Times caption: “Scientists who selfie” have rallied to the defence of Samantha Yammine, right
A piece by Kaya Burgess in today’s Times:
Female scientists are debating whether colleagues who post “pretty selfies” from their laboratories on Instagram are holding back the fight against sexism in science.
The male-dominated world of science is one in which women “hold less senior positions, are paid less, and are continuously underrated”, according to an opinion article in Science. The author, Meghan Wright, a doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering, added that female scientists were doing little to dismantle this sexist culture by using social media to post pictures of themselves in “cute outfits” with “sweet smiles”.
The article drew an angry response from female scientists, who said social media was a powerful tool in fighting sexism and criticised the journal for publishing a piece that appeared to “attack” women who were trying to communicate their work.
Ms Wright, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, cited a fellow PhD student called Samantha Yammine, who studies neural stem cells and has almost 25,000 followers on Instagram as “Science Sam”. She posts selfies taken in front of blackboards, at her laboratory desk and in her white lab coat, usually sharply dressed and smiling into the camera. Ms Wright wrote: “I soon found many other female graduate students and postdocs whose Instagram pages are filled with pretty selfies, fun videos, and microscope images captioned with accessible language and cute emojis. These researchers assert themselves as scientists who don’t fit the stereotypes that are typically applied to women in the field. They are not boring or unfashionable. Instead, their posts demonstrate that they’re interested in clothes and makeup, that they’re physically active, and that they are attractive romantic partners.
“By visibly contradicting stereotypes about female scientists, it is clear that they hope to inspire girls to pursue science and to encourage female scientists to showcase their femininity in our male-dominated work spaces.”
But she went on to say: “Publicly documenting the cute outfit I wear and the sweet smile I brandish in the lab isn’t going to help me build a fulfilling career in a field where women hold less senior positions, are paid less, and are continuously underrated.” She added: “I wonder whether our efforts should instead be directed toward advocating for policy changes at institutional and governmental levels.”
Ms Yammine co-wrote a riposte for Science with three others, saying social media was “a powerful tool in a larger strategy to dismantle such structures”. It added: “Selfies on Instagram are optional, but they receive 38 per cent more engagement than pictures without a face, enabling open dialogue with broad audiences in an effectively personal manner.”
She told The Times: “I was really disappointed that the hard work we are doing to humanise science and make it accessible online got reduced to us promoting our appearances. But the support since has been incredible.”
A campaign group called 500 Women Scientists wrote to Science to complain that the article “singled out and criticised a successful woman science communicator for her Instagram presence”. Science has now added a note to the original article, which reads: “Many have read the article as a personal attack [on Science Sam]. This was not the intent of the author or the editors, and we apologise.”
Dr Suze Kundu is a nanochemist at the University of Surrey who has spoken out about sexism in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem). She said: “Social media makes a great contribution to fighting sexism in Stem, especially when many women in Stem are overlooked in their own institutions . . . Furthermore, it humanises all Stem professionals, helping to debunk the stereotype of ‘pale, male and stale’ that our profession has.” [J4MB emphasis]
“Pale, male and stale” – racism, sexism, and ageism – totally OK coming from this person, we’re invited to accept:
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