Field of Science

Some thoughts on the zeitgeist.

Unless you live under a rock, you've probably noticed that the topic della settimana is *~women in science blogging*~. Kate Clancy posted a summary of the #scio11 panel discussion on women who blog under their real name. A few days later, Christie Wilcox posted about the panel as well, including a story about a lecherous comment she received from a person who reads her blog. These two posts by very prominent women prompted a whole slew of posts by other bloggers [Ed-- Thanks to John Dupuis you can now find and read the entire slew] weighing in on the topic, which really boils down to two topics. The first is that women don't receive enough of the attention they want: links from other bloggers promoting their work because it is good work. The second is that women receive too much of the attention they don't want: men intruding into their space to comment on their appearance or make sexual advances on them.

I have stayed quiet on this topic because... well... I'm a cynical at heart. I'm cranky. This topic irritates me. I know my opinion is unpopular, so I kept myself to myself and talked about it in back channels until now. I think these discussions are very important to have, but I hate the fact that everyone spends a week or two talking about how rough women bloggers have it (how rough women in general have it), but nothing ever really comes out of the discussion. Everyone is in agreement, yeah, women have it rough. Women have more to overcome professionally than men. To some people, women will always have racks first and brains second. What is actually being done to change that?

I also hate the fact that we have people posting about how we need to CELEBRATE WOMEN BLOGGERS (I am not picking on Ed Yong here, by the way, I hear he's a really excellent human being [that borders on superhuman]) which turns into a circle jerk of links for a few days, but then when the topic dies down the people who have the luxury of forgetting about the problems women face ultimately do forget about it (or at least stop being proactive about it) until the topic becomes popular again six months later.

Look, I'll be honest. I don't want to be celebrated for being a woman science blogger. I want people to link to me because they think I have good content or at least because they think I have potential. A very significant chunk of my traffic comes from more established (male) bloggers who link to me on a regular basis like Razib and Bora. I don't think they're linking to me because I am wo-man. Why? Because they link to me all the time, not just when we're all talking about girl bloggers! I don't want to be a woman science blogger; I want to be a science blogger. If you absolutely must put a qualifier on me, call me a queer science blogger. How many LGBTQ science bloggers can you name off the top of your head?

I'm not trying to rain on anyone's parade or piss in anyone's cheerios, here. I'm just frustrated. I'm frustrated that these discussions are even necessary. I'm frustrated that there will always be people who click on my blog and think "Wow, what a cute chick, I should email her friends and ask if she's single," (yeah, that's happened) instead of "Hey, I didn't know that about <topic>, that's really cool." I'm frustrated that a lot of women bloggers think they have to wear the internet version of a chadri to keep from being intruded upon in their own spaces, and even the ones who never show their faces or reveal their names still get intruded upon!

How about we all start working on socializing our young boys to know that it isn't okay to intrude on women, and how to recognize what constitutes an intrusion. I don't buy this fucking "boys will be boys and we're evolutionarily programmed to think of sex when we look at women," bullshit. Looking is free, but you are 100% in control of what you choose say to a woman.


  1. I want to point out that celebrating female bloggers isn't the same as celebrating people for being female bloggers. Which is why in my post, I said "This is not a list of top female science bloggers; it's an all-female list of top science bloggers". They're all people I celebrate and try to promote *anyway*; they just happen to be women. The whole point of that exercise was to show other people who might not be reading them why they should, for reasons of quality not gender.

    That being said, your frustrations are understandable, and clearly you're not the only one thinking this. Sheril's been banging this particular drum for many years now, and gets an almighty earful from sexist wankers at every turn. I can only repeat what I said on her thread (which for some reason I can't seem to link to here) - that every time this gets raised, a few more people reflect on what they're doing or a take a few steps in the right direction.

    And I heartily agree with the last paragraph. "Boys will be boys" is nonsense and frankly, it's demeaning to both genders. I am not programmed to be a wanker. It turns out that I have a certain responsibility and choice over my actions, and people have a right to expect me to exert those. Can't quite believe this is news to people.

  2. You *should* be able to link to things here, not sure why you wouldn't be able to. I'll look into that.

    I realized a little bit after the fact that it seemed like I really was picking on you even though I promise I wasn't. I'm not angry that people *do* the linkfests, I'm just annoyed by how most of the time, these women don't have that much thought paid to them unless women in science blogging is the topic du jour (and I'm speaking in broader strokes here, not about you). Traffic-sharing is obviously a good thing for everyone, I'm not faulting you for that. (I've even gotten a few hits from your post! Thanks, R.)

    I hadn't thought about how that chestnut could be demeaning to men as well. Thanks for that, I'll keep it in my back pocket. ;)

  3. This is great and captures how I've been feeling about all this in many ways, thank you! The circle jerk metaphor is particularly apt, and is perhaps at the heart of some of the problem to begin with--it's hard to break into the (often boys) club where everyone links to each other and pats themselves on the back for being such a good blogger. But the issue is of course bigger than links; sex, gender, and sexuality are "obvious" binaries to most people, and many scientists and science communicators continue to naturalize these ideas with posts about things from women in science to animal sex. The most discouraging for me by far has been that the few times I've written about gender or gendered issues, the troll hordes come out to tell me I'm being "unscientific!" I hope that we can have a little Gender and Queer Studies 101 before the next round of "where are all the lady science bloggers?"

  4. How many LGBTQ science bloggers can you name off the top of your head?

    Five, including me, apparently: @jbyoder, @maggiekb1, @oystersgarter, and you.

  5. Christina: I agree with you 100%. Someone should do a Gender and Sexuality Studies 101 ~FOR SCIENTISTS~ post. Emily actually has a pretty good start on it over here:

    Steve: That's actually more than I could name at the time. :)

  6. So obscene language is your key to emphasizing intelligent thought about sexuality?


  7. James, I am well within my right to use foul language when talking about a foul topic of discussion.

  8. Steve, I'm pretty sure @oystersgarter is not LGBTQ (she has a hubby). But you might be thinking about @rmacpherson also from Deep Sea News who is?

    @alexley who doesn't blog so much these days is also LGBTQ. I know of at least 3 others who I'm not sure how open they are about their status so I won't mention their twitter handles.

  9. I don't know @oystersgarter personally so I can't say. But for argument's sake, it *is* possible to be LGBTQ and married. What do you think the B stands for? ;)

  10. You are within your rights to say whatever you wish. If you feel that 'power' obcenities benefit you, then go for it. Just keep in mind that some of us are not interested in mental crutches. We are interested in your unadulterated opinion. The victim defense is not effective. You are no more a victim than have most or all of us been. I can go away if that is attractive to you?


  11. With you 100 percent. These categorical celebrations are getting old. We do it - in emulation - because it's proven to be an effective content crutch for the mainstream media, and when you need a "relevant" or "newsy" update, you can pull one of these out of your hat.

    Diversity points and a fresh entry? Sure, why not.


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