Skepticism

Skepchick Quickies, 10.29

Jen

Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. While acknowledging the historic struggles of all minorities to avail themselves of the level playing field in terms of education, resources, etc… I wince when I read statements like:

    ‘If you look and read history carefully, you’ll always find women’s names behind everything’

    Simply not true — beyond the very obvious fact that women and men seem to have co-existed over time. We get it. Women had a tough road. The reasons why minorities didn’t have a level playing field should be remembered within the framework of leveling the current playing field.

    Isn’t it also true that contrary to social and religious norms Pythagoras cultivated an environment that nurtured all thinkers regardless of gender? Is his picture up anywhere in there?

    To replace one form a sexism with another is just swinging the pendulum rather than correcting the causes of the imbalance. Just noise.

  2. Is it sexist to inaccurately assert that women were responsible for everything when it is not true, correct? In fact, it is no more true than it is to say that white men were responsible for everything.

    The effort should be to identify the defects in what happened historically and create a model to remove the risk of repetition. Why replace one form of propaganda with another?

  3. @wytworm: I haven’t seen the assertion that “women were really responsible” anywhere but your own comment. Where are you getting this? It’s quite a leap in logic to assume celebrating women’s accomplishments equals claiming women are the only people who ever accomplished anything.

  4. “If you look and read history carefully, you’ll always find women’s names behind everything,” said Barbara Keremedjiev, who founded and runs the American Computer Museum in Bozeman with her husband, George.

    Third paragraph of the article you linked to.

    I’m not trying to be argumentative, but I am skeptical of the intent behind what seems to be a flawed message.

  5. Just finished reading the article. I have to agree with wytworm on this. I think the exhibit is a wonderful thing. I’m happy that a state like Montana can have a science exhibit. I would have thought the article would be about the massive christian protests that are occuring about the godless non creation science being forced down the throats of normal kids by liberal elite educated types and all being done with taxpayer money. But the article, at least the way it is written, seems to suggest that women did everything and that the reasons more people don’t know about them is that their is a deliberate cover up by an all male cabal of science historians who really hate women scientists. I think the reason more people don’t know about these women is that none of them appeared on dancing with the stars or had a homemade sex tape released via the web by an upset ex lover. Most people know jack all about any scientist, male or female, white or black or hispanic or asian or multi ethnic. Or, I could be wrong. Again.

  6. @wytworm: I don’t think that the sentence: “If you look and read history carefully, you’ll always find women’s names behind everything,” means that someone is claiming women did all the scientific work ever done. I think what she’s saying is that women are much more involved in some things than history has reported.

    @Gabrielbrawley: Did I repeat a link? Sorry, that happens sometimes.

  7. I think that is a generous reading given the rest of her statements:

    ‘So much of what women scientists have done seems to have been covered up’

    ‘Behind every great man, there’s an exhausted woman,” George said, citing a now popular saying.’

    In addition, she seems to be interested in attacting only women to the exhibit:

    “I hope that (the exhibit) will inspire parents to bring their daughters, nieces, sisters, wives to see this.”

    As a father of two boys and a husband of one wife, it would seem that she wants me to send my wife, and stay home to play football with my boys.

    Why not include as a very important part of the exhibit the Pythagorus(es) of history who were notable for being gender blind in their pursuit of knowledge? Shouldn’t that be as important if not more important a lesson in terms of what we need to do today?

    Anyhow, just calling it as I see it.

  8. @Jen: That may be what it means but I didn’t read it like that. Also, this is wrong even if it only means that the women weren’t recorded by history. If there wasn’t a record of their accomplishments then we wouldn’t know about them. Yes, women have been treated horribly throughout history. Yes, women in many countries are treated horribly today. Yes, there are fewer scientist women than men today. And that really pisses me off. I want my daughter to be able to be anything she wants to be, including scientist. But they have been written about in history. I remember reading about almost all of the women mentioned in my high school history classes and some of my college classes. Most people don’t know them becuase most people don’t pay attention to what they are being taught in history or computer science etc. They they develope a passion for something and scream about not being taught it in the past.

  9. @Gabrielbrawley: “I think the reason more people don’t know about these women is that none of them appeared on dancing with the stars or had a homemade sex tape released via the web by an upset ex lover.”

