Sexism & racism in astronomy

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein has a fantastic essay on Medium up exploring all the various statistics that have been collected on researchers themselves in the field of astronomy:

But ultimately in a world where people who are professional data gatherers and interpreters seem to reject an overwhelming amount of evidence that women (and others) experience systemic and individualized gender discrimination (Tsang 2013; Brinkworth et al. 2016), there is a lot of value in a study that asks the simple question: how do women-lead paper’s citation numbers in astronomy compare with those of men-lead papers? The question is not insignificant, given the way that citation number is used in hiring. The next question is: does this represent a systemic bias against women? If the answer is yes, then it becomes clear that while the non-human objects that we study in astrophysics may be doing their operational calculations objectively, we scientists have some way to go before human structures do the same.

Indeed, Caplar et al. find that papers written by women receive about 10% fewer citations than comparable papers by men. The metaphorical playing field, as we call it in American English, is not level. Since citation numbers are used for hiring, fellowships, and granting, this means that the average woman publishing in astronomy may be starting out with a 10% deficit compared to male applicants for the same programs and jobs. This puts in stark relief the debates about affirmative action — or the rather loaded term “positive discrimination” as they call it in the UK — and whether women should be given extra consideration simply because of their gender. If white men start with a systemic 10% leg up, isn’t it negative discrimination not to affirmatively promote people who are not white men?

Of course, for those of us who work in Women’s Studies and the interdisciplinary field of Science, Technology, and Society Studies (STSS), the result is not surprising. Although one might hardly know it from the increasingly popular “diversity and inclusion” discourse in physics and astronomy, STSS has produced intellectual work for decades that tackles the ways in which gender and sex hierarchies and discrimination are deeply embedded in the human production of scientific knowledge. In such works, it is standard to begin with an intersectional analysis (Harding 2011). As defined in Vivian May’s excellent 2015 book, intersectionality “approaches lived identities as interlaced and systems of oppression as enmeshed and mutually reinforcing: one aspect of identity and/or form of inequality is not treated as separable or subordinate” (May 2015) Intersectionality articulates a critical framework for data analysis: the way sexism and racism (among other forms of discrimination) can combine in the life of a woman of color cannot be disaggregated separately into “the sexist stuff” and “the racist stuff,” and the power associated with one’s social positioning with respect to systemic discrimination matters.

This work compliments the fundamental view that science and society co-construct (Jasanoff and Kim 2015; Subramaniam 2014) and not just in discussions of gender. This is in academic parlance a matter for “Science Studies 101,” but quite absent in mainstream discussions by scientists about science and society. (Cheng 2017) In other words, it is no surprise to those of us in STSS that as we excavate data that reflects women’s experiences in astronomy — and science in general — that we are finding that scientific communities mirror the sexism and racism of the broader society in which they exist. Noting that astronomers like Cassini and Huygens played a role in deploying research programs that helped improve the efficiency of shipping enslaved Africans to the Caribbean and their low-cost work product to Europe, it is evident from this and many other examples, that science can be a tool of the oppressor by aiding those who are engaging in oppressive practices such as slavery. (McClellan, 2010) By the same token, the invention of Pasteurization revolutionized public health and changed lives for the better. Science and society are processes working in tandem with each other, unified not (yet) by a Grand Unified Theory of the Universe but rather by humans.

That bit about science and society co-constructing is of vital importance–while people oppose my work for a large variety of reasons, a misguided invocation of “science” is often one of them. This argument fails to comprehend that scientific analysis may neglect a subject because the scientists themselves neglect the subject, to say nothing of how any work in any field may also be subject to interference from outside scientific communities. With respects to gender variance specifically, it also ignores the fact that we have data these days, and that a reasonable analysis ought to account for it.

-Shiv

 

Linkspam: Menstrual hygiene day

Menstrual hygiene day was technically May 28th, but as usual I was too busy faffing about in my bubble to notice until recently. Have a belated linkspam about the politics and practicalities of menstruation:

In summary: Most patriarchies have highly dysfunctional relationships with menstruation, which is itself a confluence of multiple factors. Thus, those raised in these attitudes and those who do not stop to interrogate said attitudes often continue the practice of singling out menstruation as a unique “moral failing,” despite the fact that there is nothing empirically to separate it from other bodily functions.

-Shiv

 

When can we apply nature’s toothpaste?

Now? Tomorrow? Next week?

Content Notice: Sexual assault, victim blaming, misogyny.

Like many private religious schools, BYU has an honor code that requires students to live by its standards of morality. BYU’s Mormon-specific version bans alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee, as well as beards (?!). It requires students to live in sex-segregated residence halls both on and off campus and forbids “homosexual behavior” of any sort. It also forbids sex between students who aren’t married, and that’s where the trouble begins.

According to reporting that first appeared last year, BYU uses its honor code to punish rape victims. Multiple students said that they reported a rape or sexual assault, only to have the school turn around and discipline them for breaking the rule against extramarital sex. Often, it interrogated them about what they were wearing, why they were alone with a man, or if they were acting “unchastely”. One student, Madi Barney, reported the man who raped her to police and faced expulsion as a result:

“I felt re-victimized,” she said.

