From the January-February 2014 issue of News & Letters:
On Nov. 13 British novelist Doris Lessing died at the age of 94. In 2007, she became the eleventh woman and the oldest person to ever receive the Nobel Prize in literature. The themes of her fiction included Stalinism, which she later renounced, the female experience, mental illness, post-colonial Africa, the problems of nuclear power, and a Sufi-inspired science fiction. Her series of The Golden Notebook is a feminist classic.
* * *
2013 also saw the death of the “Lady of the Stars,” astrophysicist Margherita Hack at 91. The first woman to lead an astronomical observatory in Italy, she was astronomy chair at the University of Trieste. Her research contributed to the classification of many groups of stars, and asteroid 8558 Hack is named after her. She was a popular science writer, opposed the influence of religion on scientific research, and lobbied for legalized abortion, euthanasia, and LGBT rights.
* * *
In Nov. 2013, the advocacy group Universities UK published the document “External speakers in higher education institutions,” which opined that it is legal to segregate audiences by gender when a visiting speaker insists upon it for religious reasons as long as the audience agrees. There were 40 cases in 2013 in which such demands by speakers were met. The document rationalized this as “freedom of speech” but also referred to the discredited “separate but equal” former policy in U.S. law. Criticism from the public and prime minister caused the group to reassess the document.