Anthropology Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Dedman College Research Earth Sciences Faculty News

Do women scientists need to wear fake beards to be taken seriously?

Dallas Morning News

Originally Posted: Feb. 24, 2020

At first glance, the black-and-white photos look like classic images of 19th century scientists. One wears a dark beard and carries a pickax. Another, with a fluffy white handlebar mustache, poses in front of a museum diorama. A third, with a long brown beard, sits at a desk surrounded by an overstuffed bookcase, a safari hat and a giant pine cone.

But wait. Something in that last image looks amiss. The cheekbones are smooth, pale. And is that an elegant pashmina scarf wrapped around the scientist’s narrow shoulders? Hmmmm …

The 38 large-format photographs that hang in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., are part of “The Bearded Lady Project,” a tongue-in-cheek traveling exhibit that shows women paleontologists at work wearing fake beards. The project features researchers from Southern Methodist University, UT Southwestern Medical Center and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

Bonnie Jacobs, a paleobotanist at SMU, said joining the project was a leap of faith.

She hoped people wouldn’t misunderstand its message, as one of her male friends did after she showed him a short trailer for the documentary. “He said, ‘What is this, a bunch of women who want to be men?’ He just didn’t get it at all.”

Her concerns were eased, though, the first time she saw the portraits together at an academic meeting. Scientists crowded around, pointing out the colleagues they recognized, laughing together but also having serious conversations. That was the project’s goal, she says, to dispel academic stereotypes and get people talking about the need to make scientific workplaces more inclusive. READ MORE