The Unified Voice of 500 Women Scientists Didn’t Speak for Many Others

Article by Meghan Wright /
Medium /
May 18, 2018 /
Click here to view original /

Dear 500 Women Scientists Leadership Team,

Two months to the day after my Working Life essay was published in Science Magazine, I still feel an intense and stormy mix of shame, hurt, regret, and indignation when I think about the #scicomm community’s reaction to my essay online.

I have dedicated much time over the last two months to understanding the mistakes I made in the delivery of my message and have grappled with the ways my essay failed to speak for all women scientists. I now call upon the 500 Women Scientists Leadership Team to reflect on the way some aspects of their response to my essay in turn may have failed to speak for all women in science.

In their open letter to the Science Editorial Board, 500 Women Scientists Leadership Team posited that “Science made the choice to run an inflammatory article for the sake of increased website traffic”. This conclusion is based on an interpretation of my essay as a personal attack against Science Sam, the Instagram star I highlighted in my essay.

“The quickest and cheapest way to discredit a woman is by saying she’s bitter, that she’s jealous, that she’s clawin’ for a catfight,” says Lauren Rosewarne, author of Cyberbullies, Cyberactivists, Cyberpredators: Film, TV, and Internet. Dismissing a woman based on this sexist construct is extremely common in online forums (and beyond).

Admittedly, by pitting Science Sam and I against each other, the community may have rallied a greater audience to help amplify important criticisms of my essay. But by leaning into this sexist trope and explaining away my essay as personally motivated, I believe the 500 Women Scientists leadership unintentionally detracted from real issues faced by female PhD candidates in STEM fields, as well as real accomplishments.

In my eyes, dismissing my essay as click-bait is similar to other schemes used to demerit a female author writing in tech or science, for example that she must have slept with someone in a position of power to get her writing job, or that she is fulfilling a gender quota.

The leadership team also suggested I was a mouthpiece Science editors used to fulfill a hidden agenda (“Science editors wanted to debate #scicomm”). In actuality I was sharing my own opinion about something that I knew to be affecting my and other young female scientists’ careers. Explaining away the essay as orchestrated by someone other than myself and the other women who contributed to it, attributing it instead to a male senior editor, takes away our agency over the opinions shared, the work we did to get them to the page, and any potential progress that could have come from sharing them.

When 500 Women Scientists speak, people will listen. So I implore the leadership team to carefully consider how their response to my essay in some ways failed to fulfill their mandate of fostering an inclusive atmosphere of encouragement and collaboration.