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Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman

‘Crick and Watson’ are names drilled into my brain as the discoverers of the DNA Rosalind_Franklindouble helix. I didn’t know until I read this book that there should have been a third name which I automatically associated with the structure of DNA – Rosalind Franklin.

Brenda Maddox has written, in some ways, a sadly familiar tale. We like to think that ‘science’ is Noble, Pure and Of High Ideals – the great god science may indeed be NP + OHI – however, scientists being mortal men and women (and more often than not, mortal men) are as subject to self-serving, naked ambition, power  hungry greed as the rest of us.

booksThere’s a rush to get your name on the paper, to get the citations – and the desire for this is not just ‘this discovery is for the good of all’, but its good for ME.

The cut and thrust world of scientific fame and glory is particularly difficult, even now, for women.

Maddox uncovers a warts and all portrait of the difficult, often 1280px-DNA_Helix_CPKunlikeable, brilliant Franklin. Undoubtedly she lacked charm, she lacked the ability to schmooze, she lacked a graceful character (women of course are particularly ‘supposed’ to be charming, graceful and likeable) The naked ambition which was palpable (and par for the course) in her male colleagues is seen as unacceptable in a woman.

This book is a fascinating – and to a feminist -‘keep those flames of feminism burning’ -book. Maddox writes extremely well about the fascinating scientific journey of discovery, and about the dirty politics. She doesn’t turn Franklin into a latter day saint – but it is also clear that whatever her defects of character, being a brilliant woman, a brilliant Jewish woman, in a boys’ club, would never be an easy ride.

Brenda Maddox

Brenda Maddox

And…………..if you feel tempted to think, ‘but that was a long long time ago’, read a
more recent account of the alpha male wolf pack atmosphere of big business, and the fierce cut and thrust of naked competition for the glory of getting the nobel prize for science in Candace Pert’s Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, Amazon UK
Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, Amazon USA