Rachel Ignotofsky is a New York Times Best Selling author and illustrator, but she has a deep-rooted secret from her childhood: she used to hate reading! On top of dealing with extropia, Ignotofsky ”just wasn’t connecting with the materials in the way that [her] teachers expected me to.”
What changed Ignotofsky’s thoughts on books? Comic books, cartoons, and illustrated books. This began her full-circle life journey, where today se creates art and books “like the content that helped me so much when I was a kid.” In 2016, Ignotofsky published her book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World.
As the name suggests, the book profiles 50 different women from ancient Alexandria – starting with the first-ever female recorded mathematician Hypatia – and continuing all the way through to modern day, ending with the first woman to win a Fields Medal in Math. “Through these women’s stories,” Ignotofsky explained, “you get to experience their version of history.”
Incorrect Conclusions Caused by Lack of Inclusion
One specific woman who was the motivation for the book, and is included within, is Marie Curie. One of the most well-known women in science, Curie is often included in lists of influential scientists “and everybody pats themselves on the back and they go ‘oh, look how inclusive we are, we included a girl,’” said Ignotofsky.
“This isn’t what inclusion looks like,” she explained. “This is what it looks like when we normalize having one exceptional woman in a room full of men.”
Ignotofsky explained a situation during her writing process where she saw these women being given the attention they so rightfully deserved, albeit late. Katherine Johnson, a mathematician with NASA, was immortalized in the film “Hidden Figures” for her experiences as an African American woman being constantly underestimated. Due to her work at the time of segregation, “she went from not being allowed in the room to getting the highest honor a civilian can in this country” said Ignotofsky.
How do you increase audience exposure to women who have contributed just as much, if not more, to science than our Einstein’s or our Teslas? Why do we not already know their stories?
Using a graph from the 2013 census illustrating gender diversity – or rather lack thereof – in STEM fields, Ignotofsky explains the road to a more inclusive and diverse engineering field means “we need to shake-up leadership, we need to support policies that support women, we need to create pipelines of talent.”
She continued, “but we also have to tell scientific history the way it happened.”
Explaining why these women aren’t already household names, Ignotofsky attributed it to two factors:
• Institutionalized sexism
• Lack of accessible materials
What qualifies as accessible materials?
“It’s like the movie Hidden Figures,” said Ignotofsky. “It’s like the television specials. It’s like the books and cartoons that helped me as a kid.” Using her experience as an artist, writer, and illustrator, Ignotofsky is using art to capture her audience and spread a message. Citing major brands who utilize graphic design in their marketing to set expectations, she ponders what happens when we take that power to set expectations back. Telling an inclusive story of history, telling the stories of marginalized people, and telling the stories of people who have been historically left out gives an all-encompassing retrospective on science. In addition, it ensures that children all have access to role models that they can relate to and are inspired by.
Rachel Ignotofsky’s book is now found in schools, libraries, and bookstores across the world. Her work is part of a larger movement to get women’s stories in front of a larger audience. Concluded Ignotofsky:
“Women make up 50% of our population. We are facing tremendous problems and we need to make sure that this brain power is not ignored and that every single child knows that they can be come leaders and find solutions.”
For additional information on Rachel Ignotofsky’s work using art to bring untold stories of trailblazing women to a new audience, click here.
To read more about innovative ways creators and bringing science and engineering to women, we encourage you to visit our article about GoldieBlox! Click here.