International Women’s Day 2011 was celebrated at CERN earlier this month with a special colloquium on Gender Studies. The guest speaker, Helene Götschel – a graduate physicist and a visiting researcher at Sweden’s Center for Gender Studies, Uppsala University – outlined the current status of Science Studies research concerning particle physics and shared some of her thoughts on the field.
The CERN Special Science and Society colloquium, entitled ‘Looking at High Energy Physics form a Gender Studies Perspective’, was well attended and received. Starting with a basic introduction to the main principles of gender studies, Götschel mentioned a number of leading female physicists, wondering why these women were unknown to the general public.
She raised a number of points concerning the undertaking of physics, such as how the pursuit of knowledge in the field has been compared to hunting – an activity defined as being masculine. She also quoted some famous male physicists who had described their research in romantic, mythological or erotic terms (what anthropologist Sharon Traweek refers to as ‘Male Tales’), comparing their work to that of a love affair with a woman – thereby excluding women from the stories and thus also from the history of physics.
Finally, Götschel pondered the names given to physics experiments – citing how female names not usually given to honour a particular female physicist, but rather as a joke (e.g. ALICE, DESY), or using terms from heroic mythology (like ZEUS, ATLAS and VENUS) .
A recording made of the talk, and the slides of the lecture, can be viewed online via Indico.