Esther Duflo just won the Nobel Prize in Economics. She is the youngest person to win this prize along with being the first French woman and only the second woman ever to win the prize in Economics. She is also the 53rd woman to win the Nobel Prize. Almost 850 men have won the Nobel.
Whilst it is disappointing that there are very few women being recognised for their accomplishments, when there is a rare woman who is a winner, the reporting of it is quite sexist. Unfortunately for Esther, but not surprising, her achievement is being overshadowed by the fact that her husband is also one of the other two prize winners. The Indian media is going gaga over the fact that an Indian Abhijit Banerjee has won it and in several news articles Esther is being referred to as “his wife” thus diminishing her achievement. In 2019, we are taken back to the times of Marie Curie when the press just announced her husband as the scientist who discovered radium and simply ignore Marie’s work. The newspapers of the time covered her just as the wife, even though she had an equal contribution if not more in the effort to isolate radium. This was later rectified.
Esther Duflo deserves her prize as an economist, don’t call her the ‘wife’ – Elsamarie DSilva
This sexism is an everyday issue where women are being left out of important roles, their achievements overshadowed and sometimes even usurped by the men around them. It is expected that their role as a wife, mother, daughter or sister is more important than their professional one, thus relegating them to a lower status in society.
Unconscious bias is rife everywhere – from the Nobel gender gap to the number of women in leadership roles. It is harmful. Women have to work extra hard to earn their prizes and statuses. But it also may result in destruction of their careers. Indian classical musician Annapurna Devi was a great example where her ex-husband Pandit Ravi Shankar was allegedly so intimidated by her genius that he is said to have stifled her career.
The movie Hidden Figures finally gives recognition, almost 50 years later, to the role women at NASA played in putting the men into space. There are many examples of women’s achievements being overshadowed by their colleagues and sometimes their male family members. Check Antonia @Flaminhaystack fascinating twitter thread for a list of women’s accomplishments that were obscured from history.
However, if we have to stop this harmful sexism, we need to be united and courageous in calling it out. President Obama’s staffers created a strategy called “amplification” where they repeated another woman colleague’s key point and when a male colleague tried to pass it as his own, they would duly give credit to the woman who originally suggested it.
Recently cricketer Mithali Raj was asked at a post match press conference who her favourite cricketer was. She responded by asking if male cricketers were ever asked who their favourite female cricketer was? Reframing the question is a great tactic to highlight the inappropriateness of the question or statement.
But the onus should not be on women alone to call this out. Andy Murray is a great example when he pointed out to a reporter that Sam Querrey was the first male US player to reach a major semi-final in eight years, not the first US player thus acknowledging that there were women who had already accomplished it before.
Women have always been inventing and pioneering things. However they have too often been sidelined by the men around them. Now the time is up. We will no longer allow women’s achievements to be hidden. Together we will ensure that we amplify voices, achievements and echo one and other’s praises.
Congratulations Esther Duflo, you deserve this Nobel Prize.
Views are the author’s own