A Room of One’s Own:10 Views (2004)
When we launched the Woman of the Month project in 2002, our main goal was to give visibility to women scientists who have achieved prominence in their fiels. It was important for us to map, however partially this can be done on a monthly basis, women’s contributions to Czech science and to present the experiences of extraordinary women achievers. At the same time, we wanted to show young women researchers what it means to do science from the perspective of women who have managed to break through the ‘glass ceiling’, how they live science and what their life histories are.
We also assumed that we would learn more about how the former political regime deformed science and what strategies people in science developed to survive and how the scientific space changed after 1989, as seen through the eyes of those who have formed it. When preparing this publication and reading the individual interviews, we realised that each of the women researchers needed her own space for her scientific work and to build her career, space that Virginia Woolf described as early as 1929 in her essay A Room Of One’s Own. For Virginia Woolf, one’s ‘own room’ served as a metaphor for the space that every woman needs in order to grow intellectually and personally.
We wanted to show, then, how successful women researchers built and furnished their own rooms, and what circumstances entered into this process. In the interviews presented here, the room is never as anctuary that all are forbidden to enter, but rather a crossroads of private worlds and work self-fulfilment which complement each other and intersect.
For us, this experience was inspiring but often also very frustrating. The experience of women scientists is not necessarily always unproblematic, and from our perspective it was crucial to see how these women scientists reflected upon their own success and involvement in science, the extent to which the problems that we see as being structural and inherent to how science has historically been set up they learnt to perceive as their own personal affair, as something they had to deal with themselves, on a personal level.
We also encountered an unbelievable amount of modesty – humility toward the subject of research, humility toward themselves and to their own place in the process of knowledge production. Often we did not know how to react to the fact that women who have achieved international renown in the field of science, question their success and the influence of their findings. At the same time, from the position of those who are just starting their scientific career, we had the opportunity to realise the extent to which it is continually necessary to negotiate our space in science in terms of the differen social experience of women, in terms of our own and other people’s expectations and in terms of the institutional assumptions and structures which these women scientists also represent.