The Matilda effect is the process of erasing female scientists from history. It was first described by Matilda Joslyn Gage and then formally coined in the paper “The Matthew Matilda Effect in Science” by Margaret Rossiter in 1993.

Who was Matilda Joslyn Gage?

Matilda Joslyn Gage was born in 1826, she has been a suffragette, an abolitionist activist, a writer and founded a feminist newspaper. In 1870 Matilda Joslyn Gage published an essay “Woman as an Inventor” in which she disputed the thought that women had no inventive genius. She explained that although women’s science education had been neglected for centuries, many inventions were made by women. She listed as examples the aquarium (Jeanne Villepreux-Power), the cotton gin (the idea was of Catharina Littlefield Greene, but credited to Eli Whitney) and the underwater telescope (Sarah Mather).

The role of Margaret Rossiter 

Margaret Rossiter was a science historian, who published in 1993 a paper in which she documented many cases in which women scientists have been ignored and denied credit. The prejudice against the recognition of women’s contributions to scientific research indicates not only the tendency to underestimate the scientific results achieved by women, but also the attribution of the results of their discoveries to a male colleague. 

The consequence has been that women of science who were not recognized in their day have remained unrecognized and wiped out of history.

Moreover, Rossiter, pointed out that women undergo a hierarchical segregation, leading to an underrepresentation of women in roles of power and responsibility. 

The Matilda effect in academia

Knobloch-Westerwick and Glynn analyzed citations from 1020 articles published between 1991 and 2005 showing that papers written by men received on average twice the citations as articles written by women. 

Lincoln and collaborators analyzed awards and prizes recipients between 1990 and 2009. They outlined the gender bias in evaluations of research and achievements. They demonstrated how external social factors affect women’s science careers. 

Ben Arres, a female-to-male transgender person wrote an enlightening article in 2006. In the article he talked about various discrimination events he underwent in his academic career before and after the transition. He concluded that yes, gender matters, but not because women are less capable, but because of society’s assumption.


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