Saturday, January 22, 2011

Science Online 2011: Even when we want something, we need to hide it.

A few years ago, I was standing outside the building where I taught, unlocking my bike. It was one of the first days of the semester, and I had just finished teaching. I was wearing one of my teaching uniforms: wideleg trouser jeans, a black boatneck sweater, and beautiful forest green heels. Except in really bad weather, I wear heels when I teach because it helps me feel older, like I have some authority. Being sometimes several decades younger than my colleagues, but usually less than a decade older than my students, meant my gender and age made me a sort of sexualized second class citizen.

An older faculty member approached me to unlock his own bike. He complained about where some students had locked their bikes because they obstructed the bike lane. He mentioned that he had told the police but that they never did anything about it. I nodded sympathetically.

"Of course," he then said, "if I had been dressed like you, maybe they would have listened!"

And just like that, I was no longer a colleague. I was a woman.

* * *

The perils women sciencebloggers face are not that different than those we face in the real world... though the exposure of the internet can occasionally make it less safe. And the risks that women avoid out in the world, are not unlike those we avoid in the blogosphere. That was one of many important conclusions made in the panel Sheril Kirshenbaum, Anne Jefferson, Joanne Manaster and I ran for the Sunday midday panel entitled "Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name." I believe Sheril was the one who first suggested the topic.

This panel ended up being a great experience, for several reasons. First, leading up to the session, I had the opportunity to meet with other women at the conference and discuss the topic. I found myself in large, women-only groups on a number of occasions (though I just realized, this happens to me a lot at academic conferences too: I think I avoid schmoozing with men more than I realize, a point I will return to later). Each time, I brought up the panel to hear what they had to say, and they made beautiful points, expressed legitimate frustrations, shared both good stories and horrible ones, and in general kicked ass. There were some seriously smart and savvy women at Science Online 2011.

"Even when we want something, we feel the need to hide it"

Because I'm not sure whether these women want to be identified by the points they made or stories they shared, I'm not naming names here. But after each impromptu mini-panel, I took copious notes. Here is what the women I spoke to had to say:
  • There is serious friend bias in who gets promoted in the science blogosphere, and it ends up that men promote other men quite a lot (in order to avoid potential defensiveness, I will say that we did also discuss several notable exceptions). We need to share the empirical evidence about the fact that people like to read people who are a lot like them, as a kind of sensitivity training for men, to help them train their brains to appreciate many different voices.
  • We are all very, very tired of making a point on a blog, on twitter, or in a meeting, being ignored, having a man make the same point, then having that man get all the credit. Very tired.
  • We still can't be ambitious without being considered a bitch. People will always fall back on that term if they think you are too aggressive, but the same behavior is not criticized in men. One woman brought up an article she read by a journalist who said, of all the famous women she had ever interviewed (including leading political figures like Hillary Clinton), only Catherine Zeta Jones had ever admitted to being ambitious: the others had denied it. Even when we want something, we often feel we need to hide it.
  • Women already have to be two and a half times better than a man to get the same job in science (referring here to the Wenneras and Wold article), women who blog using their real names have to be even better than that if she doesn't want her blog counted against her when going up for promotion.
  • Both the attacks and appreciations are different for women bloggers. We get unwanted attentions and compliments on our appearance, surprise that we are an authority on certain topics or have an interest in male-dominated topics, or are bullied in a way that feels gendered when a man decides we are wrong on the internet.
  • The risk-aversion women bloggers display only hurts us. If we continue to be risk-averse women will never occupy positions where they can influence the community of bloggers -- we need to take on editorships, we need to manage networks, run carnivals, so that we can then involve and promote more women. The blogosphere, like academia, is not a pure meritocracy.
  • There are differences in the pros and cons of blogging depending on whether you are pseud or use your real name, and different ways you find support in the community.
  • If we think we have it bad, look at other underrepresented groups: the situation is in some ways even worse. We need to avoid the Oppression Olympics and think about how to pull everyone up the ladder with us.
And remember... this is what was covered before we even started the panel!

"I want to puke on their shoes"

The panel itself was great, because the four of us panelists had different backgrounds and stories to share. Anne and I are both academics who spent some time in the science blogosphere with pseudonyms before engaging with our real names. However Anne is in a more male-dominated discipline and co-blogs with a man; mine is a bit more equal, but also I study women's reproductive physiology, which leads to more reflective, sometimes more personal writing. Joanne makes science videos for a broader audience and has a great mind for visuals, humor, and for a really engaging style. Sheril co-blogs with a man as well, in a high profile website, and has published two books (I must admit, I am frantically trying to finish two books right now so that I can finally start her book The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us!). But again, while I think all my co-panelists had some very important things to say, and some great stories (and awful stalker stories), the audience is what made the panel. Here are a few things they had to say (I wasn't able to take notes as readily during the panel, but I will link to the video of the panel when it's up):
  • We need to be clear about how bad it really is to write under your own name -- some women have had no problems at all where others have been driven out. Depending on the topic you write about and the kind of audience you write for, you will have different experiences, and many women will have only good experiences. We shouldn't be too negative.
  • Some people think writing for a female audience is lame. Apparently there is a listserv of science writers, and about once a year a conversation starts up about whether science writers should write for women's magazines -- apparently many people come down on the side of not thinking science writers should write for them. (My take? Any time anyone says there is anything wrong with writing for women, it is sexist.)
  • One fantastic young woman talked about how she avoids discussing her blog with her peers for fear of becoming the "soft skills chick." Doing anything other than the hottest science seems to delegitimize women very quickly; however in some cases men get rewarded for doing the same thing (examples that come to my mind are picking up extra teaching and service, or having offspring, the latter being empirically supported).
  • Robin Lloyd already mentioned this in her article, but Ed Yong attended our panel (one of, I think, only three men). He mentioned that he gets DMed on Twitter regularly by men who want him to Tweet or promote their posts. He said he had never been DMed for promotional reasons by a woman. I was completely flabbergasted by this comment (and I don't think I was the only one), because it had never occurred to me that I could even do that sort of a thing.
  • The brilliant Zuska made several great comments (as Sheril pointed out, she really should have been on the panel!). One that really struck me is that we need to interrogate assumptions about women and provide empirical evidence against them. The reason this came up was that we were discussing where attacks can come from, and how sometimes the attacks come from women as well as men. I believe someone made the comment that women can be worse, and alluded to the idea that women make bad bosses for women. Zuska pointed out that when you look at the evidence male bosses are still worse to women than women are to women. And of course, towards the end of the panel Zuska also used what is likely her most famous and beloved line, "I want to puke on their shoes."

