For resistance and persistence

I read some weeks ago a heartbreaking interview to Myriam P. Sarachik, 87, now retired after a career spanning more than half a century as a professor of physics at the City College of New York. As the caption of the article published on the New York Times on September 2nd put it she “battled sexism and a tragedy to make major contributions”.

The tragedy she had to endure, in her own words “a disastrous family disaster” is one of the most shocking stories I have heard of in a long time –one of those you have to read twice to capture the whole drama it implies and afterwards you cannot avoid thinking that reality always exceeds fiction. The events which took place in the fall 1970 are too awful and overwhelming, therefore I have decided not to reproduce them here.

But instead one reflection she pronounced at the American Physical Society Medal Award’s ceremony and I could not agree more upon: “Women are no better or worse at doing physics than men are. They are, however, at least if they’re my age, more persistent. It’s tenacity. It’s the will not to be pushed out, what makes a difference”.

Although I am much younger than Mrs. Sarachik, and would never dare to compare our CVs -she was born in Antwerp to Orthodox Jewish parents just as Hitler was rising to power in Germany. Using false papers and bribes and after escaping from a concentration camp, she, her parents and two brothers fled to Cuba and then to New York City and she was among the first girls to attend the Bronx High School of Science, and then se want to Barnard College, taking physics classes at Columbia- I am old enough to recognize that many decades later, the one single larger difference between men and women in a high demanding professional environment (let it be Physics, Venture Capital or Arts) is resistance and persistence.