A while ago I wrote about the Bechdel Test for helping determine sexism in popular culture, particularly movies. Movies however are not the only medium with a trend toward biased depictions of women. Science reporting, and indeed reporting in general, can tend to talk about women as if female participation in the great wide world is a bit of an anomaly.
Writer Christie Aschwanden was asked to write a piece for Nature magazine about astronomer Ann Finkbeiner. Aschwanden was tired of writing pieces that basically said “this amazing person is ALSO a WOMAN” and which then went on to talk about the “unique” challenges of being female in whatever field. (Really, does anyone ask a man how he manages as a single father, or whether he finds it difficult to balance his family with the demands of a career?) So Aschwanden made the decision to treat Finkbeiner as a scientist and write an article about her work without discussing her personal life.
Aschwanden determined that there are 7 basic topics she wanted to avoid. In applying those guidelines to other science reporting, she dubbed these standards “The Finkbeiner Test” in honor of the scientist she was sent to interview. So if you want to talk about a woman who has reached a high achievement in her field, and you are concerned that you may be talking a little too much about her gender, ask yourself if you have touched on any of these issues:
- The fact that she’s a woman
- Her husband’s job
- Her child-care arrangements
- How she nurtures her underlings
- How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
- How she’s such a role model for other women
- How she’s the “first woman to…”
Those may be important topics to discuss in certain circumstances. It may help women to know how other women balance their lives, or that they are not alone in facing institutional sexism in the workplace, or even that it’s possible to have a career and a home life both. However, if the publication has a general topic (Nature magazine, for example, covers science), then there is no reason to mention someone’s personal life. Gender is not germane to scientific discovery therefore it is unimportant in that context and does not merit a mention.
We can recognize sexism and institutional sexism, and we can move forward away from it.
for more information: http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/finkbeiner_test_gender_gap_fem.php?page=1