Why women in science cannot achieve equality when the president presides over chants of “LOCK HER UP!”

By nature and training, most biomedical research scientists are reductionists. For those non-scientists who are reading this, what I mean is that organisms and cells are so complex, with so many things going on simultaneously, that it is extremely difficult to attribute cause and effect to any singular factors. To do so, many scientists “break things down” to simple systems: we use the bare minimum of factors thrown together in a “test tube” so that we can specifically determine what impacts what. Normally this is a solid approach—but it doesn’t work for everything.

For example, the reductionist approach is not viable for understanding why women, who are entering biomedical science in numbers that approach or even exceed the number of men, are still not achieving parity with men beyond graduate training. It does not explain why fewer women succeed as post-doctoral fellows, go on to faculty positions, and climb the ladder to full professorship. Yes, it is a complex issue with many factors, and yes, there are many possible (although not necessarily acceptable) explanations. But we must not adhere to a reductionist approach.

Last evening in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just across the Missouri River from my city of Omaha, Nebraska, the president of the United States, arguably the most scientifically developed country in the world, presided over a rally where people—including many women—were raving and chanting “Lock her up, Lock her up!” Who is “her? In this case, probably Senator Diane Feinstein, who Trump falsely accuses of having leaked the letter from Dr. Blasey Ford accusing the newest Supreme Court judge of sexual assault. But the “her” is more ominous than Senator Feinstein, or Hilary Clinton, the other frequently attacked woman in the “Lock her up!” chants. It is a generic HER. That HER represents every women who has ever been mocked, abused, mimicked or bad-mouthed by this president. Or any woman who has publicly disagreed with him.

It makes no difference that one by one, those surrounding Trump are being investigated, pleading guilty, cutting deals with the special counsel and prosecution, and earning jail terms. Just as it makes no difference how successful young women are in science, and in what numbers they are entering the biomedical workforce. What matters is the principle. What matters is that the supposed role model for the US and the world is disparaging women—specifically women (okay, and minorities of all sorts as well)—for the sole purpose of repressing. Pushing the old order. The male-dominated order. Male victims. White victims. And while one can somehowenvision how a certain type of older white male might be attracted to this type of populist garbage, I am appalled at how many women don’t see through it.

Yes, new polls are showing that in record numbers, women are appalled by what is going on. Roughly two-thirds of the women in the country are deeply upset by what is happening—regardless of politics. One can still be an avid conservative and be appalled by the attacks on women. Or so I’d like to hope. But one cannot support this president and be a supporter of women’s rights. That would be a complete contradiction in terms. Unless you believe in “Alternative Facts.”

It’s time for the American public, and particularly American women, to take charge. We need a female president and female vice president. We need female congresswomen and female senators. And we need respect for women. Only once this occurs, will we be able to really properly push forward women in science. I’ve done my bit and submitted my early ballot for Kara Eastman, democratic representative of Nebraska’s 2nd District, and sent a campaign donation. I call on all those who are able to vote in this crucial election—please get out and vote.

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B006CSULBW? All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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