Get back in the kitchen - Wired commenters to science writer

by Jess McCabe // 17 June 2008, 14:52

[Update - Extra reading assignment]

what happens when you send scientists to the kitchen? fractal cookiesOnly a week after me and zohra spoke at the Guardian panel on online misogyny, before we've even had time to digest, a friend sent me a link to this post by Anna Kushnir, a science blogger for Nature Network.

Anna wrote a very mildly-worded guest post for Wired Magazine, asking why senior scientists are still largely men, despite the intake of women grad students.

Interesting reversal, isn’t it? We go from 7 to 1 in grad school to roughly 1 to 7 in professorships.

Clearly, something does not compute. Where did all the women go? What is happening to all the women en route from graduate school to professorship? Where is the leak? Then again, is it a leak, or more like a pressurized stream? What is applying this pressure to force women out of a career in science? Is it societal pressure to be a mom and take care of the family? Have generations of both men and women perpetuated the belief that in a fist fight between family and work, one or the other has to crawl away a loser? Do some women lack self confidence and convince themselves that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in academic science?

Indeed, she is considerably more more muted than I would have been, but then Anna is a science blogger not a feminist blogger, after all.

One comment, not by any means the worst, but pretty typical of the dismissive and defensive response to Anna's post:

Hey Wired editors,

I thought you had some quality control. This would be an excellent post for a personal blog bemoaning the fact that women aren't ruling the world. Opinions, emotions, hand-waving and all! But for this site? I hit the end of the article and thought, where did the rest go? Because obviously someone should have rejected this little tantrum and not confused it with real news.

Speaking over the author (to the "Wired editors")? Check. Infantalising and patronising ("tantrum")? Check. Hyperbolic attempt to dismiss argument? Check. Defensive posturing over perceived threat to male privilege? Check.

As Anna puts it:

I proposed a few specific small changes (nothing earth-shattering, nothing inventive), which could potentially affect a woman’s decision to stay or leave academic science. I had hoped that people would actually read the post before giving in to the knee-jerk reaction of labeling me a conspiracy theory-loving, man-hating bimbo who was awarded a PhD simply for being a woman.

Well, I guess I gave away the punch line. The responses to the post have been shocking. Borderline offensive, hurtful, occasionally ridiculous, and sometimes hilarious (“Shut up and go make dinner, you dumb b*&#%,” ranking in the top ten favorite).

Some of this is a moderation issue (I know, "Shocker! Misogynist attacks on writer dismissed as inoffensive by blog moderator!" but I still feel like I have to point it out). But lots of it just seems to be that many people are just unapologetically signed up to the patriarchy. For example:

Why do we have separate sports teams for men and women? Why cannot men give birth to children? Why are we so different? Well, maybe we just should accept that we are different. There are so many things that are potentially or practically easier for women then men - and yet men don't whine so much. Why do women whine so much anyway? Yay, another difference. It doesn't matter to discuss it anyway, since the dumb political correctness will kick in anyway and stop everyone from reasoning correctly.

However, the most depressing note in this whole affair is struck by the first line in Anna's post about the Wired commenters:

Why, oh why can’t I just keep my big mouth shut?

The men (yes, they are almost always men) who react to moderately-phrased posts pointing out gender inequality by filing hundreds of misogynist comments want exactly this. They would love it if we did just keep our mouths shut.

However, the commenters at Nature Network are, at least, supportive - the first comment identifies this for exactly what it is - verbal bullying.

Photo by L. Marie, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

zohra // Posted 17 June 2008 at 18:15

Fab post Jess. I especially liked this bit:
Speaking over the author (to the “Wired editors”)? Check. Infantalising and patronising (“tantrum”)? Check. Hyperbolic attempt to dismiss argument? Check. Defensive posturing over perceived threat to male privilege? Check.It seems that it is in fact necessary to spell out, sometimes ad nauseam, what 'misogyny on the net' looks and reads like to convince people who can't already see it, or who doubt it, so well done on shining the light.

Anne Onne // Posted 17 June 2008 at 18:43

So they don't consider it 'real news' if women are greatly outnumbered in the upper echelons of every field, even the ones they make up the majority of?

Something tells me they'd consider it very real news it if was the other way around. Kind of like the papers always blame girls and 'girly' teaching methods for boys being outperformed at school, totally ignoring the peer pressure boys face to be macho and not study.

Thanks. It's important to keep pointing out that people not thinking misogyny is newsworthy IS misogyny in itself, and replying in a way that ignores the content of the post, and is basically an excuse to heap scorn on the female author because they are a woman IS misogyny.

I don't know why 'women whine so much', but I wonder how these commenters can write millions of long, whining replies which basically boil down to 'Shut up! I hate you!' and then say that WOMEN are the ones who whine more. Uh huh.

Besides, what exactly is potentially easier for women? Since women are gifted with less physical strength, and are believed to have less skill rotating 3D objects in their head, would't most things be more difficult for women, going by these people's assumptions of female inferiority? Unless they're really saying that the fact that women can give birth and be pregnant is a treat that makes life easier for them (!)... I know, I know... don't bother with idiotic comments...

Clare // Posted 18 June 2008 at 12:51

Just reminded me of Have I Got News For You the other week, in which the presenter made a scripted joke about "a scientist's fantasy" as a photo of a blonde woman with glasses and a lab coat popped up on screen. Cue laughter from audience and panel members ... which abruptly stopped when Paul Merton pointed out that they perhaps meant 'a male scientist'.

Sarah // Posted 18 June 2008 at 15:35

Well it could be a woman's fantasy as well, I suppose. But the point still stands - the 'joke' depended on the unspoken assumption that all scientist are men, and all men are straight.

Aimee // Posted 18 June 2008 at 16:57

I really REALLY dislike all this 'oh but we're SO different' 'Women are this, men are that' bullshit. It's just a pathetic excuse to keep people in their designated place. The misogynist backlash screams one simple thing to me; priviledges males who's position is threatened and they don't like it.

Shame.

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