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I wonder why women find themselves discouraged from pursuing science careers?

In case you hadn’t heard yet, Science magazine is making a play to reach the supermarket checkout aisle and tabloid market, with exciting new covers featuring sexy womanly body parts and leaving out pointless details like their faces.

science_aids

I don’t know, they could have taken it a step further and featured dramatically posed dead sexy women.

It should be obvious that this photo is problematic. Seelix has a good summary of the concerns. The via Science Editor-in-Chief has apologized, strangely, on a blog that apparently was set up for just this purpose that contains only one post, the apology.

The cover showing transgender sex workers in Jarkarta was selected after much discussion by a large group and was not intended to offend anyone, but rather to highlight the fact that there are solutions for the AIDS crisis for this forgotten but at-risk group.

I have one question: how does a photo of the bodies of women “highlight the fact that there are solutions”? So, if they publish an article on elements of the JAK/STAT signaling pathway, will they splash of photo of George Clooney on the cover to hightlight the fact that he carries genes of this pathway?

None of this makes sense. But then the @SciCareerEditor piped up on twitter, and it all became clear: the management at Science includes many oblivious jerks.

Weird. So the @SciCareerEditor thinks transgender women don’t have problems with objectification? What planet is he from?

He might want to read this personal account of a transgender woman in science. It seems to me that assuming it’s OK to focus on the sexual attractiveness of women in a study is a good part of the problem.

Especially when they see it as a joke.

https://twitter.com/SciCareerEditor/status/489522658455715842

Oh. Ha ha, they’ll sure be shocked when they find out that chick has a penis! So, it was some kind of gotcha cover?

But he was able to top that.

https://twitter.com/SciCareerEditor/status/489528456783224833

Oh, man, he should have followed through with how much he hates drama-blogging, and they only do it for the hits. The only thing becoming boring is how repetitive privileged people can be, always making the same tired excuses for belittling other people’s problems.

I do wish the people who express disinterest in the moral concerns of others would carry through and say what they really think: that in this case the plight of transgender sex workers is unimportant to them. Or that they think abuse of women is simply an unimportant problem. Or that if it’s not about rich white men, it’s not a problem that warrants moral indignation.

Comments

  1. Nick Gotts says

    Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring? – Jim Austin

    No, there are a great many privileged, oblivious shits like you, unfortunately.

  2. says

    “IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good Magazine must be in want of a gazey male.”—J AustenAustin.

  3. colnago80 says

    I suspect that the situation is not nearly as bad today but Hollywood actress Jill St John entered UCLA planning to major in marine biology and quit after being subjected to continually being hit on by fellow students, TAs, and professors. This was more then 50 years ago when male chauvinism was consider de regueur.

  4. yazikus says

    I read eastsidekate’s piece earlier and found it really powerful. I hope Jim Austin takes note- this would be a good learning opportunity.

  5. jenniferphillips says

    Oh. Ha ha, they’ll sure be shocked when they find out that chick has a penis! So, it was some kind of gotcha cover?

    That or an opportunity for dudebros to dust off their Admiral Akbar (“It’s a trap!”) memes and fling them all over the twitterverse. Sigh.

  6. says

    The cover showing transgender sex workers in Jarkarta was selected after much discussion by a large group

    That makes it worse, not better.

    Austin’s repulsive logic seems to be: We wanted an arresting image to sell magazines, so naturally we turned to objectifying and exploiting women’s bodies. But real women can’t complain, because these are trans women, so it’s nothing like sexual objectification. In fact, that idea is disgusting – any dudes who found these disembodied legs appealing would naturally be horrified to learn that they’re not real women, and recognizing that their attraction was misdirected nullifies any objectification (and is funny to imagine). Trans women shouldn’t object, since they can’t really be objects of the male gaze. Objectification and exploitation are only (possibly) objectionable when they concern what I deem legitimate sexual objects.

  7. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    Of course, PIs who are retrograde asshats and chase away their female students don’t help either, as this lawsuit from a former Vanderbilt student indicates.

  8. says

    @SC:

    Trans women shouldn’t object, since they can’t really be objects of the male gaze.

