Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman
‘Crick and Watson’ are names drilled into my brain as the discoverers of the DNA double 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.
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 unlikeable, 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.
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