A Chemical Imbalance

Prof. Polly Arnold, with funding from the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award and some extremely talented film makers and an author has produced a short documentary film celebrating female scientists and pointing out some alarming statistics relating to chemistry academics. The film is produced from the perspective of academia and does not seek to address wider issues of representation within STEM careers.

You can watch the documentary film and read more about it: http://chemicalimbalance.co.uk/. It is 13 minutes long so shouldn’t take too long out of your Monday.

I watched it the other night and, to be honest, I’m not sure what I think.  It is a very good film, well made and desperately thought provoking. Part of me wonders whether it goes far enough into a very complex issue, or goes far enough in its call to action but on the other hand, it is a starting point and a good introduction to the issues in hand. I was aware of one of the key studies discussed pertaining to bias when assessing CVs with male or female names, and it still simultaneously surprises me and fails to surprise me at the same time. One point that is still swirling around my head is the notion that females without children are less likely to get tenure than men with children. While tenure is a North American thing (I presume this statistic refers to North America but may be wrong), it is still quite surprising, particularly as the traditional scapegoat of children cannot apply.

One issue that is flitted around, is the issue of whether those of us who are concerned about the issue of female scientists regard ourselves as feminists. A variety of responses are portrayed in the film from the ‘no, of course not’, to the very appropriate suggestion that if we are not willing to use that label for it, we should find a term we’re happy using and call ourselves that. It saddens me that people who share a goal of equality are often drawn into arguments over what to call themselves collectively, and that younger women feel that being a feminist is a bad thing. Like all movements there are extremes that are less savoury and while we might wish to distance ourselves from that (and from the stereotypes), I struggle to find a term so well recognised in its basic goal that might stand in its place. Perhaps reclaiming the term is more appropriate than looking for alternatives.

Still, it’s a very good short film, it made me think. I would note that I was probably more receptive to the ideas and concepts than some will be so will be interested to see how widely viewed and discussed it becomes. I’d go as far to say that anyone involved in chemistry education, particularly in academia should watch it. Being better informed will make a difference.