“We are a University, not a Bath House”

“We are a University, not a Bath House”

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In 1915, David Hilbert, eminent mathematician, professor of the University of Göttingen, retorted with these words to one of his colleagues who was strongly opposed to allowing a woman to hold a faculty position:

 “I do not see that the sex of the candidate is an argument against her admission. We are a University, not a Bath House”

Professor Hilbert wanted to bring into the mathematics department Emmy Noether, a significant creative mathematical genius according to Einstein.
A century has passed, but I feel that this sentence still reflects what should be the attitude of Academia in relation to its potential members, where the emphasis should be put on the brain, and how well wired it is.

In this context, I extremely dislike that sometimes, in reporting the proportion of invited women speakers (or women in high positions), the terms “male” and “female” are used for qualifying scientists instead of “men” and “women”, which are specific to the human species. [I note in passing that Laura Norton, in her FEBS Viewpoint did not do that.] I dislike those terms because they are unspecific, as they centered only on the type of gonad, and consequently equally refer to organisms as different as sea urchins, poultry, cattle or dogs, and they don’t consider the degree of brain development.  Thus, for example, sea urchins have developed gonads, but not a real brain; this does not apply to men or women.

My feeling is that for FEBS the only part of the anatomy that is interesting to consider is the brain, and how well developed it is; by talking about males and females one gets away from human species and about what really matters.

In Hollywood, they also sometimes use the terms “male” and “female” for referring to actors, but for all we have been hearing in relation to the Weinstein affaire, the gonads play a role in the film industry! Nevertheless, in principle, they don’t at scientific organizations such as FEBS, or the IUBMB or PABMB (at least I hope they don’t).

Consequently, I would like to finish this Viewpoint by making a call to the FEBS Members to stop using the expressions “female speakers”, or “male speakers” and to replace them by women or men speakers.

Dr. María Luz Cárdenas, Senior Scientist    
CNRS–AMU – UMR 7281 Institut de Microbiologie de la Méditerranée, Marseille, France SFBBM Council (AFSI Coordinator)
email: [email protected]  homepage:  http://bip.cnrs-mrs.fr/bip10/

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Go to the profile of Isabel Varela Nieto
almost 6 years ago

Bravo! Let´s follow this lead and be careful about how we use language.