History Looks Different Through a Woman’s Eyes

Reflections on Apollo 11: seeing a movie, and seeing what goes unseen, unspoken & unnoticed.

Last weekend, we splurged on two IMAX tickets to view a gem of film history: Apollo 11, the documentary movie created from recently rediscovered National Aeronautics and Space Administration footage as a celebration of America’s extraordinary 1969 moon landing – an event that turned 20th Century science fiction into startling reality.

But it seems I saw something in the film that neither my enthusiastically feminist husband nor the vast majority of (mostly male) film reviewers did.

We all agreed that the film commemorated a time in U.S. history when confidence was king (irony intended): when there seemed to be nothing America could not do if we just put our minds to it.

But giving women an equal share of career opportunity still seems, fully 50 years later, a bridge too far.

Watching the movie, it’s clear that we’ve come a long way since 1969, when there was just one, count her, one, female mission control staffer womanning the history-making space flight. A special shout-out goes to Physics Today’s Paul K. Guinnessy, who not only noticed JoAnn Morgan’s brief on-screen appearance, but also identified her by name in his Apollo 11 review.

Only one other reviewer, CNN’s Brian Lowry, seems to have noticed the gender and ethnic imbalance emblematic of NASA in the 1960s: “The images neatly convey a sense of the time, panning a room filled with white men wearing white shirts and dark ties, where the fleeting glimpse of a woman or African-American conspicuously stands out.”

But we still haven’t come nearly far enough.

If you dig into the statistics about women in science and technology, you learn that we’re not making progress today: at best, we’re marching in place, and all too often, we’re moving backwards.

As I learned while researching my book, Ms. Nice Guy Lost – Here’s How Women Can Win, data compiled in 2016 by the Government Accountability Office showed that women’s employment in science and technology remained flat at 22 percent from 2007 to 2016; Latinx employment hovered around 7.5 percent throughout that period; and the percentage of black workers actually declined, from 9 percent to 7.7 percent. And that was when Barack Obama was President and the federal government was still implementing policies to boost tech education and career opportunities for women and minorities.

There are many reasons for the lack of progress (I hope you’ll read my book to learn what they are!), but it’s a safe bet that the numbers won’t get better as long as Donald Trump remains in the White House.

Yeah, he hosted an Oval Office ceremony in February 2017, at which he signed two bills authorizing NASA and the National Science Foundation to develop programs that would encourage girls and women to study STEM disciplines in preparation for careers in science and technology. But, while “authorizing” the programs, he neglected to provide funding for either one.

And, although he instructed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to steer $200 million of her agency’s competitive grant money toward programs with a STEM focus, he took the funds from other educational program budgets. And then, he announced his administration’s 2018 budget, which stripped $1.5 billion from the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants program, which funds health, safety, arts and technology programs nationwide.

We’re marching backwards, America.

So what do we do?

Number one: in 2020, vote for Democrats. A Democratic president is far more likely to advocate policies that advance the study of science and technology, and that encourage girls and women to pursue careers in those fields.

And number two: vote for women. If you’re considering two equally qualified candidates, and one is a woman, research also tells us that women are more effective and productive legislators, and are more likely to develop and pass legislation that benefits everyone in society…not just those who already have an inside path to career opportunity.

Delivering a comprehensive summary of the many attacks waged on American women’s rights and opportunities by Trump and the GOP since 2016 – and a to-do list for fighting back – Marcy Miroff Rothenberg’s Ms. Nice Guy Lost – Here’s How Women Can Win is available from store.bookbaby.com and at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and Goodreads.com.



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