Rising Against the Wind

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | January 28, 2011 10:25 am

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that I frequently write about women in science and the unique challenges for female science bloggers. And there have been many moments over the past four years when I’ve felt as if I was shouting into the wind.

I “Came Out” in 2007, was “Singled Out” in 2009, and went “Under The Microscope” in 2010, with lots of related posts in between. Each piece initially garnered an enormous response, high blog traffic, and echoed across the blogosphere–until a few days later when everyone seemed to forget and move on. The Internet has no memory after all.

So I can’t say I expected things would be any different when I proposed a panel entitled “Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name” for Science Online 2011.  But two weeks later I’m wondering if maybe we’re reaching critical mass as attitudes are beginning to shift. As more of us stand up and speak out, transgressions become harder to ignore. If we raise awareness collectively, we shift cultural mores. And I’m encouraged that we’re moving in that direction.

After the panel, a chorus emerged that has been rising in pitch. Posts have been composed about the challenges we face, highlighting womens’ accomplishments, acknowledging sexism, and more. Despite smaller ripples of the past, something feels different this time. More men and women are joining the conversation fostering a thoughtful dialog. Ed Yong has composed a list of women bloggers to read, with specific reasons why and links to some of his favorite posts. In other words, he’s not promoting them because they are women, but rather because they are talented writers and scientists. (I’m humbled and honored to be namhttp://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/wp-admin/post.php?post=15486&action=edit&message=1ed. Thanks Ed).

Suddenly I feel as if I’m not shouting against the wind alone anymore. Sure, this week’s enthusiasm will ebb at some point, but times are assuredly changing.  Along with the blogosphere. We still have a long way to go, but I’m optimistic at how far we’ve already come…

Comments (10)

  1. Just wanted to share something I said to Sheril over email: I think she’s had a particularly tough time of it, but every time she’s spoken out on the issue, I and presumably others have listened, learned and processed. I think this sort of stuff happens by degrees and even though this latest surge of momentum might pass, it’ll contribute to the next time and so on. They contribute to tiny little tweaks and checks in personal behaviour – in the way we address female colleagues, the way we think about their work, the way we support and encourage them.

    The fact that these processes largely invisible to the people who instigated them is a shame but I wanted to reassure Sheril and everyone else taking part in this debate that, despite the risk of creating a troll-infested comment thread and worse, these posts create much wider ripples.

  2. I’m also encouraged, not just by the volume of the discussion, but by the fact that the discussion is evolving. Knowing that people are listening makes it easier to say, not just that there are problems, but that those problems are sometimes subtle and complicated but still fixable.

  3. I just want to thank you so much for what you are doing.

  4. Keep on Sheril. You are doing this not only for your peers but for the next generation of women, for my daughters. I posted a link to Ed’s list in the sidebar of my blog. And I read you through my reader, even if I don’t always comment.

  5. Sheril, I want to thank you for continuing to shout into the wind on this issue, for sharing your story, for organizing the panel, and for being an inspiration to me and many other women bloggers. I hope that we are on the cusp of change this time, but even if it takes another few rounds of these discussions, your example is spreading and your voice is no longer alone.

  6. I second everything said above. Thank you, really and truly, for all that you’ve done and continue to do.

    Some women have been attacked more than others, and you’re on that list for reasons that are inscrutable to me (unless it does have something to do with how well and righteously you have raised issues of women in science). But your work has been essential to the rest of us doing more, and saying more, and risking more. You aren’t alone any more.

  7. Thanks so much for all you do, Sheril. It feels like you take the heat for us all sometimes, and that’s not remotely fair. I hope that each time, more and more people will help and we can get more and more good stuff done.

  8. Chas Nassim

    There are at least two issues. Women tend to be more inhibited about the value – to other people – of their opinions (and that doesn’t mean low self-esteem; it’s a more subtle result of their upbringing). That’s one reason why they don’t put themselves forward as pundits, for example.

    Secondly, women and men notice each other, but mostly for different reasons. The old slang (UK) expression for scientists, “woolly jumpers” reflects the fact that for most of the last century, the received image for a scientist was a male boffin too immersed in his work to wear anything else. Women, in all parts of all (as far as I know) societies, generally pay attention to their clothes and looks. So perhaps we should consider the enforced equality of dress and banning of makeup in Mao’s China and ask whether it was an important factor in the astonishingly fast advances that women made under that regime.

    And while we’re on the subject of attitudes to women, how about the automatic ageism directed against them? A male professor is in his prime at 60, distinguished at 70. Do I need to go on?

    So thank you for stirring the pot, Sheril, and I hope you’ll keep it up.

  9. Robert Ando

    Yes, it has taken men [ in general] a long time to look past femininity and realize that some women have brains. [ This is not to imply that only some men exhibit brainkessness ] Female brains are wired differently, so why hasn’t ageism differences been researched?

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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