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It’s the silences, the neglect, the moving on to more important matters

What if the National Association of Science Writers convened a panel on sexual harassment and discrimination, and no one cared? This report on sexual harassment and science writing at NASW is strangely, delicately neglectful, from the beginning where it irrelevantly claims that the Bora Zivkovic story no longer dominates science blogs (So has sexual harassment vanished? Or should we be asking where it will rise up again?), to the bizarrely abrupt segue in which they “Return You to Our Regularly Scheduled Program”, which is all about calculating the number of habitable worlds in the galaxy and more self-promoting fluff from SETI. Apparently, the concerns of women in science is of dwindling concern and a distraction from the Important Subjects of Speculative Astronomy.

The middle is equally weird. It has two sections: Hearing from Women, a two paragraph summary of what the women on the panel said, followed by Hearing from Men, with four paragraphs dedicated to the reactions (admittedly sympathetic) of the men in the audience, which are described as “some of the most powerful and significant statements”. At least the women’s section closed with an ironic comment: “The medical profession is now also heavily female, she [Ginger Campbell] said, but there, too, invisibility is everywhere.” How true that is.

I would like to have read more about “Hearing from Women”, but not only could the writer not be troubled to include more of the women’s statements, but she didn’t even bother to link to any of the panelists. I can correct that, at least: Christie Aschwanden, Deborah Blum, Florence Williams, Kate Prengaman, Kathleen Raven, Maryn McKenna, and Emily Willingham. Isn’t that odd that an article purportedly about this panel didn’t even link to the panelists’ professional pages, neglected to even name one of them, yet still made that special effort to capture men’s opinions on it?

You should read Emily Willingham’s assessment of the article. It’s not at all flattering.

Start looking for the invisible women, and it’s amazing how often you can find these curious omissions. Here, for instance, is a student at Michigan State plugging the virtues of social media for advancing your career in science (and I agree with him!), but he’s especially promoting reddit as a tool…which is problematic if you’re a woman, or have a reputation as a feminist. He touts reddit as the “best bang for the buck” for “thousands of young men and women” and obliviously shows this graph of internet readers who use reddit, titled “Young males are especially likely to use reddit.”

Chart showing that many more men than women use reddit

Apparently we can just ignore the pale blue bars that show that women represent somewhere less than a third of the audience you’ll reach on reddit. We’re not even going to notice the discrepancy, even if it leaps out at you as the most significant factor illustrated by the chart, and even if the title itself calls attention to it. The sexism problem on reddit isn’t even worth mentioning in an article about promoting science.

But that’s the big question that ought to be asked. Why isn’t it? Because invisible people aren’t as important.

Finally, here’s something that’s at least stirring and loud. It’s from a television show (as we all know, fictitious politicians are far more honest and bold than the real ones) in which a woman points out all the subtle signifiers the media and other politicians use to put her in her place.

Are you saying that Governor Reston is sexist?

Yes. I am. And it’s not just Governor Reston speaking in code about gender. It’s everyone, yourself included. The only reason we’re doing this interview in my house is because you requested it. This was your idea. And yet here you are, thanking me for inviting me into my “lovely home.” That’s what you say to the neighbor lady who baked you chocolate chip cookies. This pitcher of iced tea isn’t even mine. It’s what your producers set here. Why? Same reason you called me a “real live Cinderella story.” It reminds people that I’m a woman without using the word.

For you it’s an angle, and I get that, and I’m sure you think it’s innocuous, but guess what? It’s not. Don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking. You’re promoting stereotypes, James. You’re advancing this idea that women are weaker than men. You’re playing right into the hands of Reston and into the hands of every other imbecile who thinks a woman isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief.

Don’t you ever forget, ladies, that the most important parameter of your existence is how well you fit your stereotyped role. But don’t worry, no one will ever let you forget it.

Comments

  1. Pteryxx says

    …Well I started reading the linked article.

    The National Association of Science Writers met last week and devoted a session to thinking about what can be done to banish sexual harassment from our professional lives. I’ve written about the recent controversy a lot here and also here.

