December 18, 2013 | 1
Today at 5 P.M. Eastern/2 P.M. Pacific, I’ll be on Virtually Speaking Science with Maryn McKenna and Tom Levenson to discuss sexual harassment, gender bias, and related issues in the world of science, science journalism, and online science communication. Listen live online or, if you have other stuff to do in that bit of spacetime, you can check out the archived recording later. If you do the Second Life thing, you can join us there at the Exploratorium and text in questions for us.
Here, I’m going to give you a few links that give you a taste of what I’ve been thinking about in preparation for this conversation, and then I’ll say a little about what I hope will come out of the conversation.
Geek Feminism Wiki Timeline of incidents from 2013 (includes tech and science blogosphere)
Danielle Lee’s story about the “urban whore” incident and Scientific American’s response to it.
Kate Clancy’s post on how Danielle Lee’s story and the revelations about former Scientific American blog editor Bora Zivkovic are connected to the rape-y Einstein bobble head video incident (with useful discussion of productive strategies for community response)
Andrew David Thaler’s post “On being an ally and being called out on your privilege”
A post I wrote with a link to research on implicit gender bias among science faculty at universities, wherein I point out that the empirical findings have some ethical implications if we’re committed to reducing gender bias
The most recent of Zuska’s excellent posts on the pipeline problem, “Rethinking the Normality of Attrition”
As far as I’m concerned, the point of our conversation is not to say science, or science journalism, or online science communication, has a bigger problem with sexual harassment or sexism or gender disparities than other professional communities or than the broader societies from which members of these professional communities are drawn. The issue, as far as I can tell, is that these smaller communities reproduce these problems from the broader society — but, they don’t need to. Recognizing that the problem exists — that we think we have merit-driven institutions, or that we’re better at being objective than the average Jo(e), but that the evidence indicates we’re not — is a crucial step on the way to fixing it.
I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to talk about more than individual incidents of sexism or harassment in our discussion. The individual incidents matter, but they don’t emerge fully formed from the hearts, minds, mouths, and hands of evil-doers. They are reflections of cultural influences we’re soaking in, of systems we have built.
Among other things, this suggests to me that any real change will require thinking hard about how to change systems rather than keeping our focus at the level of individuals. Recognizing that it will take more than good intentions and individual efforts to overcome things like unconscious bias in human interactions in the professional sphere (including but not limited to hiring decisions) would be a huge step forward.
Such progress will surely be hard, but I don’t think it’s impossible, and I suspect the effort would be worth it.