Friday, October 18, 2013

Women Of Science Explain How Stuff Is

In the wake of a series of unfortunate events that have rocked and shocked the small, chummy world of science writing this week, there are currently a lot of really smart women on Twitter talking about sexual harassment in science, academia and journalism.* If you are in need of a primer on the sort of guff one tends to get when one is a lady person doing sciencey things, have a glance at the hashtag #ripplesofdoubt, started by scientist Karen James to collect stories of harassment. It's quite instructive.

My wife here has just been reading over the many tales of lady-woe in the hashtag, and alternately nodding in sisterly agreement and rolling her eyes. "Bluh," she says. "It's kind of Take Back The Night-ey."

Bear in mind, this is a woman who once, as an exceedingly broke and exceedingly hungry freelance travel writer alone on assignment in the rural South, very nearly escaped having to have sex with a strange guy in a motel parking lot in Louisiana because she ate some of the barbecue he was cooking out of the back of his truck.** She is not easily impressed. Nor is she a big fan of Take Back The Night.

I am not a big fan of Take Back The Night, either, despite having spilled my guts at several of them in college. That was back before I realized, right in the middle of a doleful weepy monologue about My Very Sad Story, that spilling your guts at Take Back The Night does not actually get anybody to stop raping people, because rapists don't go to Take Back The Night.*** 

Here's where she's wrong, though. The great thing about this hashtag, which is indeed full of Very Sad Stories and not a small amount of weepage, is that it's happening among a group of professionals who already know each other, not primarily through gender politics, but through their shared work and culture. Every tenth tweet or so is from some guy whose mind has just been blown by the revelation that women all throughout his professional network are getting systematically hazed just for showing up, and institutions are looking the other way.

I am all for the creation of women-only safe space, even if that New Agey phrase makes me crabby. (What doesn't, really?) But I am so very glad this particular conversation is happening in mixed company. It's delivering a swift and brutally effective 101 course in the ugly daily realities of ladyhood to a lot of smart dudes that, for all their precociousness, have probably never had the occasion to really see this stuff before. And they ought to, really, if the goal is to get things to, y'know, change.

Keep it coming, Science Women.

*Pro tip: There's a bunch of it. Here is an absolutely withering example of the sort of thing that goes on, well, everywhere. And here is another. And another.

**Pro tip: Don't eat the barbecue.

***Not science. I could be wrong.

Update: You've really got to read this one. Kathleen Raven brings the wreckage.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Phoenix Shuts Down; Women Are Ambivalent, Emotional

You've probably already heard this, since you care hard about newspapers: The Boston Phoenix is kaput.

Full disclosure: I'm a former employee of a paper that spent a lot of its time aiming potshots at the Phoenix -- some of which landed, others of which careened off into the shrubbery in excitingly futile parabolic arcs. If the Phoenix was the scrappy dog of Boston media, we were the fleas. And a few of us were probably disease vectors.

That said, I'm absolutely gutted by the Phoenix's closing. It's a huge loss for the alternative press -- which remains one of the few niches in media where writers can still work their way up quickly from the intern desk to a paid job writing real, meaty, feature-type stuff, if they have the hustle and the drive. It's a huge loss for Boston. Frankly, it's a huge loss for the Phoenix's competitors, large and small, who all had to be better and smarter and fiercer because that paper existed.

A torrent of ink has been spilled over the Phoenix's closing in the last 24 hours. More is on the way. Most of it just makes me want to drink beer and throw things.

But one story stands out in my mind: This tribute to the heady glory days of the Phoenix, by alum Charles Pierce, writing for Grantland. This story deserves some sort of special prize for being both a  devastatingly well-written outpouring of grief for the Phoenix, and an unconsciously hilarious display of what a huge sausagefest the whole enterprise of alt-weeklies was (and is).

It's beautiful. How can you not love this:

I mean, Jesus Mary, where do you start with the newspaper at which you grew so much, and learned so much, and came to respect the craft of journalism with a fervor that edged pretty damn close to the religious? What memories have pride of place now? The fact that T.A. Frail, now at Smithsonian, suggested you might just like Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy and it wound up changing your life? The day that Doug Simmons, now at Bloomberg News, snuck up behind you and stuck a pair of earphones on your head, cranked Black Flag’s “Six Pack” up to 11, and taught you that rock and roll had not calcified when you graduated from college? What’s the song that plays when you realize that you’re young when you thought you were growing old? What’s the prayer of thanksgiving for a hundred days of fellowship, drunk on words, all of us, as though there were nothing more beyond the next word, the next sentence, the next paragraph locked into place? Please say that the muse is something beyond the balance sheet, something beyond technology. Tell me that she’s alive the way she once was when you’d feel her on your shoulder as one word slammed into the other, and the story got itself told, and you came to the end and realized, with wonderment and awe, that the story existed out beyond you, and that it had chosen you, and you were its vehicle, and the grinning muse had the last laugh after all.
And yet. There was that familiar sinking feeling, as the names of the beloved fraternity of hard-drinking, fist-pounding, day-seizing boyos of the good old Phoenix were called. And then, just to prove once and for all how mightily the fearless alternative paper did speak truth to power: There was a dick joke.

