Blog for IWD: Women in Science

To celebrate the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day I’m participating in the Gender Across Borders Blog for IWD. Follow their live-blogging of the event here. You can also follow the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #blogforiwd. This year’s theme for IWD is “Our History is Our Strength” and GAB is asking specifically:

  • What does it mean to have equal access to education, training and science and technology for women, and how do we get there?

The way I see it, there are two reasons women are still underrepresented in science and technology: the first is underrepresentation of women in these fields, including in popular culture representation, and the second is women’s continuing material inequality.

Let’s look at issues around representation. Although research by the Canadian Youth Science Monitor showed an equal number of youth of both genders interested in pursuing careers in science, recent UNESCO data shows a lack of women scientists worldwide, and US and Canadian organizations recognize the underrepresentation as a continuing challenge. In the male-dominated field of Engineering, the peak of women’s enrollment in Canada was in 2001, when they made up 20.5% of undergraduates. Women make up only 30% of the doctoral degrees awarded in Engineering and Natural Sciences.

When some science facilities create a hostile climate for women and our schools and universities fail to actively recruit women into science we create a vicious cycle, with young women unable to see themselves reflected in the cultural ideal of what it means to be a “scientist” or an “engineer” or to pursue other technology-focused professions. When I was in high school I got the message loud and clear: it isn’t sexy for girls to be smart. This message is compounded by representations in popular culture, with shows like The Big Bang Theory and even sci-fi shows like Star Trek, to some extent, reinforcing the view that science is men’s terrain.

But even if we had more woman scientist characters on TV, it wouldn’t change the material factors that deter women from scientific careers. In Canada, the lack of a universal child care program might make women think twice before taking on a career in science or technology, where some institutions might not help employees balance work and family responsibilities. And 21 years after the Montreal Massacre, when female engineering students were gunned down for being female engineering students, the threat of violence against women who take on “male” roles hasn’t completely abated. While we haven’t experienced another shooting of female science students, many report experiencing hostility from male classmates and professors, as well as from coworkers later in their professional lives.

It’s an understatement to say both of these problems are exacerbated for women of colour.

In a great article on Racialicious today, Latoya Peterson recalls an experience speaking up at a feminist event: “You said things are so much better for women- but you are only talking about white women. Outside of Oprah, where’s our progress, on or off screen?” While women overall have made some gains in science and some women have been recognized for outstanding achievements, by and large it is white women who are increasing their representation, and they are also the ones most recognized for their achievements.

In her book, When Everything Changed, Gail Collins interviews a woman of Latina descent who started a job at IBM in the 1990s. She recalls a male colleague who told her she had to spend more of the time during her presentations explaining how she was like the white men in the room, how she had gone to the same schools as them and earned the same degrees, because, her colleague said, “Right now they’re spending the first 10 minutes wondering, who is this Latina woman?” If young white women find it hard to find role models in science, young women of colour – especially Aboriginal women - have an even harder time, and this is a serious problem.

And educational and income inequality also disproportionately affects women of colour, making it more difficult for young women of colour to pursue post-secondary education, much less ones in science and technology. We can’t talk about encouraging women and girls in science and technology without talking about addressing these issues.

Dr. Indira Samarasekera

So how do we address these issues? On the representation front, it’d be great to see more women scientist characters in pop culture, particularly women of colour. It’s also going to be up to women who have succeeded in science to put themselves out there as visible role models, to take on mentorship roles, and to help institutions change their cultures and actively recruit more women.

Innovation Canada came out with a great video in honour of International Women’s Day called “Women’s Work”, which features the stories of five Canadian women scientists: Dr. Indira Samarasekera, President of the University of Alberta; granting council President Suzanne Fortier; Ethnomusicologist Charity Marsh; Evolutionary Biologist Maydianne Andrade; and Biomedical Engineer Molly Shoichet. It would be great to see more videos like this more widely disseminated.

The material changes needed are more difficult. We need government to work to increase women’s access to child care, to support women pursuing post-secondary education in the sciences, and to make sure our school system is encouraging girls in the sciences. We need particular effort to address racial income inequality and racist attitudes that make it harder for people of colour to continue their education. These are difficult needs to address, but not impossible, and entirely worth fighting for.