    Or, alternately, because that’s obviously what they want to achieve by tricking us men.

  9. congenital cynic says

    Strange cover photo for a Science magazine. Even stranger tweets from the editor Austin.

    I think the percentage of men who reflexively think of women as lesser beings (from their socialization) is rather large and will take generations to change, if ever. A lot of stuff that creates these feelings needs changing, and the push to change those things is only really in its earliest stages.

  10. ButchKitties says

    The cover showing transgender sex workers in Jakarta was selected after much discussion by a large group and was not intended to offend anyone, but rather to highlight the fact that there are solutions for the AIDS crisis for this forgotten but at-risk group.

    Oh, so one of the purposes of the article was generate moral indignation in their readers over the fact that solutions exist but are not being applied for this “forgotten but at-risk group.” Funny how moral indignation was interesting enough to publish in the magazine, but it magically became boring when they were on the receiving end of it.

  11. says

    You realize they are transgender? Does it matter? That at least colors things, no?

    I don’t get this. It’s not sexual objectification if the subjects are transwomen? WTF? They’re women. You focused on body parts. It’s sexually objectifying.

    Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?

    I’m sure there are more people out there that think like you do, unfortunately. There’s a reason people are angry. You’d do well to listen to people asshole.

  12. Ephiral says

    From eastsidekate’s article:

    I simply don’t think academy is a safe place for people like me. It certainly isn’t a respectful place (if you’re wondering on what I’m using as a baseline, I work in IT these days)

    Think about how many articles you’ve seen highlighting issues of sexism in IT. And at least one person finds academic science worse. That’s… that’s something.

  13. mnb0 says

    Let’s replace this cover with a picture of some sexy male legs, underneath a tight pink or blue tanga. After all men (and not only gays) can get HIV as well.
    Does that cover make sense? No? End of debate.

  14. screechymonkey says

    Daz @14:

    Odd. I never realised moral indignation was supposed to be entertaining.

    For the Too Cool To Care folks, everything is supposed to be entertaining. Actually giving a shit about anything is, like, so lame.

  15. rrhain says

    OK, I realize that Science is a mass-marketed magazine, but they are also supposedly a peer-reviewed journal.

    How about we work to get the various science libraries to cancel their subscriptions?

  16. chris61 says

    Austin’s a jerk but I doubt that as ScienceCareerEditor he had anything to do with the story or the selection of the cover. McNutt as the Editor-in-Chief seems like the person who should be being given a hard time. I understand the point in focusing on transgender women (if that’s what the article does – I don’t have access) but the cover illustration is clearly a mistake.

  17. says

    chris 1:

    Austin’s a jerk but I doubt that as ScienceCareerEditor he had anything to do with the story or the selection of the cover. McNutt as the Editor-in-Chief seems like the person who should be being given a hard time. I understand the point in focusing on transgender women (if that’s what the article does – I don’t have access) but the cover illustration is clearly a mistake.

    A mistake Austin is engaging in apologetics over.

  18. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    @ chris61

    Austin is the one being an asshole about it, so Austin is the one being given a hard time about being an asshole. Pretty straightforward, really.

  19. rrhain says

    @chris61: If anything, it just compounds the problem. The folks that run the actual publication of the magazine made a colossal blunder. They then made a half-assed apology. And then one of the big wigs started showing that rather than it being a faceless mass, he’s even worse than what we might have thought was going on.

    Why is McNutt talking about this? Don’t the Powers that Be (C) have some sort of policy about who gets to talk about this sort of thing? And given the nature of his comments, why haven’t they gone on to denounce his statements? They can at least weasel out of it to say, “The comments of McNutt reflect his personal opinions and are not endorsed by Science or its subsidiaries.” But since they haven’t, it gives his comments tacit approval.

    All the more reason to stop reading Science.

  20. HolyPinkUnicorn says

    Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?

    No, I’m pretty sure this is the philosophy held by the current Supreme Court (decided by a 5-4 vote, of course).

    Though I’m surprised Austin hasn’t starting disappearing some of these tweets, the way people usually do after they’ve started Twittering jaw-dropping dreck like this.

