This is commentary on old news, but I missed it during its life cycle and I think it’s worth discussing. Do you love science? I love science. In fact, I’m prepared to say that I fucking love science. Based on the popularity of this page and the frequency of its images showing up in my Facebook feed, I’m willing to bet that there are many other people who also love science. That’s a good thing.
Less good is the reaction to the revelation that the “I fucking love science” page is run by *gasp* a woman.
If you read through the comments on that page (and good luck if you try, as of this writing the comments are up to about 1,400), you’ll see that a good number of people are surprised that this page is being run by a woman.
Now, there was something surprising to me about this revelation but it’s not that the page is being run by a woman. I’m surprised that the page is being run by a single person. When you consider the volume of content that comes from that page, it seems like you’d need a staff of at least a few people. So that’s something noteworthy and if that’s what people were remarking on, there wouldn’t be an issue to discuss in the next few paragraphs.
I’m not going to comment on all the commenting on her physical appearance. I’ve made my case for why I think it’s better to just let those slide despite the sexism there.
However, all the comments that are expressing surprise that a woman is running a science page? That’s something worth commenting on, both because of the sexism inherent in the incredulity and what that incredulity says about our society.
First problem: why are you surprised by this fact? Is it because your assumption is that science-minded folk are male? White? Saying “I can’t believe a woman is running this science page” is the same thing as saying “only a man can run a science page like this” and “women can’t do science or like science or promote science” or whatever. That surprise you’re feeling? That’s the problem.
Second problem: the thing is, the surprise isn’t unjustified despite its sexism. It’s the result of living in a culture where science is still perceived as a boy’s only club. People think of scientists as white males because that’s the majority of people we see as scientists (although this is slowly changing). It’s sort of like how people think of US presidents as white males because, with one exception, that’s who’s been getting the job. We shouldn’t be surprised that’s what the perception is. We should be working to change the circumstances that cause the perception to exist.
The solution should be self-evident: more women involved with science fields and stop being so damned surprised when they do. Don’t be surprised when your daughter says, “I want to study physics.” Say “awesome,” “go for it,” or whatever form of encouragement you deem appropriate.
4 thoughts on “A Woman On Facebook Loves Science? It’s More Likely Than You Think”
This brings up an interesting point that I hadn’t thought about too much with regards to feminism. While I consider myself a feminist, I do get bothered when people equate equality in outcomes with equality in opportunity. (As an aside, while I tend to believe that while inequality in outcome can be symptomatic of inequality in opportunity, one does not always imply the other.) You bring up equality in perception, though, which is a different kettle of fish.
I don’t know if more women involved in science is the answer to inequality in perception, though. Even if only 1% of all scientists were female, they should be still be treated with the same respect as male scientists. A clearer example of this is in the military. It seems unlikely, because of how testosterone affects the brain, that women will ever be as prevalent in the military as men. But that fact doesn’t change that we should treat women with the same respect, because ultimately an individual defines their own life, rather than it being predetermined by their sex.
Perception is a problem with the public, and I think we should look at social problems like littering, drunk driving, and racism. People used to litter constantly about 50 years ago. Then, as the result of a public service campaign, social attitudes towards littering changed from it being a victimless crime to simply unacceptable. We’re seeing the same thing with racism and sexism. The trick is, it takes time.
I agree that female scientists deserve the same respect as male scientists, whether they are 1% or 50% of the total. The reason why I feel perception is so important to this issue is because so much of gender identity is learned behavior. Children imprint on the culture they are raised in. That’s why we grow up having heroes and idols.
Symbols have a tremendous amount of power; seeing female scientists can be very inspiring to those young girls who otherwise would only feel pressured towards traditional gender roles. The best way to combat the ignorance that fuels sexism, as with any social problem, is to prove the naysayers wrong. It’s a lot harder for someone to get away with saying “women belong in the kitchen” when you can point to someone like Ada Lovelace and say “yeah, but what about her? What about Émilie du Châtelet?”
Madam Curie is always the most visible, not least because of that haunting radioactive glow.