Space Invaders: part 2 of a pre-screening talk for ‘Hidden Figures’

This is part two of a talk I gave before an International Women’s Day special screening of ‘Hidden Figures’ at the University of Leicester. For part one of my talk, see the previous post.

….Women who enter into occupations, organizations and institutions traditionally dominated by white men  – like Mary Anning, like Marie Curie, like the women in the film we are here to watch tonight – are ‘space invaders’: they are invading the masculine space, with all the attendant problems that invaders face – barriers, resistance, hostility and so on.


I didn’t grow up to be a physicist or a chemist like Marie Curie or a palaeontologist like Mary Anning – I grew up to be a sociologist instead. But I like to think that the curiosity I have about how the SOCIAL world works was inspired by the scientific curiosity about how the NATURAL world works shown by my role models, Marie Curie and Mary Anning.

As an A level sociology student aged 17 or so, I had a new role model – Ann Oakley, a rare woman sociologist included on the A level curriculum in the 1980s, and so a Space Invader herself, and now a Professor at University College London.

Earlier today, in fact, I gave a lecture to our 2nd year sociology students about Ann Oakley and her experiences as a pioneer woman sociologist in the UK in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

She was a Space Invader because in the UK at the time, only 13% of postgraduate degrees were awarded to women. She was a Space Invader because she undertook her post grad degree having already married and having had children. She was a Space Invader because of her topic of study – housework, which she argued, should be studied as WORK.

When Ann Oakley identified this topic of housework as WORK as the subject of her PhD, she was basically ridiculed and laughed at by the mostly male academics – it was not seen as a topic worthy of serious, academic study.

Anne Oakley has had the last laugh though, because her study of housework as work is now recognised by the Economic and Social Research Council as one of the most significant pieces of social research in the UK in the last 50 years. Oakley’s achievement was to have taken something widely regarded as insignificant, as a woman’s thing, so as unimportant, and to show that it is something worth examining and explaining…..

(part 3 to follow)