I remember in high school her saying, "Now what'd you want to take that science class for? There's no girls in that science class. You take home ec, why don't you? That's the way to meet the nice boys." "Mom," I said, "There ain't no boys in home ec. The boys are in the science class."
Meryl Streep's character, Karen Silkwood, spoke this classic line in the 1983 film "Silkwood." It was written by the late Nora Ephron, whose talent for developing strong female characters both on the page and the screen rivaled only the strong female character she herself embodied. Nora understood gender stereotypes just as well as she knew how to break them, and she had a knack for navigating the grey areas where most journalists fear to tread.
Surprisingly, that science-is-for-boys stereotype is just as relevant today as it was nearly 30 years ago. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of strong women and men working tirelessly to improve the odds for girls who want to learn science, do science, and make contributions to science that will change the course of history. Every day we get closer to the vision that we all share: to no longer need initiatives for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, because they are already there, represented equally. One day, in the not-too-distant future, I know we will conquer this goal.
But Nora knew something few of us can easily grasp, and even fewer have the power and charisma to influence: real, systemic change as a function of our cultural influences, big and small. She had her finger on the pulse of American society in a way very few people do. She could see the seas of change in front of her, and navigated the ship accordingly. Because of this, her voice became inextricably woven into the fabric of our lives.
Nora Ephron has done more for the cause that's closest to my heart--women in science--than most of us realize. And for that, we thank her. She will be missed.