Building an old girls' club

At the end of the day, being female is a risk factor for unwanted attention if you choose to put yourself out there in any aspect of your life, from your job to your blog. But a risk factor is not the same thing as a foregone conclusion. We can choose not to engage and participate, not to take on positions of power (like, say researchblogging editorships) or attention (blogging on a network). But we're holding ourselves, and women younger than us, back. We aren't directing or shaping the debate. We aren't holding people accountable when they ignore or forget issues relevant to women and other underrepresented groups.

Women need to connect with each other in private spaces, like email and private forums, and we need to continue to write "life of science" posts that mentor other women. Anne and I have been writing each other every week for a few years now, sharing the work we need to get done, the work we are going to let go and not feel guilty about, the happy and sad happening in our lives. Those emails help me structure my week and make action plans for my big academic projects. What's more, Anne and I probably know more about each other than many people who see each other every day. And that relationship has given me the confidence to write this blog, to engage with sciencebloggers, to be a mommy and a scientist and a professor.

Be bold. Be ambitious. Be a little bit of a bitch. Plan your life in such a way that it gets bigger, not smaller. I plan my life so that my daughter, now almost three, will feel as though anything is possible; I want to be her example that a woman can occupy space and be pleased with herself.

I hope more of you blog, I hope more of you who already blog promote your blog and get your name out there, I hope you email me or someone you feel you could connect to when you need a reminder that you're not alone. Because, why be small when you can be big?


  1. Fantastic summary of the pre- and syn-session discussions. It was such a pleasure to be part of this really kickass group of women, and I hope the other session participants got as much information and reinforcement as I did. Thanks for helping make it an awesome discussion.

  2. Great post that really lets people know some of the hurdles female science bloggers face.
    As a male science blogger, I would have attended to panel (grand total up to four!), as it sounds fascinating.
    I'm going to pass these to friends of mine, both male and female, as they will all appreciate it.

  3. I wanted to clarify something. I was watching online (great discussions). Maybe I was distracted for a moment, but what I heard what the point that women need to be less risk averse, take chances, put themselves out there. There were a couple tweets that followed that recounted the discussion as saying that women need to be *more* risk averse. There were two separate issues being discussed, one having to do with taking the chance to get one's thoughts and writing out there, and the other to do with personal safety. Both extremely valid. I did a double take when I saw those tweets, because what I heard was not the message to be more cautious, rather the opposite. Maybe you could comment on that?

    I think everyone was just floored by Ed's comment, and I thank him for sharing it. A couple years ago, there was blog discussion about how common it is (or was) for girls to be raised not to draw attention to themselves, not to be prideful or boastful. Basically, not to self-promote. This was what came to mind when I heard Ed's comment. My reaction was exactly the same as many. It wouldn't have occurred to me to seek that promotion (in most spheres). And I consider myself more assertive than most in regards to networking. It made me wonder how many other strategic, beneficial tactics I was raised to see as "unladylike." Dear god, I hope that term is dead now. The year I learned to negotiate was one of the best years of my life.

  4. Enjoyed reading this article and I'm over in the other side of Health IT, but a lot of same applies, again another area where it's male dominated and you are right with new science and technologies for some reason or another the need to prove ourselves and yet still fit in gets complicated. Then you reach the point to where you come the point of just telling others "deal with it" and hope for the best:)

    I understand and go through the same "hiding" paradigm at times too and kind of sad it still exists.

  5. You just got finished saying that you intentionally dress to impress in order to get more respect. Then when somebody offhandedly states that you would be listened to because of how you were dressing, not only did you take deep offense but you let it completely sever your relationship with him? I call hypocrisy.

    Yes men objectify women. And Women say they hate being objectified. However even when they are going to all-women events, women will dress up. I call foul on at least 50% of their claimed victimization by society.

    Please don't delete this comment unless you are afraid of people disagreeing with you.

  6. Kate, this is just wonderful, and makes me wish all the more I could have made the session (I was in the ebooks thing). I particularly like your phrasing this about people naturally grouping and helping "their own kind," for I feel that's a strong dynamic here, and a constructive way to see (and try to change) the dynamic.

    In any case, I wanted to echo Ed's comment. I have the same experience -- I get heads-up DMs from male bloggers about their posts, but v rarely (like o ce, I think) from female bloggers. I suspect this same situation tilts the gender balance of panels as well. I know it did on the panels I organized. I organized and moderated two panels at scio this year -- the Keepers of the Bullshit Filter, and Open Science. The first had 1 woman and 4 men (including me), the second had 2 women and 4 men (including me). Altogether, 3 women, 8 men. Not reflective of the 51-49% balance at the conference.

    Wheni realized this, I felt bad, and asked myself how this had happened. Had I recruited in so tilted a manner? Then I realized I had hardly recruited at all -- for the panels were made up almost completely of people who asked to participate. Silberman was on Keepers bc it rose out of an online conversation we had. I asked Ivan bc his twitter activities and Retraction Watch and editorial actions ma make him an obvious choice (and his activity on Twitter keep him ever in mind). But everyone else on both panels stepped and asked to be on them.

