Trailblazing Astronaut and Physicist Sally Ride in Conversation with Gloria Steinem About Gender in Science and How Lazy Media Portrayals Perpetuate Stereotypes
By Maria Popova
In 1978, while studying for her Ph.D. in physics, Sally Ride (May 26, 1951–July 23, 2012) answered a newspaper ad from NASA. On June 18, 1983, she soared into the cosmos aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger and became the first American woman in space, the country’s youngest astronaut in orbit, and the world’s first lesbian astronaut to launch into the cosmos. “We’ve come a long way,” she declared.
But lurking in the shadow of every major leap toward equality is also a reminder of how far we have yet to go. Shortly after returning to Earth from orbit, Ride sat down with trailblazing feminist Gloria Steinem — a woman who has dedicated her life to the art of public listening — for a conversation about gender in science, how the options our culture makes available to us limit the dreams we’re capable of dreaming, how lazy journalism perpetuates stereotypes, and the future of space exploration.
The only bad moments in our training involved the press… Whereas NASA appeared to be very enlightened about flying women astronauts, the press didn’t appear to be. The things that they were concerned with were not the same things that I was concerned with… Everybody wanted to know what kind of makeup I was taking up — they didn’t care about how well-prepared I was to operate the arm or deploy communication satellites… The worst question that I’ve gotten was whether I cried when we got malfunctions in the simulator.
Complement with the story of how pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell paved the way for women in science and Einstein’s advice to a little girl who wanted to be a scientist but feared that her gender might hold her back.
For more of Blank on Blank’s animated cultural stewardship, see Kurt Vonnegut on what it takes to be a writer, John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the art of love, Ray Bradbury on the secret to great storytelling, David Foster Wallace on the dark side of ambition, Jane Goodall on overcoming extraordinary odds, Hunter S. Thompson on the only cure for our destructive tendencies, and Richard Feynman on what his father taught him about the most important thing.
Published February 2, 2016