she should exploit her beauty instead of her intelligence; that James Watson and Francis Crick found nothing wrong in sidelining Rosalind Franklin from the fame they gained for deciphering the structure of DNA; that until the twentieth century, many professions, such as medicine, physics, and law, were largely closed off to women; that there are places in the world where girls are still denied education and that most countries in the world still find themselves far from true equality of opportunity. And how inconceivable it is that many women today continue to fight, sometimes risking their lives, for basic human rights.

Try telling her that Marie Curie wouldn't have received a Nobel Prize if her husband hadn't insisted on it | Illustration: Maria_Domnikova, Shutterstock


She's bound to discover these truths in due time. For now, I offered a simple explanation about how until not too long ago, society largely believed that women's roles were confined to homemaking and family care, while men pursued studies in sciences, medicine, and mathematics. This short sentence shocked my granddaughter so much.This brief statement profoundly affected my granddaughter. This revelation astounded my granddaughter, and no further explanation could ease her mind. Our conversation quickly developed into an engaging discussion about rights, potential, barriers, and other crucial values. Among other things, we talked about women who shattered barriers against formidable, such as pioneering computer scientist Ada Lovelace, Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Ada Yonath, immunologist Ruth Arnon, and others. We also talked about what it means to be a "trailblazer," the sacrifices, dedication, commitment, and perseverance that such a path demands. It dawned on us that there are far more  women "trailblazers" than those we initially recognized.


Ongoing Struggle

Regrettably, the necessity for women to fight for their place in many fields, including science and mathematics, remains an integral part of reality. According to an August 2022 report by the Israeli National Council for the Promotion of Women in Science, the higher the academic rank, the lower the proportion of women. For instance, at the highest rank of full professor, only 19 percent are women. And out of 90 individuals who have held the position of university president, only three have been women.

This dismal situation is not unique to Israel. For instance, in the United States in 2019, only about 22 percent of all patent applications listed a woman as one of the inventors, with their representation among all inventors standing at merely about 13 percent. This discrepancy is particularly striking considering that the proportion of women engaged in the fields of science and engineering is significantly higher.  Historical evidence suggests that this is not because women are less innovative than men. They simply do not receive the recognition they deserve. According to UNESCO women continue to be a minority not only in the exact sciences and life sciences but across the entire spectrum of science and academia.

In my granddaughter's world, discrimination is an unacceptable reality | Source: Chinnapong, Shutterstock


Alongside all this, my granddaughter's response served as a powerful lesson in pride and hope for the future. In her world, any form of exclusion or discrimination is inherently wrong, illogical, and utterly intolerable. She will not allow exclusion or discrimination to limit her and will not accept any association with such practices. At just eight years old, she exhibits a wisdom, kindness, and moral integrity that surpasses that of many adults. 

I know she will still have to fight for these values, which seem so self-evident to her today. She will have to break glass ceilings, break through concrete walls, show more courage and determination than the men beside her, and deal with insults and perceptions that exist just because she is a woman. But that shock I heard in her voice is one of the tools at her disposal.

The path ahead will surely test her resolve, as she contends with societal norms and barriers that, to her, seem unequivocally unjust. She will need to shatter glass ceilings, break through concrete walls, and demonstrate a level of courage and determination that exceeds that of her male counterparts, and overcome prejudices  and perceptions simply because of her gender. Yet, the shock I heard in her voice will serve as one of the tools in her arsenal. 

And let no one dare stand in her way.


Translated with the assistance of ChatGTP. Revised, expanded and edited by the staff of the Davidson Institute of Science Education