I am sorry to have been away from you, darlings. I have had the flu these last few days and have been sequestered. I’ll have more to tell you about all of that soon, but in the mean time we have to talk about the shenanigans over at Nature.
I will confess, as I have in the past and as a bit of a disclaimer, that I don’t usually read Nature. It’s not a journal that I find especially useful academically as someone who is interested in science that is closer to the clinic, and the time to read through it is not worth the return. I’ll occasionally glance through the table of contents when on the toilet – after all, I hear that’s where some of the editorial staff does its best work.
For me, finding an article that is directly applicable to my research in Nature is sort of like finding a single particular fish in the ocean. It’s not a great use of my time, so I depend on my RSS feed to pick out the rare kernel of science that might be of use to my group. But, events today have taught me that, not only am I clearly not missing out on a high quality journal, but there might also be some reason to actively avoid Nature all together.
In the September 29th issue Professor Ed Rybicki has an article a sort of obtuse blathering titled Womanspace. It’s a generally awkward piece about how Rybicki and his friend are sent to a local shop to buy underpants for his daughter. Except that, because Rybicki and his friend are such humongous dumbasses, they are unable to complete this fairly simple task.
This article fails on so many levels, that it’s hard to come up with a single thesis that points out the failure. Let’s, instead, make a list of all of the things we learn that point to how horribly out of touch Nature is with its female readers to think that this would be amusing….
1) It must be sort of sad to be in Professor Rybicki’s wife’s womanspace.
We learn from the comments section of this article that Rybicki’s wife is virologist Anna-Lise Williamson. But, apparently she’s the one who holds it down around the house. He describes her:
She was too busy making supper to bother; these otherwise unemployed elderly men were the perfect candidates — and the prospect of not having to listen to us blather on about just where to pitch the book, and what to put in it, and which Jethro Tull albums we liked, probably tipped the balance our way.
So, we begin with the establishment of characters with stereotypical gender roles. Reading this made me think about watching my grandparents – my grandfather sitting on the couch, only bothering to lift his legs to let my grandmother pass the vaccuum underneath.
In my womanspace, my husband would have been in the kitchen with me, helping me to prepare the meal. Maybe he would have been preparing it himself. Or, if we had guests, he would be entertaining our guests within earshot so that I could participate in the conversation. And, in my womanspace, if I was busy preparing a meal and someone needed to buy clothing for our child, my husband would volunteer.
But, why is this imagery dangerous? Because this is the imagery that sends the careers of some women completely tits up. In this fabricated universe, men have the luxury of sitting around, drinking scotch, having seemingly endless conversations about science. Women are responsible for the home. When a highly educated couple is faced with the challenge of managing a household, which partner is more likely to feel pressured to leave science? Or pursue a part-time career?
It’s also kind of sad that his wife shows up in the comments to defend him. Granted, her husband may be an incompetent moron, but not all of our husbands are that way and his experiences certainly do not point to a universal truth.
2) Men and women are biologically equipped to deal with problems differently
Professor Rybicki tells us why us women are clearly from Venus…
At this point I must digress, and mention, for those who are not aware, the profound differences in strategy between Men Going Shopping and Women Going Shopping. In any general shopping situation, men hunt: that is, they go into a complex environment with a few clear objectives, achieve those, and leave. Women, on the other hand, gather: such that any mission to buy just bread and milk could turn into an extended foraging expedition that also snares a to-die-for pair of discounted shoes; a useful new mop; three sorts of new cook-in sauces; and possibly a selection of frozen fish.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a cute pair of shoes as much as the next gal. But, in my womanspace I have the ability to enter a store and buy bread and milk without soiling myself over a pair of heels. That’s because I am usually trying to buy that bread and milk in the 5 minutes of free time I have between leaving a meeting with my collaborators, or submitting a grant, and needing to pick my children up from daycare.
I also don’t particularly like to shop without a purpose and I hate to meander. I suspect there are other women like me. Maybe we are not women enough for womenspace.
3) Only heterosexual men read Nature
Have you never had the experience of talking to your significant female other as you wend your way through the complexity of a supermarket — only to suddenly find her 20 metres away with her back to you? And then she comes back with something you’ve never seen before, and tosses it in the trolley as if nothing has happened?
No, Dr. Rybicki. I can’t say that I have, but that’s because I am a woman who is married to a man in what happens to be a fairly heteronormative marriage. When would I have the opportunity to talk to my female significant other? Some women are married to or partnered with other women. Which of them lives in Dr. Rybicki’s womanspace? And the men married to or partnered with each other? Which of them chuckles knowingly, reading Dr. Rybicki’s article, about womanspace?
