It sounded so promising when it was announced that six Russian female astronauts aged 22 to 34 would live inside a mock spaceship for eight days as a test run of the physiological and psychological effects of long-term space travel for a Russian mission to the moon in 2029. Considering Russia has only sent four women into space since its space program started in 1931, this was a pretty big deal.
And then they ruined it, because we can’t have nice progressive things.
Before going into the spacecraft, the women, with backgrounds in medicine and biophysics, were subjected to comments and questions so inane and sexist, it wouldn’t surprise me if they would have been happy being launched into space there and then.
It started with Igor Ushakov, the director of Moscow’s Institute of Biomedical Problems, who sent palms flying onto foreheads when he said “I’d like to wish you a lack of conflicts, even though they say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together.”
Team leader Yelena Luchnitskaya said with total professionalism that she expected the women to deal with any conflict: “I’m sure we all have the education, personal qualities and the upbringing, at the end of the day […] So far I can’t imagine what would rattle us.”
Then they were subjected to a press conference which they’ll probably look back on as the most gruelling part of their mission. The astronauts were asked how they would cope without men or makeup for the eight days they would be inside the spacecraft. One of the crew, Anna Kussmaul, showed great restraint when she replied “We are doing work. When you’re doing your work, you don’t think about men and women.” Being asked questions like that is probably enough to make these women thankful that they get to be away from men for eight days. In space, no one can hear your sexism.
The questions then turned to the astronauts’ hair. Because that’s their priority I’m sure. Kussmaul had the perfect sarcastic reply: “I don’t know how we’ll survive without shampoo. Because even in this situation, we really want to stay looking pretty.” She’s right, you know. Actually, female space suits should really come with a built in blow dryer to keep hair at optimum volume at all times, otherwise the astronauts will clearly be incapable of doing their jobs, distracted by the thought that they’re not looking like someone else’s definition of their best.
This isn’t even the first instance of space sexism. Last year, Yelena Serova, the fourth Russian woman to be sent into space, was asked about her hair and how she would be able to maintain its style in space. She was the only woman on the mission, so of course she was the only one subjected to this ridiculous line of questioning.
According to the Independent, the director of the mission Sergei Ponomarev said: “We consider the future of space belongs equally to men and women and unfortunately we need to catch up a bit after a period when unfortunately there haven’t been too many women in space.” Be nice if everyone at the press conference felt the same way.
I don’t know what exactly these people imagine is going to happen in this spacecraft. A zero-gravity sleepover club complete with pillow fights and makeovers? Are they planning to send these women to the moon in a lurid pink spacecraft emblazoned with the hashtag #CosmicCuties that runs on glitter instead of rocket fuel? Why even have this mission if you’re not going to treat it with the respect it deserves? The female brain does not require a close proximity to lipstick and men to function.
These women have worked and studied their whole lives for this, no doubt having to face comments like these and worse the entire time; they’ll probably breathe a sigh of relief when they finally get to leave Earth and its idiocy behind them.
Main image via YouTube