Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Legend of Iguanodon

As a little girl, I watched a particular TV special about dinosaurs that I loved so much, my parents had to tape it for me so I could watch it on repeat. I wore that tape out watching it over and over, and today, I can't even recall the name of it.

I probably stopped watching it around late elementary school. As an adult, not only have I forgotten its name, I can barely remember what even happened in it--except for one thing.

Some of the teeth Mary may have found.
There was a reenactment of a woman named Mary Mantell finding the first dinosaur.

Mary was the wife of a scientist. She was walking down a road one day on one of the many trips her husband took, and picked up a strange looking rock that turned out to be the teeth of Iguanodon. And it's only this scene that I can still picture clear as day out of the multi-hour special that I watched on repeat for years of my life.

Why that one scene?

In hindsight, it's obvious. Mary was a woman.

In every TV dinosaur special I watched as a kid--this one and otherwise--all the experts and interviewees were men. Always. It's just how it was at that time. I've written before about how seeing men in the leading roles in fiction skewed my life towards hating my own gender, but there was also the matter of seeing men in the roles of reality. The profession I wanted to be didn't seem to have anyone in it that looked like me. And so I held on ferociously tight to this one image.

I remember reenacting Mary's scene as a child. I'd walk down the driveway, pick something up (a rock or a woodchip), and dash off with it to my imaginary male counterpart who would proclaim what a wonderful discovery I'd made.

Later in life, I discovered the legend of how the first iguanodont teeth were found may just be a myth. Mary's husband, Gideon Mantell (a name, by the way, my young mind did NOT lock and load, since I just had to look it up), later on explained that Mary didn't really accompany him on his trips out, and that he was the one to find the teeth.

There's debate about what really happened. But I've realized that I don't care, because at the most impressionable time of my youth, I got to see someone of my own gender be the first to discover dinosaurs. Even if none of the scientists were women, I could subconsciously cling to that one image of the awesome lady who'd discovered my favorite thing on the planet.

The point of this blog post isn't that we need to fact check which Mantell really found those teeth, but rather that a single image of one woman made it possible for a young girl to see herself in what was otherwise a TOTALLY male-dominated profession.

This is exactly why representation matters. People of different genders, races, religions, sexualities, EVERYTHING, should be shown to young children doing all sorts of things. Let kids see folks that look like them doing the type of work they're passionate about. You never know who is watching, and who will be inspired.

Paleontology Dr. Ellen Curano recently wrote a wonderful article about this very topic and the challenges women face in the field of paleontology. I can't recommend reading it enough. Dr. Curano is a blogger who highlights women in geosciences, precisely for the above explained reasons. Check out her site! And check out the Bearded Lady Project she runs, while you're at it.

As far as Mary Mantell goes...I'm certain that regardless of whether she was the first to pick up those dinosaur teeth, she contributed to her husband's work in ways that history has long forgotten. So in honor of International Women's Day, I honor Mary. Thank you for your curiosity, and your inspiration.

No comments:

Post a Comment