You’ll recall I posted about fellow Scibling Shelley Batts’s run-in with Wiley over fair use of a figure and graph from a journal article. This incident created quite a firestorm in the blogosphere. You’ll find a good summary and a nice link roundup provided by Bora over at A Blog Around The Clock. It’s a big deal because it gets to the heart of science blogging and science reporting.
A few days ago Shelley Batts at Retrospectacle reviewed a paper about treating fruit with natural volatile compounds to make it last longer. She included a figure and chart from the paper (the source was cited).
Sounds reasonable. Identify blogger and blog name, begin to describe what happened.
But Scientific American’s blogger, Nikhil Swaminathan, was not content to merely mention Shelley and her blog. No, instead, we get this:
Anyway, on Tuesday, over at the ScienceBlog Retrospectacle, neuroscience PhD student Shelley Batts (who based on her pictures alone seems to be both attractive and avian-friendly) posted an analysis of a study appearing in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, which suggested that the antioxidants properties in fruits were boosted by alcohol.
Excuse me? “Seems to be attractive”? WTF???
I mean, what the f*ck does that have to do with anything in the story? Why the gratuitous mention of Shelley’s appearance?
Oh, I know why. Because she’s a WOMAN. And women, at all times, you must remember that you are women first and foremost. Your appearance is ever and always an issue, and no matter what the hell you are ever doing – be it analyzing a gel, delivering a talk, or taking on a publishing giant in the blogosphere – how you look will be an important factor in whatever story there is to tell about you.
I just can’t imagine that, if the blogger had been male, a similar comment would have been made. “Over at the Scienceblog Galactic Interactions, professor of physics Rob Knop (who based on his pictures alone seems to be both attractive and orb-friendly) posted an analysis…”
No, it just wouldn’t happen. And no snide remarks about Rob – he’s perfectly nice-looking. I mean it just wouldn’t happen because We don’t do that to men. We don’t talk about their appearance when we are talking about them in a professional context. They get to be treated as professionals and have their work stand for itself. They don’t have their looks assessed and evaluated in parenthetical asides.
Here’s the list of knee-jerk idiot responses I’m expecting to get in the comments thread (hopefully, I can save you some time and trouble):
- It’s not that big a deal; you’re over-reacting.
- It’s not sexist; it’s a compliment.
- Hey, she put pictures up on her website. If she doesn’t want anybody to comment on her appearance, she shouldn’t put pictures up!
- But she really is attractive! It’s not a lie, it’s just reporting the truth.
- Guys would like it if women said something like that about them.
I’m sure there are others I’ve missed; I’m sure you’ll let me know what they are. To help you out, in case you were thinking of posting any of the above comments: yes, it is indeed sexist to comment on a woman’s appearance in a context like this. It’s completely gratuitous, it has nothing to do with the story, and it wouldn’t have been done if she weren’t a woman. I’m not over-reacting; I’m pointing out an occurrence of sexism. That’s one of the functions of this blog, to highlight the thousand and one daily, mundane occurrences of sexism that go on in the science universe, that are so common we breathe them in like the air around us and don’t even notice them anymore – till someone points them out. (And then gets told she’s over-reacting.) I don’t care if Shelley is the hottest babe to ever hit the world of neuroscience, it still does not justify commenting on her appearance. And hey, if you want to comment on her pictures in the privacy of your home, that’s one thing. A journalist for a respected scientific publication – that’s another. Simply. Not. Appropriate.
And finally, I don’t give a crap if guys would like it if women said something like that about them. First of all, it would be equally inappropriate to comment on a man’s appearance in the same context. But second of all, if someone did, commenting on a man’s appearance would add to his power. It would suggest he’s virile, a manly man. Commenting on a woman’s appearance has the effect of reminding her – and all of us – that she’s just a woman. She may do science, but she’s still an object for men to ogle. It’s not symmetrical.
Okay, I’m done. Let the whining begin.