Senior Writing Prize Winners
Congratulations to all of the prize winners and thanks to Ms MacTaggart and the English Department for reading and judging the entries.
1st Isla Thomas - Weak and Waning
2nd Susie LeBuffe - Poems about Girls
3rd Catherine Cadzow - September
Highly Commended - Ahi Kaitai-Mullane - Dear Teachers
1st Katharine Woolyrych - Why Historical Recognition of Female Scientists Matters
2nd Naomi Ashby-Ryan - Portrayals of Female Sexuality in Literature
3rd Isla Thomas - The Nature of Society as Portrayed in William Golding's Lord of the Flies
Highly Commended - Charlotte Dickie - Portrayals of Social Class in Literature
1st - Ava Straw - The Unexpected Demise of Peter Wallace
2nd - Catherine Cadzow - Fossa
3rd - Mary Locker - My Grandmother
Highly Commended- Charlotte Dickie - The Definition of Life
Weak and Waning - Isla Thomas
For the first time
I am weak and waning
Singing holy songs
That dream of Babylon
On the river rocks
Like a fractured egg
That even mother
Never knew we had
The rapid water rushes
Over my head
I let it whisper curatives
To my broken skin
On the flight home
To false strength
I watch the roads
To have been carved
By water’s languid tongue
Too harsh to show sympathy
They are the ugly seams
The next week
I see our trees
For the blood that they are
Rich and forgiving
Hine scoops chips beside me
And says KiaOra
Like it is the greatest gift
She has to give
As if it lines her lips
With spring morning dew
In spite of the sutures
Binding them shut
Even I can taste
The sweetness of her syllables
With my infected mouth
After our shift
She sneaks pies from the warmer
“They’d get thrown out otherwise” she says
Then winks at me
“Don’t tell the big guy, will you love”
I wonder whether
She means God
Or our duty manager
Then I remember
That I do not speak to God
Sleep does not greet me
Instead I ponder
The River Cleansing
Thoughts form and fade
Perhaps mother and I
Forgot the wrong secrets
Great Grandfather built his empire
By pressing people down
(People like Hine)
And then selling the blood
That seeped out
From their shattered bones
So we have remembered the pain
And how to hide it
Under our Presbyterian thumbs
And with white cloth
Is what felled him
So we have forgotten it
Disregarding any heart
That could be fond
As weak and waning
That my blood is capable
Of a golden fondness
I have come to believe
That Great Grandfather felled himself
And stole hope from three generations
From what is truly good
Like the green love
Of leaves and sunshine;
The sea’s soft summertime embrace
Or warm lips
On a cool night
Hine does not know
Her Great Grandfather
His name nor mistakes
Perhaps that is why
She is so kind
And so wise
Because you know,
We become the stories
We tell ourselves at night
Why Historical Recognition of Female Scientists Matters - Katharine Woolyrych
March 8th is International Women’s Day. But for feminists, it is a day characterised by indecision over whether we should be mourning or celebrating. It’s as though tradition dictates we must spend the day torn between feelings of jubilation and depression regarding the progress of equality. For each positive piece of news we hear about equality being achieved, we hear a devastating statistic or news report seemingly proving progress is non-existent. Today, 25 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are women, compared with 1 in 1998 - Hooray! . But meanwhile, in Somalia, 98% of girls (typically aged 4-11) are subjected to female genital mutilation .
This year however, I felt something out of the ordinary on International Women’s Day. It was dawning realisation. Modern feminists agree that choosing your battles is key, at the risk wasting a lot of time and energy on arguments about the use of terms like ‘manpower’, ‘policeman’ or ‘chairman’. One battle I’d decided was never worth my while to fight was that of the lack of female figures in history. Yes, surely it was a problem, but how many of these women really had stories worth telling? Isn’t it more sensible to focus our efforts on shaping the future, instead of looking back at the past?
Yet I now believe it is absolutely crucial to the progress of gender equality today that we tell the stories of women, particularly of women in science. Girls need to witness people like themselves achieving in STEM fields, and the role models that currently exist are few and far between. So many unknown, unrecognised female scientists have accomplished extraordinary feats, most of which we know nothing about. By turning our attention to the stories of the previous achievements of women in science, we’re made to acknowledge not just the struggles of those women but the ongoing inequalities that exist today.
