Women Paleontologists Featured in ‘The Bearded Lady Project’

From left:  Adriane Lam, Raquel Bryant, Serena Dameron.
From left: Adriane Lam, Raquel Bryant, Serena Dameron.

Four women paleontologists in geosciences appear on a recent website, “The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science,” which challenges perceptions of who is and is not a scientist and celebrates “the inspirational and adventurous women who have chosen to dedicate their lives in the search of clues to the history of life on earth.”

Photos of geosciences graduate students Serena Dameron, Raquel Bryant and Adriane Lam of professor Mark Leckie’s lab, with research assistant professor Kinuyo Kanamaru of geosciences associate professor Jon Woodruff’s lab, are featured in portraits by the project. Kanamaru also teaches at Amherst College.

For the Bearded Lady Project (BLP), creators paleobotanist Ellen Currano at the University of Wyoming, filmmaker Lexi Jamieson Marsh and fine art photographer Kelsey Vance put beards and mustaches on women and take their portraits to “educate the public on the inequalities and prejudices that exist in the sciences, with special emphasis on paleontology.” They have photographed more than 75 female earth scientists and are developing a touring portrait series. They also expect to release a feature-length documentary soon. They state, “We hope our film and portrait series will inspire young women to pursue a career in geoscience. In an effort to do all that we can, both film and portrait series will dedicate their proceeds to a scholarship fund to support future female scientists.”

They say the term “bearded lady” is used in a metaphorical sense, as there is a “long history of women accused of possessing too many ‘masculine’ traits such as an education, a desire for independence and the pursuit of nonheteronormative gender roles.”

Lam says,“I’ve followed Ellen Currano and her crew since the formation of the BLP a few years ago. I was instantly intrigued by the project, as it does a wonderful job calling attention to the problems and hurdles faced by women paleontologists in a satirical way. In a recent study, the Paleontological Society of America found that only 25 percent of their members are women, and less than 5 percent of all members are underrepresented minorities. This is disconcerting, and indicates that women, and especially minorities, are not being recruited into paleontology or they feel they do not have a place within the discipline.”

She adds, “As a classically trained paleontologist whose aim is to work in academia and train the next generation of invertebrate and microfossil paleontologists, it was important for me to be a part of the BLP to be visible not just to other paleontologists, but to other women in STEM fields to convey a message of inspiration, hope and solidarity that scientists can overcome the hurdles that are persistent in our fields so that everyone may have an opportunity to succeed in the sciences regardless of gender, race or class.”

Bryant says, “As a woman of color in science, I felt it was important to participate to highlight the lack of diversity even within our efforts to improve diversity. Also, micropaleontologists are often not recognized the way vertebrate paleontologists are, although our work is just as important. I love our portrait by our microscope because that is our special tool for paleontological discovery. I hope this project inspires people to think critically about why women might don beards in an effort to be recognized as paleontologists and similarly, how women and their contributions to science and paleontology have been erased from history.”

Damerson says, “I never grew up thinking that a woman couldn’t be a scientist. It’s just what I wanted to be, and in my logical mind, I didn’t see any difference between men or women going into the field of science. If that’s what you wanted to do, you did it. I didn’t pay attention to statistics or to ignorant stereotypes. So when I heard about this project, I thought, ‘Of course I’ll do it!’”