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Guest Post: The Only Six Objections to “Womanspace” You Haven’t Seen Yet

The Anonymous Author (I think we need an Awesome Pseudonym for her) has struck again, with this must-read addition to the #womanspace discussion (see my link round-up here for other posts). Enjoy!

In case you’ve been off the grid, all good people everywhere are in an uproar because Nature (yes, that Nature) published a stupefyingly sexist piece called “Womanspace” within its “Futures” section.  Although the iambic pentameter falters in places, the article effectively evokes a fictional Odyssey within which middle-aged male protagonists receive a vision from on high that simultaneously reveals and explains the mutually incompatible destinies of men and women arising from their inherently different shopping neurophysiology.  The reader is never really sure if Icarus ever successfully returns to Ithaca with Penelope’s underwear, but as we all learned in high school, it’s the journey that matters.  A few days later, Editor Henry Gee supplied this ringing endorsement: “I’m amazed we haven’t had any outraged comments about this story” and within a couple more days his readers began to comply.  Last I heard Nature doesn’t give a crap about what its readers think.

Because so many smart men and women have so effectively created a traffic jam on the moral High Road*, the only road less-travelled is the Low Road and the anonymous author is always up for a short-cut.  This is further justified because the self-declaredly “patient” exchange over said article has devolved into:

[Reader] I’m pissed off.

[Rybicki] I didn’t intend to piss anybody off.

[Reader] But I’m still pissed off.

[Rybicki] But I didn’t intend to piss anybody off.

[Reader] But I’m still really pissed off.


Since writing a letter directly to Nature is like throwing a rock at a tank, the anonymous author decided that she would try to pony up to the Mammoth’s bar with a different, more anonymous if you will, perspective regarding objections to “Womanspace”.

1.  It’s confusing that it was published in Nature. The anonymous author anonymously surveyed the entire anonymous population and revealed that >75% of respondents believe that “Womanspace” was actually published within “A Letter to the Right Honorable the Lord Chancellor, on the Nature and Interpretation of Unsoundness of Mind, and Imbecility of Intellect**” by John Haslam (late of Piggysquill Commons) in 1823.  Moreover, explicitly showing subjects both Nature’s website and print versions did nothing to convince them otherwise.  This is exactly the type of literary confusion that every author should go out of his way to avoid.

2. It doesn’t cite its sources***.  My casual research via the National Archives revealed that several passages of  “Womanspace” had been directly lifted from transcripts of “The Benny Hill Show” and “Hee Haw”.  Because the creators of those shows are far too ashamed of what they wrote when they were young-and-needed-the-money to file a law suit, we must stand on the side of intellectual property on their behalf.

3. It’s misleading.  We all know that Americans score in the negative numbers on World Geography tests.  Rybicki’s article exacerbates this dismal state-of-affairs in that readers, upon seeing the author’s affiliation, conclude that South Africa must be some unreal fictional place like the Republic of Gilead, the Slough of Despond, or the City of Dis****.

4. It isn’t funny to our generation.  This is the really unforgivable sin that’s been committed, in the anonymous author’s mind.  How hard it is to run one’s gibberish by just one man-on-the-street and use your smirk-o-meter to determine if there’s even one iota of humor somewhere on the page before creating the 7 separate PDFs required by Nature’s fast-track submission process?  If the anonymous author can figure this out (and her schooling was acquired while sitting on a haystack scratching out sums on a broken shingle while seething with envy over bigcity things like real chalk, heated classrooms and the use of baseballs instead of corncobs), then surely a seasoned intellectual veteran like Rybicki should have.

5. It isn’t funny to any generation.  The immediate reaction of several scientists whom I admire was that the article would have been a downright hootenany in 1950.  Based on her 87-year-old dad’s skepticism of this claim, the anonymous author performed public readings of “Womanspace” in 350 assisted-living facilities across the U.S.  In all but one instance, this performance was met with dour silence and/or the switching off of hearing aids.  Explosive laughter occurred exactly once, but upon questioning, the subject became adamant that she had “drifted off” and was reliving her sister’s 1945 bachelorette party at the time.

6. The author has retreated into a persecuted petulance, instead of manning up and addressing his readers’ criticisms.  Aside from assuring interested readers that his “crap” has been “blown out of the water”*****, the author has offered no new insight regarding the article since its publication.  Instead, he has repeatedly asserted that “Womanspace” is not true, not funny and not worth reading.  The anonymous author admits that he’s absolutely right, and exceptionally convincing, on each of these points.  However, the same cadre that created a generation of women who had to fight hard to play Science with the boys should not just cower in the dugout when we show up with our gloves.  And our bats.


 *summarized here

**readily available via Project Gutenberg:

***First pointed out by the brilliant Paul Anderson here

****look it up.

*****see Rybicki’s comment on this page, where he no doubt alludes to the acceptance of his next contribution to Nature.

About the author:

The author lives anonymously in Hawaii and cranked out this drivel in about twenty minutes.  Although she hides behind an opaque cloak of anonymity, her initials are AHJ.  The anonymous author requests that comments along the lines of “Righty-ho!” and “Tru-dat” be kept brief, as Rybicki and his cronies usually require a significant amount of space to recycle their tired old rejoinders that basically amount to “Aww … now you girls are just being mean …”.

Categories: Commentary Guest Posts Women in Science

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Jacquelyn Gill

7 replies

    1. If by “blew away” you mean that we’ve gone on to discuss other more timely examples of sexism (like Kickstarter and Above the Game), then yes. I assure you that none of us has forgotten. #womanspace is often held up as a classic example of both blind privilege and how to fail publicly and poorly. I’m imagining that was not your intention.


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