Albert Einstein: Sexism in Science…?

Posted on October 28, 2011 by

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By:  SPH

Albert Einstein, a German born male physicist who is globally famous for his theory of relativity “E = mc2”, may not be the sexiest male scientist… but could possibly be a sexist scientist.  This might surprise some of our readers.  One of the most respected men in history was possibly a sexist?  But how?  To learn more about this, we will first have to learn about Mileva Einstein- Marić.

Mileva Einstein-Marić was a brilliant and outstanding female student of Mathematics and Physics at the Zurich Polytechnikum.  Marić and Einstein studied at the same time and in the same department.  This led to the two scientists working together in their physics lab, which led to them falling in love.  So far, so good.  Now, let’s get to the unpleasant side of their story:

  • Marić gave birth to their daughter, but Einstein never saw her.  They could have legitimated their daughter when they got married a year later, but because of his status as a civil servant (low position), that wasn’t allowed.  OR maybe he just didn’t want to admit to having an illegitimate child.
  • Not long after two of their sons were born, Einstein began his affair with his cousin Elsa.
  • Marić and Einstein worked and studied together, and she helped him out with many of his works.  But we don’t know who contributed how much to their work, The Relativity Theory.  All we know is that it was only published under Einstein’s name.
  • Einstein prohibited her from writing her autobiography, and his advice to her was “be nice and modest and keep one’s trap shut”.  Her name was never recognized in any of “their” work and studies.
  • At the end of Marić’s life, she wrote a letter to him saying that he had “robbed her of her life’s happiness, her scientific work and her financial security”.
  • After Marić was betrayed and abandoned by him, she was left to care for their children alone, one of whom was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
  • When Einstein gained his fame and respect from almost everyone around the world, Marić had to go through a financial struggle, and didn’t gain any recognition for her contribution to their work.

Let’s suppose that this really happened.  Some might think that this isn’t really a big deal: that Marić was just upset that “he (Einstein) did not share domestic chores equally with her” or that she just “wanted more time with him than he was able to give”, or it’s just part of an old history anyways so why should we care? But think about this: Does Einstein really deserve all that respect after what he had supposedly done to Marić?  If Einstein is revered by many people from all over the world, then why can’t Marić be respected in the same way? One sees Marić as a victim of patriarchal oppression and gender discrimination.  Yes, we know that gender inequality was considered to be common during this period, but how can we improve and progress towards a socially just future if we don’t acknowledge the mistakes in our past?

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