Tuesday 15 October 2019

Nasa spacesuit issue sparks debate over gender discrimination in science gear

Women are discussing issues around male-focused equipment after the first all-female spacewalk was postponed ‘due in part to spacesuit availability’.

Anne McClain had been due to undertake the walk alongside Christina Koch (Nasa/PA)
Anne McClain had been due to undertake the walk alongside Christina Koch (Nasa/PA)

By Alistair Mason, Press Association

Women in science are comparing stories of the times they have suffered because of uniforms and safety equipment designed for men.

It comes after Nasa postponed what would have been the first all-female spacewalk “due in part to spacesuit availability” on the International Space Station.

Nasa said the issue with spacesuit sizes came about because Anne McClain, who had been due to undertake the walk alongside Christina Koch, had been intending to wear a large torso on her spacesuit, but had subsequently realised that a medium was more comfortable.

The agency said that, while there was another medium aboard the station, it would take 12 hours to configure, and that was time McClain and others did not feel they had available for the task.

Biologist Jessica Mounts highlighted the issue on Twitter, pointing out that it would be a situation familiar to many women.

She tweeted: “Raise your hand if you’re a woman in science who’s had to choose between missing out or wearing ill-fitting uniforms, safety equipment, or outdoor gear made for men because that’s all that was available.”

The responses came flooding in.

Women reported everything from lab coats to wet suits to surgical gowns that did not fit properly.

Ill-fitting waders were a particularly common issue.

Even those who could find waders to fit sometimes struggled to find appropriately sized wet-weather gear to go with them.

Gloves were another common complaint.

Twitter users also pointed out the lack of options in plus sizes.

It was a similar story for taller women.

A key point being made was that ill-fitting equipment is not just uncomfortable, it can be actively unsafe.

This can potentially mean women being put in dangerous situations or missing out altogether.

And for those who can find the right equipment, it may well come at a premium.

Women from other fields pointed out that it is by no means a problem that is confined to the science world.

From sport to security to art, women from all sorts of fields had similar complaints.

McClain pointed out that the work was still going ahead and “nothing has been cancelled or postponed”, adding “history is made every day up here!”

Nevertheless, it was a moment that resonated strongly with many on social media and highlighted an issue that affects women in science and beyond.

PA Media

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