From the core parts of our biological existence to the slang that we use today, there lies an abundance of innovation that we interact with daily without comprehension. But have you ever stopped to think over who may have brought these essential parts of life to light? Learning about inventors in school solely brought names such as Alexander Graham Bell and Fleming to attention for discovering game-changing inventions like the telephone and penicillin. Whilst these men rightfully should have their spot in the limelight for their achievements, what about the female inventors who, too, shaped essential aspects of the modern world? This article shines light upon two outstanding examples, commemorating some of these women for their achievements and ensuring their names are not just heard, but also celebrated for their revolutionary discoveries.
Nettie Stevens – 1861-1912
Sex chromosomes are one of the most essential parts of our biological identities. Not only this, but the discovery of sex chromosomes has transformed genetic studies and opened the door for the introduction of new species within science. Discovered in 1905, it is only historically logical to assume that this scientific phenomenon was uncovered by a man. Whilst much of the credit is applied to men for this discovery, a hidden female mastermind truly lies behind the revelation of sex chromosomes. Enter Nettie Stevens, an American genealogist, who in 1904, wrote a paper on the regenerative process that ultimately led to her investigation into chromosomes and huge discoveries. Yet, a minor plot twist was afoot: Stevens’ study on the regenerative process was conducted with male genealogist Thomas Hunt Morgan, who later took credit and won a Nobel Prize for this work. Despite the lack of accreditation to her achievements, Stevens powered on to release a paper announcing her discovery of X and Y chromosomes and their role in identifying the sex of an individual. In uncovering the roles of X and Y chromosomes, Stevens observed none other than mealworms in which she noticed that female mealworms had all their chromosomes of a similar size whilst the male ones had 19 chromosomes of the same size and one big chromosome taking the limelight. Why is one male chromosome bigger than the rest? Stevens tracked this down to the fertilization process of mealworm sperm! Plot twist number two: despite Stevens’ revolutionary findings, scientist Edmund Beecher Wilson independently announced this discovery a year later, to which he gained much of the accreditation for it. It’s high time we give credit where credit is due. Let us re-write how scientific history is taught by putting a stop to the assumption that men were the pioneers of scientific discovery. Celebrate the name of Nettie Stevens for her groundbreaking genealogist work and may her achievements be remembered for how they have aided scientific development today!
Teenage girls 1400-Today
The second and final discovery I would like to commemorate cannot be accredited to the work of one singular woman. Rather, this discovery has been shaped by women and teenage girls all over the world for over 600 years. Slang and its development all over the world allows us as humans to communicate on a more intimate and communal level. Each community has its own unique dialect of slang that brings them closer together. But who drives the development of slang within these different groups? It might surprise you to learn that young women and teenage girls have been at the forefront of linguistic change for centuries. The teenage girl ‘vocal fry’ alongside the language they use has been ridiculed as frivolous and shallow for decades. Yet, whilst you may think it is common knowledge to pinpoint Shakespeare as the CEO of creative linguistic alteration, it turns out that young women were the true linguistic trailblazers of this time. A study conducted by Helsinki linguistics Terttu Nevalainen and Helena Raumolin-Brunberg in unearthing 6000 letters dating from 1417 and 1681 revealed that it was young female writers who first used their linguistic brain power to adopt and spread slang words like ‘make’ and ‘do’ in disregard to words like ‘maketh’ and ‘doth’ that were widely used at the time.
Further, much of the contemporary slang we use has been molded by African American Vernacular English (AAVE) used by Black women. Much like the contemporary teenage girl, the language (AAVE) used by Black people, notably Black women, has been mocked for decades. However, many of us of a different racial or cultural background to Black women fail to realize the key role AAVE plays in contemporary slang. For instance, the terms ‘sip/spill tea’ and ‘period’ are extremely prominent terms used socially in contemporary life. But did you know these terms came from AAVE? Not only this, but much of the news coverage headlines we see today have also been shaped by AAVE. Take the terms ‘woke’ and ‘cancelled’ we see in contemporary media have not only been taken from AAVE, but also stripped of their original meanings. For example, the phrase to ‘stay woke’ originated amongst Black people in the 1930s and referred to the awareness of socio-political issues impacting the Black community. Today, the ‘woke’ phrase has been stolen and rebranded by conservatives in avoiding being held accountable for oppressive behaviors. Whilst the ‘slang’ that AAVE has developed into has had a huge hold over the dialect we use in contemporary life, it is crucial we recognize our own privileges before using AAVE terms. The issue lies with white people using AAVE as ‘slang’ and not facing the same racial or sexist discrimination that Black people (namely Black women) have faced for being lazy and ungrammatical. It is crucial we become more aware of the origins and role of Black women within slang terms like ‘period’ before using and abusing them. Here, it is Imperative to respect the cultural origins of the language we use today and conduct research over slang terms before we simply pick and choose them from other cultures.
So, we have outlined the ways in which women and their language has shaped linguistics for centuries. But how exactly did these young women and their slang spearhead this linguistic shift? In short, contemporary linguists aren’t exactly sure. Yet, it is estimated that the reason lies behind the power of sisterhood. Women and their strong networking powers means that newly trending words amongst them often spread like wildfire. Let us fast-forward to modern society to best exemplify this. Ever heard a guy tut or snicker at a girl for using slang like ‘slay’? Well, it is actually estimated that men are an entire generation behind women when it comes to linguistic adaptation. So, the next time you hear a man judging a woman for using slang like ‘slay’, just giggle and remind yourself that he too might be dropping the word like it’s hot in a few decades. Thus, in the grand scheme of linguistic evolution, it is women who take the cake! Let us remember this when women are shamed for their dialect, we must commemorate the sisterhood for the modernization of language it has brought upon contemporary life.