Saturday, November 9, 2013

No, not back to our regularly scheduled program

The video is now posted at the NASW site.

[Another update: The response linked below has been removed by PLoS blogs. It was not something I had requested, but I appreciate the choice (ETA: in the context of their own writers' agreement, not my personal inclinations; there is a cache of their two posts here) and am glad to see that the comments have been left in place. There is some disagreement over PLoS's decision, but I can't speak to what the folks at PLoS feel they need to do in the context of their writers' agreement. Again, the other panelists and I expect to produce a formal writeup and review of the session and plans going forward once we have the video available as a source.]

[ETA an update: The two people involved in the post I critique below, Tabitha Powledge and Beryl Benderly, NASW board members, have posted their comments about my critique here. I will let their two responses speak for themselves and just reassert that the original post was an example of the problem in having foregrounded men in every aspect, from text word counts to links included to who was named and quoted to art to tags to "the most powerful and significant statements came from men," and that the tone of "back to our regular program" was inappropriate. Further, I add that because I was commenting on a high-profile summary of a very high-profile and edgy situation that is critical to our community, one written by a board member of NASW and featured on the site of another NASW board member, I also vetted my commentary with half a dozen relevant people before posting it. As for a formal post about the NASW panel from the panelists themselves, of which I was one, we await availability of the video recording of the proceedings so that the overview will be complete.]

Perhaps that's part of what got us where we were in the first place, this willingness to lapse back into the programmed complacency of sexual inequality and unreported sexual harassment. The "where" was a panel on women in science writing, and the "we" were the six women--Christie Aschwanden, Deborah Blum, Maryn McKenna, Kathleen Raven, Florence Williams, and I--who made up that panel. There were six of us who sat there, who presented, paneled, and answered questions, yet in this writeup on the session at the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) conference in Gainseville, Fla., where our panel convened, one of us doesn't even get a mention. The writeup appeared at PLoS blogs on the site of NASW blogger Tabitha Powledge, but Beryl Benderly, NASW treasurer, wrote the XX panel summary. [ETA: The NASW board has clarified that the board did not request the blog post, edit it, or even become aware of it before it was published.]

Instead of highlighting what each of the six of us said, the post, in what I must characterize as "business as usual," not only leaves out mention of a member of our all-women panel but also treats the standing-room only plenary session as an aside, something to roll into a longer section that talks about ... life on other planets? Indeed, of the 2285 words that make up the post at PLoS, 1335 are devoted to the possibility of Earthlike planets and life elsewhere instead of the possibilities of the lives of at least half of us right here. 

And of the 950 words allotted to the XX science panel at the NASW meeting, 264 were devoted to what the men in attendance at the session had to say. That stands in contrast to the 238 words given to what women on the panel and in the audience at this session on women in science writing had to say, words that trail off in the post without even an end punctuation. Not only that, but the section devoted to the men's commentary begins with, "But some of the most powerful and significant statements came from men."

Really.

Six women sit on a panel before a standing-room only audience, show data (courtesy of unable-to-attend Kate Prengaman) demonstrating the monstrous inequality of recognition and work that women in science writing receive, deliver powerful personal stories about the multitude of experiences they have had over their careers--some of them jaw-droppingly unbelievable--but the "most powerful and significant statements came from men."

As if that overshadowing weren't enough, in the post, the "art" included with the 950 words devoted to the panel is a huge graphic that references "The Blogfather." That would be Bora Zivkovic. That would be the very person who one of the panelists has revealed sexually harassed her. Yet instead of including images of the panel or of any of the panelists or even of a woman, this post on a women in science writing panel that addressed, among other things, problems of sexual harassment of women science writers, includes only an image that references someone who has ... a record of harassing women science writers.

As a sort of coup de grace, the post tags are as follows: aliens, astronomy, Bora Zivkovic, exoplanets, intelligent life, Kepler spacecraft, Milky Way Galaxy, On Science Blogs, science blogging, science journalism, science writing, Scientific American, sexual harassment, Tabitha M. Powledge, women. Not one of the names of the women who were on the panel appears in the metadata. A summary of the post on the NASW Website focuses, like the post itself, on astronomy and gives a single line to what ought to be a major issue for a national association of science writers representing its membership.

After that series of what I can only describe as mounting offenses, the XX panel summary comes to an abrupt end, offering a segue into the bulky remainder on Earth-like planets by saying, "We Now Return You to Our Regularly Scheduled Program." 

Based on the content and emphasis and oversights of that post, it looks to me like we never left that program. The old emphasis on male voices and the attitude of "phew, that's over" are the same old regular programming we've been watching and living for decades. And that, my friends, is the problem that put the six of us in front of a standing-room only crowd at NASW in Gainesville in the first place. And--I believe I can say this with certainty--not a single one of the six of us is content to return to that regular programming. There will be no sliding back into complacency this time.

[UpdatePZ Myers at Pharyngula offered up a critique, as well, making some very similar points.]

1 comment:

  1. Well said. No, we won't be standing quietly as the spotlight shifts away this time. It WILL still shift, but we'll be dragging it back and saying "Nope, you're not done yet. This problem still isn't fixed." Until it is.

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