Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lisa Randall and stereotypes

Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randall was on the Colbert Report to plug her new book, Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions.

Professor Randall stands out in the world of physics: not only is she a female professor at Harvard, she is also attractive, good on camera and well dressed*. While she breaks the stereotypes that pretty women aren't smart, and that female scientists are unattractive, the press often seems more interested in her physique than her physics. If you read the comments on that linked post, some people are making the point that it isn't insulting to say an attractive woman is attractive. While I agree in the abstract, the reality is that women are judged by their appearance - both positively and negatively - more often than men. The focus on Randall's looks and clothes makes those seem at least as important as her science. In a field that women are in the minority, I think that's a problem.

* OK, that sounded like a dis of other physicists, but really most of us, physicists or not - outside of the entertainment industry, anyway - aren't that well put-together, and physicists aren't really known for being snappy dressers. Of course I may be wrong on this, since I don't personally know any physicists.

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Schlupp said...

Oh yes, indeed. The German weekly "Die Zeit" had a big article about her in 2006. Only, it was in their "Lifestyle" section, not in "Science".

Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer said...

I know hundreds of physicists -- thousands, if you include astronomers -- and you are precisely right. :)

Anonymous said...

You can't stop the media from focusing her physique more than her wits. Woman scientists have to be strong in their involvement in science.

btw, recently i've blogged about women in science via You can get free booklet as well from Science with the partnership with Loreal Coorperate Foundation. Thanks for the nice video clip.

Anonymous said...

"She helped integrate spirituality and science for me more completely" - Steve Brent