  21. Kichae says

    @Tony #13

    I don’t get this. It’s not sexual objectification if the subjects are transwomen? WTF? They’re women. You focused on body parts. It’s sexually objectifying.

    Do we give Austin the benefit of the doubt and choose to believe that he actually sees these people as women? The only way his pointing out that they’re trans makes any sense as a defence is if he believes they’re men, because it’s obvious that it’s not possible to sexually objectify a man’s body (because that would be icky, or something, I don’t know. Cut me some slack here!).

    @HolyPinkUnicorn #23

    I was under the impression that the current SCROTUS found in favour of moral indignation being compelling and persuasive.

  22. says

    The only thing I would wonder is if the people in the photo wanted/asked for their faces to be hidden so as not to reveal to everyone that they are trans?

  23. says

    It’s worse. The damned article isn’t about trans women at all.

    It’s about people living with HIV, and doesn’t specifically focus on trans women, other than a single offhand mention.

    It was pure clickbait, and they knew it was pure clickbait, and they’re just pissed they got called on it, because they figured that everyone else would go along with the joke. I mean, they’re blokes, right? And they’re dressed like women? You can’t buy that kind of comedy gold.

    I fucking hate this planet sometimes.

    I’ll repeat the comment I made on my dearly loved friend Kate’s post at shakesville:

    Understood on a personal level. In 1992, I saw my choice as clear: grad school, or transition. Since my undergrad school at that time wouldn’t even change my name on the transcripts (despite my legal name change; they said “no one by that name went here”), the answer was obvious.

    I regret it in that I think I’d’ve been a brilliant academic, but I wouldn’t have been able to spend the last 22 years as me, and that was too high a cost.

  24. kaleberg says

    Yeah, I was kind of wondering about that cover. Surely, they could have found a nice HIV virus photo to use instead. Granted, Science usually attaches an ad for lab equipment or monoclonal antibodies over their covers, so I don’t really notice them.

    Science has always been known as the journal covering the latest and most important stuff, and, over the years, that has meant a lot of egg scraped off their editors’ faces.

  25. Matthew Trevor says

    Given it’s about how Australia handled the issue (going off the title, I haven’t read the article), an ideal cover would’ve been a screen cap from the highly effective Grim Reaper advertisement from the late 80s.

  26. says

    Kichae

    Do we give Austin the benefit of the doubt and choose to believe that he actually sees these people as women?

    I think your question puts the carriage before the horse. I think the real question we need to ask is much worse: Do Austin and the folks who thought that this was OK actually see these women as people?

  27. Muz says

    I would suggest that finding moral indignation really boring and making sure everyone knows it is its own kind of moral indignation. A particularly smug and passive/aggressive sort.

  28. Marc Abian says

    #25

    I don’t know about trans, but I doubt many sex workers would want their faces on an international magazine. In fact I’d be much more annoyed at Science if they did show their faces, unless they were given permission by the subjects.

  29. says

    Marc Abian
    Well, they could have taken a full shot and pixelated the faces, which would rather have emphasised the fact that these are real people whose lives are at stake, instead of simply presenting objectified headless female bodies

  30. hillaryrettig says

    so many layers of fail
    so much unprofessionalism.

    incredibly, the executive editor is a woman, Marsha McNutt
    i tried for several minutes to find her email; can anyone else find it?

  31. neverjaunty says

    @Marc Abian, the face of the woman in the background (under the ‘S’) is quite visible. The lower half of one woman’s face is also visible in the foreground. So no, this wasn’t Science carefully protecting the identity of the transgender workers on the cover. This was Science trying to use T&A to sell magazines, and then being all shocked, shocked that anyone would suggest that’s what they were doing.

  32. anteprepro says

    “Hahaha, trolled you! It’s not misogynist because transwomen aren’t REAL women!”

    Jesus fuck, what is wrong with people.

  33. hillaryrettig says

    and does the AAAS actually sell Science Mag in any meaningful sense? isn’t it a perk of membership?

