(poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, #109, Mt)
started 8/5/14, completed 8/6/14
Performance artists and feminists alike
will jump at the chance to explain
that women aren’t treated fairly in this world.
Women in the workplace
make seventy some cents
to the man’s dollar,
and if they’re married
they’re still expected to take care of the kids
and cook the meals and clean the house.
As a woman, I can tell you
that I’m objectified
nearly every time
I go outside for a long walk
with horn honks or cat calls...
And objectively, it is rough
when the cards seem stacked against you
as a woman trying to get ahead in the world —
And I hate to be the person
who squashes the ego of all women out there,
but if you think it’s rough for you women now,
think of the uphill battles
you’d have to climb
if you lived, say,
a century ago.
That was a time
when women didn’t have
the right to vote,
and why on earth would they want to go to school
(unless they wanted to be a teacher, or a nurse)
when their place is at home
to live to agree with the breadwinner,
husband, father, patriarch, master?
Because not all of you may have a scientific mind,
but one woman, Lise Meitner,
born to a Jewish family
in Austria ten years before Hitler,
was blocked in so many ways
to achieve any of her goals in life.
Because she actually got her doctoral degree in physics
in the days when women weren’t even allowed
to attend schools of higher education.
Professor Planck in Berlin, who usually
rejected any women wanting to attend his lectures,
allowed her in, and in a year
Meitner even became his assistant.
She later worked, without a salary,
before she worked in Prauge as an associate professor.
She was the first woman in Germany
to become a full professor in physics,
and she eventually co-discovered
nuclear fission with Otto Hahn.
I mean, Alert Einstein even praised her
by calling her the “German Marie Curie”.
And yeah, as Adolph Hitler came to power,
and most of her colleagues emigrated from Germany
after they were forced to resign their posts,
Meitner just immersed herself in her work
until she witnessed the Anschluss
(the annexation of Austria into Germany)
that she felt forced in nineteen thirty-eight
to flee to Holland, then Sweden.
But a chemist where she worked,
Kurt Hess, was an avid Nazi,
and he even informed the authorities
that she was about to flee,
so it was lucky she escaped.
Meitner even said she escaped with only 10 marks,
but before she left, Otto Hahn
gave her a diamond ring for her escape
in case she needed to bribe the frontier guards.
She didn’t need to use it in her escape,
so the ring was later worn by her nephew’s wife.
But after her assistance with nuclear fission,
she didn’t want to think of this used as a weapon,
and she refused an offer to work on the Manhattan Project.
The sad thing is that she co-discovered nuclear fission,
but it was her male co-worker, Otto Hahn,
who was awarded the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
for the discovery of nuclear fission.
Some historians say Meitner should have
been awarded the Nobel Prize with Hahn,
but keep in mind that it was a man’s world back then.
Though she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize
three times, she has received awards in later years
in addition to having craters on the Moon and on Venus
named after her, in addition to element one oh nine.
And yeah, element one of nine, Meitnerium,
is a highly radioactive synthetic element -
it’s radioactivity makes me think of that nuclear fission
she co-discovered with Otto Hahn,
(they also even discovered the element protactinium)
but when it came to naming element one oh nine,
it was the only proposed name, making
Meitnerium the only element named
specifically after a non-mythological woman.
And really, there is so little of this Meitnerium
that people can only guess it’s properties,
but learning and discovering seemed to be something
Meitner was all about, facing all odds
to achieve so much.