Who knew science blogging was a man’s world?

I didn’t. I firmly straddle the worlds of science blogging (evidently strongly male) and mommy blogging (evidently not). I’m new to the blogosphere, and actually pleasantly surprised that there is one. I’m old, and don’t understand this blogging thing too well. But I  do understand the discussion about women in the blogosphere. I’m a woman in science. I’ve heard it all before.

I wasn’t sure at first whether, or how, to weigh in on this matter. I HAVE heard it all before. I have been to numerous seminars and workshops on women’s representation in science, on maintaining a work-life balance (a workshop that made me so angry I left shaking, forsaking a free lunch). I have been encouraged by Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). I have had supportive and understanding mentors. My work straddles molecular biology and mathematics, but I have not found women underrepresented in these fields. I live in Canada, which, relative to the States, is supportive of women and young families and doesn’t tend quite as strongly the to lunatic right (with the exception of rural Alberta). And yet, I’ve seen sexism, delivered from both men and women. I’ve struggled with my communication in a way that I might not have had I been male. And I just started a family, and have suddenly become jobless. I don’t for a minute think that this is solely because I am a woman. But I also think it would be naive to think that my gender has not played a role in finding myself as a highly trained bum on unemployment.

Sexism in science and science communication is a thorny, thorny question. It’s such a thorny question that I hesitated to use the word sexism, because it’s a highly charged accusation. But let’s be clear: if there are barriers to women in science and science communication, then that is, by definition, sexism. So let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? Still, it’s hard to know how gender roles influence our lives, and despite years of study, as a society we haven’t figured out how to make science (and evidently science blogging) a level playing field for women.

The barriers to women in science have been expounded on before, but they boil down to a couple of big issues, including my favorite: having and raising a child takes time. In Canada, we are fortunate to have federal support for mothers in their child’s first year, but this is only for jobs that qualify for Employment Insurance. Regardless, the year away from the high-paced world of science leaves a hole in the CV, often during the postdoc or early faculty years when one’s career is being established. Furthermore, women are simply less likely to be taken seriously, especially on technical matters. I know from experience that my technical expertise can be ignored for the sole reason that I talk like a 7 year old on helium. I know this, because if I pass on the advice through my male colleagues, it has been gracefully accepted.

As I said, none of this is news. Universities are more conscious of increasing their female representation, and Professor Kate Clancy has drawn together a collection of women science bloggers, for which I gleefully signed myself up. Yet there are subtle hindrances that keep women from being represented in both science and science communication. Dave Munger, Editor of ResearchBlogging.org, examined the gender distribution of bloggers who submit articles to this community.  ResearchBlogging.org accepts most posts as long as they conform to basic guidelines, and amongst their contributors men outnumber women 3:1, similar to larger networks such as PLoS, Wired, Guardian and Discover. Despite the fact that women and men enter graduate school in similar numbers and obtain PhDs in similar numbers, we aren’t blogging at the same rate. More precisely, we aren’t SCIENCE blogging at the same rate. As a woman who spends half her blogging energies on mommy blogging, I can guarantee you that women are certainly availing themselves of the opportunity to use the internet. It would seem then, that women are spending their blogging energies differently, even female scientists. Apparently, we are more likely to also blog about life in science and to provide mentorship. Thus when compiling prominent science bloggers, women may fall out of the selection because they don’t quite fit the bill.

Is it fair to say that the drive to increase the diversity of opinions in science is just lip service? That we will dutifully compile lists of women science bloggers and impress upon hiring committees the importance of increasing diversity in faculties, but then frame our search criteria to exclude viewpoints that talk about life in the trenches as well as the science? Faculty searches may be conscious of the need to increase representation of women on faculties, but without significant improvement in childcare or support for postdocs, who spend their reproductive years on short term projects that have poor pay and benefits, the effort is meaningless. It’s one thing to attempt to increase the numbers of women at each stage in the scientific pipeline, but there has been virtually no recognition that the experience for women in science is fundamentally different. As long as women are required to dedicate their early years, and as far as their blogging is concerned, their voices, solely to science, the situation will not change.

4 Responses to “Who knew science blogging was a man’s world?”

  1. Chameleon September 29, 2010 10:02 am

    I’ve often thought it was unfair the way a family or a career are presented to women as separate choices that don’t overlap. On the other hand the number of women I’ve met who succeed in both is fairly small. It’s not an easy thing to do.

  2. Hilary October 9, 2010 3:30 pm

    Your last paragraph really hits the nail on the head. As a new Mom, part-time research fellow and science blogger I find blogging is the first thing to go when I run out of time, because its something I do voluntarily, mostly in my own time (of which I now have very little!). Its sometimes hard to justify doing something which doesn’t help pay the bills and takes time away from looking after my daughter.


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