  34. jamessweet says

    I do think the fact that it was trans sex workers in Jakarta kinda does change the context a little bit… It gives some power to the argument that it’s trying to draw attention to a particularly at-risk group, rather than simply be lurid. OTOH, there was no obvious way of knowing that context by simply seeing the cover, which partially undermines that argument. The only way of reconstructing it — which Austin blatantly attempts — is to spin it as a ruse. Which is so offensive to trans people, it’s hard to know where to start.

    Bottom line: I can potentially see this photo being appropriate for inside the article, with a caption that gives the context. As a cover photo, without context, it is basically impossible to defend.

  35. Marc Abian says

    #32
    Yes.

    the face of the woman in the background (under the ‘S’) is quite visible. The lower half of one woman’s face is also visible in the foreground. So no, this wasn’t Science carefully protecting the identity of the transgender workers on the cover. This was Science trying to use T&A to sell magazines, and then being all shocked, shocked that anyone would suggest that’s what they were doing.

    Partially visible, but you can’t identify anyone from half a side profile or just their mouth.

    I don’t know why you think that protecting the identity and using T&A are mutually exclusive. In fact they showed faces would you then consider this not an attempt to use T&A?

  36. chigau (違う) says

    The photo looks like it was taken surreptitiously, without the permission of the subjects.

  37. says

    jamessweet:

    Bottom line: I can potentially see this photo being appropriate for inside the article, with a caption that gives the context. As a cover photo, without context, it is basically impossible to defend.

    Even as a photo inside the article, it would still be objectifying though.

  38. vereverum says

    For what it’s worth
    From the May 23 issue, p. 934, Mr. Austin’s autobio:
    “I appeared successful. I was running my own funded lab and publishing in good journals. But it wasn’t long before I realized that I wasn’t competitive for tenure-track positions … where I wanted to work, including the one where I was already working.”
    “My wife applied to just one job and got the offer. I became the trailing spouse, following her to Maine, where she took up a faculty post. I took pride in defying science’s gender stereotypes.” Emphasis mine.

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

    This is total nickpicking, but shouldn’t he be proud of his wife defying science’s gender stereotypes?

  40. barbarienne says

    Speaking as a cisgender woman, I’m offended whether the women objectified on the cover are cis- or trans-. Either way, they are women, and that means I will suffer for the continued promulgation of the women-as-objects bullshit in our culture.

    The comments from the editor just make it worse and more disgusting, by targeting transwomen in particular. What a fuckwitted turdwad.

  41. barbarienne says

    Clarification: It’s worse and more disgusting to target transwomen in particular, because it suggests that “it’s okay because they’re not really women, so it can’t be sexism!” Which is complete bullshit on many levels.

  42. vereverum says

    @Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought #42
    I don’t think it’s nitpicking, it’s a good point. Also, her field is chemistry.

  43. Gregory Greenwood says

    Interesting to consider how those gazey males will feel when they find out.

    That is such an arsehole remark on so many levels, only further compounded by;

    Am I the only one who finds moral indignation really boring?

    So in the world according to Austin, sexism isn’t really sexism if the targets are transwomen – the disgustingly transphobic implication being that transwomen aren’t ‘real’ women so it is totes OK – and moral indignation is ‘boring’ to him, one assumes because he is a feeble excuse for a human being who is incapable of experiencing empathy for anyone who isn’t a privileged cis white bloke like himself.

    He couldn’t broadcast what an aweful person he is any more effectively if he rode about in a van carrying a roof mounted placard and loudspeakers advertising the fact .

  44. Markita Lynda—threadrupt says

    As someone hinted above, this might also have been an attempt to avoid getting model releases and paying for them.

  45. busterggi says

    Oh sure, everyone is discussing sexual objectification and transphobia but what about the real issue – that women have faces? Is that one of those new theories like evolution?

  46. vereverum says

    The links in Anthony St. John’s comment are worth reading too. I think one big problem is that no one in a position to actually do something will do something.

  47. ck says

    Ephiral wrote:

    Think about how many articles you’ve seen highlighting issues of sexism in IT. And at least one person finds academic science worse. That’s… that’s something.

    Yeah, that’s… striking. Virtually all of IT is actually actively hostile towards women, and it’s not likely to be any better for trans women. The fact she finds IT better than academia is actually quite shocking to me.

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