So Happy International Women’s Day, with a particular shout-out to all the women who have taken on the male-dominated field of science and technology. Let’s celebrate our achievements while recognizing the challenges ahead.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

The Round-Up: IWD Edition

Happy International Women’s Day! In honour of both IWD and March being Women’s History Month, this week’s round-up is dedicated to these topics:


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Round-Ups Leave a comment

Little Girls Vs. Lil Wayne

Came across this video on Colorlines. In it, two girls ages 9 and 10, going by the name Watoto from the Nile, perform a great rap calling out Lil Wayne on his sexist language and promotion of drug use.

Find Watoto from the Nile’s YouTube channel here.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

Sheridan Simove’s What Every Man Thinks About Apart from Sex

Taylor, 26, is a Gender Focus guest-poster, Vancouver-based theatre performer and barbershop singer. He became interested in gender equality while doing a double major in Theatre and English Literature at the University of Victoria. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared at his blog, No Greater Male Supporter.

This makes me wretch.

“Sheridan Simove has produced a 200 page book entitled “What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex”.

The 200 pages are, of course, blank. HAR DEE HAR HAR. This book is currently outselling Harry Potter, and is number 744 on the Amazon bestseller list. It was intended as a novelty gift, but is being used by students across Britain (“author” Sheridan Simove is an Oxford grad) as a notebook for lectures. Simove is making quite a few pence off of it.

I’m pissed, though.

But Taylor, it’s just a joke! Oh really? Here’s what such humour reinforces:

1. The assumption that men are wired dominantly for sex. I have intellect, spirituality, emotions, humour, activities in which I participate, ambitions, fears, joys, and various other things that occupy my mind. Don’t reduce me to being an emotionally bankrupt sex addict.

2. The assumption that men are pigs. Chauvinism/misogyny is a problem in need of radical change, but I’m offended by a counter-strategy, joking or otherwise, that dehumanizes me.

3. That the answer to misogyny is misandry. That’s right. The joke this book attempts to make is a reaction to a cultural assumption that men never stop thinking about sex, which is draining on their female partners (I don’t say male partners, because this kind of one-dimensional gendered humour almost never fails to be heterosexist). There are tons of blonde jokes, wife jokes, etc. that we mostly label as sexist. But publish a sweeping generalization about men that reduces us to sex-crazed robots (and women, by extension, to sexually frigid ones), and there’s no problem?? Not fair. Sexism is sexism, whichever way it is directed.

4. That the male sex drive is exponentially larger than the female one, if women have sex drives at all, and that having a greater sex drive than a partner should be attached to shame. Bullpuckey. Women desire sex, sometimes more than their male partners, and that doesn’t make them sluts, and men having a higher sex drive than their partners doesn’t make us assholes. Sexual desire is sexual desire, being an asshole is being an asshole, and we shouldn’t slut shame, period. Let’s not conflate the very fact of being “turned on” (another term that turns us into robots) with being a jerk.

5. By reinforcing the myth that men desire sex more than women do, this kind of humour reinforces the assumption that sexual intercourse is something obtained by men, rather than something in which men engage mutually and enjoyably and consensually with a partner.

6. That the male sex drive is purely of the physical, and supersedes or cancels out an emotional/empathetic connection with a sexual partner. Bull-freaking-crap. Reinforcing sex as unemotional for men is unhealthy and contributes to a culture of toxic masculinity and emotional puritanism.

7. That male sexual agency is unimportant. In order for us to find the idea of a man having a “one track mind” re: sex funny, we have to on some level trivialize men’s sexual desire as being something beyond our control, or, rather, something that controls us. Therefore we internalize a single-minded, emotionally absent sexual drive that contributes to rape culture by making it more likely for men to think they should be so hyper-focused on sex that caring about non-objectification and consent and mutual enjoyment are at best peripheral to the impetus of intercourse. By relying on our “uncontrollable” sex drive as an excuse do we not take responsibility for our actions and come up with the “boys will be boys” defense.

