I have never seen her or talked to her before, nor have I read her manuscripts or fully understood her works. I couldn’t even spell her full name correctly until I Googled her. Yet she has had a deep and lasting influence on me through her image and her words.
Her name is Marie Sklodowska Curie. In my home country, China, she is known as “Mrs. Curie” or simply “Marie Curie.”
Knowing her was a coincidence. It was over 20 years ago that my primary school redecorated the corridors with pictures and quotes of celebrities. As we were walking through the corridors, we could see the images of famous scientists and writers — such as Einstein, Newton and Golgi.
I was totally struck by the photograph of Mrs. Curie. Among all these scientists and writers, she was the only woman. She looked serious in her portrait — her eyes staring straight ahead and her lips pressed together. There was a line under her photo, which read “We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves.”
At that time, I was too young to understand why she used “above all” before the word “confidence,” but it didn’t matter. The fact that she, a woman, was a scientist and won the Nobel Prize twice inspired me a lot.
The government in my motherland has been making many improvements to advocate equality between men and women. While they have created new laws and policies, the centuries of traditional mindsets and gender bias are not easy to change.
Twenty years ago, girls were not expected to be outstanding. If a girl earned good grades, some people would say that girls could learn faster in their early ages but this advantage would not last long. If she failed in an exam, then good — that was everyone’s expectation.
The worst thing was that those adults seldom did anything to help. They just threw up their hands and said, “See? Girls are girls.” Some of them even said, “There is no doubt that boys are more clever. Don’t you see that all the great scientists are men?”
I did not dare to argue with the adults, but deep in my heart I knew this was nonsense. The photo of Mrs. Curie hanging there told a different story.
She was one of the world’s greatest scientists. Without saying a word, her image was my best weapon against prejudice.
As I grew up, I finally realized that the main reason most of the scientists and writers were men was because women had been deprived of the right to receive education for centuries.
And I started figuring out why Mrs. Curie added “above all” before “confidence.” If a girl is surrounded by bias like “women are inferior to men” and loses confidence in herself, she will hardly have the chance to find out how excellent she could have been, no matter how gifted she is.
At that time, I was already working in a company that was responsible for teaching children to design, build, program and control robots. Our team made sure that photos with girls must appear on the leaflet and websites of each course in order to encourage more girls to join in this so-called “boys only” activity.
All we wanted to do was to provide every girl with one more chance to explore how far they could go, hoping that they could break the prejudice and find their passion and confidence.
Looking back at the past, I still feel that I was so lucky to know about Mrs. Curie. Her image and her words have not only protected me from prejudice, but also inspired me to query and fight against it.
Photo: Flickr / tonynetone, Pedro Cambra