Mirzakhani, Williams, and More Women Who Made Waves

18scienceinmind - Professor Maryam Mirzakhani is the recipient of the 2014 Fields Medal, the top honor in mathematics. She is the first woman in the prize’s 80-year history to earn the distinction. The Fields Medal is awarded every four years on the occasion of the International Congress of Mathematicians to recognize outstanding mathematical achievement for existing work and for the promise of future achievement. (Maryam Mirzakhani)
Professor Maryam Mirzakhani
Maryam Mirzakhani

Same drill as last week: In need of table topic for the weekend? Or maybe you’re just catching up on a week’s worth of news? Here are some of the women that we think made waves this week — read a bit about them here, and dive into the links for more depth.

Then pass them along. We’ve shared them with you, now it’s your turn.

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Maryam Mirzakhani

The Harvard graduate and Stanford professor became the first female recipient of the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics—or as it’s also known, the Fields Medal—since its inception in 1936. Mirzakhani was announced Wednesday as one of four winners of this year’s prestigious award for “her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces.”

A crusader for gender balance in the field of mathematics, the 37-year-old scholar has been fighting for equality in education since she was in grade school. According to Feministing:

At her girls high school in Tehran, she convinced her principal to start math problem-solving classes like the ones being taught at the boys high school so she could make Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team. She went on to be the first Iranian student to achieve a perfect score in the competition.

Following her win, Mirzakhani told the Stanford News, “This is a great honor. I will be happy if it encourages young female scientists and mathematicians. I am sure there will be many more women winning this kind of award in coming years.”

Jessica Valenti

The Guardian columnist penned a piece Monday that sparked great (and unfortunately very vulgar) debate: Should tampons be free? Valenti was on the side that says, yes, tampons should be free. She wrote, “Sanitary products are vital for the health, well-being and full participation of women and girls across the globe.” Valenti argued that tampons and other feminine hygiene products are a luxury in some societies and some women are at risk of missing work or school if they’re unable to access them.

Social media did not entirely agree. Accusations quickly turned ugly. But brilliantly, Valenti actually rounded up some of the least savory in a Storify entitled, “What happens when a female writer asks a question on Twitter about women’s health”.

While her dream for free feminine hygiene products, worldwide, Slate notes her column opens the door for discussion. Their XX Factor blog notes:

Odds are that tampons will never be free for all women everywhere in the world, but thought experiments like Valenti’s can open the door to possibilities that make life a little more fair for women: repealing sales taxes on tampons, providing tampon subsidies to low-income women, putting free bowls of tampons into workplace bathrooms, pushing for innovations to lower the expense of sanitary products, or offering tampons for free to girls and women in some developing countries so they don’t miss school or work because of their periods.

Zelda Williams

The 25-year-old daughter of late Robin Williams, who passed Monday, was ambushed by social media trolls following her father’s death.

While their “cruel and unnecessary” comments caused Williams to leave her social media accounts, she bravely took the time to pen and post a touching final letter to her father’s fans on Tumblr. She wrote:

My last day with him was his birthday, and I will forever be grateful that my brothers and I got to spend that time alone with him, sharing gifts and laughter. He was always warm, even in his darkest moments. While Ill never, ever understand how he could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay, theres minor comfort in knowing our grief and loss, in some small way, is shared with millions. It doesn’t help the pain, but at least its a burden countless others now know we carry, and so many have offered to help lighten the load. Thank you for that.

To read the letter in full, visit Williams’ account.

Williams’ experience has caused critics to turn to Twitter to review the policies that allowed the harassment to occur and continue. According to the Washington Post, “Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety, Del Harvey, said she’d be reviewing those policies; a person with knowledge of the changes said Twitter has been working on the revisions for several months.”

And some bonus points:

— The world lost another great entertainer this week with the passing of legendary screen actress Lauren Bacall on Tuesday. Thank you Bacall, for teaching us all to whistle.

Dr. Nadya Fouad of the University of Wisconsin-Madison revealed that nearly 40 percent of women with a degree in engineering don’t end up staying in the field. This opens the door to debate as to why this is. Likewise, women who do end up the field were also found to have a low retention rate. Dr. Fouad notes, “The reasons women stay with their engineering jobs are very similar to why they leave – advancement opportunities and work climate.”

— Today is Julia Childsbirthday. The great dame of home cooks everywhere would have been 102 today, so we’ll let her send us off to the weekend: “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” Bon appetit!