Madi Barney said she was troubled that the school’s Title IX investigator didn’t offer her any support when she called.

“She only said we need to talk about the honor code. It looks like you violated it,” she said.

This is the same perverse logic as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other brutal Muslim theocracies that punish rape victims on the grounds that, by reporting rape, a woman is admitting to sex outside marriage. When they were called out on this, BYU’s defense was legalistic hair-splitting:

In BYU’s statement to the Tribune, spokeswoman Carri Jenkins pointed to the school’s sexual misconduct policy: “Violations of university policy or the… Honor Code do not make a victim at fault for sexual violence… and will be addressed separately from the sexual misconduct allegation.”

Barney scoffs at the claim of separation.

“‘Separate.’ That’s the word they constantly use to justify sending victims to the Honor Code,” said Barney. “You can’t just chop up the rape into little pieces and take out the parts you want to punish people for.”

BYU’s policy intimidated many rape victims into keeping quiet, since speaking up could destroy their own future whether or not the rapist was punished. They faced expulsion from school, loss of jobs, loss of housing. Even when there was enough evidence to charge the rapist with a felony, BYU refused to relent in its hounding of victims, to the point that a Utah prosecutor asked them to stop because it was interfering with his efforts to get witnesses to testify.

I need to stop wondering how low religious authoritarians can go. It’s not doing kind things to my mental health.

-Shiv

Republican logic: charge 14 year-old with the sexual exploitation of… herself?

Content Notice: Victim blaming, slut shaming, misogyny.

In 2014, a study came out of Drexel University that found around 50% of college students admitted that they had sexted prior to the age of 18. Now, as a person who is sex-positive, I see selfies–and sexy selfies in particular–as affirmations of healthy self image, and sharing them with a person who consents to receive them can be fun and exciting. Where the conversation is typically derailed is framing sexting between minors, who are peers, texting images of their own bodies, as child pornography. But the original intent of child pornography laws was to take into account that children can’t give informed consent to adults, because of the implied power differential regarding influence and manipulation. Sexting ones own body to consenting peers lack this differential, and shouldn’t qualify as child pornography, or even more generally a sex crime unless coercion or force could be demonstrated.

Ed Bull, an Iowa county prosecutor, disagrees. He has threatened a 14 year-old with a lifelong sex offender charge because she texted a suggestive image of herself that someone else picked up and distributed.

[Read more…]

Texas needs a reminder on the definition of insanity

Apparently not convinced from their many defeats in the many levels of court, Texas lawmakers have vowed to pull a North Carolina come their next session in January, further demonstrating my belief that authoritarians must receive vaccines to immunize them against irony:

GOP state Rep. Matt Shaheen told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, for a story published Sunday, that he plans to introduce a bill that would prohibit cities, counties and school districts from allowing transgender people to use restrooms based on their gender identity.

“We’re taking that ability away,” Shaheen said. “We should leave that power where it should reside, at the state and federal level. I think this is such a silly topic. At the end of the day, this is about common sense and decency.”

No it’s fucking not, Shaheen. Common sense and decency would be actually doing something useful with your time, and instead you are perpetuating a violent lobby that makes it impossible to exist while trans. It’s a cultural genocide. To say it is “indecent” would be putting it lightly.

Shaheen is joined by another witless cocksplat, Bill Zedler

GOP Rep. Bill Zedler, who once tried to ban LGBT resource centers on state university campuses, told the Star-Telegramthat the issue of trans restroom use “raises concerns mainly because anytime you want to make it where someone who self-identifies as a man … can now go into the woman’s restroom, I believe it puts small children at risk as well as … inconveniencing 99, 98 percent of the population so a very small percent of the population can supposedly feel comfortable.”

They’re not even fucking trying to understand at this point.

Jesus fucking christ. I inconvenience you by existing? Fuck off, you predatory sacks of shit.

-Shiv

Topless women and arbitrary nudity laws

=AtG=

This is old hat but it came up on my feed, and I have some thoughts:

A B.C. woman who asserted her legal right to go topless said she was told to cover up by a police officer, and then wrongly told by two other officials that she had broken a law.

Susan Rowbottom said she was tanning topless with a friend last week on a beach in Kelowna, B.C., when a male RCMP officer approached her and told her “put your top on.”

She said she complied, but then asked, “Why? Is there a reason, a law or anything?”

The officer informed the women it was against a city ordinance, Rowbottom said.

When she called a police station, a female officer told her the same. When she called bylaw officials, the person who answered the phone also agreed going topless was illegal.

Finally, she got a call from a city clerk who she said correctly informed her “it’s perfectly legal.”

First of all, this is ridiculous. The police assert that they have discretion to enforce something that isn’t against the law? Who the fuck is training these officers?

If any of you need a demonstration of how arbitrary topless laws are, allow me to ask a very poignant question:

At what point, exactly, does it become illegal for trans women to go topless?

I’d really appreciate a rational explanation for these laws that didn’t amount to, “let’s literally police women’s bodies.”

-Shiv