Last week, we wrote about conservationist Stuart Pimm receiving criticism for casual sexism in a recent book review.
The journal did not retract the review, but it released an editor’s note condemning the language Pimm used, including quoting a movie scene in which a man told a woman “I don’t take whores in taxis.” Some readers have questioned whether this is really an instance of sexism, including here in the Retraction Watch comments.
So we reached out to Amanda Stanley, a conservation scientist who was so troubled by the book review that she wrote a letter to the editor, to be published soon in Biological Conservation. Here’s her powerful explanation of where this fits in the overall conversation about sexism in science:
When I first saw this, I felt deep sadness. The language was so inappropriate and so uncalled for. It’s not about the argument or the book or different perspectives on conservation, it’s just about the language. Personally, as a woman in science and conservation I’ve been through the gauntlet of casual and overt sexism in science, and I’m so done with it. I read the review and I was really sad, but ready to say – as I have all the other times – “That’s what happens.” Then I saw a blog post by Britta Teller, saying she was a young woman in science, early in her career, and why wasn’t anyone else speaking up? She felt like she was putting herself at risk speaking out against someone as powerful as Stuart Pimm.
Well, I’m mid-career, I’m relatively established, I have a safe job. If not me then who?
I think there’s been a sea change in conservation and conservation science. We’re seeing a shift…a lot of discussion about diversity of culture and diversity of gender in conservation science. It’s up to all of us to speak out and say, this is not ok in our community. We’re just not gonna take it.
I think it’s not a coincidence that when a certain type of man wants to really insult someone, they turn to gendered insults – you run like a girl, you hit like a girl. If you want to call somebody a sellout you call them a whore. There are a lot of other instances that one could use. Pimm clearly wanted to insult Peter Kareiva. I don’t think we can let him get away with the fact that those insults are gendered. It perpetuates a culture of hostility towards women, and we can see that everywhere. This is not the worst instance of sexism that has ever been, but it’s casual workplace misogyny. It’s the little things that add up over and over.
I will say that Richard Primack has been excellent to work with. When I submitted my letter to the editor he called me within fifteen minutes. We talked for about an hour. He gets it. When they initially put the editors note out there, it said “this language can be read as denigrating to women,” which is the same as saying, “I’m sorry you were offended.” They changed that. That’s made me feel much better about this…Something like this comes out and somebody says that wasn’t appropriate, and then there’s the trolly backlash. But amongst all of that, there are good leaders and good men who stand up on the side of inclusion.
I asked how this got published in the first place, and it turns out book reviews are handled separately, so only the book editor saw this before it went online. It sounds like they’re going to make sure everything goes through the editorial team now. From what Richard was saying, it’s really difficult to retract a paper, so that’s why he tried to get [Pimm] to change the piece. My interactions with the editor have been really good and I think he’s handing this as well as he can.
We are and can and should move to a place where casual sexism in science is a historical footnote, not a current reality. This is just one of the little things we all have to put up with, but if you don’t call out the little things how can we address the big things?
Here’s an excerpt from her upcoming letter to the editor, which has been fast-tracked and should be appearing in the next few weeks:
Framing an argument using ‘whores’ and ‘prostitution’ is harmful and denigrating to women, and is not appropriate for the pages of a scholarly journal. These words matter, and matter deeply, and are indicative of the broader gender and diversity problems within conservation science and practice.
Stanley works for the Wilburforce Foundation, a non-profit group. Despite having the support of her organization, she spoke to us as an individual, not as a representative of Wilburforce, which
…supports many scientists and conservation organizations (including TNC and some of the authors of Keeping the Wild) but did not provide support for the book itself, Peter Kareiva, or Stuart Pimm.
Update 4 p.m. Eastern, 12/10/14: Stanley’s letter to the editor is now available online.