Women: Sexist fiction is alienating

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
479,
Page:
299
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/479299b
Published online

What a surprise to learn that the talent of women for locating objects while shopping comes not from years of experience of domestic chores while our menfolk go hunting for the latest electronics, but from an innate ability to access “womanspace” in parallel universes (E. Rybicki Nature 477, 626; 2011). Perhaps this explains why our gender is so poorly represented in engineering and the physical sciences — we have been operating under an entirely different set of physical principles.

Joking aside, it is hard to laugh off implications that routine domestic duties involve mysterious rites known only to women, and that only men are reliable observers who can make scientific discoveries.

Rybicki's story reflects the pernicious prejudice that biology inherently limits women's success at the highest levels of government, business and science. In our view, it is distasteful to publish fiction that promulgates such sexist notions, even if it was written tongue-in-cheek. We should instead be encouraging the dissolution of the last bastions of 'manspace'.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

    • Ylaine Gerardin &
    • Tami Lieberman

Corresponding author

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Comments

  1. Report this comment #30759

    Ned Flanagan said:

    Dear Ylaine and Tami, did you really read the science-fiction story published by E. Rybicki? Your comment and conclusions do not follow what the author said in that SCIENCE-FICTION piece. I'm shocked by your news about the actual implications of Rybicki's fiction piece: 'Rybicki's story reflects the pernicious prejudice that biology inherently limits women's success at the highest levels of government, business and science'. I have read again the piece trying to find the foundations of such a conclusion but to no avail. We as scientists should not fall into false accusations, witch-hunts or political correctness corsets. But above all we should reject earnestly any ideological taboo or lobby pressure.

    It's crazy and very worrying that such a mild and inofffensive piece of writing as Rybicki's can cause so much anger (see the comments to the original story). A story where men are depicted as helpless, useless poor lost chaps and women as amazing and resourceful nearly-mythological creatures, may not be a true representation of reality (it is fiction for God's sake!) but it's hard to imagine how it can be categorized as offensive to women, except by people who are permanently in a state of preemptive outrage, with the finger ready in the trigger.
    In a world plagued by misery, invasions, horrendous suffering by curable diseases, dickensians labor conditions, killing hypocrisy, torture, prisons, executions, and Nobel peace-prize laureates sowing war and missiles, it is amazing the fine-tuned sensibility of some commentors to find anything 'outrageous' in that light piece of fiction-thinking. Some of us are fed of so many crusaders who, like a resurrected Inquisition, teach us what is offensive and what is not, what we can read, think or publish without offending the guardians of morality and sex righteousness. Taboos are by definition enemies of science.

  2. Report this comment #30774

    Alex Wiltschko said:

    I agree with Ylaine and Tami on this matter.
    This publication's contents are read carefully by the scientific community. Regardless of what terrors or triumphs are happening in the world outside of science, what is published within Nature is a reflection of our highest achievements, and this journal is one of the premiere avenues to share them within our culture. Rybicki's piece may well have been innocuous on a personal blog or as a short story in a literary magazine. But his story does not uplift or educate us in a way that is worthy of this journal.

  3. Report this comment #31215

    Bethann McLaughlin said:

    I want to congratulate you for taking the initiative to call out the "Womenspace" article by Rybicki. Rybicki 'work' is a lazy rip off of the 2003 touring show called 'Defending the Caveman' by Rob Becker. I attended the show and wasn't offended in that venue. Nature, however, is not the place to promote gender bias or any other stereotypes. Rybicki can write whatever he wants, but shame on you Nature, for publishing it. As for those who have lashed out that women need to 'chill out', I never cease to be amazed that those who don't like what women have to say on these issues get labeled as 'feminazis' or 'zealots' as if hitting someone with yet another stereotype is the start of a useful dialogue. I would suggest that if the Nature editors want to explore their humorous side, they look into Nature Comedy and then do a little peer review to make sure the work hasn't been blatantly plagiarizer.

  4. Report this comment #33420

    Ed Rybicki said:

    @Bethann: "Rybicki 'work' is a lazy rip off of the 2003 touring show called 'Defending the Caveman' ... I would suggest that if the Nature editors want to explore their humorous side, they look into Nature Comedy and then do a little peer review to make sure the work hasn't been blatantly plagiarizer."

    Rybicki's work is nothing of the sort: I have neither seen the show, nor a script for it, and so have definitely not "plagiarizer" it.

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