Rachel Carson documented the harmful effects of pesticides in Silent Spring. Mary Guinan eradicated small pox in India. Madeleine Albright served as America’s first female Secretary of State.
Have you heard of the Bechdel test? It’s a schema dreamed up by graphic novelist Alison Bechdel that asks three simple questions of a given work of art: does it feature two female characters with names? Do they talk to each other? About something other than a man? Not so difficult, right? Actually, you might be surprised (or perhaps not surprised at all, if you’ve been paying attention) at all the films that fail the Bechdel test: The Social Network, the (original) Star Wars trilogy, Slumdog Millionaire, The Princess Bride, Trainspotting, When Harry Met Sally… I could go on, but I’ll stop. The Bechdel test exposed the lack of female presence in Hollywood films; now Johns Hopkins professor/acclaimed science writer Ann Finkbeiner has come up with a similar test (the unimaginatively-named “Finkbeiner test”) for stories and profiles about women in science.
The next time you hear someone talk about debugging a computer program, think of Grace Hopper, the U.S. Naval officer and pioneering computer scientist who once removed an actual bug (okay, a moth) from a glitchy machine. Hopper is also known for being one of the first software engineers, inventing the compiler, and generally being a bad-ass lady computer scientist when that world was very much closed off to women. And although things have changed, the computing world is still overwhelmingly male. Which is why it’s extra-exciting (and important!) that Baltimore plays host to the international Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing this week.