Watch Your Shoes! Interview with Suzanne Franks

Suzanne Franks, better known online as Zuska is a SciBling you do not want to make mad with mysogynist sentiments! At the second Science Blogging Conference in January she co-moderated a panel on Gender and Race in Science: online and offline.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background? What is your Real World job?

Well, right now I have no Real World Job because chronic migraines make it impossible for me to hold down a job. My education includes a PhD in biomedical engineering and a graduate certificate in women's studies. In previous lives, I did basic cancer research in Germany and the U.S., I was a manager of medical writing in the pharmaceutical industry, and I was the founding director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program at Kansas State University. That last one is probably my proudest accomplishment.

I guess my Real-World job description now would be: blogging, gardening, reading, and playing with the cats. And having migraines.

What do you want to do/be when (and if ever) you grow up?

I've answered this question once before. What I said then still holds true: "Healthy. I can do pretty much whatever else I want, if I could just stop having migraines. Also, a mean banjo-picker."

I guess I'd add that I really would like to be able to return to medical writing someday. Medical writing is rewarding work, professionally and financially. I highly recommend it as an alternative career for disillusioned postdocs.

When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?

I got into blogging due to the incessant prodding of a good friend who is not a scientist. After I started, I thought "surely I can't be the only one writing about gender and science!" So I started searching for blogs on women and science, blogs by women scientists, feminist blogs that discussed science... Some of the first ones I found were See Jane Compute (since today, found here) - which I fell in love with immediately, Adventures in Ethics and Science, Dr.Shellie, Naked Under My Lab Coat (which I adore, but she hasn't blogged in a couple of months...I hope she's doing okay with the thesis), Young Female Scientist, and Rants of a Feminist Engineer.

Before I moved to Scienceblogs I pretty much exclusively read women-and-science blogs. After the move I started reading other types of science blogs, just by virtue of reading what the other Sciencebloggers were writing. The conference allowed me to make contact with some bloggers I've already been reading, and that was a very useful and powerful experience.

i-d90ceac35e2d7eb95ba74cede4d969bd-Zuska interview pic.JPG

Immediately after the Conference, there were several posts up by female science bloggers about the issue of anonymity, e.g., this, this and this. You are one of the (minority?) of the female science bloggers who blogs under the full name. How does that restrict what you write about or not? Was that ever a source of any problems for you either online or offline?

Well, if I had a job, I'm not sure I would blog in the same way. I'd feel constrained by not wanting to jeopardize my job. For example, I can imagine that if I were in the pharmaceutical industry at present, I might want to blog more about things going on in that sphere...but I'd feel concerned about how that would come across at work.

Not being employed, I feel free to say whatever I want, and I have to tell you it is very liberating. I can finally express all the anger and frustration that so many women experience, but don't feel free to talk about. I can be much more blunt about gender equity issues than I could when I worked at K-State, where my job required a more, shall we say, politesse approach to bring people on board with the vision of a more equitable world of science and engineering.

I do worry, on occasion, if I am able to go back to work, whether my outspoken blogging might hurt me. But I don't worry enough about it to shut up. :)

The main annoyance I've experienced online comes from the umpteen million comments I get about how if I would just speak in a nice polite voice I'd be taken more seriously, usually from guys who actually mean "Your anger upsets me. Please be nice the way I think women are supposed to be." Those people need to have their shoes puked on.

What does the expression "to puke on his shoes" mean? What is its origin?

The post that explains the genesis of "puke on his shoes" can be found here. Basically, when someone or some organization behaves in a manner that is so egregiously offensive that mere words cannot express all the outrage it engenders, then one wants to puke on someone's shoes. And I'm generally willing to name the someone upon whose shoes puke should be deposited.

How do you see science blogs as tools in changing the culture of academia in regards to gender? Do you think that male science bloggers, by reading female science bloggers, are starting to "get it" and are becoming allies?

I don't think science blogs have had much of an impact on the culture of academia with regards to gender equity, at least not yet. Most of the people positioned to enact institutional transformation are probably not reading blogs, let alone women-and-science blogs. I do think science blogs have helped create community for women scientists and engineers, in the sense that Janet Stemwedel of Adventures in Ethics and Science speaks of community.

Female science bloggers have created a community online where they can get and give advice on the myriad things they must cope with. So many women scientists and engineers are isolated, often the only one or one of few women in a department. They don't have a peer group in the Real World to talk to about issues like childbearing, career/life balance, dealing with the daily grind of institutionalized sexism, and practicing effective moron management. They find their sisters online, and they realize "I'm not crazy, this really is screwed up and wrong." They get their experience validated, and they learn how other women have coped with similar situations. This is really important for helping women persist in academia.

With regard to male readers of women-and-science blogs, there seem to be roughly three categories.

(1) Allies, who offer support and insight and want to know more about what they can do to be better allies. These guys more or less "get it" and want to improve their understanding of gender issues. They are not threatened by angry women.

(2) "Nice Guys" who do not think of themselves as sexist or biased but who have a hard time getting it about the extent of institutionalized sexism. They will often say "but I've never seen discrimination!" or "but I'm a Nice Guy! I don't take advantage of women! Male privilege doesn't apply to me!" or "are you sure that was an instance of sexism? Maybe it really can be explained by X [where X is Anything-But-Sexism]". They will often open with something like "I accept that women are discriminated against, but..." and then go on to argue how whatever bit of discrimination or bias you've been talking about isn't really the issue you think it is. They do not understand gender schemas and implicit bias and how those function to create disadvantage for women.

Nice Guys take a lot of work. A small percentage of them do really want to try and learn more about institutionalized sexism. The vast majority, however, while wanting to think of themselves as Allies, experience intense personal threat when gender equity is seriously discussed, which makes them defensive. They have trouble getting past taking it personally, and look at the big picture of institutionalized sexism, discrimination, and bias. How can I be biased? I'm a Nice Guy!

(3) Morons and trolls. Their main contribution is to clearly illustrate, far better than I ever could on my own, just exactly how bad things still are for women.

Is there anything that happened at this Conference - a session, something someone said or did or wrote - that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

Dave Munger's presentation was very useful for me, full of practical tips that I hope to implement in some manner on my blog. Dave really emphasized blogging consistently, and having a regular weekly feature - two things that I have struggled with, in part because of my health issues. But I think some better organization of time on my part is called for here. :)

It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.

Bora, it was a real pleasure! Thanks for everything you did to make the UnConference happen, and thanks for this interview!


Check out all the interviews in this series.

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' a non-science-writer just watching from the wings... '

By ...tom... (not verified) on 06 Mar 2008 #permalink

We love you Zuska!

By anonwoman (not verified) on 10 Mar 2008 #permalink