Some Helpful Tips for Those Institutions Wishing to Avoid Sexism and/or Racism

My dear friend and fellow science blogger Anne Jefferson has an excellent post up about sexism and racism in the scientific community. It deserves to be read in its entirety. However, I know many of you movers and shakers are quite busy, so here are her helpful tips, which you might wish to put somewhere easy to find for those times when you might be close to injecting more sexist and/or racist dreck into the community.

So here’s a few simple tips for publishers, funders, and other institutions that have megaphones and amplifiers in the scientific community. If you are part of an organization that’s been caught out on issues of sexism and racism in the past, or you think there’s a possibility it could happen in the future, you might consider printing these tips out and pinning them to your colleague’s cubicles.

1) If you receive racist or sexist material for publication, DON’T PUBLISH IT. Throw it out. Shake your head, laugh about the backwardness of the writer with your colleagues, but DON’T PUBLISH IT. It doesn’t deserve your printed or virtual space, and it’s not “contributing to the conversation.”

2) If you woman and/or person of color is describing problems with racism, sexism, or harassment, assume that what they are saying is true and do not attempt to silence or gaslight them. This is a general rule, but because apparently it needs to be said. Even if, especially if, the women and/or people of color are part of your organization or are accusing your organization of racism, sexism, or harassment, you should let their voices be heard.

3) If your organization is responsible in any way for selecting which voices get heard in science (you know, like publishers, funders, and think tanks do), make sure that women and people of color get representation, and that when you do, that you don’t do with a side helping of victim blaming or condescension.

There you go. All you need to begin the process of keeping sexist and racist dreck out of our spaces. This is how you make the community better.

And now, you have absolutely no excuse for getting it wrong.

Originally published at Rosetta Stones.

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Some Helpful Tips for Those Institutions Wishing to Avoid Sexism and/or Racism
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4 thoughts on “Some Helpful Tips for Those Institutions Wishing to Avoid Sexism and/or Racism

  1. 2

    It can sometimes be hard for privileged people to tell if something is racist or sexist.

    So #1 isn’t a no-work proposition. Worth undertaking, to be sure, but hardly trivial.

    As to #2, I’ve found myself on the feminist side of arguments against women a few times lately, and I can’t help wondering if I’m doing something wrong. I mean, I don’t think I am…
    …So what I’m saying here is that listening to women is great and trusting them about their experiences is awesome, but women maybe don’t actually trump feminism? Or maybe I am actually doing something wrong…
    I don’t know. This stuff is confusing sometimes.

    So I guess a recommendation I’d add as a kind of #0 is “learn about feminism and anti-racism so you can more ably execute the following.” Possibly with some helpful links to websites.

  2. Pen
    3

    Yes, 1and 2 are good principles but seem simpler than they are. Sometimes sexism and racism are obvious, but sometimes you have undecided issues with people of all sexes/races on either side of the fence. 1, in particular, is a piece of advice which can make institutions simply back away from publishing anything on the subject of gender and race – no surprise there, since a not insignificant number of people of all races/sexes find those subjects inherently racist/sexist. Even if they don’t, they may not trust their judgement, and no, asking one or two members of the group in question doesn’t get you there, as robertrichter says.

  3. rq
    4

    I agree that #1 needs a little bit of work – a bit of (self)education, but it’s still far from difficult.
    Pen, it’s rather easy to tell between a piece that put women in a box (“Women just never seem interested in [thing], probably because of their hormones”) and one that tries to do the opposite (“Women [in certain location] just never seem interested in [thing], so we asked some of them about it”). Also, if someone writes you a piece how all those women aren’t assertive enough to participate in an environment lacking an estrogen vibe? If you’re an editor (or have one), I’m pretty sure that fact-checking is a thing you have to do (within reasonable limits, of course), and there’s this amazing tool called ‘the internet’ quite literally at your fingertips. So you can go and look. Or, you know, ask women who are also doing [thing] (maybe not as prominently, but they’re usually out there!), instead of your colleagues.
    Which leads into #2. If women, people of colour, sexual minorities, trans people within your organization are complaining about sexism or racism or different forms of phobia? Listen to them. You don’t need a group consensus here: someone feels harassed, you listen to them, and you learn. Maybe someone wrote something that feels offensive, but you don’t see the issue – if someone is pointing it out to you, look into it, do some research, contact people outside of your immediate circle of friends/colleagues, if you have to. And if you’re getting constant complaints from the same group of people, then really, really, look at the published choices of your organization: is what you’re publishing limiting in any way? Is it offensive to someone – and then, why is it offensive? Is it denying an aspect of their humanity, or is it insulting some bad choices they make (e.g. christians complaining of persecution because you publish articles on no religion in public spaces at christmas, versus people of Native American ancestry complaining about the use of a stereotypical football team name and logo in your articles)?
    These are trains of thought that should take about 2 minutes, so no, it’s not difficult. Unless you have issues sorting out opposing points of view to see which one is more conducive to recognizing the humanity and rights of all people, in which case… well, I can’t help you then. More education for you.

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