November 26, 2011 / Opportunity, Sexism

Nature Error


The following article is cross-post with the express permission from the blog Female Science Professor. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

OK, OK, yes I saw the stupid “Futures” story(?) titled Womanspace inNature in late September, I read the comments (many of which are great), and I agree that Nature should not have published this thing, not just because it is offensive, but because it is bad — bad writing, bad story, bad way to crank up traffic on the site — and should not be in a journal, not even in an obscure corner of a journal website. The editor showed appalling judgement.

Many of the ensuing comments are great, and I don’t have much to add, except that some of the comments struck me as outstanding examples of classic responses flung out whenever there is a suggestion that something just might possibly be sexist or at the very least offensive to many people. In the case in question, that something was written (and published in Nature) explicitly for male readers with female significant others, portraying women in general as having certain shopping tendencies, and including generalizations that would be unthinkable to write about people of, say, a particular religion or ethnicity (but are apparently OK if you are writing about women as a group).

One of the classic responses is along the lines of: “I was just joking. If you weren’t so humorless you would see how funny I am.” I have written about these “jokes” before. They have no place in a professional venue.

The other insidious classic response is the “My wife wasn’t offended by what I wrote and she is a woman and not only that but she is also really smart and I sometimes do the cooking at home and therefore my participation in what is traditionally a very female household job makes me by definition a non-sexist, hear me roar.”

Or something like that. Variations on this are “I am that man’s wife and I thought what he wrote was very funny” (so he is not sexist; see the comments in Nature, including the one from the author’s wife) and/or “I am a woman and I wasn’t offended”.. ergo, the author is not a sexist.

I am not sure I am following the reasoning here. Is it that men are only sexist if they say they are, but they never are if someone else says they are? And any woman can speak for all other women (just as we apparently all shop the same way) and therefore if only one woman is not offended, sexism doesn’t exist, even if many women (and men) were offended? That is, sexism can never exist, it can only not exist?

I think I am beginning to develop a hypothesis. Maybe Nature will publish it?

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