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Issues | Multicultural Manners

Draping a Prize in an Apron

March 15, 1997|NORINE DRESSER | Folklorist Norine Dresser is the author of "Multicultural Manners" (Wiley, 1996). Contact her through Voices or by e-mail: 71204.1703@compuserve.com

A Japanese publishing company purchases rights for a Japanese edition of Sharon Bertsch McGrayne's book, "Nobel Prize Women in Science." When the finished product arrives from Japan, McGrayne excitedly opens the package. However, she cannot decipher the Japanese characters of the title and is puzzled by what she sees. The cover features a kitten, steaming bowl of food, tea pots, and a cartoon mother holding a spoon. A child tugs at mom's apron while she thinks about molecules shown floating above her head. Teapots decorate inside pages; endpapers are pink. McGrayne assumes that they have mistakenly sent her someone else's book and is stunned to discover it is her book now retitled "Mothers Who've Won Nobel Prizes."

What does it mean?

Although the gender gap is beginning to close, traditionally, Japanese women have not had access to important career positions. The publishers stressed domesticity perhaps as a way to allay men's anxieties about women's achievements, to reinforce that they are homemakers first. Japanese housewives might buy the book because the cover relates to them. The artwork suggests that in spite of domestic responsibilities, women may now think about becoming scientists, too. By using a domestic context to honor women scientists, neither Japanese men or women would feel threatened. Parallels occurred in the 1960s. When Nobel Prizes were awarded to Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin for chemistry and Maria Goeppert Mayer for physics, the British Daily Mail proclaimed "Nobel Prize for British Wife" and the San Diego Evening Tribune ran, "San Diego Mother Wins Nobel Physics Prize."

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