Perhaps the most persuasive reason we need more stories of women in science is that when surveyed in 2014, 25% of people in the UK could not name a single female scientist . This reflects the larger issue across our society: women’s stories are treated as unimportant. Of 640 listed statues in the UK, less than 15% are of women (and most are of mythical characters or monarchs) . The new UK passport, designed to celebrate British arts and culture over 500 years, acknowledges just two women in its 34 pages of prominent figures in British history . The same story is repeated with currency. The lack of women - aside from the Queen - on banknotes worldwide is infamous. The good news is that in response to public outcry Jane Austen will appear on the £10 note in 2017 as the only female, and of course in New Zealand we have Kate Sheppard, New Zealand’s most celebrated suffragette, on our $10 note . The phrase ‘history is written by the victors’ comes to mind. The patriarchal framework of our society triumphed in oppressing women and therefore female narratives in history were - and still are - too easily forgotten or devalued.
Young women need female role models. Everyone needs figures to look up to and model themselves on, and consciously or not we all form ideas about who we should be based on what we see around us. Growing up in a world with no female electricians, carpenters, or plumbers, it’s easy to be led to believe - as I was - that ‘carpenter’ is a male word and girls simply aren’t capable of doing that job. Gender disparity across the workforce has an under-appreciated influence over our perceptions. Seeing very few women in STEM fields, we’re made to subconsciously assume that women might not have the right innate qualities or skills to work in those areas, and that they might be better suited to ‘caring’ (and often lowly-paid) professions such as nursing or disability support work. Just one percent of parents want their daughters to chose careers in STEM . And while some girls may idolise Malala Yousafzai, the sad truth is that the majority are exposed relentlessly to the Kardashians, Miley Cyrus and Rihanna. The success of these celebrities can condition us to believe that air-headedness is to be admired: as a woman, appearance is of more importance than intelligence or academic accomplishments.
Wait, you cry; I’ve mentioned Malala, illustrating that decent female role models already exist for young people. So what if girls aren’t choosing scientists or politicians to respect and admire? Who am I to pass judgement on their taste in heroes? But the fact is, this disparity may be due to the limited selection. A memorable personal experience was when, in Year 9 social studies, we were tasked with a undertaking a project on a historical ‘explorer’ of our choice from a list of twenty or so names. Half the class - guess which half - choose Nelly Bly, the only woman on the list. Girls seek out women in history to look up to and acknowledge, but often they are impossible to find.
The few female scientists we do talk about are presented to young people like boiled brussel sprouts are presented to a child for the twelfth time. They’ve seen and heard it all before, so much so that the person’s accomplishments can pale and seem insignificant. In one survey, when asked to name a female scientist, 68% of the public could only name Marie Curie, despite the fact she has been dead for eighty years . In my own experience, the mention of Marie Curie is often is met with bored faces and rolling eyes, despite her extraordinary achievements of being the first woman to win a Nobel prize (in 1903, for physics) and the only woman to be honoured twice (by winning the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911), amongst other achievements . Overexposure has a powerful influence, but not a positive one: it is not a method that will increase the proportion of women in STEM careers - currently stagnating at 13% .
Of course I acknowledge that there were nowhere near as many women in the history of our scientific understanding as men. For centuries ‘a woman’s place’ has been in the home, and the female sex has experienced systematic oppression through exclusion (often through legal, social or economical means) from the spheres of education and work. For hundreds of years, women simply weren’t able to practice science or medicine. The patriarchal nature of our society meant they were predominantly restricted to domestic duties and their work devalued. Someone was cooking Charles Darwin his dinner and caring for his ten children, but you’re unlikely to read their tale in a history book.
But the rhetoric of the total non-existence of women throughout the history of science is false. It’s simpler if the women who fought for their rights are brushed under the rug so that women of the future are unable to build on their accomplishments. This myth is also partially the fault of confirmation bias. It’s often easier and simpler to omit messy tangents from the narrative of history. But women have been a part of science from the earliest times. Yet little is known about those such as Agnodice, one of the first female gynaecologists, who in 400 B.C. is said to have courageously practised medicine in Greece when women faced the death penalty for doing so, or the mathematician and astronomer Hypatia who headed the neoplatonic school in Alexandria around 300 A.D. .
Closer to modern day, it is true that during the eighteenth century women were prohibited from undertaking most formal scientific education, but many still made significant - and under-appreciated - contributions to science, technology and maths . Ada Lovelace, for example, was an English mathematician who is often regarded as the first computer programmer for her notes on an early mechanical general-purpose computer. Her writing included what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine .
