Someone was stupid on the internet November 16, 2014Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, math, science, societal commentary.
Tags: communication, denial, engineering, privilege, science, sexism
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Even though I am a woman who is working as an engineer at an academic institution, I have no ability or authority to discuss anything having to do with women in hard sciences.
Totally reasonable, right?
The person who told me this is a man who works in sports medicine. During the course of the conversation on what causes low rates of women in hard science/engineering fields, I brought up “male privilege.” I even went so far as to say that it benefits men to ignore this privilege because it keeps it in place. The response to even mentioning such a thing meant I was a conspiracy theorist. I obviously am incapable of discussing the issues women face in science because I believe in male privilege. Despite the fact that I was the one posting links to actual studies to validate my claims (using studies discussed in Nature and Scientific American), I obviously am incapable of understanding the issues.
I was attempting to explain that while I don’t think most of this behavior is explicit (although I have definitely seen that, too), there is a lot implicit bias. As I said in my interview on the Engineering Commons, there is quite a bit of sexism that is a result of people simply not thinking about the advantages they have or the assumptions they make. That is the very definition of privilege. I don’t think most people wield it mean-spiritedly, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist at all.
We were discussing a publication claiming that academic science isn’t sexist, a paper also discussed here. Let’s be honest: claiming hard sciences aren’t sexist is like saying that relativity (or any other major theory) is wrong. Not only that, it’s willful ignorance because there are so many studies out there to refute this notion.
The most irritating part of this discussion is that it should never have been about this issue at all. The discussion was in a forum designed to talk about science communication, and yet he initiated the conversation by claiming that the paper proved there is no sexism in academic science. There was no discussion about how to bring into account all the other data, how to most effectively communicate or discuss the result, or even about public response to news about this paper. Instead, this person used the forum as a bully pulpit for his own viewpoint, ignoring contradicting data and viewpoints. If this is how science communicators approach studies to begin with, it’s no wonder the public has a hard time understanding and interpreting these same studies. If the communicators don’t understand the science within the larger context, they certainly aren’t going to do a good job explaining it to the world at large.