Writing STEMMinist Romance Novels: Celebrating Feminism in the STEMM Fields
You don’t need to be a genius to know that it’s not easy to be a woman in science.
I’ll start out by saying I am not a scientist, nor am I an engineer or a mathematician (math hurts my head), and if you ask my kids, you’ll find I have zero talent in the health care arena. (Apparently “shave it and tape it” is not the acceptable treatment of a sports injury?)
You don’t have to be a scientist to know that the STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine) fields are not—and historically have never been—easy places to be a woman, let alone a feminist. From the beginning of recorded history until now, women in science have encountered prejudice, disbelief, and outright hostility. You remember what happened to Hypatia, right? One of the first women mathematicians, she was torn limb from limb by a maddened crowd.
As if I needed another reason to avoid math.
It’s less dangerous these days, but discrimination and sexism still affect women scientists in the 21st century. A STEMMinist romance is a romance that celebrates women in STEMM—and we need them now more than ever.
The Matilda Effect
It’s hard to write about scientists when you can’t find them.
When I started out with the idea to write a series of historical romances featuring women scientists, the series name I chose, The Secret Scientists of London, was depressingly prescient. It’s a hard slog researching women scientists of the era because, more often than not, they don’t appear in the usual historical sources.
Whether I looked back at the 17th and 18th centuries or skipped ahead to the 20th century for inspiration, women scientists were absent from symposiums, academic papers, and scientific honors. One reason was that women were not allowed to attend universities in most countries until the very late 1800s. Once they were admitted, their names were still missing. Why?
In 1993, the great historian of women in science, Margaret Rossiter, used the phrase The Matilda Effect, named after the suffragist Matilda Gage, to describe the attribution of women scientists’ work to their male counterparts. I couldn’t find these women because people were hiding them.
One egregious example that immediately comes to mind is the Black chemist Alice Ball, whose discovery of the first effective treatment for leprosy was claimed by a male chemist who, after her sudden death, named the treatment for himself. It took sixty years to right the record.
Remember astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell? No? Probably because she discovered the first radio pulsars while a graduate student at Columbia in 1967, but her name was left off the list of citations when the rest of her all-male team won the Nobel in 1974. And without the movie Hidden Figures, would most people know about the Black women mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson?
What happens in a romance novel has a way of spilling out into the world
One of the reasons I decided to write about scientists was my dismay at the attitude towards science in national discourse these past six years. Although I hope we’re starting to see a shift, we continue to grapple with the harmful and reductive stereotype that women scientists, and women intellectuals more generally, are too smart to be sexy. This hearkens back to the myth that a woman cannot be intelligent without sacrificing their femininity and physical appeal.
The romance genre, for all its flaws, is a genre that centers love and compassion. That’s still a radical concept in a patriarchal society that glorifies greed and uses fear to hold onto power. Romances that feature STEMMinist heroines show women in science practicing love and compassion without having to sacrifice their jobs or the respect of the people around them. Multiple studies have found that girls lose interest in science during adolescence. One of the ways to reverse that trend is to promote strong role models in the STEMM fields.
That is why STEMMinist romance is so important. They are out there, real-life heroines doing science and holding their own—and being sexy as hell—and that is pretty damn inspiring.
Let’s celebrate their stories.
Let’s lift them up.
A Perfect Equation
How do you solve the Perfect Equation? Add one sharp-tongued mathematician to an aloof, handsome nobleman. Divide by conflicting loyalties and multiply by a daring group of women hell-bent on conducting their scientific experiments. The solution is a romance that will break every rule.
Six years ago, Letitia Fenley made a mistake, and she’s lived with the consequences ever since. Readying herself to compete for the prestigious Rosewood Prize for Mathematics, she is suddenly asked to take on another responsibility—managing Athena’s Retreat, a secret haven for England’s women scientists. Having spent the last six years on her own, Letty doesn’t want the offers of friendship from other club members and most certainly doesn’t need help from the insufferably attractive Lord Greycliff.
Lord William Hughes, the Viscount Greycliff, cannot afford to make any mistakes. His lifelong dream of becoming the director of a powerful clandestine agency is within his grasp. Tasked with helping Letty safeguard Athena’s Retreat, Grey is positive that he can control the antics of the various scientists as well as manage the tiny mathematician—despite their historic animosity and simmering tension.
As Grey and Letty are forced to work together, their mutual dislike turns to admiration and eventually to something … magnetic. When faced with the possibility that Athena’s Retreat will close forever, they must make a choice. Will Grey turn down a chance to change history, or can Letty get to the root of the problem and prove that love is the ultimate answer?
A Perfect Equation is available for pre-order and releases on February 15. The first book of The Secret Scientists of London series, A Lady’s Formula for Love, is available now.
(Image: Artem Podrez from Pexels.)
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