Intersectionality and the Women’s March

This is the first of a two-part reflection on the global Women’s March that occurred on 21 January 2017. This discussion expands on a post first published on 10 January, eleven days prior to the global protests. It reflects the tensions between the initial goal of the Women’s March in Washington, which aimed to be inclusive of intersectionality, and the White women who wanted to attend the March, but objected to this aim.

Despite many positive outcomes, the issues discussed here that centre on Whiteness continued to affect the attendance, experience and discussions of the marches after the event. This post examines the attitudes of White women as discussed in an article by The New York Times, which reflect the broader dissent expressed by White women who continue to oppose intersectional conversations about the Women’s March.

The issues here remain relevant not simply as women around the world reflect on the racism and exclusion they faced at the marches, but also because one of the co-organisers, Linda Sarsour, is currently facing racist backlash only days after the event.

The second part to this discussion is forthcoming and it will be a visual reflection of my attendance at the Sydney March.

We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities. We call on all defenders of human rights to join us
Women’s March organisers: Tamika Mallory; Linda Sarsour; Bob Bland [holding a baby]; and Carmen Perez
Continue reading Intersectionality and the Women’s March

Sexism in Academic Science

A few days a go, the New York Times published an Op-Ed by two psychology professors who argue that “Academic Science Isn’t Sexist.” On STEM Women, I look at the various methodological problems with the Op-Ed which is based on a review study conducted by the Op-Ed authors and two economists. The biggest issue is that the way they measure gender inequality does not match the data they have available. The researchers fail to account for institutional factors that impact on women’s under-representation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). 

STEM workers, like all people, are impacted by socio-economic issues. The authors of the study have failed to account for evidence of how parents, teachers, the media and other social influences discourage girls from STEM. Studies show girls and boys perform equally well in STEM-related tests, but stereotypes, lack of role models, and discrimination make it harder for women to succeed. 

The researchers have also failed to account for issues of race, sexuality, disability and other forms of discrimination that further disadvantage minority women. I have shown why the theory of intersectionality is important in any analysis of why minority women are less likely to succeed in STEM. In a study headed by a White male professor who already has tenure, and three White women professors, the omission of race from the analysis is especially problematic. I show that any study that argues sexism is a myth, and which serves both White privilege and male privilege, must be read with extreme caution.

A couple of other highlights:

  • The main argument in Op-Ed is that women would fare well in maths-intensive subjects, “if they choose to enter these fields in the first place.” This ignores the fact that individual choice is constrained by the institutional barriers girls and women face in their STEM education and careers.
  • The study argues women academics are not as “productive” as men. The researchers measure this in terms of publications. They ignore research showing women are more likely to do additional teaching, admin and other duties at work, as well as more childcare at home, while male colleagues are more likely to be able to focus on research uninterrupted by these extra duties.
  • The researchers argue that there are less women in STEM because they are choosing to “opt out” as they have children. They explain pay discrepancies by saying women choose to pay a “child salary penalty.” The researchers ignore evidence that women actually leave more for institutional reasons, such as sexism in the workplace. Research also shows male academics are actually fare better in their careers if they are married with children. I show how sociological research on family and inequality need to be taken into consideration when assessing the career trajectories of scientists.

Read more:

[Image text] The question is not: does sexism exist in STEM? Science shows institutional barriers are there. Question is: what are we doing about it?


Marvel’s new addition to its superhero line-up: Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American Muslim girl living in Jersey City who takes the name Ms. Marvel.

I’m not really part of the comic book world; I saw Avengers and that’s pretty much it. But I find the push (and inevitable pushback) in the comic book industry to successfully incorporate women and non-white characters into their superhero line-ups very interesting. Sana Amanat, one of the co-creators of Kamala Khan, has some worthwhile things to say about creating the character and how she thinks she will be received by audiences, some of whom have so far had a little bit of difficulty accommodating the idea of change within the genre. 

[New York Times]

Sociology PhD student Elizabeth Sweet writes for the New York Times that gendered toys were “remarkably absent” from toy advertising at the beginning in the 20th Century, but appears around WWII. It declined by the early 1970s only to rise again in the 1990s. Today it’s almost impossible to find gender neutral toys (I can attest to this when I tried to buy science toys for my niece over Christmas. I will share my photos soon.) Why did gendered toys take hold? Sweet writes:

There are several reasons gender-based marketing has become so prevalent. On a practical level, toy makers know that by segmenting the market into narrow demographic groups, they can sell more versions of the same toy. And nostalgia often drives parents and grandparents to give toys they remember from their own childhood.

Such marketing taps into the deeply held beliefs about gender that still operate in our culture; many parents argue that their daughters and sons like different things. This is particularly true for boys: parents tend to stick with gender-typed toys for boys, either because they understand that the social costs for boys who transgress into the “pink” zone are especially high in a homophobic culture or because of their own desire for gender conformity.

This becomes a self-reinforcing cycle: as toys have become more and more gender segregated, the social costs of boundary crossing and the peer pressure to stay within the lines are huge, for kids and parents alike.

Read the whole article, it’s a great example of public sociology. 

Go sociology students, go!