And those of us who are living unpartnered? Raising our children alone, or choosing not to raise children at all? Do they also get access to womanspace?
Once upon a time, many moons ago, I wrote a blog post about a google image search I had performed for the word “professor”. The results are similar to those I posted several years ago. In the first 20 images, there is one woman and one picture of President Obama. All the rest? White, gray-haired dudes. I am completely aware that society imagines academics as male and white. I am completely aware that male academics generally imagine their colleagues as male and white. I have little need for Nature to remind me of how frequently excluded I am by, well, excluding me.
4) Dr. Rybicki is clearly not capable of completing simple tasks. But, it’s biology! Really!
It was as we trudged our forlorn way back to the car that Russell said: “You know, I’m sure we’ve found them there before — at least, Lilia has.”
I said, only half-joking: “Well, women seem to be able to do that — maybe they’re getting into spaces we poor guys can’t?”
In my womanspace, I wouldn’t be married to a man who is not capable of sharing 50/50 in the care of our family by buying clothing for our child. And, in my womanspace, there is no tolerance for any man who claims that he cannot complete a domestic task because “men just can’t.”
That was the catalyst: suddenly, we Hunters had an insight into how real Gatherers operated, sparked by our own hopelessness and some considerable acquaintance with the formidable talents of wives when it comes to finding things, and enough science (and science fiction) background to be able to appreciate that parallel universes were quite a reasonable answer to a number of important questions. Including, it seemed, supermarket shopping.
And here, faithful readers, is the crux of it all. Science and math is manspace. But, supermarket shopping is womanspace. Preparing meals is womanspace. Writing books and discussing hypotheses is manspace.
My womanspace is fluid and not defined by the notion that my biology determines what I can accomplish. And, if there are particular roles that appear purely in womanspace, it is only because society has deemed it so. The boundaries of my womanspace do not exist because nature has placed them. They exist because the patriarchy has tried to confine me within them.
5) Women are uppity and must be kept in their place:
But the answer is clear: women can access parallel universes in order to find things, whether they do it consciously or not. They have probably always been able to do this, and now there is fierce speculation as to whether this constituted the evolutionary advantage we had over other primates: the presence of bulbs, grains and nuts on the table that had been retrieved from parallel universes when the hunters came home empty-handed was probably a major factor in the survival of our species.
The difference is that now they know that they can do it — and things have changed.
Because groceries aren’t all they go looking for. It turns out the next item on the shopping list is better-looking versions of us.
Those women have wised up and, if we don’t keep them under control, they’re going to start getting “ideas” about things.
But, here’s the saddest lesson we learn from all of this:
6) Not only does Nature not value its female readers, it knew that this would be offensive.
Even in my womanspace, there are a lot of clueless dudes. Dudes who say things that make a smoking hot scientist stop, firmly plant her Naughty Monkeys, and issue a reminder that they are not the only members of the workforce. And, while there are some real sexist cockmonkeys, many of those dudes are merely clueless. Not all of them operate with willfull disregard for their female colleagues. But, Nature does. This is evidenced by this comment from Senior Editor Henry Gee:
I’m amazed we haven’t had any outraged comments about this story.
It’s transparent that Henry Gee knew that some of Nature’s female readership would find this offensive, as he lamented the lack of uppity females. Henry Gee who, as a senior editor, has some influence over the content of the Nature journals. It’s distressing to observe the comments between Gee and Rybicki and to see them appear almost disappointed that more folks were not offended. As I commented at the time, I wasn’t outraged earlier because I don’t find Nature relevant enough to read it regularly. I only caught the piece because a reader sent it to me. I am, apparently not the only one realizing that Nature has offered a gigantic “fuck you” to its female readership. Anne Jefferson also noted Henry Gee’s comment. And, the author himself realized that this was a load of misogynist bullshit when, as Anne points to, he tweeted, “I WILL catch flak for this.” I can’t imagine why, if someone knows that they have written something that will offend a portion of their professional colleagues, they would attempt to publish it.
That saddens me the most. That Nature knowingly published something that belittles a large portion of its readership. Maybe this is the direction they’re trying to take the journal? If so, I have something they might consider for their next issue: They could tuck it in right next to this joke:
A university professor is in the habit of starting his lectures with rude sexist jokes. All the females in the class have had enough and decide that they are all going to walk out when the professor starts his next rude joke. But the professor discovers their plan and is one step ahead. The following lecture the professor begins: “Did you know that in China they are so short of whores that they’re importing them by the ship load?” At that all the female students rise and begin walking out. The Professor shouts, “There’s no rush ladies, the boat only leaves tomorrow!”
Anyone else have anything we could submit to Nature?