The invisibility of women in science

A few days ago we talked about the consequences of sex and gender bias in science and today we want to expand on it by talking about the little recognition that female scientists have had throughout history.


This phenomenon is what is known as the “Matilda Effect”, which was defined by scientific historian Margaret Rossiter in honor of Matilda Joslyn Gage (who was the first activist to denounce this phenomenon). It derives from the “Matthew Effect” described by Robert Merton, which refers to the little recognition that certain young scientists receive from the scientific community, recognition always falling on the most prestigious scientist.


The Matilda Effect denounces the systematic way in which female scientific discoveries have been ignored throughout history. The names of all these women were silenced for years and even their discoveries were attributed to the man next to them, whether it was their husband or a laboratory partner. This was the case of Rosalind Franklin who discovered the structure of DNA, but her recognition was taken away by her superiors and her laboratory colleagues.


This paradigm of invisibility in science has its consequences in the treatment that women receive in medical consultations. The descriptions of symptoms made by women were downplayed since they were considered non-specific or psychosomatic in origin. An example of this is shown by certain studies that indicate that 2/3 of prescriptions for psychotropic drugs are directed at women. Or if they present different symptoms to men, they are not given adequate attention, which is what happened with cardiovascular diseases. Since for a time it was believed that female hormones, specifically estrogen, played a protective role on the heart. So women were "protected" before they reached menopause.


In 1991, Dr. Bernadine Healy defined Yentl Syndrome to refer to the inadequate treatment received by women due to their medical invisibility in studies of cardiovascular diseases. Healy realized that women were admitted to hospital less often for heart disease, were diagnosed and intervened less often. Acute coronary syndrome (ACS) is the main form of cardiovascular disease, being the leading cause of death in women worldwide. The first descriptions interpreted that angina pectoris was a disease of men. This Yentl syndrome shows us how once physical symptoms escape the male pain pattern, medical science seems to be at a loss in diagnosis and treatment. And without good science there can be no correct care.


At this historical moment, thanks to various social movements, it is being demonstrated that gender equality in science, medicine and global health is causing changes that lead to social, economic and health improvements.






References:

García & Pérez. (2018). Las ‘mentiras’ científicas sobre las mujeres. (2da ed.) Catarata.


No More Matildas [en linea]. Dirección URL: https://www.nomorematildas.com/.


Shannon, G., Jansen, M., Williams, K., Cáceres, C., Motta, A., Odhiambo, A., & Mannell,


J. (2019). Gender equality in science, medicine, and global health: where are we at and why does it matter? The Lancet, 393(10171), 560-569.


Valls, C. (2020). Mujeres invisibles para la medicina. (3a ed.) Capitán Swing.

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