    And what are the links about the current recent controversy?

    http://blogs.plos.org/onscienceblogs/2013/10/18/gossip-scandal-shutdown-shutdown-obamacare/

    http://blogs.plos.org/onscienceblogs/2013/10/25/human-evolution-at-dmanisi-plus-more-scandal-and-gossip-in-science-blogging/

    Gossip and scandal, scandal and gossip.

    *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

    (The articles themselves aren’t as bad as the headlines, but FFS.)

  2. Pteryxx says

    And this from the description of the NASW panel. (bolds mine)

    http://www.sciencewriters2013.org/sessions/d1-xx-question

    Women are now a prominent part of the profession, both as writers and editors, influencing the direction of science writing today. But although there’s no denying that big picture change, it seems the right moment to assess the small picture details. How influential are we, actually? How prominent exactly? How far has this “revolution” taken us in terms of position, pay, influence, and recognition. In this interactive session, we’ll offer both a data-rich presentation of evidence and a discussion-focused panel to explore this questions, gather feedback, and perhaps even put together a report to be shared with others.

    *lolsob*

  3. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Don’t usually click on the video’s, but I had an idea what this one was (mentioned earlier on another thread). Right on, putting the faux news type in their place, showing their blatant sexism….

  4. Bicarbonate says

    Yes, Nerd @#3, I wanted to watch it too but it’s on HULU and doesn’t play in my country.

  5. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Yes, Nerd @#3, I wanted to watch it too but it’s on HULU and doesn’t play in my country.

    I’m certain the clip will show up on YooTube shortly and somebody will post a link.

    What I found interesting was the reactions of the three young women working for the campaign. The first wanted to stop the Lisa Kudrow character when she first started in with her rant, the second was totally with the screed from the beginning, and the third picked up her jaw from the initial shock and smiled bigger as the screed continued. By the end, even the first young woman was smiling. If the Lisa Kudrow character was a real politician, she would have two votes from the Redhead/Nerd household.

  6. anbheal says

    I’m also in a Hulu-blocked country (Mexico), but I worked around it, and what I love is that Hulu titles the clip “Josi loses her temper”.

    As opposed to, oh, gosh, what POSSIBLE other title might they have come up with for the clip….”Josi defends women’s rights to engage in politics”, or “Josi calls out network anchor on implicit sexism”, or “Josi calls Governor Reston a sexist pig”, or “Josi mops floor with misogynist reporter”.

    Um…and when I say “I love it”, what I of course mean is that Hulu plays right into her accusations. Not that I, um, actually love it…….

  7. Tony! The Immorally Inferior Queer Shoop! says

    I love the whole speech, but the part that made me smile ear to ear…?
    “Dont interrupt me when I’m speaking. ”
    I mean FFS, so many men do that. I know I have too, so I try to be mindful of that when I am in a conversation with any woman.

  8. Bicarbonate says

    Daz @ #7

    Thanks, it worked ! ! ! ! ! Watched it. Now, I hope this works in general so that I can read the New York Times national home-spun version. They changed their system and now international viewers are automatically directed to the old Herald Tribune which is now called The International New York Times. If I want to read the international press, I can read it because I speak 4 languages and can read a slew of others. I don’t need this new function of theirs and what I really want to see is what’s being fed to the American public in comparison to European journals.

    And maybe I can use my sister’s codes to watch HBO.

    Will let you know.

    Thanks again,

    E.

  9. Randy Olson says

    Dear PZ, this is the author of the blog about reddit that you linked to. I was pointed here by one of your readers. Thank you for bringing up such an important subject and pointing out the oversight in my blog post. I would like to clarify below that I had good reason — at least in my eyes — for not going into detail on the clear gender discrepancy presented by the graph. I’ll also include the disclaimer here that I speak for myself, and not my university.

    As an avid blog writer, you know the importance of getting to the point in a blog post. If you become long-winded, or move away from the point too much, you start to lose readers in droves. In fact, I bet I will have lost well over half the people who even saw this comment by the end of this paragraph. My original version of the blog post *did* discuss this gender discrepancy in detail, and many other important demographics when considering where to focus science outreach efforts.

