A Giant Step For Gender Equality

Elizabeth Yuko writes a short yet detailed history of women in space programs in “America’s Forgotten Female Astronauts” (source). Yuko blends historical information about women in space programs with an affectionate reference to women’s shoes:

The experiments were grueling and sometimes bizarre. One test required them to swallow three feet of rubber tubing. In another, a researcher injected ice water into their ears. Researchers noted that all of the female testees complained significantly less than their male counterparts. Many of the women scored as highly—if not higher—than the men. At the end of it all, 13 of the 20 female pilots passed the tests. The women were called the Mercury 13, though they also went by First Lady Astronaut Trainees—or FLATs, reflecting not only their pioneering status, but conveniently, also a type of sensible shoe.

In addition, she makes an interesting connection between Cold War politics and its influence on erasing opportunities for women in space programs. She writes about President Johnson’s concern of appearing weak as compared to the Soviet space programs and thus had a hand in halting progress for women. Yuko writes:

At the height of the Cold War, when a primary goal of the space program was for America to appear stronger and more resilient than their Soviet counterparts, many argued that sending a woman to space would send the wrong message – comparable to putting a chimp in space, Amy Foster, a space historian, explained in Makers. If a woman—or chimp—could make it in space, some thought, it really was not that great of a feat; for that to be the case, it had to be done by a man.

What’s interesting to note is the introduction of this article cites an interview with Russian women who are training for a recent space mission. In the article Yuko cites, there is a play on Neil Armstrong’s famous quote when he stepped onto the moon (source):

Despite the mission being presented as a giant step for gender equality, the women—who wore red jumpsuits—found themselves fielding questions at a press conference about how they would cope without men or makeup for eight days.

“We are very beautiful without makeup,” parried participant Darya Komissarova.



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