Hearing from women, hearing from men

First, take a look at this: a write-up of a panel of women at the National Association of Science Writers meeting on November 2, talking about sexual harassment and women in science writing.

Read it.

After the preliminary summary we get

Hearing from Women

Under that we get two paragraphs, one for the panel and one for the audience.

Among the panelists’ comments, Emily Willingham explained the concept of social privilege, which is advantage derived from a feature of a person that he or she did not create.  This reality, she said, imposes responsibilities on those who possess such features—responsibilities that the privileged often ignore.  Christie Aschwanden noted that the scandal had surprised men and not women and also described her feelings of marginalization in the world of science writing.  Maryn McKenna noted that science journalism will soon be a majority female occupation, but that won’t in itself end the marginalization of women. And Kathleen Raven, one of those who came forward to accuse Zivkovic, told of doing all she could, to no avail, to stop the harassment, including repeated warnings.  She will, she said, be much more clear about ground rules of interactions in the future.

So much for the panel. The paragraph on the women in the audience is even shorter and more perfunctory:

When Blum opened the floor to comments from the audience, women came forward to tell their own experiences of harassment and marginalization.  The special vulnerability of freelances—who generally depend on personal relationships to get assignments and rarely know publications’ anti-harassment policies or reporting procedures—was a common theme.  In addition,  Ginger Campbell, a practicing physician as well as a podcaster, brought word from the world outside science writing.  Numbers alone will not end these problems; on that point she agreed with McKenna.  The medical profession is now also heavily female, she said, but there, too, invisibility is everywhere

Then we get

Hearing from Men

Under that we get four paragraphs, all for men in the audience, and the men get whole paragraphs to themselves.

But some of the most powerful and significant statements came from men.  Mike Lemonick described his astonishment at the different reactions of men and women to the revelations.  Men, he said, were amazed that harassment appeared to be common.  Women were not.  He, like many men, had simply been unaware, a situation that needs to end.  Unless men’s consciousness is raised, he said, men will continue to be unconscious.

Mitch Waldrop recalled that when he rose to a position of editorial power, he didn’t feel powerful or get any training on how to think about  or deal with power differentials that can cause innocently intended behavior to be misinterpreted.  Editors, he said, need such training.  Waldrop, an NASW board member, also mentioned that the board is taking the issue very seriously and is working on several approaches to help.

And so on.

Really. Even in a story about an all-woman panel about being a woman in a particular line of work, written by a woman, the women on the panel plus in the audience get two paragraphs while the men in the audience alone get four.

It’s mind-boggling.

Now read Emily Willingham’s post on the subject.

There were six of us who sat there, who presented, paneled, and answered questions, yet in this writeup on the session at the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) conference in Gainseville, Fla., where our panel convened, one of us doesn’t even get a mention. The writeup appeared at PLoS blogs on the site of NASW blogger Tabitha Powledge, but Beryl Benderly, NASW treasurer, wrote the XX panel summary.

Instead of highlighting what each of the six of us said, the post, in what I must characterize as “business as usual,” not only leaves out mention of a member of our all-women panel but also treats the standing-room only plenary session as an aside, something to roll into a longer section that talks about … life on other planets? Indeed, of the 2285 words that make up the post at PLoS, 1335 are devoted to the possibility of Earthlike planets and life elsewhere instead of the possibilities of the lives of at least half of us right here.

And of the 950 words allotted to the XX science panel at the NASW meeting, 264 were devoted to what the men in attendance at the session had to say. That stands in contrast to the 238 words given to what women on the panel and in the audience at this session on women in science writing had to say, words that trail off in the post without even an end punctuation. Not only that, but the section devoted to the men’s commentary begins with, “But some of the most powerful and significant statements came from men.”

Wouldn’t you think that…oh never mind.

As a sort of coup de grace, the post tags are as follows: aliens, astronomy, Bora Zivkovic, exoplanets, intelligent life, Kepler spacecraft, Milky Way Galaxy, On Science Blogs, science blogging, science journalism, science writing, Scientific American, sexual harassment, Tabitha M. Powledge, women. Not one of the names of the women who were on the panel appears in the metadata. A summary of the post on the NASW Website focuses, like the post itself, on astronomy and gives a single line to what ought to be a major issue for a national association of science writers representing its membership.

After that series of what I can only describe as mounting offenses, the XX panel summary comes to an abrupt end, offering a segue into the bulky remainder on Earth-like planets by saying, “We Now Return You to Our Regularly Scheduled Program.”

Based on the content and emphasis and oversights of that post, it looks to me like we never left that program. The old emphasis on male voices and the attitude of “phew, that’s over” are the same old regular programming we’ve been watching and living for decades. And that, my friends, is the problem that put the six of us in front of a standing-room only crowd at NASW in Gainesville in the first place. And–I believe I can say this with certainty–not a single one of the six of us is content to return to that regular programming. There will be no sliding back into complacency this time.

We don’t want your stinkin regularly scheduled program!!




  1. Claire Ramsey says

    What a poorly written “report” that reported nothing and, on the basis of that nothing concluded (well, hedged a conclusion) that “The conversation indeed appears to have moved forward.”

    The “sharp eyed” writer (really??) apparently saw the event, the number of people in attendance, and the attention to topic as an interruption of something that should have been just plain regular programming.

    It is mortifying to read. I was glad for the response from Emily W.’s post.

  2. Minow says

    Surely if the reporter found the comments by the men to be as interesting or more than the comments by the women, she should report that. If you want more coverage, be more interesting. I don’t want to read reports were journalistic attention is apportioned on ideological grounds (I have read reports like that, they are pretty grim).

    It is three paras to the boys and two to the girls by the way, with about equal number of words to my eye (without counting).

  3. Minow says

    I do want fewer insults LykeX, but I am not going to whine about them if they keep coming. That is just silly.

  4. says

    There’s certainly something silly going on. This was a panel so popular that it had to be moved to a larger venue to accommodate the interest. It was so popular, it bumped the awards show. Yet you immediately jump to the conclusion that the women were simply too boring. Yep, that’s the most reasonable explanation.

    It is three paras to the boys and two to the girls by the way..

    Three paragraphs for the three men and two paragraphs for the six panelists and an unspecified number of women in the audience. The men each get a paragraph. The women get a sentence.

    Seriously. Snap out of it.

  5. Minow says

    Three paragraphs for the three men and two paragraphs for the six panelists and an unspecified number of women in the audience. The men each get a paragraph. The women get a sentence.

    But LykeX, that is how journalism goes, it isn’t a questions of doling out attention so that everyone feels like they get their just deserts, it isn’t a nursery school prize giving, it is a journalists saying what she saw. If she found the points made by X more interesting than those made by Y, she should say so. Complaining about your critics (it is so unfair! Why didn’t they notice me) just makes you look puny.

  6. says

    Minow that is ridiculous. That’s not how journalism “goes.” It’s not just normal routine standard journalism to report on a panel by giving the panel itself short shrift in order to give more space to audience comments.

  7. says

    The fact that you ignored the first part of my comment is noted and extremely telling.

    The panel was the subject of the write-up. It was extremely popular and apparently well-received. The supposedly “more interesting” comments all talk about how good the panel was.

    So, where does this idea that the panelists were boring come from? What are you basing it on, aside from a desire to find any explanation that doesn’t involve gender bias?

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