Women in Antarctica

By Midge Raymond,

  Filed under: Antarctica, My Last Continent, On Reading, Penguins

Women at the end of the world have been getting more attention lately due mostly to publicized cases of sexual harassment and assault on research bases — and here’s hoping the focus on these women in science will soon shift to the amazing work they’re doing.

As this article points out, women’s work in Antarctica is recent — the continent was first sighted in 1820, and the women who arrived in the early 1900s were accompanying their husbands (check out the book Polar Wives to learn about the wives of famous Antarctic explorers, like Kathleen Scott and Emily Shackleton). It wasn’t until the middle of the century that women traveled to Antarctica to explore and research on their own. The continent was still primarily male dominated even when an all-women team worked there in 1969.

As Chilean biologist Dr Leyla Cárdenas, who’s been traveling to Antarctica for thirteen years, says in this article, work in Antarctica has long been “defined by gender roles.”

It’s inspiring to see more women engaged in polar studies, and perhaps now that efforts are being made to address sexism and harassment, more women will work and thrive in Antarctica, as they already are.

One of my favorite Antarctic stories, though fictional, celebrates women in an extraordinary way: Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “Sur” is about an expedition to the South Pole by a group of South American women — the first humans to reach the South Pole, and the only ones who know it.

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