    Uh, what? I must have missed the Crick & Watson sex tape (thankfully).

    No, the reason why people haven’t heard of these women is because their efforts were downplayed. It’s not an evil cabal of male scientists, it’s just the sad fact of sexism that we’re only just beginning to weed out and correct.

  10. @Rebecca: I agree partially with

    it’s just the sad fact of sexism

    but I still think the ignorance or these women’s accomplishments has more to do with ignorance in general. We, as a whole, do not know very much that is important. We, as a whole, do know a lot that is trivial. People will pay a great deal of attention to actors and singers and other entertainers. Most people wouldn’t have a clue who Watson and Crick were. Most science geeks would know. They would also know the names and accomplishments of many of the women in this museum display.

  11. Also I would like to make it clear that I am not defending bigotry. I am a husband of a woman and the father of a girl. I do not want them to be treated in any unequal fashon. I want them to have all of the opportunities that everyone should have.

  12. @Gabrielbrawley: That’s too bad, because the Ada Lovelace sex engravings were totally hot.

    Let’s keep in mind that this is a local newspaper article, which cares more about a light tone and the “human angle” than other publications might. If we have issues with casual hyperbole or tongue-in-cheek proverbs, that’s one thing. Suggesting these completely invalidate the message of the exhibit is another.

  13. @Jen: If the message of the exhibit is to say that girls can grow up to be women scientists then I am behind it 100%. If the message is women did everything and men took credit but didn’t do any of the work then I am not behind that. Maybe it is all the way the article is written. Maybe I am being a thin skinned prick. I hope not.

  14. @Jen:

    I would respectfully suggest the dismissal as ‘casual hyperbole’ is dangerous as it avoids the question of bias. I would be the first to admit that there is no definitive case for bias in the article, but would have to insist that the suggestion is certainly there.

    Even if it were not there , I think the bias question bears consideration in terms of creating the correct (humanist) model rather than some narrower (reverse-sexism) model within which to drive our culture towards rational thought and the pursuit of science.

    There is no link in my mind between the inartful commentary of Keremedjiev and the relative merit of the exhibit.

    I still would rather see some exhibit of the gender blind heroes of science history at some point. That, to me, sends the message to all , ‘this is what we should be doing, no matter how stacked the deck is against us’

  15. @wytworm: While I absolutely agree with celebrating men who historically helped support the accomplishments of women, as well as encouraging modern boys and men to contribute to the celebration, I disagree entirely with the idea of being “gender blind.” Similar to being being “color blind” about race, I think it’s insulting to deny people their identities. (To be clear, I’m not suggesting this is something you personally do, I’m attacking the larger concept as it exists in American society.) I think it’s more about accepting and understanding differences, not erasing or overlooking them.

  16. @Jen:

    Gender-blind (or unisex) is a term describing activities undertaken and services provided without regard to the gender of those who participate.

    It goes to the inalienable rights thing. You are no less a human due to gender characteristics than you are due to religious or racial characteristics.

  17. @wytworm: Yes, I understand the term “gender blindness,” and it’s not synonymous with “unisex.” What I disagree with is the very act of “not regarding gender.” It’s perfectly possible to regard gender without using it as a basis for discrimination. Gender is part of an individual’s identity. It’s actually more dehumanizing to be willfully blind to it.

  18. @Jen: Okay, this time I agree with Jen over wytworm. I think we should not be gender or color blind. I think we should acknowledge and celebrate our differences. I like the idea of a museum exhibit that celebrates women scientists. I like the ide of a museum exhibit that celebrates non-white scientists. I just don’t like the idea of the celebrations claiming the the group being celebrated is the actual cause of all advances in a particular area. No one group can realistically claim to be behind all advances in any field of study.

  19. @Jen:

    Agreed, unisex to me is something we use in regard to barber shops. We can leave that out as a water-muddier.

    I think we can agree that in some cases, it is appropriate to consider parochially were in others it is not. In terms of abstracts, such as human rights, or specifically removing barriers for the pursuit of science, one can proceed either from a humanistic footing or a parochial footing.

    The difference is, if one succeeds at a humanistic level, one has already accommodated the parochial concerns.