    The panels, in others words, were almost completely self-selected. Men occupied more seats there because more men volunteered. It wasn't as if anyone had to be pushy to get on. They just had to ask. Twice as many men as women did so. So i think part of the solution is, as you suggest above, simply stepping forward in some cases -- and also being proactive about building relationships -- what the primatologists would call alliances -- across groups a d gender divides.

    Posts like this do just that, of course. Nice work. And thanks for posting the summary of the session itself. Do ping it out when the session goes online.

    Experienced loggers of any gender, btw, are welcome to pitch me guest posts to put on my blog at wired if they wish. It's a plus if the post relates to my core topics of behavior, culture, psych/brain, human evolution, and media dynamics and science journalism. (if you can call that a core!) It's Neuron Culture, url below. Email: davidadobbs at

  7. I'm intrigued by all this, as a recent(ish) entrant into blogging. I decided from the outset to write under my own name, because that I am a senior scientist - and a woman - is important for what I am trying to do and say. I haven't noticed any flak about doing this (though suspect many of my colleagues haven't yet noticed). But what does intrigue me is the 'publicity' angle.

    When I started I found it pretty repugnant to pimp my blog, but realised it was the only way to go so have nerved myself to tweet each time I post. But as for DM'ing anyone - certainly that would never have struck me as appropriate. Any more than I have ever asked for an invitation to speak at a conference, serve on a committee etc. Girls, I am sure, are brought up to think this isn't 'done'. We have a mismatch between socially acceptable behaviour and what is needed in some spheres of activity. Bringing it out into the open is very important, not least so female scientists can recognize what choices they are making, and whether the discomfort factor in over-ruling their natural choices is worth the reward.

    I am enjoying the sense of community blogging has brought, and look forward to more interactions.

  8. I enjoyed this discussion, especially the bits about hiding your assets and the old girls club. I am trying to build one myself. The main purpose is to add fun and to take out whinge. Of course blogs and twitter are a high risk business. So I think it is a brave thing to do it and pats on the back are important from time to time. Should there also be some finger wagging occasionally? Of course saying nice things is always so much more enjoyable, but feedback needs to be honest to be useful. Being retired I don't care about promotion but I still desperately care about reputation.

  9. Reading this fantastic post made me reflect on the places where I've worked and the promotional "styles" of women and men. As a generalization it's seemed to me that blogging/outreach/communication activities have been seen by all as indulgences at best, but definitely as something to be mildly dismissed because the person is not getting on with writing this week's Nature paper.

    When people (and the cases I can think of here are all men) *have* parlayed these activities into recognition for their wider "brand", there's then been a interesting response: other men are neutral or approving, but women for the most part are anxious that someone is playing outside the Rules. Your discussion of the blog panel response to DMs as promotional tools struck a real chord with me because of this.

    So yes, promotion.

  10. Great summary, Dr. Clancy. I found your blog via your twitter handle via the #scio11 tag. I'll add your blog to my regular haunts from now on.

  11. Great post and wrap-up! Reading this post actually made me notice something. I have heard that you don't want to promote your own work TOO much on Twitter. So I only tweet my own stuff once. But many of the men I follow will tweet their own stuff three or four times over the next 24 hours, as reminders to the crowd on Twitter. My immediate reaction was "i wouldn't do that!", and now I wonder WHY I should be afraid of self-promotion like that! Similar with DMing people, I don't think I've EVER done that for a post. The early publication of my blog was mostly the work of other people, and I wonder now how I could have promoted that.

    Really great session for instilling interesting thoughts!

  12. Holy crap everyone -- I think a small part of me DIDN'T want this post to get attention, so I posted it late Saturday night. And here you all are :). Thanks so much for your great comments and insight.

    nparmalee, I noticed that too -- I think two things got conflated. What we discussed in the panel was that women can put themselves forward while taking some steps to avoid attacks, and so we said women shouldn't be so risk-averse even while being careful (so for instance, Sheril discussed how she dresses conservatively with her hair back when she speaks, to avoid being sexualized, and we discussed not having our personal information online, like information about where we live or our kids). If we take precautions there is no reason not to promote ourselves and write and guest post and get attention. I'm glad you asked the question, because the difference in the tweets versus the panel did trouble me.

    David, I will take you up on that! And you are so right -- sometimes men unconsciously select other men (like the friend bias I discussed), and sometimes they do it consciously (I wonder if Anon #1 would be one of those? ;)). But there are many many times, in certain fields maybe the majority of times, where it's that the women aren't putting themselves forward. Sometimes men need to be allies to us as we try to get over our cultural conditioning to not promote ourselves. I didn't promote myself, and so didn't ask to be on any panels. Then I missed registering for the conference by about five minutes. Thanks to Anne and David Kroll, I ended up on this panel and able to register after all. I am really grateful that they decided I needed to be there.

  13. Great post, Kate. A feast for thought here! There are so many different issues regarding women seeking promotion-in our jobs, blogs, etc.

    We can't dismiss the relevance of male allies (which you certainly have not). They offer distinct perspectives, ideas for how we can promote ourselves, and can even help us with promotion.

    I can see the importance of an 'old girls' club', but establishing one can be particularly challenging in the professional realm. There are relatively few women in senior positions in my field. Plus, going back to the main point, women often don't ask, for fear of inconveniencing someone or being ignored. And of course, there are those who see such things as propagating gender bias.

  14. Kate, this is a great post. I only caught bits and pieces of the livestream, so it's great to have a summary of the panel.

    I'm not a blogger, but the idea of an "old girls' club" is relevant to other aspects of our professional lives. The suggestion that women should interact more in private spaces is a good one, and one that I hadn't thought about. It seems that not being privy to others' private spaces (e.g., the DMs of male bloggers) is exactly what leads to a lack of self-promotion/networking via less traditional means. Lots to think about here. Thanks!

