Guest Post: The Dilemma of Women in Science & Blogging: Even when we want something, we need to hide it

I went to some stirring sessions at the incomprable ScienceOnline last week, but I also missed some great ones. One in particular I regret missing (it ran while I was on an eBooks panel) was “Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name.” That title sold it short, it seems to me, for as one of the participants, Kate Clancy, relates below, the session raised questions of far greater range and depth than the question of anonymity. Clancy, who is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, ran the post below at her own blog, Context and Variation, and it stirred such a rich conversation in the comments, and raised with special nuance and intelligence  issues I’ve thought and struggled with myself, though obviously from other angles, that I asked if I could crosspost it here as a guest post, so as to bring it to an additional readership. Clancy kindly agreed.

After reading it here, you might want to check out the comments at her blog for perspective and further thoughts, and if you wish, weigh in either there or here. You may also want to subscribe to Clancy’s RSS Feed or follow her on Twitter. Also of note: Robin Lloyd’s nice take on the session at Scientific American.

— David Dobbs


The Dilemma of Women in Science & Blogging: Even when we want something, we need to hide it

by Kate Clancy

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:

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