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Table of Contents    
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 64  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 583-585

Women and Neuroscience Publishing: Is the Gender Gap closing in?

1 Department of Neurosurgery, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
2 Department of Neuroanaesthesia, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
3 Department of Neurology, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
4 Department Neurosurgery, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication3-May-2016

Correspondence Address:
George Chandy Vilanilam
Department of Neurosurgery, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0028-3886.181540

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How to cite this article:
Vilanilam GC, Easwer H V, Vimala S, Radhakrishnan A, Devi B I, Nair SN. Women and Neuroscience Publishing: Is the Gender Gap closing in?. Neurol India 2016;64:583-5

How to cite this URL:
Vilanilam GC, Easwer H V, Vimala S, Radhakrishnan A, Devi B I, Nair SN. Women and Neuroscience Publishing: Is the Gender Gap closing in?. Neurol India [serial online] 2016 [cited 2022 Aug 16];64:583-5. Available from: https://www.neurologyindia.com/text.asp?2016/64/3/583/181540


Dubey et al.,'s article [1] analyzing gender and nationality authorship trends in neuroscience literature made very interesting reading. It set the ball rolling on the rugged, old debate on whether societal stereotypes and biological responsibilities could impede women from achieving academic elitism and scaling bibliometric pinnacles.

  Fisher's Principle Vis-à-Vis gender Inequity in Academia Top

As per Fisher's principle, the gender ratio of the human race is maintained at 1:1 by ecological forces. However, in academia, this ratio is considerably skewed, “non-Fisherian” and women are grossly under-represented.[2] Even in developed nations, women hold only <5% of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) jobs and this extrapolates into scientific publication trends as well [Figure 1].[2]
Figure 1: Gender gap across STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) medicine specialties: Percentage of female Asian-American PhDs in 2011

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  Aptitude or Attitude? Top

Edward H. Clarke, a Harvard gynecologist in 1873, wrote that women who went to college risked “neuralgia, uterine disease, hysteria, infertility and other derangements of the nervous system.” In a classic case of mansplaining, Clarke reasoned that “a woman's system never does two things well at the same time.” These and several such male chauvinistic beliefs have set gender and cultural stereotypes that bias our thinking consciously or sub-consciously to consider academic medicine and surgical specialties in particular as “male bastions.” In physical endurance sports, males enjoy a biological edge and therein both genders compete in different groups in competitive sports, as in the Olympics. However, there is no scientific or biological evidence to support these beliefs of gender inequity or “males having an edge” in academic or neuroscience pursuits.

  Indian Neurosciences Scenario: Gender Trends Top

The entry of women in Indian medical practice is more a story of need in the “purdah” era, than a lesson in equal gender opportunities.[3] By the 1850s, although American and European women were a part of medical schools, the first college in India to admit women was the Calcutta Medical College in 1883 (although established in 1835, women were allowed only later). Literature records that Anandi Joshi (trained at Women's Medical College, Pennsylvania, USA) and Hemavathi Sen (trained at Calcutta) were perhaps the earliest women physicians in India. The momentous occasion of women entering clinical neurosciences in India had to wait longer till Tanjore Santhana Krishna Kanaka (born in 1932) trained at Madras Medical college in the 1960s to become Asia's first female neurosurgeon [Figure 2].
Figure 2: T S Kanaka: Asia's first woman neurosurgeon

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Nevertheless, women today represent almost 40–60% of undergraduate pupils in Indian medical schools. However, their representations in higher academia, i.e., residency programs in basic and super specialty, academic medical faculty is not equanimous.

A quick look at the clinical neurosciences gender gap in central institutes in India (AIIMS, New Delhi; SGPGI, Lucknow; PGI, Chandigarh; NIMHANS, Bengaluru; and SCTIMST, Trivandrum) as in January 2016, suggests that women represent 21.7% of neurosciences' faculty (neurology and neurosurgery). In these institutes, collectively, 4.8% of neurosurgery faculty and 41.5% of neurology faculty are women and this proportion is maintained in scientific productivity that is, the publication profile as well.

