Rosalind Franklin might be officially the first historical lady of the geek world who I talked about on The Mary Sue. Well, there were a bunch of posts we wrote in the two weeks before the site went live, but they don’t count… the site wasn’t live. I talked about Franklin as an example of a person who was denied her proper due because of unreasonable expectations of what women are “naturally” like.
Franklin’s research was directly responsible for giving Watson and Crick, the famed discoverers of the structure of DNA, the final pieces of the DNA puzzle, even by their own admission. Yet her research, collected based on techniques she’d invented independently, was shown to them without her permission or even awareness by a colleague who she worked with regularly, and she was left predominantly uncredited for her unwilling contributions. The reason why they, as rival scientists working on the same discovery, felt it was okay to inspect her work without her permission? Well, it boils down to… “she wasn’t very approachable.” Needless to say, this isn’t a good reason to leave somebody uncredited.
Jenifer Glynn, Franklin’s sister, offers insight into her sibling’s personality in here book of Rosalind’s correspondence, My Sister Rosalind Franklin: A Family Memoir.
“Rosalind’s hates, as well as her friendships, tended to be enduring,” her mother admitted. “She was prickly,” Glynn writes. But, to quote a popular reality TV show opening quote, Rosalind wasn’t there to make friends. She was there to do science. She describes her early London living situation to worried French parents:
“My living conditions are extremely primitive compared with home – though they might well be worse. I wash in a little tin bowl, the only water being from one cold tap in the kitchen at the other end of the flat… I have practically no heating… but I would willingly go more primitive if it were necessary to preserve my freedom.”
This intellectual brilliance coupled with her “habit of intensely looking people in the eye while being concise, impatient and directly confrontational,” and her “habit of leaping into passionate argumentative debate, or her unusually serious, uniquely stubborn and even abrasive style at work,” might have given another scientist a reputation of a bit of a crackpot, but worth working with because of his possible contributions to a project. But in Rosalind’s case, it apparently meant that she was too intimidating to even approach, and that her work was stolen. It’s not hard to read between the lines and see that likelihood that her gender influenced how threatened her male colleagues were at her intellect, and at the fact that she wasn’t a meek, smiling female colleague they expected to gently reveal her intellect rather than assuming they would catch up with her.
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