Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Science Online 2011 Panel this Sunday: On the perils of blogging as a woman under a real name

Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name

Sheril Kirshenbaum, Anne Jefferson, Joanne Manaster, Maryn McKenna and Kathryn Clancy

This Sunday, 11:30am-12:30pm, Room B

Panel description: Being a woman scienceblogger has its own set of challenges, writing under your real name a few more. Readers may want you to be beautiful, to be their mommy, to be accessible to them in a way they don’t expect of other bloggers. They also may hold your decisions and lifestyle to a different standard. "There just aren't any good women science bloggers out there." "She was picked just because she was a woman." "I would cure cancer just to capture your heart." "You are a terrible mother if your baby is in daycare and you are in the lab." These statements exemplify the sorts of unwelcome comments that women science bloggers can face, and reflect broader issues of cultural and institutional sexism. How do we navigate those issues, and ensure our own safety, while covering the science that we love? How do we get our writing noticed when people claim we don’t exist? Panel members and attendees will tackle these issues and others as a way to move towards a solution in the issue of gender representation in science blogging.
Sounds awesome, if I say so myself. I have some additional thoughts I'd like to share for our audience members, so you can think of your own contributions to the panel (and I plan on expanding on these, at least a little, in the panel itself).

  • I blogged and participated in the academic blogosphere for many, many years pseudonymously before deciding to start writing under my real name. I think spending time as a pseudonymous member was really beneficial for me (and very different, and sometimes I really miss it). I learned the lingo and culture, I got to share my thinking honestly with fewer professional repercussions, and I got to make mistakes (lots of them). I think anyone who wants to write with their real name, should first write (or at least comment) pseudonymously, particularly if you're a population susceptible to attacks (i.e., from an underrepresented group in science, person who studies something politically charged, etc).
  • I've noticed disparities not only in who is selected to write at high-profile networks, but what kind of work gets covered by mainstream scienceblogs. For instance, even though I think the physiology of women's reproduction is incredibly important for everyone to understand, given how politically charged issues are around reproductive choice, it doesn't get covered that often (there are of course notable exceptions). The few times I see women discussed, it's almost always a behavioral study.
If you cannot attend #scio11, or you can attend but want to help frame the conversation now: What questions do you have? What comments? What must be covered or considered to move this conversation forward productively?


  1. I cannot attend, but I would love to see minutes/transcript/summary of this panel discussion.

    Another great topic for a panel discussion is On the Perils of Handing Out Your Business Card as a Woman at Scientific Conferences, followed by a workshop titled Filing Restraining Orders.

  2. I retired as an active scientist before blogs were even heard of, and I blog today on a level aimed at getting bits of basic science across to the general public. But I, too would like to see a summary of this panel online.
    (I do look at the physiology of reproduction in my science fiction--have a race where the women are fertile for a few hours every hundred years.)

  3. Sounds like this is going to be a great panel. As someone who has blogged on science and other fields, I've been on the receiving end of a double standard (latent to outright). Namely that if you're a woman, especially one who blogs under her real name, you 1) are out there for notoriety, 2) are open to / should not be offended by harassment and 3) shouldn't be taken seriously.

    I've taken some precautions like never publishing intimate contact information, my location, family details and being nothing short of professional in my comments, especially with those I don't know personally. This establishes boundaries and rules of play. I have also outright banned people after they twice break the rules of engagement, never to let them back in. Trolls, unless they are personally stalking you, look for the path of least resistance, and move on to pester other communities.

    Other than that, it's the same as having to deal with bigots and boors in real life. Give them no room whatsoever, even if the conversation is "in the interest of science" and you're accused of censorship. Let's be civilized first and then talk about civilization.

  4. I left ScienceBlogs (several months before the Pepsi fiasco) in part because I was freaked out by the comments and e-mails I got. I'm still not sure that I want to be a science blogger any more - I just don't want to deal with the stress that comes with it.

  5. Thanks so much for the comments, all! Wendy, I think the panel will be livestreamed because we're in Room B, one of the rooms where they're shooting video (it will be embedded here: http://scienceonline2011.com/watch/). If I'm wrong then likely audience members will livetweet it with the hashtag #scio11, and I'm sure at least some of us panelists will write their own follow-up posts on their blogs (at least, I plan to).

    Sue Ann Bowling, how cool! That sounds like a book(s) I'd like to read. And Maitri and Kim, what you say echoes what I've heard from others. (I'm particularly devastated by what you've said, Kim, and wish there was enough good in the bad for you to want to keep blogging.)

  6. What disparities in who is selected would those be?

  7. Kate, I am REALLY interested in that second point, it's something I've noticed myself, and I am very excited to see this discussed!! Should be a fantastic panel.

  8. My experience seems different than many others. I've been blogging under my real name for 3.5 years, and have never had a significant problem. I only had one minor incident that related to my gender, and that was solved simply by deleting the offending comment. Maybe it's that I mostly write about ocean science and not too much about people or society?

  9. I'm totally bummed that I won't be at this session (as I'm part of another session that meets concurrently). I've blogged pseudonymously and under my real name, and my experiences have been shaped by the fact that, under the pseud, I was regularly gendered as male by readers.

    Maybe we can chat at the hotel?

  10. I've been wanting/starting to write a science blog for over a year and still haven't pulled the trigger for this reason. Not so much the stalking/troll aspect because pssssh...not worth the worry, but for fear of not being taken seriously. I of course love all things biology and its impacts on society, but the main motivation for blogging is as a portfolio to showcase my work and land a job. One of my (woman) professors who blogs anonymously suggested I write as a man and this bothered me. One, how can I promote myself if I use a pseudonym, and two, am I naive for thinking that'd I'd be better off learning and making mistakes as me?

  11. DeetotheEmmm, you can browse my posts with the label "wsb" or check out my "wsb" page for more info: http://professorkateclancy.blogspot.com/search/label/wsb

    Miriam, I don't think you're an outlier, but part of the normal range of variation. I'm sure there are many other women out there who have no particular horror story to tell -- I don't have any particular horror story either, but have observed a lot of sexism directed at my female blogger colleagues. I have a few things that have happened that were definitely sexist and frustrating, but mostly when I was pseudonymous. But yes, my suspicion is that we get various degrees of attacks based on the content as well as the author.

    Dr. Free-Ride, yes, I would definitely like to chat! I've read some posts of yours where you have mentioned what it was like to be assumed male by your pseud and how things shifted when you started using your real name. I think you'll lend an important perspective. I tend to comment on others' blogs with my initials (with a link back to this blog) so that people's first response upon reading my comment is to see me as male or gender neutral. It's amazing how much more seriously I'm taken with my four initials, compared to my female-sounding pseudonym.

    And finally, Jen, I think promotion with a pseudonym in a way that is beneficial to your career would be hard, but that doesn't mean you couldn't still promote your work and be heard. I also don't think you're naive for wanting to just start out using your own name. I offered my experience -- starting out pseudonymous and then using my real name -- as an example, and one that I think worked for me. But that doesn't mean it's the only path!

    Oh, and one other thing: I think it will be important in the panel that we address intersections of sexism, racism and other oppressions. I hope, also, that in future years maybe there could be a panel that addresses some of these other issues. What does science blogging look like in a racialized society? How does that hinder authors, or does it hinder them? What are the different ways sexism and racism manifest online? And so on...