Female paleontologists don beards to get level playing field

Published: August 19, 2019
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Vertebrate paleontologist Patricia Holroyd in her lab in the UCMP. PHOTO COURTESY: BEARDED LADY PROJECT

Vertebrate paleontologist Patricia Holroyd in her lab in the UCMP. PHOTO COURTESY: BEARDED LADY PROJECT

NEW YORK: Fed up with being overlooked as a female scientist despite wading through mud carting heavy equipment and working twice as hard as her male colleagues, Dr Ellen Currano is on a drive for change – by donning a beard.

Currano, an associate professor of paleobotany at the University of Wyoming in the United States, said her patience at being sidelined in a male-dominated world ran out when a male colleague was praised for an idea she had voiced moments before.

She confided in her filmmaker friend Lexi Jamieson Marsh that she was tired of feeling invisible and seeing male scientists were always interviewed on television when an expert was needed.

“I said, ‘If I just put a beard on, then maybe they would listen to what I have to say,'” she told.

Paleobotanist Cindy Looy, center, wearing a Big Lebowski beard, helps other Berkeley women scientists get the right look. PHOTO COURTESY: THE BEARDED LADY PROJECT

Paleobotanist Cindy Looy smiles while wearing a Big Lebowski beard. PHOTO COURTESY: BEARDED LADY PROJECT

Marsh said Currano’s comment hit a nerve and inspired “The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science”, a tongue-in-cheek way to celebrate women who dedicate their lives to the geosciences.

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“With some well-placed facial hair, any female scientist can be perceived as equally rugged, tough and determined,” the project states on its website. Less than one in four members of professional societies for paleontologists are women, according to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Paleontologist Lisa White of the UCMP was one of many Berkeley women scientists who jumped in the league. PHOTO: BEARDED LADY PROJECT

Paleontologist Lisa White of the UCMP was one of many Berkeley women scientists who jumped in the league. PHOTO COURTESY: BEARDED LADY PROJECT

The project includes a website, two documentary films, and a travelling exhibit featuring portraits of about 100 female paleontologists with facial hair sharing stories about the fight for equal pay, field work opportunities and promotions.

In the series a bearded Currano stands on a mountain, a tool belt around her waist and pick-axe in hand as she excavates fossil leaves to examine them for bug bites to see how plant-insect interactions change as the earth cools and warms.

PHOTO COURTESY: BEARD LADY PROJECT

PHOTO COURTESY: BEARDED LADY PROJECT

The first feature-length documentary will hold its premiere this week at the University of California at Berkeley where the photography exhibit will also be on display until September with all proceeds going to a fund for future female paleontologists.

PHOTO COURTESY: BEARDED LADY PROJECT

PHOTO COURTESY: BEARDED LADY PROJECT

“For women, it’s an opportunity to share things that have happened to them or ways that they see their institution could do better,” said Currano.

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