Field of Science

Women who write about science

[At left: Anna Brassey, nee Allnut) (1839-1887) was an English traveler and writer. Her bestselling book: A Voyage in the Sunbeam, our Home on the Ocean for Eleven Months was published in 1878. This illustration is from that book, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.]

What advances have women made in the sciences? Well, we're here, for starters, which you couldn't say about us in general even half a century ago. Strangely enough, women entered the field of writing in substantial numbers well before they had such representation in the sciences. Yet now we're having a (great) conversation about women science writers and how they seem to remain hidden while male science writers allegedly engage in a mutual boys' club of promotion and back slapping and otherwise perpetuating their version of the Athanaeum Club, no women allowed (well, not until 2002, anyway). This reversal of fortune for women in science and writing seems ironic, as though somehow science writing had suddenly joined forces with ESPN and precipitated a discussion about women in the locker room. Cover up, gentlemen, because here we come.

In the many posts I've now read on this topic, I've seen a careful explication with some fabulous comments, a "bring it, I refuse to hide" attitude, and a "Sure this is great for women to discuss, but the men need to get involved, too" call to participate. It's been a great discussion. Kate Clancy has rounded up a variety of posts addressing this topic of women who write science, especially women who blog it.

Discussions like these always leave me in reaction limbo. I don't discount that people have blown me off throughout my life because I'm female. In fact, I know they have. They've also blown me off because I'm somewhat short, have a cherubic face, and speak with a long Texas drawl. But I'm always at least briefly confused about how to respond to such brushings away that are based on my sex. If I respond by following my instinct, which is to surge forward, push it, show what I can do and do well, ovaries be damned, then won't I be perceived as a woman not acting quite womanly enough and get the cold shoulder as a result? If I don't do that and instead put my head down and persevere, but quietly, what the hell good is that doing anyone, women, cherubics, short people, or Texans?

Thus, I've often chosen to be who I am, which is a woman with a blunt voice, a sharp mind, an expansive interest in science, and a way with words that I've been cultivating since 1972. If this somehow belies me as a woman, then I can live with that, because it doesn't compromise me as a writer. Being female just is what it is, and it happened to me when I was conceived. I had no control over it. But being a writer and a scientist? That took work. That took ambition. That took years.

Lying in my wake are years of education and experience with both science and words and yes, some of the accouterments that often come with being a woman: a spouse, children, cooking dinner, driving a minivan, derailing from the tenure track. All of these aspects of my life percolate through my writing and my writing choices just as much as my thousands of hours at the books and at the bench. With them comes perspective, sometimes a unique perspective that occasionally transmits to the reader. What defines me--woman, mother, scientist, writer, autism parent, endocrinologist, penile and gonad researcher, herp-o-phile, Texan, brunette--has shaped me and will inevitably shape my words, my viewpoints, and what I write about. Any one of my characteristics might contribute something worthwhile to the scientific conversation.

Yes, my voice is a woman's voice. But it speaks with an accent and years of baggage related to many factors other than my sex. What makes it a voice worth hearing is ultimately that it says something worth saying. For that reason, I'll continue to cast aside any worries that by using that voice or promoting that voice, I'm not being "womanly" enough. And I'll continue to listen to and promote the voices of others whose writing and perspective I admire. Oddly enough, many of them are women. I can't imagine why that is.

6 comments:

  1. Very well said!

    So well said, in fact, that I can't think of anything to add. Which is rare.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Edward, curious about why that is. I've got some ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  3. -The text is center aligned.

    -The selective divvying up of the science blog networks into the "high-profile" / "major" category and the other just so she can say women are underrepresented on the science blog networks (that matter). Where does she draw the line? At what point does this stop being true, or will it always be the case that the science blog networks that matter the most are those with a higher ratio of male to female bloggers!?

    -I've been working on FoS for years and I have a tall stack of declined email invitations attesting to the fact that female science bloggers have been welcome here since day one. I've also had an open door policy since day one. So pardoned me for saying, the only thing standing between female science bloggers dominating the highest profile science blog network in the history of science blog networks and its top bloggers automatically being counted among the elite, is their own indifference.

    If you don't like the old boys club, what are you doing standing in line to get in? FoS can accommodate every female science blogger interested in joining. It can do so matter-of-factly and in short order. You don't need to convince me that there is a vast reserve of female science blogging talent out there. I know there is. I've been whoring FoS out to it for years.

    In other words female science blogosphere, if you're really serious, then by all means, Bring it!

    ReplyDelete
  4. A new perspective, that of someone who's pulled together a science blogging network and seen women bloggers decline invitations to participate. I can't say if their indifference is to FoS in particular or to joining a network or if some other factor is involved.

    For the record, I like this network. I like what the other bloggers write, its variety, and the low-key everything about it. I'm serious about blogging here and want to blog science seriously. I'm glad Edward has me on board.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hello - I am the Managing Director of a Connecticut think tank called the Institute for ethics and Merging Technology. We are looking for women-scientist-bloggers. Can you let me know of any? thanks sincerely -
    Hank Pellissier, hankpellissier@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are closed.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.