  15. Your point about self-promotion really strikes a chord. As a young male academic, I was also initially wary about the concept of self-promotion and staking my ground, but it has been slowly becoming something I try to think strategically about (particularly after seeing how some of the more 'successful' young academics operate). I will say virtually all of the examples of "successful" young academics in my field are either men with stay-at-home wives who basically just work 24/7 and travel 3 - 4 times a month; something for a different post, but equally problematic.

    One more comment, specifically aimed at Anonymous. Being young, I too consciously dress up a little to help put across a sense of seniority because I may only be a decade older than some of my students. Virtually all of my junior colleagues do the same. The difference is that I don't have to worry about sexism creeping in there. Kate said that when the older male colleague made a comment to her she was no longer a colleague, she was a woman. That didn't mean she severed all ties from this guy as you charge; it meant the way/tone in which the comment was made by the senior faculty member insinuated a power differential due to gender. That the older male academic didn't see her as a colleague, but as a pretty young woman who should be listened to because she was pretty and young. That's the problem. And it is a huge problem, in academia and virtually everywhere else I imagine. I'm not sure in what type of area you work, but throw away statements like "I call foul on at least 50% of their claimed victimization by society" and "Please don't delete this comment unless you are afraid of people disagreeing with you" are not actually useful. All those two statements do is is reinforce the second class status given to women for #1) the problem, particularly pointing it out when it happens (i.e., 'silly woman, you should just be appreciative that people find you attractive' etc...) and 2) disagreeing with you somehow means we're just not interested in engaging with you because you're on some higher plane and obviously more intelligent than the rest of us. I'm just tired of that (and I'm not even someone who has to experience this on a daily basis). If you're going to willfully mis-read eloquent, well-thought out posts like this to rant a bit, please consider doing it elsewhere.

  16. This was wonderful. I am so glad that there are discussions like this happening, because I certainly wish I had been aware of the risks of blogging under my real name when I started (and if I could do it again, I probably wouldn't have used my real name). One thing I absolutely love about the online science communication community is that it really does open up an Old Girls Club for me, that I wouldn't have had in real life otherwise (and I get to read things like this and be like, "Yes! People get it!). Unfortunately, it also leaves you open to the same old sexism that you'd face in real life, but with the added anonymity factor, which seems to give people permission to be extra crass (and a much wider audience, which just statistically means you should expect more unpleasant individuals to contact you).

    There are some days when I think blogging is not worth the trouble (ie. when I read a conversation discussing my breasts online), but then I remember some of the wonderful friends I've made because of blogging, and the people who write me keen, inspired, letters about physics, and when I read posts like this, I remember exactly why I'm doing it!

    Thank you again for writing this (and for the panel in the first place)!

  17. Great post, Kate. I've always wondered if anthro folks are a bit better at detecting their own biases (including gender bias) than perhaps the general public or maybe people in some other fields. I have some suspicion that may be true, but they are still human and subject to cultural forces and their own frailties as human beings. At least in theory, academics are supposed to question what they know, or what they think they know, but this is not always front-and-center in our consciousness. Posts like yours are a needed reminder to raise our awareness. Thanks!

  18. @nparmalee - Thank you for putting words to a feeling I couldn't quite identify. Yes. It's that "being raised right" stuff. And of course it's not just women *science* bloggers who don't know how to self-promote. I have some friends in finance who have blogs and columns, and whom I am going to definitely point to this excellent post and comment thread.

  19. I loved this post (and the session that preceded it) and I'm glad it's getting the attention it deserves.

    To expand on the point I raised about DMs, to me, it's more about making full use of channels and allies that one already knows exist. The very fact that people *can* DM me means that I'm already following them on Twitter (and there's a pretty even gender split, if not an outright female skew, in the people I follow), which implies a degree of collegiate respect. And when people do it, or when friends draw their posts to my attention through any medium, I don't see it as a cheeky imposition - I'm often glad for it because I get a chance to find stuff that I might possibly have missed.

    When I said this at the session, someone responded on Twitter saying that men should also make more active efforts to promote the work of women. There is certainly truth in this, but it only addresses one of the two ways in which we find content: it deals with the stuff we actively seek but not the stuff that's pushed to us. As social media becomes more important, that second stream will also become increasingly important. There's only so much active searching that people can do, especially when your name isn't Bora. That being said, if anyone has further ideas how male bloggers can support and stand by their female colleagues, I (and I'm sure many others) would love to hear them.

  20. This is a great post, Kate, thanks for writing it. Often I wish we didn't keep having to come back to the fact that we are "female" bloggers/writers/authors and just be good at what we do, but this reminds me that we are not yet at that point. And I've never DM'd anyone about tweeting my posts, just didn't occur to me. The point brings back a memory - when I was working at The Sacramento Bee, a columnist position came open. Immediately male staffers starting promoting themselves for it while women were much more tentative. The editor told me that women just didn't have the habit of putting themselves forward - which is obviously still true.

  21. A senior faculty member told me that she thought a woman in science dies a death of a million cuts. Every contribution you make, every thing you say in a meeting, every paper you write, everything. On average, everything you do as a woman is valued slightly less. Eventually you get tired worn out and just leave. I'm sure that this is true of the bloggosphere (for example, YFS).

    @Ed One suggestion: Those of you who have a large audience and social media savvy could once a month highlight a female blogger (or blogpost).

  22. Really great post, Kate. The blogosphere is one of the few occasions in which a new society is being created in front of us, within just a couple of years from nothing. It's really very interesting to see what stage we're at in terms of gender balance in this highly educated, Western slice of sciblog society in the 21st century.

    But it's also a fantastic opportunity for self-awareness in this community: to decide how we want to shape discussions and 'promotions' among us, bearing in mind the mistakes made in our non-virtual society (sexism, racism, homophobia and other prejudices).

