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September 28, 2013

When good people allow bad things to be published*

This month a homophobic letter was published in a STEM professional organization's magazine. I'm not going to name the professional organization. The association's current, past, and next presidents' response to the publishing of the letter was immediate and powerful including saying they were requiring a review of policies so something like this would not be published in the future. The apology of the executive director, whom I know and respect, was also powerful.

And, of course, I am not going to link to the letter- talk about don't feed the trolls!

What I am going to write about is the responses I got when I told people about the letter. These were from people who care about and work for diversity- which makes their responses even larger impediments to diversity:

1. Not publishing it is censorship. But wait, we make decisions all the time about what to publish and what not to publish based on relevance and appropriateness to the audience. Folks we shouldn't publish something which is not relevant to the audience- as in having nothing to do with the field- just because it says things we disagree with. And then there is not appropriate. For example explaining to people what is and isnít Godís plan for their lives doesnít quite fit in a professional journal. Publishing it because some might say not publishing it is censorship is -- hmm am not sure what words I should say but I'm really sure they aren't nice words.

2. The person who published it is an ally. Allies are wonderful- we are fortunate to have allies and be allies. Allies need protection but if there is a double standard of behavior Ė as in we cut allies slack when they screw up - that is a problem. When I screw up you need to tell me. When you screw up I need to tell you. Otherwise we aren't allies.

3. We need to know these attitudes exist. Please- African Americans are quite clear racism exists, homophobia is no surprise to LBTG people. And as my mother used to say- "I think every woman has been sexually harassed except for your Aunt Rona and I think she lied" (sorry cousins that is what she said). Publishing these kinds of comments in a professional journal provides them legitimacy and credibility which is well AWFUL.

4. Our group gets attacked all the time and they donít speak up for us, AKA itís not my issue. I am reminded of Martin Niemollerís poem.

First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I said nothing.
Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing.
Then came the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist.
And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did little.
Then when they came for me, there was no one left to stand up for me.

Eric Jolly says that we wonít have true equality until you donít have to be at the table in order to have your issues addressed. Heís right.

If however, we all work together we might just get something done.

* This was the end of a speech I did yesterday.

September 21, 2013

Feminist Success vs Sex Discrimination -hmmm

So today I got an e-mail asking me "What do you think of this sex discrimination?" (note to self- stop using so so much; note back to self- that is so not going to happen in this post) and went on to explain "Before Title IX this teacher probably wouldnít have been allowed to teach while pregnant. How should she be reminded that treating the girls and boys differently is also sex discrimination? "

The question was in response to a blog post about teaching while pregnant (been there, done that; always interesting). Anyway the question about sex discrimination referred to the following section of the post:

My students, though middle-school aged, are fascinated. They want to touch my belly in hopes of catching a fleeting little kick. It's weird having a group of girls crowding around me, laying hands on my belly, oohing and ahhing. I don't know if that's considered inappropriate, but they are so excited for me that it's hard to say no.

As a former science teacher I can appreciate the girls' sense of wonder about the formation of a new life. But I don't want these young girls to get too excited about pregnancy; after all, when I was in 8th grade one of my classmates actually birthed a baby of her own. The boys are definitely not allowed to touch my stomach. In fact, outside of a handshake or a pat on the back, I try not to touch them at allóand I explicitly ask them to refrain from touching me.

My response to the person who sent the e-mail was:

I very strongly disagree with you. This is so NOT sex discrimination:


1. That historically she wouldn't have been allowed to teach has nothing to do with this- other than we should celebrate progress. We did what we did for fairness, justice and, well, for keeping good teachers. The teachers, who can now teach while pregnant, owe us nothing. It is us (old second wave feminists) who owe them for being so awesome to bring a dream we had about pregnant women being able to teach as long as they can/want a reality.

2. This is very much about ďmy body my choicesĒ. This is her body- whom she chooses to touch it, what she chooses to do with it is her choice. That is at the very core of feminism and human rights. Iím sorry you donít like her choices but they are her choices not yours and that they are her choices is another opportunity for celebration. Old second wave feminists- we helped make this happen. GO US!

3. I understand her dilemma because in the post she explains it to me. I so admire what she is doing - balancing her roles as a Black woman, a teacher, a role model, an almost mother-- in ways that are best for BBR (Baby Boy Rhames), her and her students is just awesome! Included in the balance is an understanding that for many girls this is a direct tie to what they may experience. She explains that she understands that this is important, while at the same time she doesn't want to get the girls too excited about pregnancy (she is so concerned about too early pregnancy among her students). To see a woman-a Black woman- their teacher- pregnant and teaching and working with them is well (wait I have to find some synonyms for awesome). That she chooses not to have the boys touch her belly is so her choice (and from my perspective totally understandable) and even more is such a powerful lesson to the boys and the girls about who has the power to chose who touches them.

This is not sex discrimination; this is magnificent, wonderful, stunning. Never mind the synonyms donít work. This is awesome.

September 18, 2013

The Universe in Verse and Free Through 9/29

Do you know about Jamie Dunbar? If not you should. Jamie draws, writes and produces comic books in verse. Why, you ask, is this something for FairerScience? Well because these comic books are about the Universe.

There are three:
BANG! is about the origin of the universe,
Itís Alive! is about the beginning of life on Earth and
Great Apes! about the evolution of the human race and the dawn of civilization.

They are fun and kids, and many adults can learn from them. Best of all for the next 11 days (through 9/29) you can download them for free. Jamie did a Kickstarter fundraiser and within a week made his goal and is now at twice his goal. As a thank you he is making the books available for free download to anyone in the universe for the remaining duration of his campaign (until 9/29/13). As Jamie says . "No strings attached, share it with anyone!" So go get them here