Yet More on Sexual Harrassment, Nov 15, Tabitha Powledge

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  3. Yet More On Sexual Harassment
  4. By Tabitha M. Powledge
  5. Posted: November 15, 2013
  7. Why We’re Here
  9. Last week this space was devoted in part to a report on a session at the recent meeting of the National Association of Science Writers in Gainesville, FL. The session, titled The XX Question, was about the status of women in science writing.
  11. Owing to recent blatant cases of sexism and sexual harassment of women science writers, especially bloggers (discussed recently at On Science Blogs here  and also here), the session spent a good deal of time on those issues. It began, though, with a presentation of data on women’s relative lack of power and status (and awards) in the field even though women dominate numerically.  The data were assembled by Kate Prengamen.
  13. The session report here was written by Beryl Benderly as a guest post at my request.
  15. Emily Willingham disliked our posts.
  17. Beryl and I didn’t care for hers, either. Below, our responses.
  19. DISCLAIMER:  We know you don’t think for a moment that On Science Blogs is any kind of official commentary from the National Association of Science Writers. Or any other organization, for that matter.  But I have been asked officially to add this official disclaimer. Happy to. –TMP.   This post reflects the personal opinions and reporting of the individual authors. While both Tabitha Powledge and Beryl Benderly are board members of the National Association of Science Writers, the post was not written in that capacity and does not reflect an official position, interpretation or commentary of the NASW.
  21. Once More, the XX Question
  23. By Beryl Benderly
  25. Because of Emily Willingham’s unfair and inaccurate attack on my brief report on the discussion of sexual harassment at an NASW session, I feel compelled to delay work on multiple paying assignments and do something I on principle almost never do, write for free for publication.  I did so last week only at the request of my dear and longtime friend Tammy Powledge, who could not be in Gainesville.  Eager to continue her coverage of the important sexual harassment issue, she asked me to recap the conversation on the issue at NASW.  That—not taking notes on a panel discussion—is what my short piece endeavored to do, as I suggested in my lede.  I intended to follow the development of thinking on the harassment issue within our community and especially to note any ideas that did what moderator Deborah Blum said was the session’s goal—moving the conversation forward toward solutions.
  27. This is also what I believe my piece accomplished.  Willingham is apparently insulted that it did not instead catalog panelists’ various examples that women are treated unfairly in the workplace—cases that may have come as news to some, but not to me or others who have been contending with discrimination in the workplace since before Willingham was born.  I can certainly excuse Willingham for lack of first-hand familiarity with the much harsher discrimination that my own and, especially, earlier generations experienced, but I’m surprised that her undergraduate English major apparently failed to acquaint her with such works as Virginia Woolf’s matchless explication of the subject, “A Room of One’s Own.”
  29. And so, Willingham decided to attack Tammy and me, professional women of the generation that made the second-wave feminist revolution, which began after the epochal Civil Rights Act of 1964.  That movement, by the way, also made possible the much improved, though still imperfect, opportunities that women now enjoy.  Apparently she feels that Tammy and I somehow condone or minimize sexual harassment, which has been, she seems to think, only recently discovered.  I guess she believes that, back when women had no legal protection against this type of offense—in fact, back before it even had a name—we were unaware that powerful men took advantage of women trying to make their living, who in those days were vastly more vulnerable than now.
  31. Willingham, like us, believes that women’s situation today needs improvement, and of course she’s right.  But here’s what I learned about how to bring change while participating in the Civil Rights movement and the struggle of second-wave feminism.  You don’t get people to give up long-held privilege by preaching to the converted or gratuitously savaging your natural allies.  You do it by bringing the people who hold and exercise privilege over to your side.  And you do that not by backbiting but by example and moral suasion.  That’s what Dr. Martin Luther King and his followers taught us.  That’s how the feminist movement achieved real progress.  You expand the circle of your allies.  You make it impossible for privileged people of good will to act in the old way any longer because now they know it is wrong.
