In this debut travel memoir, a pioneering female geologist explores the topography of South America and the shifting landscape of women in the sciences.
Imagine a young woman with her back against a sheer rock cliff, unable to climb to safety from the reach of fast approaching, freezing waters. This is the opening to Winslow’s account of her Antarctic expeditions and her journey into both the largely uncharted territory of the region and the male-dominated field of geology. In the 1970s, the attitude toward women scientists was tolerant at best; sexism ran rampant, from doubts about female physical strength to overt sexual advances from colleagues. Winslow (Earth Sciences/City College of New York) battled these and other obstacles to become a trailblazing geologist, exploring the punishing terrain that Charles Darwin made famous. During the five excursions chronicled in the book, Winslow keeps pace with the accompanying male scientists: She climbs (and falls from) cliff faces; survives roiling seas; and even pushes the all-male crews into uncharted waters (in one case, convincing them to illegally let the scientists off on an island belonging to then-dictator Augusto Pinochet), to the point where the sailors fondly dub her Capitana Margy. Winslow admirably pairs scientific jargon with entertaining anecdotes, detailing both her field work and her experiences as a woman with precision and humor. That said, the strength of the book lies in her straightforward descriptions, rather than in strong literary embellishment. Winslow is also careful not to let her gender be the primary focus of the story, but the physical and emotional demands of her work make her accomplishments that much more impressive. As she gamely puts it, “there had been few role models for women scientists, and they fell into only three categories: one of the boys, the camp wife and the mascot…I worked out to get fit enough to keep up with the pack, but not to beat anyone to the finish line.”
A satisfying journey through 1970s sexual politics and the lands of the southernmost part of the Earth.