    However, if you look further into the data, there are not only gender discrepancies on reddit (http://pewinternet.org/~/media/Files/Reports/2013/PIP_reddit_usage_2013.pdf). There are race discrepancies (look it up, it’s not what you’d expect). The young are clearly more active on reddit than the old. Education, household income, urbanity… each demographic deserved discussion. I had an entire essay by the end of the first draft, but the blog post didn’t have a clear point. So what did I have to do to make it a blog post that someone would actually read? I dropped demographics entirely and focused on one factor: pure numbers.

    If you look at pure numbers alone, regardless of demographics, reddit AMAs are clearly the best bet. I’ll let the blog post make that argument. Unfortunately, the only graph that demonstrated my “pure numbers” argument was also the one that pointed out the gender discrepancy… and here we are now.

    That being said, I completely agree that the sexism problem (yes, *problem*) on reddit deserves more attention. On that topic, in my spare time I created a map of reddit interests (located here: http://rhiever.github.io/redditviz/) and there appears to be an active and growing community focused on this very problem on reddit. Search for, e.g., “feminism” and see the cluster of interests around that topic. Please email me if you would like to explore this topic further.

  10. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    From the linked article:

    But some of the most powerful and significant statements came from men.

    Of course they did. *sigh*

  11. chrisdevries says

    Argh, I hate people.

    I rarely look at reddit so I am kind of out of the loop on that one, but I was under the impression that reddit was a big, diverse place with a huge range of topics being discussed. I just assumed that the sexism problem was localised in the subreddits frequented by white, arrogant, passive-aggressive, nerds/geeks/gamers…like the r/atheism area (which has a massive problem), and that the user base was wide enough that there would be vast spaces where dudebros and PUAs were scarce, and massively down-voted. Colour me pissed off. I’m thinking about spending more time there; I think Ima actually register and comment and post, y’know, tilt at windmills a bit. People suck, but I think people who are fed up with those who purposefully or even unintentionally make life hell for women (and LGBTs, minorities, etc.) need to make an effort to both educate the ignorant and marginalise the vindictive, to let them know it’s NOT okay what they do, and they’re going to have to do it elsewhere, please. The more privileged you are, the more you can make an impact (yes, USE your privilege for good), because the assholes need to see that there are tonnes of people “like them” who vehemently disagree with their values, opinions, and methods.

    One person tilting at windmills is a voice in a hurricane. Thousands of us can change the conversation. I think the seeds of the egalitarian revolution have been sown, change is happening (slowly, as it always does), but the silent among us should make our voices heard because the more of us there are, the faster the process should go. We still have a loooong way to go.

  12. says

    I dropped demographics entirely and focused on one factor: pure numbers.

    lol.

    double-lol for the “it’s not what you think” race disparity being based on <200 respondents to a phone survey.

    And if we're tlking "pure numbers: here's something from the reddid usage paper:

    In a separate survey in December 2012, we asked about the use of a number of other social media platforms. The proportion of online adults who use reddit is similar to the proportion that use Tumblr (also 6%), and around half the number that use Twitter (16%), Pinterest (15%), or Instagram (13%). Some 67% of online adults are Facebook users.

    given that the other social media types don’t skew dudely, and your non-number-based arguments for reddid over e.g. twitter are specious, I very much question whether you really left out demographics or whether you went with the default demographic instead.

  13. says

    I just assumed that the sexism problem was localised in the subreddits frequented by white, arrogant, passive-aggressive, nerds/geeks/gamers

    that’s almost all of them, AFAICT

  14. says

    Randy Olson

    As an avid blog writer, you know the importance of getting to the point in a blog post.

    Well, thank you for simply admitting that issues of gender representation are simply not anything you care about. I guess it has totally nothing to do with you being in the dominant group.

    beatrice

    Of course they did. *sigh*

    Same reaction here.
    Hey, they gave two full paragraphs to the women-folks, let’s quickly change focus! Can you believe it? TWO full paragraphs for women talking about women’s issues. You quickly need to balance this by giving men twice that space AND remind everybody that their contributons are superior or it’s misandry.

