Nature vs Nurture

There’s a dispiriting article being passed around feminist-friendly corners of the blogosphere today. What makes this article different from all the other tired, sexist articles I’ve come across recently – and therefore what makes this article worth posting about, for me – is where it was published: Nature. Yes, that Nature – “the world’s most highly cited interdisciplinary science journal”. The same journal that first published the structure of DNA, first proved there was a hole in the ozone layer, first documented nuclear fission and the cloning of mammals, is the source of this drivel:

Have you never had the experience of talking to your significant female other as you wend your way through the complexity of a supermarket — only to suddenly find her 20 metres away with her back to you? And then she comes back with something you’ve never seen before, and tosses it in the trolley as if nothing has happened? … the answer is clear: women can access parallel universes in order to find things

There are some great explanations of why this is offensive:
What Womanspace Really Looks Like (And Why Nature Can Suck It) by Dr. Isis
Dear Nature by Anne Jefferson
The Charismatic Misogynist by Christie Wilcox

More than the story itself, what bothers me is the behavior of Henry Gee, the piece’s editor. Before people started noticing the article, he posts with a (disappointed?) “I’m amazed we haven’t had any outraged comments about this story.”

Gee must be pretty used to getting outraged comments, given what he’s posted around the Nature website:

Well, I for one am glad Arikia has crawled back into her cave. Seems like she and her ilk think it’s fine to be as rude and insulting as they like to anyone without restriction, but as soon as anyone retaliates in kind they come over as poor pathetic wee girlie victims of the White Male Patriarchy; especially when it happens in person with no blog to hide behind. [link]

If you want to complain about sexist attitudes, Angela, suck on this – I have just seen a TV ad for a chocolate bar in which three women in a restaurant throw a fork on the floor so they can ogle the waiter’s butt when he bends down to pick it up. Sexist? Definitely. Will there be complaints? No. If the genders had been reversed there would have been an uproar. [link]

By retaining Gee as an editor after repeated inflammatory, sexist remarks, Nature is making it clear that they don’t care if they’re creating a hostile environment for women. And as one of the world’s premier journals, their actions — and their silences — matter. They’re letting themselves become part of a culture that pays women less than their colleagues, forces them to choose between family and career and sometimes even creates secret funds to supplement the salaries of male professors (really!) – instead of a culture that nurtures women.

Hardly the best science has to offer.

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