This was not meant to be the post of the day and another may be along soon. Accidentally got lightly embroiled in a twitter conversation about misandry, misogyny and FAQs. I have hammered this out to go beyond the confines of 140 characters I have been arguing with. High alert of spelling, punctuation and grammar for this one.
Ah another day of minor fracas on Twitter. When I should have been reading about the human brain in a bid to work out what the heck my next stand up show will entail, I saw a tweet that took me to the website of Entangled Bank and its FAQs for an event. Between “is the event suitable for children?” and “are seats numbered?” sat the sentence I presumed I had been sent to.
“I am a fanatical, misandristic ‘feminist’. May I drone on about the lack of women in the line up and despatch abusive, bigoted, mis-spelt, ungrammatical missives to the organisers and presenters?” (it has since been removed. Not sure if the FAQ is somehow generated by genuine questions or was dreamt up by the organisers)
This didn’t seem to be a very helpful way of explaining that there were no women on at the event and calculated to stir things up. I am sure when it was thought up as an FAQ in the office, everyone thought it was a cracking joke and a fine satire of our modern society. Perhaps they had just been watching a repeat of The Two Ronnies’ The Worm That Turned and this was their rebellion against fear of feminine tyranny and a Diana Dors dictator.
Amongst scientists and science popularisers there is a vibrant, sometimes verbally pugilistic, discussion on the number of all male panels at science events and also the history and role of women in science. Organisations such as Science Grrrl and Trowel Blazers are trumpeting forgotten female scientists of the past and encouraging women scientists of the future. All male panels and science shows are the sort of thing that don’t bother some men, as we are men and can’t be bothered to notice any form of divide for fear we will lose our Napoleon pig position of equality.
When any status quo is challenged, the defenders are quick to holler “extremism” and the ad hominem brickbats go back and forth. It is uncomfortable to be in the position of the “advantaged” (despite the delight of the comforts it brings), so many rush to victim status. See the speed that the News of the World painted a cape of poor beleaguered victim “that never meant no harm” in its final days. As I wrote before about realising your nation may not be all glorious, all loving and all altruism, these ugly realisations can be pushed away by cognitive dissonance and cherry picked data.
As the organiser of numerous events, I am aware of the difficulty in trying to get a balance.
There were complaints that the Uncaged Monkeys tour was oppressively male. My alibi was that the idea was four friends, united by either an interest or career in science wanted to tour and to look at it like a band. Do we complain that Elbow or The Beach Boys are all male. Generally we did have women guest performers too, but I think if I ever mounted a similar tour again, I would ensure more female scientists were involved. This is because I am now far more aware of the issue of women being publicly represented in science events. As life should be, I look back each year and spot another error made and hope to make less while in the present (but I know I will and am). Similarly Infinite Monkey Cage had series with far too few women, more recently we have tried harder and done better.
Some may now complain of the oppression of positive discrimination, but I do not think it is that. It is merely putting a bit more effort in. We have never had a guest on who has been there to fill some quota, we have them on because they are knowledgeable and as fit for the requirement of the show as anyone else. Sometimes this is a struggle. If we get nos from the top four choices, and we believe someone is a better guests and will make for a better show, then we go with that.
When organising The End of the World show at Hammersmith last year, three female guests pulled out over the final week of preparations. We still had Josie Long, Kate Tempest, Helen Arney, Aoife Mclysagt, but I received some complaints.
I understand why people wondered about the under representation, but i was pissed off when I just got globs of aggression slung at me before being asked why it was it was. At least let me explain, then project the globs of hate. I would say that is always true, before attacking anything for being as it is, first ask why it as it is. This is why I feel the Entangled Bank were mutton mitted in their FAQs. They may have been quizzed before on this topic, and that quizzing may have stung, but their wording would surely only make matters worse. They may have tried many female scientists and they all had other engagements, and they may have felt at the end of their tether, but as they are in this world of science communication they must have known what a potent issue this was and why such sentences and more than unhelpful.
And whether intended or not, with the debate at times so fierce, to phrase it in such a way that some could read it as, “if you have an issue with all male events then you must be a man hating feminist who cannot use a dictionary, because language is so rarely plainly objective, seems unfeasibly dumb for an event in aid of a statue for the enchanting liberal thinker and scientist Alfred Russel Wallace.
As usual I am on tour from Edinburgh to Exeter via Manchester and Bristol and 40 others. Details of that and new shows with Brian Cox HERE