October was gearing up to be a great month. It started with the always fabulous, always inspiring, always rejuvenating Grace Hopper Conference, which was here in the Twin Cities this year. (4800 technical women in one venue! Can’t get much more awesome than that.) Then earlier this week was Ada Lovelace Day, a day in which we’re all supposed to share stories of women scientists, engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists, etc—essentially, reminding the world that women have and continue to contribute great things to these fields. I’ve always found Ada Lovelace Day inspiring and was looking forward to working up a (belated) post this year.
But sometimes the world has a way of kicking you in the gut. And that’s certainly what this week has felt like in the science/tech blogosphere.
For those of you not following along on Twitter or in the blogosphere, a quick recap:
- Danielle N. Lee, biologist and blogger extraordinaire, turned down a request to blog for free on Biology Online. In response, the blog editor who sent the request called her an urban whore. As if that’s not bad enough, she posts about the incident on her blog (hosted by Scientific American), only to have Scientific American take the post down for shady and shoddy reasons (and a shifting story). Eventually the editor was fired and Dr. Lee’s blog post reinstated.
- Several stories emerge about Bora Zivkovic, a highly influential person in the science blogging community, as a harasser of women. Bora resigns from the ScienceOnline (the conference he co-founded that brings science bloggers together) board. (update: also resigns from Scientific American, as more allegations come to light).
- Twitter and the blogosphere erupt with stories from women and men about sexual harassment and microagressions, at once heartbreaking and, unfortunately, familiar.
- I become aware of a certain unsavory tumblr. I refuse to link to it here, but let’s say it rhymes with “mop fleck lemminism”, and it’s peddling a lot of the same sexist bullsh*t that’s been running amok in the tech field lately (and forever).
Early on in my career, whenever I had a really bad day (or week, or month), I would cope by doing one of two things. I’d either compose my resignation letter in my head, or I’d come home and declare “That’s it, I’m not advising any one else to go into this stupid, stupid field.” (Yes, I tend towards the melodramatic—why do you ask?) There’s been a lot of that going on in my life this week. I’m demoralized, I’m saddened, and I’m furious. I’m reminded of my own experiences with harassment over my career, and sickened that this type of stuff is still happening and that the same sort of victim-blaming and gaslighting and minimizing of experiences I’ve experienced is still going strong. The last thing I want to do is think shiny, happy thoughts and write shiny, happy stories about women in science and tech, because I’m reminded of just how toxic both science and tech can be towards women.
But there is some good coming out of all this mess and yuckiness. Because people are talking. People are sharing their stories and experiences. #ripplesofdoubt is hard to read, but it’s trending strong on Twitter as I write this, and it’s so, so important to read and digest. The science blogging and tweeting communities are actively talking about this. Talking about privilege and power. Talking about allies, and decency, and what we should do when a “good person” behaves “unexpectedly”. Talking about what trust means, and safe spaces, and the power of listening, really listening. Not shying away from the tough questions and discussions. Just talking.
I had a conversation with my husband last month in which I told him about an unsettling story I heard about an interaction between a student and a professor, a typical microaggression. He said something like “I can’t believe that happens!” I looked at him and said, “What are you talking about? Of course it happens. It’s happened to me many times.” Now, my husband is a feminist and I consider him an ally, and yet he had a very real blind spot about this. My statement shocked him. I’ve thought about that conversation many times this week, about the importance of continuing to talk and educate even though it feels like we’ve been talking and educating forever.
We as a community need to keep talking, and telling our stories. The shiny, happy, Ada Lovelace Day ones and the ones we’d rather forget ever happened. We need to name names, too. This is how we bring to light what’s really happening. Most people, men and women, in science and tech are good people who want to do the right thing. Our stories hopefully help them begin to see beyond their privilege, and hopefully empower them to start asking “what can I do? how can I help?” I know that’s not nearly enough, but it’s a start.