Natural history of the present

Natural history of the present

I F@#%ing Love … Sexism


What do you know? The creative force behind science’s favourite Facebook site is … a woman.

Holy mother of Christ.

Just over a year ago, Elise Andrew, then a biology student at the University of Sheffield, created a Facebook page, to which she gave the catchy name “I Fucking Love Science” (IFLS). Combining interesting facts, sumptuous pictures, quotes from celebrity scientists and geeky jokes, the site took off instantly.

Today it has more than 4.3 million fans. And for the many whingers who simply couldn’t bring themselves to like a page with the “F-word” in its name, she mirrored it at Science is Awesome (255,000 fans).

Apparently, IFLS amassed 1,000 “likes” in its first 24 hours, mocking the adoption rate of other pages (my own effort, Sex, Genes & Rock, took 18 months to amass 1,000 fans).

In the whirlwind year since she started IFLS, Andrew has relocated to Canada to work with the LabX Media Group, and now has a team at her disposal to maintain her spinoff Facebook pages: Evolution, The Universe, and The Earth Story.

Elise Andrew’s identity wasn’t any kind of secret, even if most IFLS fans had no reason to know her name. They could have clicked the “about” link on the IFLS page profile. All that changed early last week when she announced she had joined Twitter:

I got Twitter! I figured it’s about time I started exploring other social media. If you’re on there, can you Tweet me some science people worth following?

The IFLS post that alerted some of Elise Andrew’s slower-moving fans that she is of the female persuasion. Facebook

This being science and the 21st Century, you would expect those folks who hadn’t realised that IFLS had a curator - with a real live name and a gender - to file the info away and carry on with business as usual.

Instead, this apparent “outing” had all the surprise and slightly less panache than King Julian jumping from a cake at the beginning of Madagascar 2 wearing a coconut bra and yelling:

I’m a lady. I’m a lady everyone!…. Which of you is attracted to me?

Some days I’m ashamed to be a citizen of the internet.

Fans, seeing Andrew’s name and photograph for the first time, revealed a snapshot of their implicit assumptions. Some admitted their embarrassment at having implicitly assumed IFLS was run by a man.

By no means were men the only ones making the assumptions. According to Kelly Waitforit Fox:

Always pictured a guy lol … An I sexist against myself? Haha

But the commenters who felt obliged to share their delightful insights into Elise’s appearance were overwhelmingly male. This comment from one Lou Forbes number among the more benign:

you mean you’re a girl, AND you’re beautiful? wow, i just liked science a lil bit more today ^

And some felt their implicit assumptions sprang from the robust language used to underline IFLS’s enthusiasm for science. According to a Scott Smedley:

I thought that because of all the ways you were so proud to spout off “I fucking love science” in a difient swary manner against people who hated sware words being used that you was a dude.

(I’m starting to wonder about starting a page called I Fuckig Luv Spelling)

More than 1,500 people have commented on Andrew’s latest “outing” – most, I am pleased to say, encouraging her to keep doing what she does. Others, too, have confronted those fans blurting sexist rubbish.

And yet, while science grapples with how best to encourage all talented and smart people to participate, an appreciable slice of the science-friendly public tend to assume that a clever, funny and profane site has to be the product of a male mind.

And these are people whose identities are known. The internet, as we well know, feeds legion shrivelled pseudonymed souls who spew their explicit bile and prejudice.

Even the usually intelligent comment pages at The Conversation attract their share of scared sexist droning. Forget motherhood statemements - have a look at the comments following Alessandro Demaio’s post about the global importance of maternal health. Or consider the furious debate about Linda Murray and Lesley Pruitt’s proposition that Ending violence against women is good for everyone.

The internet, and blogging in particular, promised to make communicating about ideas and their meaning more democratic. And yet women who blog about science still find the sexism, threats and unwanted sexual attention so common that a real need exists for workshops such as: The Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name.

It’s more than 150 years since Mary Ann Evans started publishing as George Eliot in order to be sure her work would be taken seriously. And yet women often have to choose between concealing their name and gender and being taken seriously.

Even on a fun and lighthearted Facebook page.

I’m interested to hear from women and men about reasons or pressure they feel to hide their identity, gender or name when communicating about science - @Brooks_Rob

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