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From Women in Space to Women in Technology: The Paradox of Visibility

Editor's Note: Aaron Zou is a California-based doctoral student specializing in media and cultural studies. The article reflects the author's opinion and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The first spacewalk reserved exclusively for women was scheduled for March 29 outside the International Space Station, but was discarded due to the lack of space suits of the correct size. According to the latest report, a woman has been replaced by a male person who can wear a larger suit for the planned spacewalk.

Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch were originally intended to work together in space suits on this mission while being assisted by a flight controller on the ground. The aim of the spacewalk is to improve the energy system of the space station with new batteries. Although a NASA spokesman said that the original plan for the All-Female spacewalk had been "not orchestrated this way" and was more a result of planned shifts and changing cast of the crew, this once widespread mission received wide attention and attention cheers, and some call it a milestone for women in the field of space exploration and beyond.

Although the all-female spacewalk is not taking place this week, people are still waiting for the overdue All-Female Spacewalk, a landmark to look forward to.

Women in Space

Women have traditionally been marginalized in space programs, with their contribution to the field neglected or overshadowed. Space programs are generally slow in women's employment globally. NASA opened the 1

978 Space Program for female applicants, while other agencies began involving women in the 1980s. Guardian reports that less than 11 percent of the more than 500 people who traveled to space were female, and spacewalk teams involved either all men or male and female members. Women were often used as assistants to male astronauts who made the spacewalk.

NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch watches her space suit being tested on board the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft from the Kazakhstan Baikonur Cosmodrome before launching, March 14, 2019. / VCG photo

NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch looks at how her space suit was tested before boarding the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft at the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan, which was rented in Russia on March 14, 2019. / VCG photo

However, visible contribution from women The space missions started in the 1960s, when the Soviet astronaut Valentina Tereshkova flew into space. After her leadership, Svetlana Savitskaya was the second woman to fly into space in 1982, and in 1984 the first woman to make a spacewalk. In the following years, other astronauts appeared, such as Judith Resnik and Christa McAuliffe.

The presence of women in space programs has increased noticeably on a broad front. In fact, the possibility of a spacewalk for women only is due to the changed composition of space crews. Both McClain and Koch were among the astronaut candidate class in 2013, and of the eight candidates selected in 2013, half were women. According to NASA, the youngest flight directors were also 50 percent women. China, Russia and the US have active space programs, including women. In 2012, Liu Yang flew into space as the first Chinese astronaut. In recent years, more and more astronauts have been working on the International Space Station.

Women at work

The increasing presence of women in space programs counteracts the misunderstood stereotype that women are not fit for this job. Gender stereotypes of this kind existed not only in space programs, but also in many other areas. The American scientist Jennifer Light described in detail in her work "When Computers Were Women" how women from the early history of computing were made invisible in the United States. It tells the historical story of the development of the first electronic computer in the US with a special focus on technicians who made intellectually significant contributions to the field. The work of programming, which according to her is often perceived as male work, began as feminized work. However, the role of women in the calculation was trivialized and discredited in media coverage and public discourse.

The male-dominated culture is still pervading today's tech sector, from the giants of Silicon Valley to entrepreneurial start-ups scattered around the world. Glass ceilings remain an elephant in space for tech companies. The basic ethos of corporate culture in the technology world, which includes the normalization of risks and precariousness, the incessant cycle of work and innovation, and the male geek culture, tends to dwindle to the detriment of women who are expected to develop themselves retreat and back and forth between professional roles and their gender roles as a mother, wife, and generally a female figure.

Applicants attend a media event at which Federal Minister of Economics Brigitte Zypries presents the first German astronaut in Germany at the Brandenburg Gate on April 19, 2017 in Berlin. / VCG Foto

Applicants visit a media event attended by Federal Minister of Economics Brigitte Zypries will present the first astronaut in Germany at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on 19 April 2017. / VCG Photo

The contradictory expectations that women seek to master, coupled with the male-dominated corporate culture and norms, made it more of a challenge for women to receive professional recognition and awards. When they do, they run the risk of being considered abnormal – discrimination on another level. Granted, successful women are also highly praised, but often there are only a few. Sheryl Sandberg is often hailed as an iconic figure for women in technology and beyond, but her case does not represent the common destiny of women in the industry.

A milestone still to be reached

The paradox of the increasing visibility of professional women is self-evident. On the one hand, we want more women in all walks of life to succeed. On the other hand, when some women succeed, they become the figureheads of working people, indicating and glossing over structural inequality that still permeates the professional world. An all-female spacewalk would indeed be a milestone for women as more and more women become visible and receive the recognition they deserve.

Still, a major milestone must be reached if we not only celebrate the handful of successful women as icons, but look to see if the plight has improved for all female professionals in general. A bigger milestone is yet to be reached, if not a few successful women are not considered exceptional, but normal and equivalent to their male counterparts. A major milestone has not yet been reached unless we are surprised that a spacewalk may be undertaken by a purely female crew and is no longer a hot topic. This is the milestone we are really looking forward to.

(Cover photo: NASA astronaut Christina Koch (center) supports astronaut colleagues Nick Hague (left) and Anne McClain in their US spacesuits just before embarking on the first spacewalk of their careers.) [VCG photo]

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