    If instead we say, lets all throw in on the side of encouraging the pursuit of more women in science, thats great, but pushes that agenda to the cost of other challenged minorities in the sciences. This cost might just be opportunity cost, or it might be more directly harmful.

    A shorter way to say it is, in regard to barriers to pursuit of the sciences, it is impossible to succeed at the humanistic level without also succeeding at the women in the sciences level.

    On the other hand, it is entirely possible, in fact probable, to succeed at the women in science level while failing at the humanistic level.

    It is certainly justifiable to pursue a sub-optimal model in the absence of an alternative. In this case, I would argue that there is a model that is optimal, therefore the pursuit of the sub-optimal model is challenged.

  20. The article mentions “Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” which led to a United States ban on DDT and other pesticides.” I don’t know much about her, but she seems to universally get the blame/credit for the DDT bans and sharply reduced DDT usage. Her book may have supported a general climate that allowed this to happen, but I don’t think she was responsible for it.

    I am a Hedge

  21. @Gabrielbrawley:

    And one SAD thing about this respectful debate is that it took attention away from an equally viable topic: Funny names for scientist sex tapes!

    Shame on you all for trying to elevate the level of discussion! Some of us want to make juvenile sex jokes! SHEESH.

  22. @wytworm: I’m sorry, but I really don’t know what you’re talking about here. There’s a lot of abstract statements and assumptions in that. I don’t really know exactly what you mean by humanistic and parochial in this context, so defining terms would be a good place to start (we don’t want another unisex). Also, some concrete examples and evidence of why these situations would turn out the way you describe, because to me it’s not obvious.

    Abstractly – I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that encouraging women in science would necessarily hamper other minorities. Not only can it increase sympathy for minorities in similar situations (I can say honestly that some experiences I had as a women in tech made me think a lot harder about what it’s like for other minorities as well, in all kinds of situations), it can inspire other to start similar initiatives for other minority groups.

    @Expatria: *hangs head in shame* You’re right. My sincerest apologies. I think I have to actually do some work now, though, so I leave you to it.

  23. The definition of Humanism that i am using is:
    ‘a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appealing to universal human qualities, particularly rationality.’

    I am centering on a concept contained therein, moral universalism (the meta-ethical position that some system of ethics, or a universal ethic, applies universally, that is, for all similarly situated individuals, regardless of culture, race, sex, religion, nationality, sexuality, or other distinguishing feature).

    This in opposition to parochialism: being provincial, being narrow in scope, or considering only small sections of an issue.

    I am attempting to label ‘women in sciences’ as parochial, vs. ‘everyone in sciences’ as humanist, and considering the relative value of pursing what I am calling a more narrow end vs a more universal end.

    A women in science agenda is commendable and does not hamper other minorities except in lost opportunity. Lost opportunity is having the victory party then looking around the room and seeing only women. The majority are white women.

    Why is it preferable to spend resources for that when with relatively marginal incremental cost one could pursue a people in sciences agenda and hit all the targets?

  24. @wytworm:

    Why is it preferable to spend resources for that when with relatively marginal incremental cost one could pursue a people in sciences agenda and hit all the targets?

    1) Firstly, because “people” aren’t just people – people come in all different flavors, with different backgrounds and cultures, and not taking this into consideration falls into the blindness trap, which I thought we had already settled was not the way to go. How can we celebrate individual differences if we only allow the label of “person” to be a valid one?

    2) How are you sure you’re going to hit all the targets if you’re not aiming at anything? Take some time to focus, however, and your chances of hitting the targets just went up quite a bit.

    3) Yes, we need to be aware of not swinging too far in the other direction. But we have a long, long way to go until that happens more often than not. Risking letting those who have traditionally known privilege share the cost, rather than risk those who have traditionally
    paid the price for bias continue to pay it, is not the ideal solution, but I prefer it to the reverse.

  25. 1) People are just people when it comes to human rights. Thats the point. Identification with a subset of humanity often trumps human rights, but that doesn’t make it right.

    2) I am aiming at a target. I am aiming at the universal application of universal morality. I think this thread has indicated that we are incredibly focused on our respective targets. I will concede that I do not believe it to be achievable, as the opposition has too well succeeded at subdividing humanity with wedge issues.

    3) I am saying stop playing with the pendulum and start throwing it away.

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