Women authors for physics textbooks

08 Aug

At an early stage of planning for the Pantaneto series of physics textbooks, I was at an advanced stage of negotiation with 12 authors: 8 male and 4 female. I expected that probably half of the authors would bow out for various reasons and I did, in fact, end up with the first six textbooks. On mathematical grounds alone I would expect the six would probably comprise 4 male and 2 female. In fact the six were all male. I hasten to add that the male authors did an excellent job. But it is an interesting quirk that I did not end up with even one female author. The chance of this happening randomly is 1.5% (1/66). Such a result is not random. The putative female authors had family pressures and responsibilities, which in the end prevented them from taking the time out to write a textbook. I have since added more books to the series and have deliberately tried to sign up a female author, again, to no avail. At the moment, I am looking for authors for four books: Thermodynamics, Astrophysics, Optics and Physics Communication. If all of them are male, there is no doubt that the books will be excellent, but it would be a pity if not a single suitable female author had come forward.

One can wave one’s arms and claim societal issues and distil the problem into a kind of simplistic gender reductionism. I do not think that that is helpful. We have to look at the whole person – as well as the whole subject area. Gender equality is more about reaching potential culturally, through a historical process of human interaction.