  33. But if you are going to pointlessly attack people who actually agree with you, at least you should do it accurately.  Willingham states that my little piece devotes 264 words to what men said and only 238 to what women said.  Even if you accept word counts as a valid form of literary criticism, Blum and Ginger Campbell, last time I checked, were female, so the number of words devoted to women’s comments is, by my count, 353.
  35. But, yes, I do plead guilty to reporting on what men said—men whose statements embodied the very change Willingham claims to seek; men who, newly enlightened to the error of their former ways, now publicly and poignantly resolved to do better and to encourage others to do likewise; decent men who want to be our very powerful allies in spreading the change.  That they were, as Blum had hoped, moving the conversation forward appeared to me news worthy of mention.
  37. So, as Willingham endeavors to make change, I certainly wish her luck.  I just think that the method used by the great visionaries who incalculably improved American society over the past half century will work better than hers.
  39. I must also admit that this whole dust-up surprises me, because Willingham is proud of her credentials as a scientist.  I suspect that she may therefore have heard of the concept of priority in discovery and publication.  Well, distressing though the panelists’ descriptions were for them, they revealed nothing that Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Elizabeth Blackwell or Rosalind Yalow or Sandra Day O’Connor or Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Shirley Chisholm or Simone de Beauvoir or Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan—or countless millions of women, including, for that matter, Tammy and me–hadn’t already said.  I’m pretty confident of this because, as it happens, I know the history of women in America, having written a book on the subject in collaboration with a leading historian for a major New York trade publisher.  So I, as a reporter who respects the folkways of both science and journalism, decided to focus my report not on what was old about the session but on what was new.
  41. When I was a kid and people annoyed me, my mother used to say, “Pay no attention.  You’ll just encourage them.” Having become a PhD and a tenured university professor while raising a family at a time when those professional accomplishments were very rare for women, she had little time to spend on foolish distractions. But she didn’t live in an age of online bullying and Internet character assassination, so I decided that her advice was what I had to ignore in this case.  Thanks to Willingham, therefore, I have had to devote time to what Willingham claims to abhor, undercompensated writing.  You’ll therefore excuse me, I hope, if I go back to my paying work.
  45. We now return you to our regularly scheduled blogger.
  47. Welcome to Mud-Wrestling and the Manufactured Cat Fight
  49. Sheesh. You’d think Beryl’s report last week was a celebration of sexual harassment and an example of the (formerly) worshipful endorsement of  serial harasser Bora Zivkovic. Instead of what it was: a thoughtful, accurate and entirely sympathetic report on the NASW meeting session on The XX Question. Which you wouldn’t  know if you had based your judgment solely on Emily’s outlandish rendering. Here, read what Beryl said.  Not much resemblance, is there, to the description embodied in Emily’s ad feminam cracks and reflexive cant?
  51. Also noteworthy is that Emily has an unusual approach to judgments about journalistic worthiness. She counts words in various ways and often bases her judgments on relative bulk. That seems to me an odd way to go about it. And in the end, as you will see, it turned out to be counterproductive for her.
  55. The Volumetric Criterion: Subtracting the Addition
  57. Emily complained that the report devoted 26 more words to what men said than to what women said, 264 words for men vs. 238 words for women.  It should, she declared, have highlighted what each of the six panelists said.
  59. She’s quite wrong about the word counts, as Beryl points out above.  The report actually used 353 words to highlight what women said. 89 words more than the 264 given to men’s comments. So if, like Emily, your criterion for judging the worth of a report is word counts, then women definitely win and Beryl did a fabulous job. Once Emily does the math, I am sure she will agree.
  61. But suppose Emily had been accurate about the relative word counts? Would it matter?  Not if what you care about is one of the session’s announced purposes: “to discuss a way forward for the science writing community.” Because one of the things Beryl reported on is a way forward, one that hasn’t up to now been exploited much.
  63. The women’s testimonies that Emily believes were the most important for the session were painful and hugely significant in their own lives.  But there wasn’t much news there.