    We are, as bloggers, to some extent anonymous - judged on our content rather than our height, for example - and in other ways very naked, because blogging reveals an intimacy hidden from many casual encounters.

    We're still just starting out - most sciblogs are less than 5 years old - but I know we are clever enough to embrace and celebrate our diversity and not revert to the old divisions over gender or background.

    Incidentally, I wonder if, because the blogosphere is such a fragile spider's web of connections, we are driven to greater attempts to seek security in 'tribes' that exclude others. I hope not!

  23. I watched the panel streaming online (wishing I was there!) and really enjoyed this post. I once did a TV interview in my office and spent over 30 minutes on camera talking about my research, being careful to use media-friendly sound bites, etc. The reporter and camera person were both female. The reporter commented multiple times that I didn't LOOK like a scientist and that I must really love what I do (...b/c I work in a lab instead of Victoria's Secret?!). That night my husband and I watched that news channel...and saw a male member of the news team give an expanded segment, using all my sound bites and not mentioning the interview, my name, or even my organization at all. Not nice.

  24. This post was incredibly illuminating. I naively started a science blog a couple of months ago and without thought used my own name. I had no idea that in the world of blogging this kind of gender bias still exists. I guess as a grad student in a female-heavy biochemistry department I have become desensitized.

    What really annoys me is that some men, see the comment from "anonymous" above, still blame women for their sexuality. I seriously doubt that any woman in academia would try to dress in a sexy way to give a seminar or teach. She would dress to feel confident and look professional. And if she has the good fortune to naturally exude sexuality, it's hardly her fault.

    I hope that my goofy picture, in which I'm sporting a pair of retro purple safety goggles, isn't too sexy...

  25. Two points: Women most definitely can be, and often are, more cruel to other women than men. I have seen this in the real world repeatedly.

    I don't believe creating an "Old Girls Club" is a good idea at all. This model does not promote diversity or unity in any community it is practiced in and will not do so here. We simply need to help each other, promote each other, and recognize/compliment each other for the WRITING and not for our sex.

    Even the idea of an "old blogosphere club" is repulsive because you are turning it into a system that excludes people who are deemed not good enough for the club.

    Just forget about these dynamics of old and create a new one, that allows writers of all ages, sex, and discipline to be recognized without requiring a DM to get a plug. God, if a company did that to you, you would be so angered by it. I don't see how that can possibly be acceptable from a writer.

    Write something interesting and it will be tweeted around. If you need to call in favors, maybe you just aren't that good.

    (And I clicked here because of the Ed Young plug via Chris Kellogg. So yes, the system works if you choose to work it.)

  26. Thanks, Kate for writing up a lovely summary of the panel and for adding extra information. I was pleased with the great discussions that did not degrade into a complaint-fest.

    And, as I said at the panel, I find myself requesting that people, especially ladies, let me know via DM of a post they'd like promoted. Please do so!

  27. Wow. You all have made some really lovely points and extended the conversation in a productive way. Ed, David and others are making a good case for all of us being thoughtful about how we promote ourselves. No one likes a braggart or a jerk, but if I like a colleague in anthropology but I don't realize they've written something great because I can't keep up with the firehose of papers coming out, then find out much later, I'm disappointed. A few friends and I do share and celebrate when something of ours gets published, and if we didn't do it I wouldn't always know when their stuff is out.

  28. Ed Yong's revelation about DMing to ask for a post to be promoted blew my mind.

    I feel like the scientific community of which I am a part (I'm a primatologist) has been good about trying to give women the tools they need in order to actually get where they deserve to be based on their merit. I am fortunate to be in a field in which women have always been important players. That's not to say that it might not be easier for men to get ahead in their University settings, but mine is by no means a male-dominated field. I have attended panels at academic conferences focused on educating women about our tendency not to ask and, therefore, not to "get." I've attended workshops at my University about negotiation and gender--tips for how to leverage what you have without being perceived as a bitch. I'm friends with academic women who, I feel, are setting very good examples of how to self-promote. I'm friends with men who are very good at promoting their female colleagues. I have male mentors who are just as good about encouraging their female students to self-promote as my female mentors are. And I've gotten a lot better about asking for things of late. I was feeling pretty proud of myself and on top of this game of self-promotion, like I was getting it all under control.

    And then, Ed Yong's revelation about DMing to ask for a post to be promoted BLEW. MY. MIND.

    It would never occur to me to do that in a million years. And if it had been suggested to me, I would have wrinkled up my nose because I felt it "pushy." And the very last thing in the world I want to be viewed as is a "pushy woman."

    And now I realize that when a woman hears the message, "You have to self-promote. Don't be afraid to self-promote," she may interpret that in a completely different way from the man who's sitting beside her getting the same pep-talk. Now I realize that I need to ask my male colleagues for specific advice in this area. Now I realize that when a man encourages me to self-promote, I should be asking "How? What would you recommend in this situation? Are there any other things you think I should do?"

    And I need, like Ed Yong has provided in his commentary here, to hear people's reactions to specific cases of attempted self-promotion. Although I understand the idea that I should self-promote, I clearly have no idea about where the boundary for appropriate self-promotion is. I suspect I'm not alone. If we women think that DMing to ask for a RT would be viewed as pushy, and it turns out it's not, how can we know where those boundaries are in other situations? Clearly, our instincts aren't cutting it.

    I know a man who got wind of the fact that two of his friendly acquaintances were putting together a symposium for an upcoming meeting, so he asked if he could be a third co-chair. I thought that was incredibly pushy and kind of rude. I got the sense that the two original co-chairs were a little put off by the request, but, BUT, they still said "yes."

    I still don't know if that was too pushy, or not too pushy. But now I'm going to ask the original co-chairs what they thought. I think the only way to improve my perception of the boundary between self-promotion and pushy is to hear about specific examples of what is well-received and what isn't in many different contexts. The men around me can help me out anytime they'd like by providing specific examples, but I also need to remember to track them down and ask.

