Archive | October, 2011

Women in Leadership: Women in Science

22 Oct

Women in Leadership: Women in Science
Gladys Banfor
GALS Board

Women in Science:
What’s the Problem?

Until the late 1800’s women were not allowed to go to college this allowed men to keep women out of science in the past [1].  Now that institutional barrier has been overcome and the number of degree earning women has exceeded that of men the number of women in science should have increased, yet it is still very low [1]. So, what is the problem?

Today women earn about 58 percent of all undergraduate degrees in the U.S., but women receive only about 21 percent of degrees in the field of computer and information science, and only 19 percent of engineering degrees [2].  Even with all the effort spent trying to improve the number of women undergraduates in physical sciences, a new study shows most universities are failing [2].  Not only are women under represented in the science they tend to under preforming their male classmates. This may in part be due to the teaching environment found in science departments [2]. Efforts to close the gender gap often focus on students instead of institutional structures. Studies have found the institution, in some cases unintentionally, “often portrays science and engineering as highly competitive, masculine domains”[2] thus discouraging women from pursuing theses fields. Although many universities are dedicated to increasing women presence in these “elite fields,” their programs improvements often include such things as peer mentoring instead of creating real structural change [2]. Universities then to favor the “easier” fix approached that have shown a lack of results. As a result of these institutional structures, fewer women pursue these fields in school contributing to the gender gap found in these fields.

Many in the field have also attributed the gender gap to the view shared by both men and women that science just isn’t a good choice for women [3]. Many women feel the pressure to perform in science is too great. A successful science career required scientists to devote their life to the lab. They may spend well over 40 hours a week at the lab. These lifestyle demands conflicts with women’s family desires and needs [3].  Women who still play a lead role in their family responsibilities have a hard time finding a balance. It’s hard to have kids and work a 70-hour week [3].  Along with the stresses of the job, women lack a support network. The tiny population of women scientists causes a lack of role models [1] and peers. Women have few people they can turn to for guidance in the male dominated field. This creates a greater expectation and places more demand on women in these fields.

There is substantive proof that the lack of women in leading roles of science is not because of the “old boys club” ideals in the hiring process it is the intimidating atmosphere and life choices of women that keep them from entering this profession [2]. Whether this is the fault of women or society is hard to determine. The real issue is whether it matters. If women simply prefer to not enter the physical science fields then is there a reason to worry about the differences in gender representation?





Gladys Banfor is a member of the GALS Board and is  a second-year in the College. She is the Board’s most passionate advocate for women in the sciences, when she is not advising us on innovative programming.


Women in Leadership: Substratum

22 Oct

Women in Leadership: Substratum
Niharika Singh
GALS Board


India is a nation on the threshold of miraculous change, charged with optimism and a new energy, characteristic of a confident and enterprising people. Behind the exuberance, however, areas of rot of social stigma and patriarchal dominance shield half the population from experiencing any of this glorious dynamism.

I worked with women in North India. The argument for female empowerment there does not require the invocation of any lofty ideals or the complex analysis of subtle inequities. It is a basic and undeniable report on the sub-human status of the region’s women. As a child born into a cosmopolitan, urban environment of Mumbai and raised by doting parents, I was unaware of the extent of the horrific constraints imposed upon women in my country. The government sponsored educational films that aired on national television seemed ridiculous and unrealistic. The films shied away from stating the true nature of the problem, and the plots were cryptic and uninformative.

My exposure to the injustices suffered by North Indian women came from my mother. She tried to buffer me from the whole of the incredibly hurtful truth by engaging in a series of gentle discussions. Unfortunately, these facts could have no gentle introduction. There was no easy way to learn that your brother’s birth was a cause for celebration in your grandparents’ village, while your birth was an occasion meriting unspoken condolences to the unlucky grandparents. Your grandmother was sorely disappointed by your birth because you were an undesirable product. My mother, enlightened, fearless, could not claim her inheritance because such a claim would be met with incredulousness and accusations of ungratefulness from her parents and brothers.

Within three months of the first discussion, I was in the field, campaigning for female empowerment.

What I encountered in Rajasthan and Haryana was what I had heard about, and much worse. Even today, when it comes to the status of women in the region, North India is living in the dark ages. To encapsulate the status of women is easy: they are commodities. A daughter is a liability that has to be married off as soon as possible, a dowry arranged, and a wife is a laborer bound within the four walls of the home.

Women are raised on tales of female sacrifice for their spouses, and brainwashed into believing they have no identity distinct from their husbands. Daughters are overworked at home, tending to their brothers who must go to school. Boys will become men, run homes, and feed families. Girls will only become women, and the best a woman can do in life is get married to a man of her parents’ choice. Women eat last at the table, do not expose their faces outside the home, and play no role in any decisions impacting the family.