I think I let out a bitter little bark of laughter. And then I blew my nose.

The culture of the alts, now passing into a long dark twilight, is something most vigorously to be mourned. And I'm mourning it hard. But let's be honest with ourselves: There were a lot of stories that went unwritten amid the din of writers who all looked a lot alike busily high-fiving each other for their contrarianism. There were a lot of people who didn't get to join that party. Or got stuck doing the writing equivalent of serving drinks at it.

I'm not one of them. I got a seat at that table, and I fucking loved it. As a non-penis-owner who got to experience some of the thrill and the camaraderie and the honest-to-God fistfighting of the alt-weekly press before the desperation fully set in, I feel tremendously lucky.

I don't think that world ever fully belonged to people like me, though. And now that it's unraveling at the seams, it never will.

I'd just like to take this moment to note -- knowing full well how shrill the cry of the harpy grates upon the ear -- that most of the recently-unemployed Phoenix writers being lionized now, almost forty years after Pierce got his start, are --

Oh, hell, I can't do this. I love those guys too much.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Felix Salmon Is Very Sorry He Said Nice Things About Women, Sort Of

Backhanded apology alert! Women, you can't read. But Reuters blogger Felix Salmon should've known that. He's really sorry.

Apparently Salmon pissed off a vocal chunk of the feminist Twitterverse with a recent blog post about Maria Popova and the medium-large pile of money she makes for being nice to everybody on the Internet.

If you, like the staff of Women Do, were under a rock somewhere when this went down, here's the offending excerpt:

The consistently positive and upbeat tone to Popova’s blog might generate healthy Amazon income as a side-effect, but it’s also genuine: she’s one of those bloggers — Gina Trapani is another very successful example — who have no time for snark and who naturally look for things to celebrate rather than things to tear down. (Just listen to that O’Reilly talk: she dishes out huge amounts of praise to virtually everybody she cites.) 
To a certain extent, this is a female thing: positive happy bloggers tend to be female, as do their readers.* And when someone like Anne-Marie Slaughter supports Maria Popova to the tune of $300 per year, there’s definitely an element there of supporting the sisterhood. Which is a good thing! 
But to many male observers, there’s something a bit off there. 

Salmon then turns to fellow manblogger Andrew Sullivan, for a disquisition on why paywalls are so much more manly professional than these panhandling tip jars popular amongst the girlyblog set.

Today, Salmon has something to explain. It's not that he thinks women are nice. Not even women bloggers. Au contraire.

Actually he thinks nice bloggers are women. Take that, haterati!

My first reaction was indignation: I hadn’t generalized about women, or women bloggers. If I say that “brain surgeons tend to be men”, you really haven’t learned anything about men, or about male surgeons. Men don’t tend to be brain surgeons, and neither do male surgeons.
 But on reflection, including that passage was pretty obviously stupid. For one thing, my language (“female thing”, “male observers”) naturally and unnecessarily raised a lot of hackles: there’s a line between being plainspoken and being needlessly provocative, and I crossed it. In doing so, I made it far too easy for my readers to miss the precise meaning of “most positive happy bloggers are female”, and to read it instead as “most female bloggers are positive and happy”, or even “most females are positive and happy”.

Being a man data junkie, Salmon, unlike a distressing number of reporter types, is well able to tell the difference between A--->B and B--->A.* But he knows you can't, and he really should've taken your dumbness into account. He's really, really sorry he forgot you can't do logic. It won't happen again.

Carly Carioli over at the Phoenix, who brought this to our attention, points out -- and quite rightly, too -- "If there was a Women Do bat signal, it would be shining over this guy's head." Felix Salmon, we detect an air of smug condescension about you, and we hereby shake our tiny fists in your general direction.

It must be added: If it's true that the key to financial success in the ladybloggoverse is 1.) be nice, and 2.) put out a tip jar, Women Do is clearly doin' it wrong.

*N.B.: Women Do is officially a pro-logic blog. Any invalid syllogisms that are brought to the attention of management will be taken out back and shot.