I am judging an elementary school science fair tonight. I am very excited about it. So this morning, after I woke up I deliberately made myself appear feminine (put on a dress, wore contact lenses instead of glasses, hair blown dry instead of wrangled into a wet bun) so that I could go and show little girls that it’s okay to like girly things AND be a scientist. I was going to mold some young minds. I was going to be a role model. I was going to inspire a generation of Goldiebloxes.
And then I got to lab, and guess what. Some shit was going down on the internet.
I had to work my way backward through this Dr. Isis thing. As a new blogger, I am on baby deer legs trying to find the right balance of hyperlink-as-enhancement and hyperlink-as-rabbit-hole. So I’ve tried to reconstruct, below, what happened in a more narrative way than I’ve seen so far.
Dr. Isis was one of those people.
I myself am afraid of twitter (mostly because of the time I fear I’d waste, which, good call on writing WAY MORE than 140 characters as a time-saver???) and am like an old person when it comes to deciphering, embedding, etc. but bear with me: I do understand enough to read the twitters backwards, and I do speak Spanish, so I know Dr. Isis tweeted that she had died but not to worry, she is like the phoenix.
Some more internet stuff happened and as you see at the top of the screencap there, Dr. Isis wrote again.
Some other people weighed in too. One such person was the lately always-right Dr. Michael Eisen, who writes about anonymity here. If you only click on one link here, let it be that one. Eisen nails it when he talks about how he felt being criticized by an anonymous blogger:
In the heat of the moment I found Dr. Isis’s anonymity incredibly frustrating. It felt somehow unfair. Here I was – me under my real name – being publicly taken to task by a phantom. It was unnerving. It was disarming. It made it more difficult to fight back. And of course, I now realize, that is the whole fucking point!
If our conflicts had existed in the “real world” where I’m a reasonably well known, male tenured UC Berkeley professor and HHMI Investigator and she’s a young, female, Latina woman at the beginning of her research career, the deck is stacked against her. Whatever the forum, odds are I’m going to come out ahead, not because I’m right, but because that’s just the way this world works. And I think we can all agree that this is a very bad thing.
I won’t let it go unsaid that it bugs me that this dude’s piece is what I, and every angry female scientist, is posting on facebook, twitter, etc. today as the thing that best voices our anger. I will also say that I thought Dr. Isis’s response to being outed was classy as hell, and spot-on:
That someone would engage a personal vendetta and conflate it with how I should expect to be treated by an allegedly peer-reviewed publication gives me more pause than having my name displayed publicly. And, it should serve as a gentle reminder of the possible outcome women face when they speak up about misogyny and sexism in their field.
Once I’d pieced together what had happened, the entire morning had passed, and I felt extremely tired. I looked down at the dress I’d put on and felt embarrassed and fraudulent and small. I had gone to all this effort to look like I was a lady who had it together, and I hadn’t done a thing of scientific worth all day. And I am going to quote the inimitable Caitlin Moran when I tell you how I feel about this:
“You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.”
After I read her book I found myself using the word ‘knackered’ a lot. I found it described my feelings about my efforts very well. I am knackered. Women are knackered. Too knackered. From all of the total fucking bullshit. I have done no actual scientific research before noon because of the primping and prettifying and then showing up ready to work and falling into a rabbit hole of anger. And in doing no work, I am letting women down. And in feeling guilty about this, I continue to do no work. When Michael Eisen has to step in and unpack his invisible knapsack in public to get people to listen, because I was shaving my armpits and drying my hair and angry-reading the internet for hours without getting up to refill my coffee, it makes me feel knackered.
This morning, before I even left my bed to find this fresh internet hell, I was recalling an argument I had at a bar in New Orleans during the 2013 Society for Neuroscience meeting. A shitstorm had started over a sexist tweet which, oh look, Dr. Isis was THERE FOR. Like the fucking boss she is and was. Anyway, the shitstorm was about how some dude scientist had complained that the women at the conference weren’t hot enough, and we were fighting about whether science was a hostile environment for women generally, and the argument was made to me that, if you’re a scientist who cares about furthering science, you shouldn’t hire a female post-doc who you know plans on getting pregnant and taking maternity leave, because this does not further science. Gosh, blogging is hard, because I could waste so much more time finding and linking you to every piece that has ever made me angry on this front. Instead I will just tell you that it has always angered me that “women be gettin’ pregnant” is still a reason we cite for why there are no women in science. That we are still hearing this belies the extent to which we still think of the world as it was described in that first Nature piece, the one that first made an enemy of the Nature Publishing Group for people like Dr. Isis and myself. Men sitting around talking about science while the women clean house and fix supper and keep the children in line. It’s depressing. If we’re still having to battle the idea that raising children is women’s work, and cleaning up is women’s work, and looking hot while presenting your science at a conference is women’s work, then yes, we are knackered, and yes, we are angry, and yes, anonymity fucking matters.
Here is what I think is the great irony about anonymity in this story. When you, as the editor of Nature, use your power to out someone for whom anonymity was a very real source, arguably their main source, of power, it makes me want to scream for all of the anonymous women whose work and sacrifices gave you your power. As long as the pregnancy card is still played, as long as it reflects the very real beliefs of those in power that women should be penalized for their non-decision to take on this work, these women’s achievements will remain anonymous. It makes me want to contact the mothers, wives, and daughters of every prominent male scientist who does not see it as their job to raise their child, and politely suggest that these women demand authorship. As tax for the incubation and care that allowed their son to grow into a person capable of publishing groundbreaking science. As a tax for countless invisible sacrifices and hours of invisible work that allowed their partner to thrive. As maybe the only fucking way of driving home the point that they didn’t build that.
Today’s flak revealed a great irony of this gargantuan edifice of anonymous work, which is that it allows those who benefit from it to sit visibly and prominently atop it and, ultimately, deny someone anonymity as a leveler of playing fields. So let me get this straight. We are knackered from our women’s work before we even show up to lab, and then our anger further knackers us, and then we live in fear of failing because if we do fail, then our failures speak for all women (wouldn’t anonymity be nice then?), and then when some brave soul has the energy and confidence to attempt to speak for all women by appropriating the very mask of anonymity that has kept women in the shadows, it is then that you decide that anonymity is bad and must be squashed.
Do you know why I think there are no women in science, really? Because the publish-or-perish model rewards those who have been socialized to be confident in their approach, loud in their claims, and unapologetically demanding of others’ time. Guess who these people are. I’ll give you a hint: they’re not the ones doing invisible work, anonymously. That is another post for another time and it will require more tact, delicacy, and yes, energy, than I currently have, to decide what is appropriate to share and what isn’t, without a pseudonym. But in the meantime, I turn to my research utterly knackered, hoping to get enough done that I can look a little girl in the eye tonight and tell her she has a great future as a scientist.