The plight of widows has been chronicled recently in a series of period films. Truth is little has changed since the times depicted in these movies. The shaven heads, drab white sarees and ill-omen status are no relics of the past; they are a reality of today. If a woman’s father, brother or husband dies, she cannot attend the religious ceremonies before cremation for she brings bad luck with her presence.

The list is endless, there is no end to the indignities women are subjected to, but the worst by far is the impression that they are responsible for their own plight. The greatest obstacles to my campaigns spreading awareness about the equal rights of women are the women themselves. Statements describing the equality of men and women are met with stunned silence. They seem so outlandish, so preposterous to these battered women, who have engrained in their ethos the idea that they are so base, so vilely inferior to the men.

It is painful, encountering such puzzled looks. It is heart-wrenching, seeing the empty looks in their eyes. It was inspiring, catching a slight glimmer of hope at the end of our successful sessions.

We must tell them the truth. They must fight, if not for themselves, then for their daughters. It is this advice that I apply myself when I feel myself running out of stamina. It is a strange feeling, having been a disappointment before learning how to crawl or speak. How can I be so wrong without committing any misdeed, any sin? My existence is an act of hubris. Therefore, I must fight, for the women I meet, for the children growing up in my country today and for myself.

Niharika Singh is a member of the GALS Board and a third-year in the College. A proud Indian, Nikki is in charge of fundraising, programming, and making us laugh during meetings. 

An Introduction to GALS: Galatea

21 Oct

Welcome from the Editor of Galatea 

“The animated figures stand
Adorning every public street
And seem to breathe in stone, or
move their marble feet.”

The myth of Galatea is an enchanting story. Pygmalion carved the most beautiful statue known to men, and the lonely sculptor fell in love with his creation. In a moment of sympathy, the goddess of Aphrodite animated the statue during the night. With a passionate kiss at dawn, Pygmalion breathed life into Galatea. It is a striking image: marble turning to flesh. The statue became a woman in a magical moment of ancient Greek magic.

We know the story of Pygmalion. What happened to Galatea?

We, as GALS and Galatea, strive to tell the story of a woman come to life from a statue. What exactly does that mean?

GALS hopes to bring awareness and life to the economic, social, and political concerns of women in conflict zones throughout the world. This is the most obvious function and explanation of this organization, but it conveys a deeper meaning for us when we gather to discuss these issues. We will be reporting on those debates in the hopes of encouraging further discussion online and in the wider world.

Galatea, as the publication for GALS, wishes to advance a fair, open-minded discussion of women’s issues and global affairs across all sections of campus and across the neighborhoods we live in. It would be easy to exist within an academic bubble, safely removed from the realities of women around the world who face immeasurable hardships with determination and courage. However, GALS wants to be exposed to the uncomfortable truths of female inequality and of conflict, poverty, and struggle around the world. We will host events to encourage such debate across the political, academic, social, and economic spectrums of campus to encourage that level of “uncomfortable”. We want people outraged, contemplative, and concerned about the issues facing women in the most terrible conflicts around the planet.

Thirds, GALS and Galatea want a truly academic discussion of everything — from political science, sociology, anthropology, gender studies, and economic – related to women, a feat facilitated by this blog. These goals have been criticized by everyone from diplomats to statesmen, academics to realists for their supposedly “difficult” demands on humanity, but GALS as an organization found itself drawn to the hope of a better future for all of humanity.

Therefore, Galatea invites everyone to contribute to the practical and theoretical discussion on, to the positive actions towards, and to the compassion for women around the world. A truly engaged individual, in our opinion, is able to view problems as challenging but not impossible to overcome and is able to distinguish between the facts, the opinions, and rhetoric of a debate and the individuals beyond the debate. The engaged individual is the most valuable member of society because he or she is truly interested in the advancement of all agendas, viewpoints, and goals.

Galatea, once again, thanks our contributors and viewers in advance for being engaged and compassionate individuals. Your input and concern is appreciated and carefully considered by the Executive Board and the Editorial Board.


Molly Cunningham
Editor in Chief of Galatea  

Letter from the President

18 Oct

Dear readers,

Welcome to Galatea, the new blog of Gender Activism, Learning, and Service (GALS). GALS is a Registered Student Organization (RSO) at the University of Chicago. As President of GALS, I’d like to thank you for stopping by our blog. This is a great place to learn more about what we do, and I invite you to join us at our Monday meetings — 7 PM in Harper 151 — to learn more.

The objective of GALS is to bring a discussion to campus on a variety of women’s and gender issues. We do this in several ways:

  • First, we hold weekly workshops on topics surrounding women’s issues. This quarter, all of our meetings will focus on “Women in Leadership.”
  • Second, we participate in gender-focused community service projects.
  • Third, we bring guest speakers to campus to hear about their experiences.
  • Finally, we create publications such as this one to share the work we are doing.

I hope you enjoy the material on this blog, and that you feel inspired to learn more about GALS!


Emmaline Campbell
President of GALS: Gender, Activism, and Service