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Italian women in love with science

Who says that the combination of women and science cannot work? There is no shortage of excellences, but neither of certain persistent stereotypes

By Francesca Parravicini

Here we go again: it’s an event that happens at almost regularly, something annoying that we now expect but which, surprise, inevitably leaves a certain bitterness every time.

Every so often, because obviously everything is too quiet and boring, someone feels the need to take the category of women (we must remember that we are as one, with the same tastes and thoughts, no one can consider us individual people, what a scandal) and say what or what he shouldn't do, if we are good for something or not. Do we really feel the need for all of this?

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Absolutely not, yet it continues to happen. Unfortunately, the last case is noteworthy. From next year, the University of Bari will reduce fees for women who want to enroll in technical-scientific degrees, to help bridge the gender gap: the female students enrolled in these faculties are in fact less than 30% of the total.

Simone Pillon, a senator from Lega, wrote this comment on Facebook (please, hold on tight): “The University of Bari is pushing girls to be enrolled in courses typically attended by boys. It is natural that males are more passionate about technical disciplines, such as mining engineering for example, while females have a greater propensity for subjects related to nurture, such as obstetrics.

However, this is not good for gender lovers, according to whom there must be 50% of women in the mines and 50% of men doing childcare”.

Because let's remember, for those who have just tuned in to the amazing debate related to the Zan DDL still underway, Pillon is part of that group of public figures who see this law as something demonic, which, in addition to providing protection to the people who do part of the LGBTQI+ universe (just terrible), would give rise to this phantom phenomenon of gender, whereby each of us can change sex every day and, again, scandalous, women can carry out activities traditionally considered masculine and vice versa.

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And let's talk about this last point related to the discourse on scientific subjects. There is a fundamental fallacy in Pillon's reasoning: women are traditionally considered less suitable for technical disciplines but are not inherently less gifted. It is one of those cultural beliefs that are so ingrained that they end up being considered innate.

At the root is the age-old misogyny that frames women in a maternal role (and obviously there is nothing negative in having this inclination, but we are not all the same): we are tender, emotional creatures, prey to our feelings, certainly not suited to the cold and severe world of science.

The fact that there is still a low percentage of women active in the STEM field (in Italy they are only 31.7%) is not a question of less ability, but of mistrust, of an education that still tends to alienate girls from these subjects and obviously misogyny. According to Eurostat data from 2019, Italy is the twenty-ninth place in Europe for the percentage of female scientists.

Fortunately, especially in recent years we have seen a number of truly remarkable figures rising to the spotlight. First of all Samantha Cristoforetti.

To mention just a few points from her impressive curriculum: a degree in Aeronautical Sciences and Mechanical Engineering, the first Italian woman in the crew of the International European Station, the first woman in command of the International Space Station. A shining example of professionalism, she has often been attacked and hated unfairly for reasons we obviously imagine.

We have Fabiola Gianotti, physicist, since 2016 the first woman to direct CERN in Geneva, Ilaria Capua, virologist and creator of an avian vaccination strategy, Elena Cattaneo, biologist, president of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Pharmacology of Neurodegenerative Diseases at UNIMI, Silvia Marchesan, chemist and creator of a hydrogel that repairs damaged tissues, Chiara Montanari, the only female engineer to deal with the Concordia Antarctic base projects, Paola Santini, researcher at Sapienza, who studies the evolution of galaxies. Small drops in the ocean, just a few names, many others can be found on the portal, dedicated to collecting the work of female scientists.

In this roundup of excellences we can see a trend: they are often the "first" on the list to break a taboo, the first women to "do something". It seems absurd that the situation is at this point today and yet it is.