Triple burden of masculinity on women scientists in Antarctic science

Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic environment have traditionally been dominated by males. Gender constructions were used to exclude women, especially from scientific expeditions. The first women allowed were not there as scientists, but in more traditional roles - as wives, followed by women in service functions. In turn, the field of science with its stereotypical image as a male domain further strengthened this masculine presence of scientists on Antarctica and the Islands. The strong patriarchal and apartheid beliefs that characterised South Africa in the past meant that most women who began their academic careers two to three decades ago, did so under circumstances that was characterised by strong gender-role stereotyping. In addition, disciplines that are of importance for Antarctic research (e.g., atmospheric sciences, geosciences and life sciences) are still not a ‘natural arena’ for female researchers. This places a triple burden of masculinity on women scientists who work on Antarctic-related topics.

Prozesky and Van der Watt with a few of the SCAR History Expert Group presenters

Prozesky and Van der Watt with a few of the SCAR History Expert Group presenters. From left to right: Heidi Prozesky (Stellenbosch University), Lize-Marié van der Watt (Stellenbosch University), Peder Roberts (University of Strasbourg, France), Joanna Rae (British Antarctic Survey) and Andrés Zarankin (Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil).)

A global analysis of scientific disciplines found biology and geophysical sciences to be the most popular areas of research in Antarctic science during 19802004. In South Africa in 2002-2004, female authors were best represented in the fields of education and public and community health (50%) followed by substantial proportions (more than 33%) in language and linguistics, sociology and other social sciences. In the biological sciences and earth sciences, women constituted only 25% of authors in 2002-2004. However, it is important to note that one of the largest increases (10%) in female representation since 1990-1992 has taken place in the biological and earth sciences.

C·I·B core team member, Heidi Prozesky, and Lize-Marié van der Watt, who received her PhD from Stellenbosch University in March this year and now works in Sweden, were invited to present this research during the inaugural “Lewander Lecture” at the XXXII SCAR Open Science Conference in Portland, Oregon.

The “Lewander Lecture” is presented biennially by the History Expert Group of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR History EG) at the SCAR Open Science Conference (SCAR OSC). The lecture commemorates polar historian Lisbeth Lewander († 2012). Prozesky and Van der Watt are in the process of preparing the lecture for peer-reviewed publication.