It’s the end of 2011, and I have a number of reasons to celebrate: a wonderful family, a wonderful job, a fun gig at SciAm, a roller derby season about to start back up again, and Science Online 2012 in a few short weeks. It’s the time of year to reflect on what we have done, and how to grow.
I have some fun ideas planned for this blog in the new year. You’ll see some pieces that are collaborations with academic and bloggy colleagues, others that give space to voices that need to be heard. I’ll also be writing soon about my upcoming Science Online 2012 panel with Scicurious, which, I promise, will be quite awesome.
And of course, it’s that time of year when we make a lot of lists. This list is, true to the blog, a Ladybusiness Anthropology edition, so one that focuses on scienceblogging on gender issues. As with many “best of” lists, it is somewhat arbitrary: this is one set of posts I’ve compiled that I think is exceptional, but I could have easily created several more. In fact, help me expand this list in the comments!
So, without further ado, here is my list of 10 great blog posts of 2011:
Is it cold in here? One of many moving posts to come out of Elevatorgate, and my very favorite. At Cocktail Party Physics, Jennifer Ouellette opens with one woman’s account of working at CERN where she endured footsie under the table at meetings and a regular, healthy dose of condescension. She demonstrates how the chilly climate in science isn’t just about work/life balance and spending more time with family, the excuse trotted out most frequently to explain why more women aren’t in science (and she does this with, you know, science). Then Ouellette uses this and the history of the term “chilly climate” to segue into a conversation about Elevatorgate, one of probably dozens, hundreds, thousands of experiences women have in male-dominated groups that remind them that they are women first, serious participants second. She dissects the way in which Rebecca Watson’s simple comment about her encounter with a man in an elevator polarized an entire community. And she offers a thoughtful and important manifesto to produce change in our environment.
Learning to Speak Like a Woman. This interview by Emily Anthes at Wonderland is a great example of what blogging has to offer traditional journalists. Anthes, a freelance science writer herself, interviews another journalist to get deeper into the story of speech therapy for transgender people. The whole interview is fantastic, but this is my favorite question and answer:
“EA: Could you see people who are not transitioning going through similar speech therapy? I’m imagining, say, a woman in the corporate world who thinks that perhaps making her speech less “feminine” will help her advance.
“EG: I know, in the context of the transgender world, some male-to-female transgender people have complained that in corporate settings, they tend to want their voices to go lower. They find themselves counteracting their therapy a little bit to keep their voices low and more gender neutral. A lot of people like the idea of having a more feminized voice, but then when it comes to the working world, they find that people don’t respond to them as well if their voice is too high.”
Are Women Really Less Funny Than Men? Elizabeth Preston at Inkfish deconstructs a recent paper on gender differences in humor. I love that Preston points out problems in this paper from several angles – the fact that the kind of humor they use is inherently male (New Yorker cartoons), and that their bracket methodology was potentially flawed. Preston’s blog is one more people should be reading.
Women Know Something You Don’t. In a truly beautiful post, Emily Willingham of The Biology Files writes about the history and importance of abortifacents in the context of recent attempts to define life as beginning at conception. A law that does this would criminalize not only miscarriage, but all forms of hormonal birth control and IUDs, since they can at times block implantation if fertilization somehow occurs. Willingham shares the relevance and importance of understanding family planning from a scientific and political perspective.
The Miracle of Birth is That Most of Us Figure Out How to Mother – More or Less. Ingrid Wickelgren at Streams of Consciousness writes a fantastic post that covers the neuroscience of motherhood. She describes research on working memory and executive function in mothers of six month olds, and shows how those mothers with higher scores seemed to be more attentive to their children. She says:
“Gonzalez and Fleming found that the mothers who did well on the executive function tests—those who have better working memories and are flexible thinkers—were also more sensitive to their babies’ needs than those who got lower cognitive scores.… Mothering tests your attention span, ability to plan, prioritize, organize and reason as much as does a day at the office. And if you are a good planner, you can cope better when interacting with your child.”
An adaptive fairytale with no happy ending. Jeremy Yoder of Denim and Tweed offers an intelligent rebuttal to a post by Bering on the evolution of homosexuality that goes back to the original Gallup citations. He demonstrates that the original data is unable to support the hypothesis that homophobia is adaptive, because it cannot address whether it is heritable or confers a fitness benefit. This is only one of many, many lovely posts by Yoder – in fact, also check out this post of his at the SciAm Guest Blog called The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Natural Selection and Evolution, With a Key to Many Complicating Factors.
Getting “Mean Girled” in the Baboon world: the price of being sexy. Ashlee, also known as Serious Monkey Business of Serious Monkey Business blog, wrote a great post using Mean Girls as a way to frame a paper by Huchard and Cowlishaw (2011). Her post describes how baboon females receive more aggression from other females when they are in estrus, as opposed to non-estrus or when they are lactating. A fun, informative post.
Evidence on the Hebephilia question. I love this post by Stephanie Zvan at Almost Diamonds because she compiles an impressive array of evidence to support her point about the nature of consent and power between children and adults. I’ve already linked to a number of other posts I like on the topic here, but this, more recent one lays out the evidence.
Maternal obesity from all sides. Science & Sensibility is one of my favorite blogs, and not only because its name is a spin on my favorite Jane Austen novel. This is the last in a series on maternal obesity that tries to understand situations and outcomes for women of size in a way that is respectful and thoughtful.
Menstrual Synchrony: Do Girls Who Go Together Flow Together? This is a post I missed the first time around; a reader brought it to my attention after I wrote on the same topic myself. This post, by Harriet Hall at Science Based Medicine, offers a thoughtful and critical perspective on the pervasive idea of menstrual synchrony. And no, it is not likely that it is real.
I also want to give a nod to the following mainstream media stories of 2011. I like when journalists cover sex and gender issues with sensitivity and thoroughness.
Led by the child who simply knew. A beautiful story in the Boston Globe about an amazing transgender girl and her amazing family. A multi-tissue story. May I raise my child to have the same grace and strength as these kids.
Contraceptive Comeback: The Maligned IUD Gets a Second Chance. At Wired, Jennifer Couzin-Frankel describes a study where, when women are properly educated about their contraception choices, overwhelmingly choose the IUD. The IUD is making a real comeback, is more effective and easier to use than hormonal contraception, and while it has its own set of side effects (discomfort with insertion, spotting for anywhere from a day to a few months after insertion) they are far lower than what some women experience on the pill. I have a post on IUDs at my old blog covering similar material.
Teens turn a blind eye to sex information on the web. This is from the Montreal Gazette, and actually, the title poorly describes the story. What this story does is report on a study that showed that teens are skeptical of sex information they get on the web, and, as it turns out, appreciative of what they get from their parents. Good thing for me to remember, as my three year old just my husband where babies come from this week.