Looking at rape culture from another angle: if men should be expected, at all times, to want sex, then men are under constant sexual pressure…but nothing bad can happen to men sexually because duh we always want it right? Thusly we raise our eyebrows when a man says he has been sexually assaulted as though it were, you know, something traumatic that happened to him.

8. That the sexual differences between men and women are unbridgeable. If we continue to buy into the gender binary that suggests men are singleminded about sex and women just have to deal with it in order to be sexual partners with men, we will continue to limit the potential of our sexual relationships.

9. That lazy, sexist, old-hat, one-dimensional assumptions about gender should pass for wit in the first place. Come on, people. We can do better.

10. That trees are less important than our ability to keep making these dumb jokes.

“What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex”  isn’t “just a joke”, it’s a symptom and a reinforcer of sexist culture, and I don’t appreciate it at all.


Posted on by Taylor Lewis in Feminism, Pop Culture 7 Comments

FFFF: Sassy Gay Friend does Great Expectations


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Book Club: Big Girls Don’t Cry

Welcome to the 2nd installment of the highly informal Gender Focus Book Club.

Rebecca Traister’s book Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women was recommended by reader Lisa W. Here’s what she has to say about Traister’s exploration of feminism in the 2008 US Presidential election:

“Rebecca Traister’s book isn’t like every other book about the 2008 election, though many of these do discuss women. Big Girls Don’t Cry discusses women and feminism by not only looking at the treatment of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin – she includes others such as Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, and even John McCain – but also looks at the most important person in the process: the impact of the election on voters, most specifically female voters. Not only is it a great analysis, but it’s also funny and honest, and connects with the reader.”

I also really enjoyed Big Girls Don’t Cry. The aspect I found most interesting was Traister’s analysis of two interlinked divides in the feminist movement which became very apparent in 2008: the generation gap between young feminists (bloggers like Jessica Valenti and Melissa McEwan) and older women (Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton); and the gap between those who felt gender was more important than race, and vice versa.

Traister puts herself outside all of these camps, pointing out that generationally she’s in-between the second-wavers and the younger feminist bloggers. As an Edwards supporter, not initially a Hillary or Obama supporter, she was sympathetic to those who believed in the historic power of electing a woman president, as well as those who felt you could be a feminist and not support Hillary. From this unique perspective, Traister does a great job chronicling not just sexism and racism experienced by the 2008 candidates, but also how the whole race impacted the feminist movement and women voters in the United States.

The other key contribution of Big Girls Don’t Cry is Traister’s coverage of sexist and racist media coverage, which is thorough and insightful. For example she looks at the coverage of Hillary’s crying episode and discusses how the media reacted mostly negatively, while on the ground voters (especially women) tended not to see it as a problem. Traister’s analysis of the crying double standard for male and female politicians is especially relevant in light of the rise of John Boehner.

Finally, I appreciated Traister’s gender analysis of the internal workings of the Democratic and Republican campaigns, including looking at how Edwards and Obama enlisted feminist bloggers, and how Hillary Clinton failed to do the same or to reach out to feminist organizations that might have made natural allies.

Has anyone else read this book? I’d love to hear your comments. Next up in our highly informal book club is Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, which was recommended by Jessica and Em on our Facebook page. As always, if you have any suggestions for other books you’d like to see reviewed here, let me know.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Politics 3 Comments

The Round-Up: Mar. 1, 2011

  • Sociological Images directed me to this super fun site at Kaltura where you can remix gendered toy advertisements, combining the visuals from girl ads with the audio from boy ads, or vice versa.
  • Stephanie at the Ms. Blog looks at the Winnipeg judge’s decision that gave a reduced sentence to a convicted rapist because his victim was wearing a tube top and “flirting”.
  • It’s day 1 of Women’s History Month and The Daily Femme has some great suggestions for where to learn more.
  • Check out the buzzfeed compilation of the 70 best signs from the recent Walk for Choice.
  • WTF? Shakesville reports that a fetus is scheduled to testify on an anti-choice bill in Ohio.
  • GLAAD has teamed up with the National Hispanic Coalition to file an FCC complaint against a sexist and homophobic Spanish-language talk show (via Towleroad).

I’ll leave you with this contribution to It Gets Better from the Vancouver Men’s Chorus:


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