  15. Pteryxx says

    Via Deborah Blum (the panel moderator) on Twitter, a much better short writeup on the XX panel, by Virginia Gewin at Science Writer’s Handbook.

    http://pitchpublishprosper.com/xx-equality/

    Several panelists shared how gender inequality has affected their own stellar, award-winning careers. Emily Willingham started Double X Science, an online publication for women that embraces, rather than trivializes, science. Flo Williams described how she is one of two women contributing editors at Outside magazine — out of 21. Christie Aschwanden described one instance (of a dozen similar incidents) when a woman editor told her, straight up, that she had to be careful about assigning too many stories to women.

    Despite the disheartening discussion — meant to enlighten us all, not blame male colleagues — I ended up even prouder to be part of the science writing community. This is a hard topic. It was discussed openly and maturely by a group, realizing that, only together, can we change our part of the world.

    She’s going to write a follow-up on the part of the discussion addressing sexual harassment.

    Also via SciWriHandbook, the panel session was videotaped.

    SciWriHandbook ‏@sciwrihandbook

    @jamesian @deborahblum Attendees were asked not to live tweet to encourage sharing. The session was taped. Should be up in ~month or so.

    9:09 AM – 8 Nov 13

    Sally James ‏@jamesian 8 Nov

    @sciwrihandbook @deborahblum Thanks. Will watch for video to get posted. Understand the restriction during event.

  16. Pteryxx says

    Repeating PZ for emphasis: (changing bolds to mine)

    The middle is equally weird. It has two sections: Hearing from Women, a two paragraph summary of what the women on the panel said, followed by Hearing from Men, with four paragraphs dedicated to the reactions (admittedly sympathetic) of the men in the audience, which are described as “some of the most powerful and significant statements”.

    Initially I thought it might have been a mixed panel, but no. This was a significant, major, information-filled, all-women panel being given short shrift in the PLOS writeup so more words could get devoted to the closest men, who happened to be in the audience.

    From the NASW description of the panel session:

    Note: Recent incidents in the science writing community have heightened interest in professional issues that affect our entire society. In order to accommodate this increased interest, we have moved “The XX Question,” Session D1, which focuses on women in the profession of science writing, to a new time slot and larger room. The session will now be held from 5:00-6:30pm on Saturday, November 2 in Century Ballroom A. The Awards presentation has been moved back to accommodate the shift and will begin at 7:00pm in the theatre at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, a short walk from the hotel and conference center.

    That’s how big this session was. Big enough to bump the awards session out of the prime-time slot.

  17. Pteryxx says

    (not to mention the irony of science writers framing a discussion of women in their field as “The XX Question”. *heavy sigh*)

  18. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    Pteryxx,

    I’d say it’s even worse:

    Those first two paragraphs are all that we hear about what the panel and women in the audience had to say.

  19. Pteryxx says

    Some more interesting reactions and notes via Twitter:

    Thomas Levenson ‏@TomLevenson

    .@deborahblum @ejwillingham @marynmck @cragcrest @flowill @sci2mrow I missed the NASW meeting. Had I just read the NASW write up…oy.

    3:08 PM – 9 Nov 13

    Radium Yttrium ‏@DrRubidium

    @deborahblum @ejwillingham @marynmck @cragcrest @flowill @sci2mrow excuse my language, but FOR FUCK’S SAKE. When will the bullshit end?

    11:21 AM – 9 Nov 13

    via LadyBits, Alone in a Room Full of Science Writers

    If you’re a young, white science journalist with good taste in eyeglass frames and dirty-blond hair, congratulations! You could have walked into any conversation in any room at the conference and felt instantly at home. I was born and raised in India, and look the part, so I wasn’t engaged in any mirroring. I had one brief conversation at the conference with a male journalist of Indian descent, and a longer one with an Asian-American one. I spotted a couple of East Asian women, and heard rumors of an African-American woman.

    Did I mention there were nearly 500 journalists at the conference?

    Perhaps to you all this seems normal. But I live in New York, where all colors, races and classes mingle constantly, and where this degree of—I’m just going to say it, “whiteness”—is just not normal. More to the point, it’s not healthy for the field.

