As March and the Great Daffodil Appeal have arrived, it’s worth knowing that Marie Curie never actually received the Nobel Prize in chemistry.
It was Marie Skłodowska-Curie.
Check her Nobel Prize diploma — no, not her joint diploma with her husband and this other guy, which she almost didn’t get because of being a woman. Forget that one.
Marie (actually born as Maria, but let’s go with Marie — maybe she didn’t like the “a” at the end?) was a Polish physicist and chemist and a naturalised French citizen who had left her country out of the desire for higher education. She could not enrol in a university in the Russian-occupied Warsaw because she was a woman. Marie was born into a Polish family and lived in Warsaw until 1891, when at the age of 24 she moved to Paris to begin studies at the University of Paris. She made it through her first few years thanks to some money she made tutoring, her older sister’s assistance, and a fellowship fund.
“Marie Curie” is endorsed as a feminist figure empowering girls to pursue careers in STEM despite their bad, masculine rep. What I want to argue is that through denying a woman her maiden name and her nationality, you are not being a feminist. Prioritising a woman’s husband’s name because it’s easier to spell is just pure laziness and ignorance. Marie did take on her husband’s name, but she also kept her own. Their joint Nobel Prize diploma from 1903, sadly, reduced Marie to a wife. But her 1911 independent Nobel Prize used both of her surnames, just as she often did in her signatures. Being the patriotic woman she was, she named the first element she’d discovered “polonium” — Latin for Poland. Yet, the contemporary feminist narrative chooses to renounce Marie’s identity for the sake of making her name easier to pronounce. You wouldn’t want to deter girls who display some interest in playing with test tubes, after all!
— But how does it make the Polish girls feel? That you can only become great if you take on a Western-sounding name? Be proud of who you are, they said. But only if it sells.
The new movie that’s coming to cinemas this month — Radioactive starring Rosamund Pike — is not making any advancements on this matter. “Discover the life and legacy of Marie Curie”, says the trailer, and makes Marie’s story almost comparable to Peter Parker’s encounter with the radioactive spider. Shrouded in green haze, embellished with full-on action film orchestra, the trailer’s just a bit too dramatic as for a biopic.
Another thing I already hate about it is Rosamund Pike’s perfect English accent. The Pianist did the same thing. The Pianist, however, was a great movie — and it used Wladyslaw Szpilman’s actual name, not his wife’s.* It’s a matter of weeks to see whether “Radioactive” is just bad or terrible. (My Women Deserve Maiden Names argument does not cease).
* If it did, it would’ve been awkward to the foreign audience — Szpilman’s wife’s maiden name was “Grzecznarowska”.