    Maybe I'll start keeping a log. Maybe I'll ask my male colleagues to do the same so that every once in a while, I can compare my notes to theirs. (Thanks for sharing your specific story, David Dobbs. I took note.)

  29. I've run into this in real life academia and in the virtual world. I once had a provost refer to me as "Miss Emily" in a job interview for a tenure-track post at an R01 university; they offered the job, and I ultimately turned it down. Doubt he'd've said anything that diminishing to a male candidate. And I've certainly had that experience in which I suggest something but it goes unheard until a male professor/colleague suggests the same thing. Puke on shoes, indeed. I've encountered what I consider to be some of the worst sex bias in peer review and have been torn between submitting papers as EJ Willingham rather than Emily do the former would be, possibly, to remove the bias; to do the latter would be, possibly, to demonstrate that yes, women also can do "good science." I once participated on a message board using a sex-neutral name and no one realized I was female for about a year until I "outed" myself--and then, the tone changed. It was noticeable.

    It occurs to me that perhaps women don't DM Ed or others or self-promote in that way because maybe we don't think as much about self promoting and instead think we are doing what David Dobbs suggests, and are communicating, leaving it to the communicatees to pick up on it or not. Or, as Meredith points out above, maybe self promotion means something different to us. I'm curious about whether a woman who self promotes in what I can only describe as a "masculine way" (as it seems that only the men are doing it) would then be perceived in the context of being female trying to self promote "like a man," rather than in the context of self promoting "appropriately."

  30. I continue to be impressed by the comments people are making here. I feel like something important has been uncovered about what men and women here. In particular, Stephanie told an amazing story of the support she's received and seminars she's attended, and what she has heard about how to do well in academia. And yet, the kinds of self-promotion men do is still completely alien to many women. She then wrote:

    "And now I realize that when a woman hears the message, "You have to self-promote. Don't be afraid to self-promote," she may interpret that in a completely different way from the man who's sitting beside her getting the same pep-talk. Now I realize that I need to ask my male colleagues for specific advice in this area. Now I realize that when a man encourages me to self-promote, I should be asking "How? What would you recommend in this situation? Are there any other things you think I should do?" "

    I think she, and others who have written similar things here, are very right. We need to hear more specifics about what men are doing, what works and what doesn't (given the things both Brendan and David pointed out, it sounds like many men could use these pointers too). When we are politely bringing attention to our work it is actually more likely that the best writing and scholarship will get attention. Our being thoughtful about communication will actually help build more of a meritocracy. Because no one can see the merit of our work if they don't know it exists!

  31. I don't recommend retweeting the same post .. it's annoying. Better to have your post retweeted by colleagues.

    So I would recommend y'all join a RETWEET club ... and support each other by retweeting colleagues.

    Also, I think if you see being noticed as a woman as a deficit ,.. it will be.

    Finally, write better than the men and you will get noticed .. by the men as well.

  32. Great write-up of the session! I was in the room during the discussion and will openly admit to being the one who commented on the risk of becoming the "soft skills chick" (Kate - thanks for such a positive compliment in your post).

    I tweeted a lot throughout Science Online 11, as part of an experiment to see if tweeting was a good or a bad thing to do during this type of event (results positive - I have plans to continue). If you look at my tweets from this time period, you'll see very little compared to others - in large part because of the depth the discussion. I became so engaged that I forgot to type :-p Also forgot to take any notes, so was happy to see this discussion pop up.

    Thanks to the panel for putting this session together, to Ed for his memorable comments during the discussion, and to Kate for writing this up for everyone to see.

  33. Great write-up and great session!

    I think that I am one of the lucky ones that has not run into any gender issues or sexism thus far online. (Though I'm pretty new and may also be oblivious.) The blogosphere has been a relief compared to the sexism I deal with at work and I want to make sure that fact is acknowledged.

    Re: Promotion. I was on the "new bloggers" panel and, in the original brainstorming, I mentioned that new bloggers might be less comfortable with self-promotion and that maybe we should find ways to expand our radar or provide venues for the less-pushy to get noticed, especially for scientist bloggers who may not be so confident as some are quiet lab dweebs. I was written off pretty succinctly - "This isn't science, this is writing, and you have to be able to self-promote."

    On the one hand, I can see where this respondent is coming from: promotion is a skill set that you have to develop to be successful in this field. But, on the other hand, by limiting our view to posts that are pushed in our faces, we could be missing out on so much great work. And now with the realization that it's a trait common in women, we're also limiting our diversity of voices in a specific underrepresented group.

    The bunch of us who read this post or attended the session, having learned the dominant norms, can start feeling more comfortable pushing our own work aggressively (if we can find it within ourselves). But every woman who starts after us will have to relearn this lesson herself. My question is: how can the environment of the blogosphere change to support women and other more passive folk? Should we have to change our behavior to fit the current model? Or can new communities be created that are less intimidating while maintaining legitimacy?

    Vague, idealistic questions, I know. But worth thinking about.

  34. Thank you for posting the long version. I was able to follow along with the panel a little bit via Twitter but there was also a lot of noise. I'm going to bookmark this.

  35. I got an email comment that I want to share from someone who wants it posted anonymously. The poster clarifies/provides an additional explanation for the women's magazines issue mentioned in the post.

    "In any case, thanks for your excellent summary of the panel on women blogging under their real name. . Very insightful and, to me, educational. I did want to comment on your blog post, but I didn't want the following comment hanging around on the Internet under my name.

