Hidden Figures, Hidden Issues

Frank Ruffino
3 min readOct 11, 2020

It’s no secret that women have been oppressed in science for about as long as science has been around, and this is usually attributed to the fact that they were degraded, disrespected and as a result received low expectations. Orekes explores the potential of deeper explanations behind their broad mistreatment throughout scientific history, expanding the concept further than just the oppression of women. It’s a seemingly common thought that there are both male and female ways to “do” science, assigning a way of thought to a gender. The terms of focus, as included in the title, are objectivity and heroism. She speaks of objectivity a multitude of times, including how, “…scientific objectivity demands the effacement of the observer and insists on the irrelevance of context…”, and comparatively explores the potential of heroism (or the lack of) throughout the history of science.

Heroism was truly observed in Hidden Figures, but ample credit was likely not given until the release of the film. The main takeaway from the film was simple (and terrible) to observe: the lack of credibility and respect given to African Americans, specifically African American Women, in science and really life in general. Similar to Oreskes writing, women were surely oppressed, but through the film I actually became aware of an issue I hadn’t previously understood. White women, though maybe not in the highest scientific position, still degraded black women. In the film they denied them everyday rights and suggested incompetent knowledge, though by the end respect was not only delivered, but knowledge was proven. The concepts of oppression due to gender and race are, however, rather similar. Even currently today, there are a plethora of individuals who will judge and assume based on either and both of the two. It’s unfathomable that the issues are still prominent today, as it’s understood how unjust the system was just a few decades ago, but many people still work to further establish these issues.

I initially watched the film prior to reading Oreskes piece, so I can not speak on how it necessarily changed my viewpoints while watching. But I did do the alternative, and while reading I drew many comparisons and was frequently reminded of scenes in the movie. The whole concept of heroism being one of them, as serving a role in the space race was most definitely a heroic feat that every brain within NASA was striving to achieve. This was the reason behind most of the tension within the movie, because Katherine being a ridiculously intelligent black woman was unacceptable in the minds of the white men, like Paul Stafford. His end goal seemed to be not just to get the US to space, but to be the man that figured out how to do so. Further, the theme of genders thinking differently was something I related to the movie, specifically when Al Harrison spoke of thinking differently and outside of the equations. The one to do this, was the only woman part of the crew, expressing how genders may think in a different and beneficial manner. The movie and reading definitely drew on similar concepts regarding gender, race, and science, leading to a new form of thinking and ideas.