Another Idea for Empowering Women

Ok, I know, I know I was going to take a hiatus, but I couldn’t resist. I decided to use my Friday evening to do a bit of catching up on Twitter/Blogs. And the uproar about Womanspace caught my attention. As I do have the desire to encourage more women into STEM fields, it might be good to join the conversation and to means in which we think about empowering women. I perhaps have another vantage point than the blogsphere, but I want to propose another way of considering the feature.

Personally, I thought the story was somewhat of clever yet approachable way of complementing women. The men were portrayed as lazy and not capable of completing anything. (guys? are you offended?) “…these otherwise unemployed elderly men…not having to listen to us blather on about just where to pitch the book, and what to put in it.”  These men were not the ones bringing home the bacon! There is no indication that the wife wasn’t a scientist! The exact opposite: “which smacked of desperate snatching at straws to excuse incompetence, to the astrophysics-qualified wife.”

Basically, I thought it was a cute tongue-and-cheek way of including us women into the sci-fi sphere where we are most often left out. And as a sci-fi nerd, I was happy to be included and thought of highly as to be given the ability to travel through parallel universes as our male counterparts had absolutely no ability to. not even to get a pair of knickers.

But what I wanted to address in the blog post more specifically is whether it is helpful to point out that this essay/futures is something to be angry about or to complain about. Yes, I agree, it does have some domestic stereotyping, but I see this “stereotyping” as a means of bringing an obscure concept of “crossing parallel universes” into the realm of “believable”. or as a means of a story arc, setting up that our female powers of crossing parallel universes and being qualified astrophysicists are the norm.  Why not bring out the strength of the wife being the lead. She tells and instructs the men with a task. and not hone in on the fact that she’s doing something “domestic”.

I am not sure how or at what point the lack of females around me strengthened me, but whenever I realize that I am the only woman in the room, that is exactly what encourages me to find a way to be better than all those men. Not cower away. Yes, I do believe the data on inferiority stereotyping but why not find a way to counter inferiority stereotyping? Find a way to tell girls “hey, so you are one of the few girls in this room, go you!” how did it get into their heads in the first place that this is a problem? A part of me just thinks that attacking a story as being too “stereotyping in that it has a woman in a domesticated role” when it includes women as the dominating role in a sphere normally not open to women (scifi) is not a way to counter the problem of lack of women in government, business and science.

Perhaps broadly this is the stance of “why tell me that I am hitting a glass celling?”. “I would rather not know where the glass celling currently stands.”

I personally don’t want to go against NPG for this reason. Futures is the one feature I actually look forward to reading every month.

PS: this summer I saw an EXCELLENT image that would go great with this post. It was a cartoon vintage poster? that was of a little girl in a bubble helmet climbing into a spaceship and a little boy following her lead. The blogger had mentioned that this type of poster was rare for the time period because 1.) there was even a girl in the picture 2.) she was the lead. If a reader has seen this, please please bring this to my attention! I cannot for the life of me find this image. In which this dilemma actually makes me sad that in real life I do not have parallel universe jumping capabilities to be able to find the image I am searching for.

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One response to “Another Idea for Empowering Women”

  1. Aaron says :

    Ok, I promised I’d comment so here goes:

    Firstly, I want to outline where I agree with you. The publication of this piece was at best stupid, at worst offensive, but certainly not reason enough to protest or boycott NPG. I also think it is important to consider the possible positives (or at least misandrist negatives) as well.

    However, I do think that it was a poor decision to publish this particular … anecdote? … metaphor? for two reasons.

    First, is that it really seems rather pointless. I disagree with you that it is a good way to talk about parallel universes because that certainly isn’t how they work. He also spent the majority of the article not even talking about the concept or its relation to the metaphor but telling this weird story about unsuccessfully trying to buy children’s underwear.

    Reason two is that it is a rather trite (and I really mean that in the literary sense, not as a put down) stereotyping of both men and women. It sounds like a story that might have shown up in a popular science magazine in the fifties or maybe told by an oblivious conservative uncle to a ten year old.

    Allow me qualify for a moment: I didn’t find myself offended while reading it but rather it was a series of facepalm after facepalm of “I really cannot believe this was published”. Especially in a journal like Nature. While I appreciate that he is trying to make the concept of multiple (or parallel) universes more accessible, this is a major journal and he should assume that his readership have some ability to understand abstract concepts. I would almost compare the way I felt reading it to if I were reading a piece on sexual selection that started out with, “When a mommy spider and a daddy spider love eachother very much”. The fact of the matter is that if you demand excellence in the research you publish you should also demand excellence in the writing that you publish. There are certainly more clever and insightful ways to try to get this idea across.

    Now, I said before that this isn’t something that should inspire boycotting, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve a response. Nature is a major journal and they really should be sensitive to gender stereotyping (and trite writing). They have done a somewhat ok job by publishing the two responses in this month’s issue, but each one of those was approximately a paragraph. That I don’t agree with. Instead of two short, “I can’t believe that got published/what ridiculous stereotyping thisisthe21stcentry” responses they should have, and really still could, use this as a spring board to actually talk about the lack of women in STEM fields, the lack of women in high positions in every field and what that says about the state of equality in the sciences. I’m sure there is fantastic research out there on these subjects and I do think that changing these subconcious biases that still seem to be floating around is a good thing.

    However, it should be done with science, nuance, and rational discussion.

    (sorry, I didn’t think it would be this long going in)

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