    I'm a science writer who has written for women's magazines and now steers away from them, and I subscribe to the listserv you're referring to, which is run by NASW. So, I thought I should clarify. It's not the audience that drives science writers away from women's mags--it's how these magazines often treat writers. At many women's mags, you jump through all sorts of hoops just to get an assignment; they edit by committee, which means there are too many cooks in the kitchen; they disrespect professional writers, and they sometimes capriciously kill perfectly good stories, which means writers get paid between 1/4 and 1/3 of the promised amount. It's not a pretty picture. For a funny (and, to freelance writers, cringe-inducingly accurate) video that mocks the most egregious sins of women's mags, see"

  36. Very good article. I was at ScienceOnline, and wish I had been at this panel.

    Women have GOT to start seeing that self-promotion is imperative to their career. As a fundraiser, I had to get over the fear of asking for things (money, attention, favors), and the way to do this is to change the way you view it.

    If you believe in your work, believe in what you have to offer, then you are giving people a chance to share in it!! If it is important enough for you to do, then it is important enough for you to promote.

    And yes, people will call you pushy, a bitch, masculine, etc.

    What matters is if they get your name right when they do so :)

  37. What a great post, and what an amazing comment stream. (I'm so sorry I missed the panel - had to leave before it started.) This comment in particular just rocked me back on my heels:
    "When people (and the cases I can think of here are all men) *have* parlayed these activities into recognition for their wider "brand", there's then been a interesting response: other men are neutral or approving, but **women for the most part are anxious that someone is playing outside the Rules.**"
    Because, yeah, that is me, for my entire career. I still struggle with this.

  38. I've learned a lot from your post, Kate, and the ensuing comments. Thank you for doing this. It really rings true to me, that many men may think of self-promotion in different terms than do many women. Some years ago, I made two courses on biological anthropology for The Teaching Company-- an outfit that sells to libraries and "lifelong learners" audio and video humanities and science course by professors. It struck me as a great way to share science outside academe. The course producers told me that when they recruited men scholars and scientists, most were game; when they recruited somen scholars and scientists, most were hesitant about showcasing themselves in that way.

    That's always stuck with me- the question has been *why* would that be the case. Making such courses as public outreach, going on TV, radio, etc., can be risky and dangerous to women for some of the same reasons explained her regarding blogging, I think. So the insights here may apply across media. That makes it an even more powerful post.

    One of my favorite parts of this post is Kate's urging us to think bigger.... embracing others.... being more inclusive. I do notice on twitter that the same "inner circle" people tweet and retweet each other all the time. This isn't bad, just limited. So as a concrete practical goal maybe we could all try, even just once every other day or once a week, to support/RT a woman- younger, older, whatever!!- doing great blogging work who's not usually getting that kind of attention.

  39. Apologies for typos in my comment above. As a writer/editor/blogger I'm usually better at proofreading. A long day.....

  40. Awesome article that demonstrates sexism is still alive and well. As a freelance science writer, I've had several offers of work from men who wanted to hire me not because they're convinced that I'm good at what I do, but because I apparently looked cute in the picture on my website...

  41. @DavidDobbs - partly thanks to your contribution to it:

    "For years I wrote, then politely sent things out to editors, then politely and passively waited to hear from them. I liked to think that the world is a straight meritocracy, and that if my stuff was good, people would recognize that and publish it and then read it and recommend it. I hesitated, absurdly, even to prod editors.

    Eventually (to make a long, painful story short), I realized that if I did not knock the door a bit more firmly and persistently, it would open on rarely, and that in being passive I was effectively DEMOTING my work: letting it take a lower priority in the eyes of those who might publish or read it."

    That's exactly right. It's partly why I stopped writing blog posts, because you can't just count on others to make sure you get the attention needed to make your communication truly effective, and the promotion is part of the work of writing it. It was too time-consuming and I get too little out of it, currently. Most bloggers have to be not only their own editors but their own marketing division as well, which is why blogging networks and common platforms for common interests have become so popular.

  42. I came here because of the anecdote at the top of the article, which is also posted in Wired.

    Your fourth paragraph disconcerted me: "And just like that, I was no longer a colleague. I was a woman."

    Can you not be both simultaneously? Must every interaction with any of your colleages be a test of "Am I accepted as a professional or just here to fill a quota?"

    I suspect he was trying to compliment you on your appearance while commenting on campus police priorities.

    I suspect that sex differences in approach may be intractable. If you want your work to be judged on its merits alone by all means sanitize any reference to race, creed, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status and what have you. If we need double-blind procedures to eliminate bias in research, why not when we evaluate it?

    Equality of opportunity cannot guarantee equality of outcomes, otherwise we promote the unqualified and incompetent. I think it is better to reduce the chances of bias beforehand, rather than to quarrel over the results after the fact.

  43. Dear Kate, I really wish I could have been at SciOnline to hear this panel in person. Thank you for this post. And thanks to Ivan Oransky for posting a link to this blog on Twitter (which is how I found it).

    There's a blog written by Denise Graveline called The Eloquent Woman ( that deals with these issues. I support the idea a women's community, for mutual support. But of course, it's a lot more complicated than that.

  44. Thanks all for the continuing conversation, stories, and mutual support. And Miriam, I just tweeted your link and credited you -- it's great!

  45. Awesome post Kate- as so many have said. I was in a competing session... but now wish I could have been two places at once... :-(

  46. I feel like I missed something. I sold out and joined the business world. Made it pretty decent out of college. Quit. Had a daughter. Started something else, was a multimillionaire. Had two more kids. Went broke. Started up two more businesses. Getting successful. Excuse my spelling, I'm half drunk.

    Anyway, I felt I sold out. I learned it wasn't about the money as I was taught. I have three kids and a perfect wife. I wanted to stay in academics but was too shy and unsure. Grew out of it and moved on. I follow many conversations, or should I say writers. Most of you want to discuss how to get known, I was under the belief if I stayed in this field it was about knowledge and teaching, not book deals or popularity. Trust me, you're heard. Maybe not famous, but people like me follow you and others whose writings we agree with but are afraid to comment or contribute as we don't have the qualifications. Proof...I'm here.