  65. Women have been complaining to each other about this stuff forever, and Beryl and I have been paying attention to the complaints, and doing some complaining of our own, for decades. (OK, since you asked, let me tell you about the time I was fired from quite a good job because I declined a departmental transfer that would have put me under–no pun intended–a colleague who had hit on me. Routine behavior back in the last century, nothing new here either.  But the pièce de résistance was that he also wanted me to write all his stuff. And just at that point I was freelancing regularly for the New York Times. Let’s see, Emily would probably have been in elementary school then. Learning to count, I suppose. )
  69. Counting Words and Counting on Men
  71. What was news, as Beryl reported, was that the scales have fallen from men’s eyes. One of the most fascinating features of l’affaire Bora has been the testimony, sometimes quite pained testimony, from men. Male bloggers who admired Bora Zivkovic and believed (correctly) that he had opened doors to new voices at SciAm and boosted the careers of women, were forced to come to grips with the fact that he was also given to creepy, sex-laden, persistent, unpleasant, unwanted conversations with some of them.
  73. Those testimonies from men continued at the NASW session. We learned once more that decent men have been clueless. Smart men, men whose work we all respect, have had no idea what their women colleagues (and some men) have been put through.  But now that consciousness has been raised, at least some men seem resolved to work for change. And they said so at the XX Question session.
  75. This is not only new news, it is marvelous news. That’s because, as women have lamented forever, men have most of the power. But that means they can do more than most women can to alter this interminable  bias-and-sexism narrative. All the decent men–husbands and lovers and fathers and brothers and sons, especially the ones with power over other men–can speak out and get this stuff to stop.
  77. What is news is not that women have suffered forever from pervasive bias and sexism and worse, but that men can be recruited to their cause, and that some of the men are eager to be recruited. Isn’t it nuts not to spread that message? Isn’t it nuts not to recruit them? Especially when some of them are in positions to be listened to when they tell other men to knock it off? And some of them are powerful enough to devise policies that will help prevent these ugly events and punish violators?
  81. More on Word Counts as the Standard for Journalistic Excellence
  83. Emily complains that Beryl’s report on the NASW session was only 950 words out of a total post size of 2285 words. That’s entirely my doing. I told Beryl 700 words.
  85. Still, if Emily really believes that size matters, then she should check out other posts reporting on the session. I have only been able to unearth two.  I was disappointed to find none at the meeting site. That seems like an obvious place. And indeed there are 15 articles there about what went on at the NASW sessions.
  87. Well, nearly all of the sessions.
  89. Except one.
  91. Guess which.
  93. A bit odd, that. Still, two people stepped up and provided XX session reports on other sites.
  95. Matt Shipman, at SciLogs, focused on the data on women’s situation in science writing that was presented at the beginning of the session. (I linked to the data in the first graf, above.) He also noted that unconscious bias is a serious factor and he urged people to think more carefully about how they behave.
  97. Virginia Gewin wrote the other report, which appeared at the Science Writers Handbook. She also described the data and spent a paragraph on what the panelists said.
  99. I know that Emily will want to savage these two. To begin with, neither Shipman nor Gewin highlighted what each of the six panelists said, as Emily requires.
  101. Also, by golly, the naked numbers are there for all to see, demonstrating with data how remiss Shipman and Gewin have been. Matt Shipman’s post (praised in comments both by the session organizer and one of the panelists) was only 619 words, compared to Beryl’s 950. And Virginia Gewin’s clocked in at only 449 words. Her paragraph on the panelists was just 78 words long. Beryl’s panelist paragraph was 135 words.
  103. Advantage, Beryl.
  107. Finite Word Counts, the Infinite Universe, and Billions and Billions of Earth-like Planets
  109. I’m not quite clear on the nature of Emily’s complaint about the relative length of sections of the post. Is she complaining because the whole thing wasn’t devoted to the NASW session? Or because Beryl’s report was shorter than the section I wrote?
