Scientist called a "whore" because she wouldn't work for free

This is a cautionary tale for all of the people out here who seem to think sexism in the sciences is still ok. Actually, for anyone who thinks sexism at work… online… anywhere is ok.

It’s also a lesson in how our brave new media world is slowly eating itself by expecting everyone to work for free*.

It all started when DN Lee, who runs the Urban Scientist blog on the prestigious Scientific American network, got asked to do some blogging for Biology-Online. 

It would be a monthly article, he said, and she would have to wait two weeks before she was allowed to repost the blog on her own site.

Advertisement

“Regarding payment,” editor “Ofek” replied in response to her question. “Truthfully, we don’t pay guest bloggers”.

“Thank you very much for your reply,” DN Lee said. “But I will have to decline your offer. Have a great day”.

It should have stopped there. Why should a respected blogger and scientist provide content to a website for free?

But instead, Ofek decided to send this reply:

“Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?”

Just let that sink in for a moment.

WHORE? REALLY??

Calling a professional woman who wants to be paid for her work a whore is so far out of the ballpark it’s a new sport entirely.

DN Lee responded by posting a blog and video that said this: “I do need you to recognise that how you behave matters, not just to me but to a lot of people because it sets the tone. For far too long the presumption has been that if you are a woman, a person of colour, or of low socio-economic status, that they think they can get you, your energy and talent for free.”

So what did Scientific American do? They took down her blog. That’s right. Scientific American seemed to think DN Lee was the one that should be punished.

There is SO much outrageous behaviour involved in this I don’t even know where to start.

We all know that women are paid less than men, and are more uncomfortable asking for pay rises. Often this is framed as an issue that just requires women to toughen up and be more like a man.

But what events like this show is that it’s actually not just about us, but that there are broader social issues at play that make it perfectly understandable that women have less confidence than men in asking for what they deserve (I’m not saying this is a good thing).

As the ‘rivers of gold’ (classified ads) that used to fund jobs like mine have dried up, media companies have increasingly turned to writers to do what they do for free – and I suspect that it’s women who will end up disproportionately taking on the bulk of this free work as well. This is not OK.

At least the Scientific American fiasco how provides a handy and well-documented case study of how NOT to handle sexism. After first saying that they took the blog down because it wasn’t about science – an embarrassing response given the Urban Scientist blog is clearly about more than just straight science – they have eventually put it back up and changed their story to say that they were actually worried about defamation, not science, when they took it down). 

It’s true that we all need to start ‘leaning in’ and asking for what we want like DN Lee, but we also need some serious changes to the way women are treated and seen in the workplace.**

Hopefully now we can at least all cross “calling women whores” off the list of “things considered acceptable at work”. Baby steps, sisters, baby steps.

Post-Script: Biology Online, at least, handled this issue better than Sci Am, and have fired the editor who was involved. 

 

*As Daily Life is part of Fairfax, from whom I am paid a full-time journalist wage, I am not paid additionally for my writing here. I do it just because I love the sisterhood.  But they do pay all external contributors. However, many opinion sites don’t, particularly those that are using content provided by scientists or other experts such as The Conversation (which is a fantastic website but relies on the fact that people will work for free to get their message out).