    Anyway, follow your convictions. Write what you believe. Who cares who likes it or who follows. Hell, you could be an artist who isn't respected until well after your death. Just go. We're listening.

  47. Dear KBHC,

    This post is very interesting especially since, having two daughters, I would also like them to 'feel as though anything is possible '.

    However, I think that such undifferentiated blunt generalizations as 'I want to puke on their shoes' do not help the cause and are possibly even detrimental.

    Gandhi chose not to fight violence with violence. I don't think you can fight stereotypes (about women) with stereotypes (about men).

    Moreover, I doubt there is much you can do about machos who stereotype women. Harbouring equally dubious stereotypes about men might, however, end up alienating the men who would support your cause.

    Not being in any research related to that field, I might be dead wrong and would like to hear others opinions.

    Best regards,


    Disclaimer: As a rather busy father of two, I could barely skim through all the comments, but this one seems new. I might also have added to DH's comment, but will let it stand as it is. Lastly, this is not my mother tongue, so I apologize if there are any language related mistakes or possible misunderstandings.

  48. "And then, Ed Yong's revelation about DMing to ask for a post to be promoted BLEW. MY. MIND.

    It would never occur to me to do that in a million years. And if it had been suggested to me, I would have wrinkled up my nose because I felt it "pushy." And the very last thing in the world I want to be viewed as is a "pushy woman." "

    Likewise! Also, what David Dobb's said about people approaching him and asking to be on his panel - are you allowed to do that?!

    I think having this conversation is incredibly helpful, so women realise they can actually do these things!

  49. Thank you, Kate and other commenters. What an enlightening thread. I am sympathetic to what you and Christie and Maryn and others have said.

    Self-promotion does not come naturally or comfortably to me, either, and I'm a guy. Like David, I long held onto a notion that if I did great work, it would speak for itself and the world would applaud. But the world doesn't always notice, and you can't really expect them to because most people (especially editors) are busy themselves and have lives and are dealing with information overload.

    So, I've spent years forcing myself to become more assertive, especially with editors--the people who wield economic power over freelance writers. It's the fake-it-til-you-make-it approach, and I'm still doing it. I still hesitate a bit when blowing my own horn, and am a little embarrassed when I do, even though I know from experience that people will probably react positively, and that such self-promotion (in moderation) is part of what creative types, including writers of all sorts, need to do these days to succeed professionally.

    When I am being ignored, when my pitches or stories fall into the black hole of an editor's inbox (and this happens all the time to freelance writers), I have to push myself to send polite but assertive reminders to them to please read the damn thing and get back to me. I know from painful experience that if I don't do this, they may never answer (in the case of pitches), or they may take forever to edit the piece (in the case of assigned stories). Neither is good. I used to complain to other writers about this and feel frustrated and waste too much time on work that went nowhere and made me no money. Then I realized that it was much more effective and felt a lot better to be politely assertive.

    Similarly, I've realized, especially with the rise of social media, that as a writer it was just career suicide not to promote my work. I figured that I worked too hard to do good work to let that happen. So I've become more assertive, and I promote myself more than I used to. For some people, all this may come naturally. But for me it doesn't. Maybe my experience can help others. It's not comfortable to push past our ingrained social habits or fears, but sometimes it's the best thing to do. It makes you grow professionally, and as a person, too.

  50. Dan, I think you bring up such a nice point, and echo what David was saying too. In addition to more specifically training and empowering women to self-promote, it makes sense to not assume men know how to do it. And because of social media, those who are more social media-savvy will get heard over those who are not.

  51. "We are all very, very tired of making a point on a blog, on twitter, or in a meeting, being ignored, having a man make the same point, then having that man get all the credit. Very tired."

    I have a recommendation: next time, be prepared. Figure out in advance what you will say when you find yourself in this predicament. Here's what I do:

    Me: [Make a good suggestion]
    John: [Repeats/recasts same suggestion.]
    Me: [Immediately] "John, that was a very good recap of my suggestion, and I'm so glad that you agree that it's a good idea! I'll take it that you're on board with me; what about everyone else?"

    When I do this, I'm not snarky; I'm seriously glad that John has taken up my cause, and I want to acknowledge him for that. I do want to have credit for my good idea, so I make sure I jump in immediately after John has made his me-too suggestion so that it is clear that it was my idea.

    Other times, I find myself in the reverse situation, when I find someone else's idea a good one. In that case, I acknowledge that it was John's idea, and I'm on board with it. I find that modeling good behavior often leads others to do the same.

    Anyway, this works for me. After 30 years in a male-dominated field, I've developed some survival strategies that have served me well.

    And if I missed a similar suggestion in the previous comments, "Great idea! I'm on board with you!"


  52. Thank you for the enlightening post--your comments reflect my 30 years experience as a physician and researcher, and helped me crystallize why I often find blogging so difficult. There are the double standards you mentioned superimposed on years of being told not to call attention to yourself or your brains...Thx, too, to David, for his comments and to Ed Yong, who's thread brought me to this site.
    I look forward to learning more from this group.


  53. Here is a relevant NYT article about the gender disparity in contributions to wikipedia:

    Here is a video:

  54. And this blog has links to other articles about the gender gap at wikipedia as well as comments:

  55. "We are all very, very tired of making a point on a blog, on twitter, or in a meeting, being ignored, having a man make the same point, then having that man get all the credit. Very tired."

    OMG! I sooo know this feeling!! I guess it wasnt totally in my head then :) Thanks for sharing

  56. Thank you for this post. Just what I need as I jump into becoming a woman science blogger.

  57. Great post and advice! Wish I could have attended that meeting. In an effort to be bold and reach a bigger audience, here goes... I've been blogging my experience as a post-doc in a virology lab at Johns Hopkins. Here's a link if anyone is interested in checking it out!