Oh look, we’re back on this corner again. Some drearily unthinking guy writes a patronizing “funny”
article story about women for Nature, people say how drearily unthinking it is, and everybody says “oh lighten up, ladies.” It’s just a joke, huh huh huh. Jokes never do any harm, any fule kno that.
In a pig’s eye, says Christie Wilcox at SciAm blogs.
Reinforcing negative gender stereotypes is anything but harmless.
It was Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson who, in 1995, first coined the term stereotype threat. It refers to how the knowledge of a prejudicial stereotype can lead to enough anxiety that a person actually ends up confirming the image. Since that landmark paper, more than 300 studies have found evidence for the pervasive negative effects of societal stereotypes.
When it comes to women, studies have shown that stereotype threat is very real. Women are stereotyped to be worse at math than men due to lower test scores. But it turns out that women only score lower when they are reminded of their gender or take the test in the presence of men. In fact, the greater the number of men in the room with a female test taker, the worse she will do. The gender profile of the environment has no effect, however, on women’s verbal test scores, where no such inferiority stereotype exists.
So this kind of thing does matter. There is no “just a joke.”
Ed may not have meant to demoralize women scientists when he wrote Womanspace, but by reinforcing the stereotype of the domesticated woman as opposed to the scientific man, he did just that. But even worse, as Anne Jefferson said, by approving of such a piece, Nature has given this kind of sexist attitude their highly-valued stamp of approval.
Shame on you, Nature, for contributing to the kind of environment which leads to stereotype threat – the kind of environment that tells girls they shouldn’t bother becoming a scientist. Because while I can shrug off some bigoted humor, they can’t. They’re the ones harmed by such careless support of antiquated gender roles. I am mad at you for them. You have done wrong by little nerdy girls everywhere, Nature, and you need to acknowledge it. Anything less says that you simply don’t care.
Please don’t do it any more.