Erasure in STEM: Can women read maps?

It’s funny isn’t it, how women are considered to be poor map readers?

I’ve often wondered about the stereotype as I’ve never had a particular problem. I tend to be the family navigator, which is unsurprising really, I was a Brownie, and a Girl Guide, both of which have always promoted self-sufficiency and outdoor skills. I was never told girls have a problem reading maps.

I excelled at Geography at both GCSE and A-Level, grasping concepts quickly and able to apply them to the local terrain. I studied Geology at University, which involved a 30-day solo mapping module, over which time I mapped 15 sq km of land.

After graduation, I gained a job in a Local Authority, scouring the area for certain features, I learned how to populate maps from written documents and wielded computer mapping packages (GIS) programs with skill and ease. I enjoyed the challenge of creating a new map that gave a graphical representation of data that had been collected, to create a business case for a new service, or explain quickly where a certain issue had been spotted.

I pored for days over historical maps and aerial photographs looking for features that would provide clues as to previous land uses, and became expert at placing historical evidence in a contemporary context. I can give you a guided tour around my home town, describing the changes that have been made, based solely on maps I looked at over 15 years ago.

… and yet….

I had some interesting feedback on my previous post on female erasure, which included the name Marie Tharp, who, bizarrely, I’d first come across in a cloth nappy context, when she was featured in a special edition nappy by Bumgenius.

Now, to be totally honest, I’d not really paid her much mind. She’s described as a geologist and oceanographer, and oceanography has never really been a passion of mine. But she’s a namesake and a geologist, so I bought the nappy.

So, having been suitably reminded of Tharp, I decided to look into her in more detail. As I read more, embarrassment that I’d paid her no mind, turned to fury as I realised that she’d *somehow* been missed from my reading list. I don’t recall her name being mentioned in our cartography lecturers (one of my lecturers was a cartographer, so we all got a through schooling in the subject – it’s quite important to be able to tell people where you found your rocks).

Published by lentilweaver

I’m not a saint, I’m more of a sinner. I’m just doing my best like everyone else. I don’t believe that massive changes can be made overnight, but baby steps... they can make a HUGE difference, to everyone. Home of #sharkweek by #nanasue and lover of #cats Don’t forget to check out my Etsy store!

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1 Comment

  1. I think the women can’t read maps thing is more to do with the turning round the map to orient it so you are facing the direction you are going.

    To my mind this makes perfect sense as it’s easier to see and satnav companies seem to agree as they all show it that way. Why make something more difficult than it needs be?

    One of the few consistent differnces between men and women has been found to be men having slightly better spatial awareness- the ability to turn a shape in the mind’s eye. So perhaps it’s true men find it easier to see a route on a map without turning it. That doesn’t mean women can’t read maps though or that they can’t be cartophiles.

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