  Reverse Gender Gap: a Possibility? Top

The gender inequity in academia cannot perhaps be fairly addressed by quotas and reservation systems set by governmental policies, although these may seem as an appropriate “knee-jerk” response. These violate the principles of equal rights and could in the long run set a “reverse gender gap” thereby compromising the emphasis on setting the highest standards in scientific research and clinical care. Addressing the barriers to women's advancement in clinical specialties and academia in general may be a more lasting solution.[4] Some of these include disproportionate childcare and familial responsibilities, gender discrimination, professional isolation, different career motivation, priorities, and lack of same gender mentors.[5],[6]

  Plea for Unbiased Meritocracy and Equanimity Top

The man's traditional role as a “bread winner” and the woman's role as a “homemaker” are stereotypes that are deeply engrained into our cultural beliefs. This leaves “males” with a lot of scope for academic pursuits that are tangible by promotions and bibliometric measures. On the other hand, traditional household chores, child bearing, and rearing responsibilities have no objective measurable scores, although they may be worthy of more than an honorable mention.

Career fulfillment goals and aspirations are not different in men and women, but subtle forms of discrimination and bias that are deeply entwined in an organizational culture may not ensure a level playing field.[7],[8] Eliminating these stereotypes and providing incentives to accommodate for marital, parenthood, and other familial responsibilities might be a probable solution to close in on this gender gap in academic medicine.[4],[9],[10] Field-specific stereotypes such as “women have a flair for arts and languages” whereas men have an “innate talent for physics and math” also tend to internalize and become strong beliefs, although they do not have a credible scientific basis.

Science can thrive only in an environment of transparency, democracy, and pure unbiased meritocracy, sensitive to gender and diversity.[4] A level playing field is all that we appeal for so that true class and merit may triumph over gender, nationality, cultural biases, stereotypes, and science blooms to its full potential.

“Don't judge me because I am a man or a woman.

Judge me for my job”

Priyanka Chopra (Actor)

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Dubey D, Sawhney A, Atluru A, Amritphale A, Dubey A, Trivedi J. Trends in authorship based on gender and nationality in published neuroscience literature. Neurol India 2016;64:97-100.  Back to cited text no. 1
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
Leslie SJ, Cimpian A, Meyer M, Freeland E. Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines. Science 2015;347:262-5.  Back to cited text no. 2
Forbes G. Medical careers and health care for Indian women: Patterns of control. Womens Hist Rev 1994;3:515-30.  Back to cited text no. 3
Breda T, Ly ST. Science: Why the Gender Gap? Centrepiece Winter; 2012. Available from: http://www.cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/cp386.pdf. [Last accessed on 2016 Jan 01].  Back to cited text no. 4
Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation. Available from: http://www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/womeninstemagaptoinnovation8311.pdf. [Last accessed on 2016 Jan 01].  Back to cited text no. 5
Schroen AT, Brownstein MR, Sheldon GF. Women in academic general surgery. Acad Med 2004;79:310-8.  Back to cited text no. 6
Jagsi R, Guancial EA, Worobey CC, Henault LE, Chang Y, Starr R, et al. The “gender gap” in authorship of academic medical literature – A 35-year perspective. N Engl J Med 2006;355:281-7.  Back to cited text no. 7
Pololi LH, Civian JT, Brennan RT, Dottolo AL, Krupat E. Experiencing the culture of academic medicine: Gender matters, a national study. J Gen Intern Med 2013;28:201-7.  Back to cited text no. 8
Mühlenbruch B, Jochimsen MA. Research policy: Only wholesale reform will bring equality. Nature 2013;495:40-2.  Back to cited text no. 9
Seemann NM, Webster F, Holden HA, Moulton CA, Baxter N, Desjardins C, et al. Women in academic surgery: Why is the playing field still not level? Am J Surg 2016;211:343-9.  Back to cited text no. 10


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]

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