Fifty years ago, Valentina Tereshokva got in a spaceship and fucked off to space—one small step for Valentina, one giant leap for gender equality. Unfortunately, instead of spending the subsequent half-decade getting fairer, society appears to have been traveling backwards, possibly in a space-time continuum. Yup, now there’s hella sexism in outer space. Intergalactic prejudice. SMH.
This year, Lynx launched a campaign to send 22 lazy nothings—like you—into space. Chances are you’ve seen its tag line, “Leave a man, return a hero” plastered on bus stops. If not, then maybe you caught the TV ad where a 21st century damsel in distress is hoisted to safety by a hunky firefighter—who she then ditches in favor of an astronaut. It got me thinking: How come we never see women in space suits?
Buzz Aldrin, space hero, is the guy in charge of selecting “a few brave men for the opportunity of a lifetime” to leave our planet. But Buzz, did half the planet’s invites get lost in the mail? Aldrin personally calls for someone to become, “a member of this privileged group,” asking, “Are you ready to make history? Then leave a man, come back a hero.” Okay, so that’s just lazy rhetoric, right? If you decide to run a competition like this you can't restrict the entries by gender, can you?
Well no, you can't. As of one month ago. Previously, in Russia, Ukraine, Kuwait, Indonesia, Mexico, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, that rhetoric was taken very seriously at first, and women were explicitly unable to enter. Luckily the powers that be reconsidered their contest guidelines in February, and blamed it on unclear wording.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising; space has always been a sexist bastard. Back in the day, it was deemed impossible to even test a woman’s potential capacity for space travel. It was thought that women's cycles made it impossible to reliably test anything on a body that might be changing throughout the month. Collective lol?
“It really does connect then to a larger history,” explains a lol-less Margaret A. Weitekamp, a curator of social and cultural dimensions of spaceflight at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “If you want to think about the history of women's political development, of their social development and cultural development in the 20th century, part of that also goes back to what people thought women's bodies were capable of”.
Eventually, in the 1960s, a Dr Lovelace (sounds like a stripper, not a stripper) helped to medically prove women's bodies were as capable as men's when in space. That doesn’t make me want to go there, but when I said my body was flawless, I was not fucking with you.
John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, clearly wasn't paying attention to Dr Lovelace because two years later he argued that the impossibility of women in space goes “back to the way our social order is organised really. It is just a fact. The men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes and come back and help design and build and test them. The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.” Well the women privately tested by Lovelace each had double as many flying hours as you, Glenn. How do you like them apples?
The first woman in space was a Russian named Valentina Tereshkova in 1963, followed by Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982, and Sally Ride in 1983. Fifty years on and only 55 women have been to space, in comparison to nearly 500 men. Weitekamp explains, “by the time Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in 1983, she's only women number three. There's 20 years there where you've only put three people out. The 47 plus come in the last 30 years. The pace has been slow and there are more women who are interested and see this as achievable but the pace of that change is still slow.”
Sally Ride, the first American with a vagina in space. Unless any of the animals they shot up there first had vaginas too, but let's face it, The Man probably had those bitches on lockdown, too.
Disappointingly, between 1960 and the 00s not much has changed for space cadet women. When discussing whether women were fit enough to make it to Mars, Anatoly Grigoryev, the director of Russia's leading space medical institute, was quoted as saying, “women are fragile and delicate creatures; that is why men should lead the way to distant planets and carry women there in their strong hands.” Can I get a reload on that collective lol please?
Anyway, maybe the whole problem doesn’t really lie with women at all, maybe it’s with the men and their inability to keep those strong hands to themselves. In November 2011, the Russian "Mars 500" experiment, which placed six men in isolation to simulate travelling to the red planet, declared that they could not have women on the makeshift spaceship because of issues with sexual tension. Apparently a male astronaut once tried to kiss a female in another experiment. Imagine being stuck floating in a tin can in space with a guy who wouldn't leave you alone. Men suck the fun out of everything.
Marketing aside, the fact that Lynx are making it possible for more people to leave the planet in a giant rocket, is really awesome. At the time of writing, 32-year-old Sabrina Rentzschke is one of two women in the UK and Ireland's top 20 contenders in Lynx’s controversial, though let’s face it, kind of brilliant competition. “I have been contacted by a few ladies who wanted to support me because I am a female participant, but they did not want to participate themselves,” she told me. “I would be happy as hell to go. I think it is still very special to conquer space as a woman. It is not only special for a woman to conquer space, we are still far from sexual equality and I am not even talking about anywhere far, far away but a lot of places here in Europe.
"Many of us have a way harder time getting good job positions, we earn less, have to study harder and are often not taken seriously in front of male competition.”
“Women have been shown to be physically capable,” says Weitekamp. “On average they are smaller, lighter, require less food, less water, less oxygen. They have fewer heart attacks, fewer pulmonary problems, statistically, than men. They have longer life spans. It's a shame to then fall back on some of these old stereotypes about outer space as the frontier that can only be pioneered by men."
Well this is weird, suddenly I really want to go and sit in a space ship with no TV for two years. Fuck you, patriarchy. Fuck. You. Sign me up please, Lynx.
Follow Camille on Twitter: @CamStanden
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