Space Invaders: Part 3

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

……Ann Oakley might not have helped put men on the moon, like the women did in our film this evening.

But as Oakley has herself reflected, the practical impact of scientific inquiry can occur by opening up a debate, by highlighting an issue that was not regarded as an issue before – in her case, by destabilising the masculine space that is the established understanding of what does and what does not count as work, and of what does and does not matter in the social world.

Nearly fifty years on from Ann Oakley’s study, housework is still largely women’s work, despite their increased participation in paid work since the 1960s. In paid work, we are still – here in the UK in 2017 – getting Space Invading firsts for women. In 2017, Cressida Dick became the first woman head of the Metropolitan Police Force and Dany Cotton became the first woman head of the London Fire Brigade.

We now have so-called gender mainstreaming – a strategy for promoting equality by embedding and integrating a gendered perspective into all activities, practices and policies of organisations and institutions. All too often, though, gender mainstreaming gives all the appearance of addressing gender inequality without being very effective in practice.

Nonetheless, we have come a long way in gender equality – and in racial equality too: things have got better compared to the kind of barriers and discrimination faced by the women in the film we are here to watch tonight. These are black, women Space Invaders, entering the masculine and white space of NASA, who contributed to sending white men to the stars and planets, to space as the final frontier.

But, we must not be complacent, especially in these disturbed and disturbing political times most evident in the actions of the white man in the White House in Washington – Donald J. Trump.  He’s busy undoing gender equality – by removing funding from Planned Parenthood, by withdrawing a requirement for schools to address the needs of transgender students and by introducing a dress code for women who work in the White House to ‘dress like women’. In times like these, then, we need films like this  – not only to give role models to girls and women, but also to be reminded of how far we have come in terms of gender and racial equality and of how quickly the gains made can begin to be lost.