  111. This thing is called On Science Blogs, and I write about what’s, duh, on science blogs. A meeting report is an exception. It came about because I have been writing a lot about the recent fraught injection of sexism and sexual harassment into the always-fraught world of science blogging. (Let us not forget that, just before there was the Bora mess, there was what happened to SciAm blogger Danielle Lee. When she asked an editor at another site politely what she would be paid if she wrote for him, he told her nothing and called her a whore.)
  113. I knew that the NASW session was going to continue that discussion. I thought a report on the session was needed. I wasn’t at the meeting, but Beryl was, so I asked her to do a guest post.
  115. My part of last week’s post was my usual sort of content. It was about the week’s disclosure that there are at least 4 billion Earth-like planets in our Galaxy and likely a billion trillion in the whole of the Universe.
  117. I make no apology for that. I’m a science journalist. Emily’s a science journalist too, and so I’m baffled about why she thinks writing what bloggers are saying about an outstanding science event of the week is not something for a science journalist to be doing in a regular posting called On Science Blogs.
  119. Maybe Emily disapproved of the subject matter? Selection of topics here at On Science Blogs is whatever interests me at the moment, often items that are in the news. Billions of Earth-like planets filled those criteria admirably. In my post I said it might turn out to be the most important scientific finding of the decade, and I see no reason to take that back. Billions of Earth-like planets in our Galaxy alone, and a billion trillion more in the rest of the Universe? You betcha. Like Keith Cowling, I was perplexed by why NASA had so underplayed it.
  123. Moving from Word Counts to Art Criticism: Enter the Blogfather
  125. Emily complained because I used the Blogfather illustration in the post. She seems to think it glorifies Bora Zivkovic’s execrable behavior. I had used it in one of my earlier posts on these events, which in no sense glorified Bora Zivkovic’s execrable behavior. My point in reusing it with the XX panel report was to remind readers of the “recent events” that were prompting this discussion. I was trying for subtlety here. But it was too subtle, I guess.
  127. What the hell, I’ll try again:
  129. Subtle reminder. Credit: Neurocritic
  130. Subtle reminder. Credit: Neurocritic
  135. Playing Tag: the Classification and Metadata Criterion for Journalistic Excellence.
  137. Emily complained about the post’s metadata, noting that the tags did not include the names of the session panelists. She’s right. Of course, Shipman’s didn’t either, not even the names of the two panelists who praised his post. Virginia Gewin did much better. Her tags included names of 4 panelists, ignoring only two of them.
  139. Advantage (67% anyway): Gewin
  143. Here Comes Sharia Law
  145. Because I am such a dignified and modest and temperate writer, it probably hasn’t been clear to you that I am really really really irritated that Emily characterized the post as a “lapse back into the programmed complacency of sexual inequality and unreported sexual harassment.”
  147. Read the post yourself and explain to me just how it’s complacent about sexual inequality and unreported sexual harassment.
  149. That’s not just misleading, it’s a damn lie.
  151. An opportunistic, mean-spirited fabrication.
  153. Meanwhile, as this entirely manufactured cat fight absorbs attention and energy, the real world goes spinning on, and so does the war against women. Which provides plenty of material for science and medical writers. Rape and sexual assault, for example. Next week the National Academy of Sciences is issuing a report on their incidence.
  155. And here’s just one imminent and very practical matter that should be of concern, and not only to feminists of all sexes: There’s a really good chance that a lot of  women will soon be robbed of one of the most important provisions of the Affordable Care Act. It’s the provision mandating that employer-provided health insurance include free access to contraception.
  157. Three out of five federal circuit courts have already decided that granting employers a religious exemption from that provision is perfectly OK. Previously we have been asked to believe the ludicrous notion that corporations are persons. Now we are being asked to swallow this absurdity: That corporations are not just persons, they are pious persons who are permitted–nay, encouraged–to impose religious beliefs on their employees.
  159. And doubtless save some dough in the process.
  161. Meet the US version of Sharia law. The capitalist variant.
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