The person who could have solved the problem stopped taking math in the sixth grade. She was good at it, but it was hard, and she didn’t want to seem too aggressive. It hurt the boys’ feelings when she was better than they were, and no sixth grader wants to upset the boys.
The person who could have designed the experiments dropped out of physics in college. It was uncomfortable being the only girl there. She had many talents; why be stared at, sneered at, and belittled when she could do so many other things just as well?
The person who could have developed the theory never finished graduate school. It takes a certain amount of confidence to turn six years of work into several hundred pages and call it a new contribution to knowledge. She’s spent those six years turning down dates and having the dearth of women in her program explained to her. There are, she heard, few women at the low end of the IQ spectrum, but none at the high end. It’s just science, she was told (with no citations or data). No one has ever told her she’s a genius. She didn’t seem like one.
The person who could have led the team isn’t senior enough to do it. She was prepared for a brilliant career in leadership, but it just didn’t pan out that way. Her intelligence and hard work meant she never lacked for male mentors, whom she reminded of their daughters. But as she aged, they avoided her. They realized she never wanted to be their daughter, she wanted to be their boss. And now, she was no fun: strident, bossy, and most of all, ungrateful.
The person who might have presented the results turns down the opportunity. She’s insecure about her appearance because she’s too young to be taken seriously and too old to be anything but invisible. She struggles to find time to cut, dye, and style her hair, book appointments for brows, nails, and waxes, and to buy and apply skincare, foundation, powder, eye shadow, liner, mascara, blush, bronzer, lipstick, lip liner, and highlighter to achieve the “no-makeup” look. She loves makeup, but not when it’s mandatory. She loves clothes, but she doesn’t know how to choose something demure but attractive, professional but unintimidating. She hasn’t been to the gym often enough to have no body fat, but she’s been too often to have no muscles. No one wants to look at her, and she knows that means no one will ever listen to her.
The person who could have explained it to the public isn’t going to write anything. She’s funny and smart, but it never occurred to her before she tried posting on the internet that jokes could have explanations. Better explanations, though, than the death and rape threats she's seen others get.She tells herself that it isn’t her,personally. If George Orwell himself had been a twenty-first century woman, she, too, would have gotten messages and emails and tweets telling her pigs can’t talk, you stupid bitch.
The person who could have spoken up about all this isn’t going to. She’s rational, and she’s seen what happens when difficult women complain. Once she hesitantly raised a concern and was told to toughen up by people who will never experience childbirth or menstrual cramps or have an IUD shoved in their bodies. It strikes her that fixing things would be tougher and braver than silence, but she doesn’t want to be branded bitter or a whiner or a man-hater. How could she hate men? She works with them and loves some and perhaps is even raising a few. She’s not the one saying boys will be boys and men can’t help themselves, as if all men were violent and selfish at heart. That, she thinks, would be truly hateful.
The person who has made it this far, despite it all, finds it hard to concentrate. She still shows up to meetings, advises others, maintains her standards of excellence. But sitting at her computer, her mind keeps wandering to that night, or those nights, when it happened. She remembers how her skin felt clammy when he touched her, the dirt under his fingernails, the taste of fresh alcohol and sour meat on his wet breath. She still wonders, even now, if she said no loudly or clearly enough. Maybe she wore the wrong thing or smiled in the wrong way. It doesn’t matter, because there will be no consequences. For him, at least. She thinks about it almost every day. She feels anger and shame and the urge to vomit. She does not feel like doing science.
The people who could have done science, didn’t. All of us who could have benefitted from their discoveries and insight will have to do without. But the person who could have written this? She did. And so did many others, and still more will. Listen to us, believe us, change with us. It could be so much better than this.