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a few exceptional women were breaking into the professional world of science, but faced serious resistance to their efforts. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917) nearly single-handedly made medicine an accessible career for women. She was the first woman to qualify as a physician and surgeon in Britain, the first dean of a British medical school, the first female doctor of medicine in France, the first female mayor and magistrate in Britain, and the co-founder of the first hospital staffed by women. In 1873 she gained membership of the British Medical Association (BMA) and remained the only female member for 19 years, due to the organisation’s refusal to admit any further women .
The twentieth century is of particular interest because we often relate best to individuals who lived within contemporary times, and luckily female heroines of science abound over this period (despite often gaining very little recognition for their work). A personal hero of mine is the Austrian-born physicist Lise Meitner who discovered the nuclear fission of uranium in 1939 alongside Otto Hahn. Her discovery changed the face of nuclear physics and indeed the world as it led to the invention of nuclear power generation and also the atomic bomb (though Meitner refused to work on the Manhattan project, declaring ‘I will have nothing to do with a bomb’). She was the first woman to become a full professor of physics in Germany, but as a jew lost her status and was forced to flee to Sweden in the 1930s. She was overlooked when the 1944 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to her colleague Hahn, but has received a flurry of posthumous honors, including element 109 being named meitnerium in her honour .
In 1951, British chemist Rosalind Franklin paved the way for the discovery of DNA’s double-helix structure through the revolutionary use of X-ray diffraction . Franklin captured the critical photo evidence through 100 hours of extremely fine beam X-ray exposure from a machine she had refined, but her work was not credited in Watson and Crick’s 1953 paper. Ten years later - and four years after Franklin’s death from ovarian cancer - Watson, Crick and Wilkins were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for their work, but Franklin received no mention .
Female heroes can be found across all disciplines of science. Marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson’s 1964 book ‘Silent Spring’ catalysed the environmental movement in the USA and resulted in the establishment of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) . Despite women being deliberately excluded from the Apollo programme and the team of 12 astronauts that walked on the moon in 1969, there have since been women working in aerospace. American physicist Sally RIde has become a role model for young girls as the first American woman in space in 1983  . More awareness of accomplishments such as hers could mean ‘dream jobs’ become as limitless for girls as they are for boys.
Sally Ride and Jane Goodall (the famed primatologist) are reasonably well-known, but what about the countless other inspiring women through history who have improved our understanding of the world? How many people have heard of Kathleen Lonsdale, Dorothy Hodgkin, Chien-Shiung Wu, Dorothy Hill, or Elizabeth Blackburn? The stories above are only a selection of the thousands of fantastic narratives that exist of women forging a path for themselves in science. And what of the stories that we don’t know about yet, that have been ignored and discarded in light of women’s place in society? We need to promote the illumination of personal histories - celebrating the women who have lived extraordinary lives outside of gender roles will send the clear message to young women today that they can do the same.
But despite all these fantastic stories, women have not been justly recognised. Of 870 Nobel Prizes awarded (as of 2015), only 48 have been awarded to women (about 5.5%). Only eighteen of those 48 were awarded for science (fourteen of which were for medicine) . However, the importance of this is not just the historical injustice and the concealment of women’s role in history. The real reason we need to start conversations about historical women in science is that it reminds us that a problem exists in society today. Women today comprise only 28.4% of researchers worldwide . In the UK, only 17% of STEM professors are women, and women occupy only 13% of STEM jobs overall . The proportion of women attaining first authorship of research papers, the ‘currency of success’ for promotion in academic medicine, has increased from 27% in 1994 but remains plateaued at 37% since 2009 .
Yet, change is being made. Earlier I noted that banknotes can be used as a measure of the visibility of historical women. In response to mounting criticism that no women have been featured on US bills for 100 years, the US treasury have recently announced that the $5, $10 and $20 notes are being re-designed. But the new notes - featuring Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and a range of suffragettes - will only be revealed in 2020, for the centenary of women’s suffrage in the US . So, in the tradition of International Women’s Day, this is a topic which we should leave feeling pleased by how far we’ve come but also moved by the injustice that exists. Because ultimately, injustice is what motivates us to take up a cause and fight for what we believe is right. And I believe that greater recognition of women’s contribution to science is a cause worth fighting for.
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