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.
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.