Thursday, May 22, 2008

More on NY Times and the marginalization of women's "issues"

So, Virginia De Bolt, over at BlogHer, wrote a post about the most recent NY Times article placement gaffe that I wrote about last week.

Here's her post, and an interest conversation ensues, particularly this comment from Trisha.

To me it wasn't the discussion about whether or not BlogHer should break out a separate Science category that got me musing and ruminating. We have these debates topics have gotten broken out as the community clamors for them, like Green, Body Image, I'm sure a couple more since we first launched in 2006.

No, I was really mulling over this statement:
If science and engineering continue to be marginalized in media that targets women, women will continue to be marginalized in science and engineering. And in business, in education, in government - in life.

Something about the statement was bugging me, but I couldn't quite articulate it...until I had six hours to spend on a plane.

I started to leave a comment on BlogHer, but you know my rule for myself: >3 paragraphs, and clearly I need to write a post.

So, here's the post:

Again, nothing to do with the BlogHer site issue, but about the larger issue of how to solve the marginlization of women, women's "interests" and women's "issues" by mainstream (read: male-dominated) media. And in that context, I think following the logical conclusion of Trisha's statement would actually be expending energy focusing in the wrong direction.

Because, it is not that women haven't created interest groups, and vocal ones, in every male-dominated industry or subject area out there. In every niche from the ones I've been a a part of, such as telecom, and others, there are usually women's advocacy and yes, media, groups. And there are also umbrella organizations like Women in Technology, the Anita Borg Institute and many others. Same goes for business, politics, not just technology. Those groups exist and are visible.

Not only that, but when the editors of this specific piece were figuring out where to put it they were looking RIGHT THERE AT THE DATA that showed that women are interested, involved etc. in these fields.

So, sorry, I don't agree that it's what decision makers think women are doing or not doing that drives these bonehead decisions. I think it's what decision makers think men do or don't do, think or don't think, care about or don't care about.

IOW: They didn't put the article in that section because that's the only place to find women and so women would read it. It's more that they didn't put it in a section where it would be seen by men, because they don't think men care, or maybe they don't even think men should care.

Bottom line: It's awesome for any women's interest group, site, etc. to be interested in continuous improvement, just as any organization of any kind ought to be. But the question is how much can we accomplish by focusing inward in hopes of impressing outside forces enough to effect change? How much is that just placing more of the burden on the (I hesitate to say it) victims of marginalization, than you place on the perpetrators of said marginalization?

What do you think?

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It may very well be that they put the article where they did "because they don't think men care". Or maybe they just didn't think about it too much at all and we're reading too much into it.

My brain isn't working too well tonight - so here are various thoughts on the subject, but I apologize for them not being more organized or coherent. And I don't really know if I'm understanding your concerns well enough to address them appropriately either (I really need some sleep!).

In the article it was said that
"Most people just don’t look at a woman and see an engineer".

Most likely because most people don't know many women engineers, or any. If there were more women in science and engineering (s and e) that perception would change. Women certainly need more role models in those fields. But it seems to me if s and e were present in media targeted to women, more women would consider those fields and begin to think of them as something they as a woman can do.

If women focused media continues to be dominated with pseudo-science like astrology - many men will continue to take women less seriously and see us as less able to think logically or scientifically.

Women were, and continue to be, marginalized by men. Its not the fault of women that there were not many women in science in the past - we weren't allowed. But now if we want to change things I think we have to be more proactive and maybe that does place more of the burden on women. Ideally it shouldn't be that way. But I don't see any other way of, as an example, getting more women in s and e unless women ourselves really put the effort into getting more girls and women interested in these topics.

Men (outside forces) won't see us differently unless 1) we first start seeing ourselves differently and 2) we really become more than what we were victimized/marginalized into. Don't ask me what that means in practical terms though. I'm not sure.

There's still many practical challenges for women. In biological sciences an academic career can still be very difficult if a woman wants a family too. By the time graduate school is finished, then a post-doc (or 2), then maybe getting a faculty position and hopefully getting tenure - a woman could very well be past an age where she could easily have kids. Having kids before getting tenure is a near impossibility - if you want success in that career path.

So certainly at least some obstacles for women in science (I can't really speak for engineering or other areas of science) require change in the way institutions, etc. are organized and ran. And they are mostly ran my men.

Still - and I guess this is really my main point with all of this - I don't think we can afford to miss any opportunity to introduce s and e into anything or anyplace where there are a lot of women.
Thanks for the comment, Trisha.

I want to make clear that it's not that I don't think women and women's groups (media, outreach, advocacy, whatever) should continue to do their part. And they do...there are wonderful groups doing outreach into schools whose goals are to work on getting girls and women to see themselves as potential scientists or engineers. Yes, internal focus and work is absolutely required and good.

It's that I think there is often a WILLFUL nature to any remaining surprise expressed at women being in tech, science, engineering, blogging, medicine, whatever, because lots of good work has already been done to disabuse folks of any such notions...and that when folks willfully keep the blinders on, you gotta go after them directly. I'm talking about people in leadership positions in media, in industry, even in conference organization!

Finally, I get very wary of any attempt to dictate what women can express interest in if they want to be taken seriously.

Astrology isn't pseudo-science, it's entertainment. It's not a personal interest of mine, but anyone who would use the fact that someone reads their horoscope as a reason to doubt their mental competence is looking, again willfully, for something to support a shaky theory.

Isn't the majority of mainstream men's media dominated by (ok, time for some fun male stereotyping here) sports, poker, scantily-clad women? When we start telling men that they shouldn't express interest in that stuff if they want to be taken seriously, maybe I'll feel differently, but until then, it just feels like, again, placing the burden and focusing our outrage in a direction that may have some merit, but won't really have the effect we're looking for.

Don't get me wrong, part of why we launched the BlogHer site after the very first conference was because we were tired of pink and purple women's sites that didn't have anything about politics, business, tech etc., and because we knew from the first conference, and all of the surveying and blog-reading we did afterwards, that women are blogging about every single topic under the sun. But when you decide that you don't want to silo women's interests, you decide that the serious and the silly can live side-by-side and not diminish us.

I mean, come on, I write about American Idol! :)

(PS-Trisha...thanks for a great conversation both on BlogHer and here, really has given me so much brain exercise over the last day mulling this over.)
"Astrology isn't pseudo-science, it's entertainment. " - Yes you are right here. But - there are people (men and women) who don't see it as entertainment and really believe it makes sense to use it as a guide for how to live their lives.

Actually, I think we do (or I do) take men less seriously, or at least think a bit less of them if are too obsessed with 'scantily-clad women' and/or if they are objectifying women.

This whole discussion has given me an idea for a series of posts I might do if I can find the time.
Yes, I have no doubt that men can help marginalize themselves too, the bar is probably a lot higher before it happens, though.
Good Job! :)
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