    To stay relevant, science journalism needs fresh ideas—and the homogeneous group I saw at the conference is inherently limited in the ideas it can offer. Newsrooms everywhere are grappling with this problem, and we can learn from them what’s working and what’s not. But first, we have to acknowledge that this is a problem.

    and via SciSeeker:

    ScienceSeeker ‏@SciSeeker

    @sciam seeks “blog and community editor.” http://ow.ly/qAr34 #sciwri13 #scio14

    7:49 AM – 8 Nov 13

    Launched in 1996, http://www.ScientificAmerican.com has become a dynamic resource for science news, including blogs, podcasts, videos, and interactive media.

    Scientific American seeks an editor to manage and develop the Scientific American Blog Network. The position requires at least three years of experience in editorial management for science-related outlets.

  20. says

    For that matter, note how the men each get individual mention, name and title. They each get a full paragraph, whereas the women on the panel get a sentence each.

    The really amazing thing here is that both the author of the blog post and the person reporting on the panel itself are women. This might say something about how ingrained and unconscious these things really are.

  21. infraredeyes says

    Rsandy Olson said;

    As an avid blog writer, you know the importance of getting to the point in a blog post. If you become long-winded, or move away from the point too much, you start to lose readers in droves.

    That’s baloney. People who want sound bites can use Twitter. Here at Pharyngula, PZ often posts quite lengthy think-pieces and (my favourites) discussions about new developments in biology. That’s why I regularly read here and not at many two-paragraph, hit-and-run blogs. It takes more work to write longer pieces without rambling, but it can be done and I’ll bet there are readers for it. The readers you want are the readers who are in it for the long haul, who want to learn and expand their horizons.

  22. says

    In fact, I bet I will have lost well over half the people who even saw this comment by the end of this paragraph.

    The length wouldn’t have lost me. This comment here nearly did tho.

  23. says

    I just left the following comment (under the name Linking Gnome) at the original writeup.

    It’s in moderation; in case it doesn’t get through, I wanted to quote it here:
    —–
    Two relevant responses to this post:

    http://www.EmilyWillinghamPHD.com/2013/11/no-not-back-to-our-regularly-scheduled.html — from one of the “The XX Question” panelists

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/11/09/its-the-silences-the-neglect-the-moving-on-to-more-important-matters/ — from PZ Myers

    Also, for reference, here is the list of people on the panel, with links to their online presences: Christie Aschwanden, Deborah Blum, Florence Williams, Kate Prengaman, Kathleen Raven, Maryn McKenna, and Emily Willingham.

  24. Usernames are smart says

    Scientific American seeks an editor to manage and develop the Scientific American Blog Network. The position requires at least three years of experience in editorial management for science-related outlets.
    — Pteryxx (#27)

    There’s fail written all over this for several reasons. They could’ve easily added something like “We’re seeking a qualified person from a historically underutilized background to add to our own diversity.”

    Also, they have outsourced their online recruiting to ADP (?!) which—frankly—sucks:

    Warning: Using your browser’s Back and Forward buttons may produce undesirable results.

    Yes, maybe in early 2000s, but c’mon. (Also, a peek at the code shows they probably used a n00b coder who read ‘Learn Web in 21 days for Dummies’) If SciAm can’t get their own functional online application system, then WTF are they doing?

  25. dõki says

    Sorry to intrude, but there was this little detail calling my attention:

    There are race discrepancies (look it up, it’s not what you’d expect)

    Having taken a quick glance at the linked to PDF, I imagine this has to do with the high percentage of users among Hispanics? It’s a little bit unfortunate, because “Hispanic” is not a race. It says so in the article: it’s an ethnicity.

    (Anyway, hope this isn’t too inappropriate for a thread mainly about gender. Do carry on.)

  26. says

    They’ve posted a response to the criticism. At first read, it suffers from an annoyingly condescending attitude and several instances of “we’re on the same side, how dare you criticize me” and “look over there, let’s talk about that.”

    I’ll give it another read later and look for more redeeming features, but right now I’m not too impressed.

  27. vaiyt says

    It’s a little bit unfortunate, because “Hispanic” is not a race.

    It is a race if enough people think it is.