November Review and Feminist Lexicon

Dear Dialog,

    Firstly, my research has progressed steadily over the last couple of weeks. Had a meeting with Livio about how my identification of melt pools stacked up and he mentioned they generally looked pretty good. I can even expand the search to ponded and pitted, smooth, and possible melt pools. 

    Secondly, homework for the CPSX seminar was to create a video of ourselves saying an elevator pitch of our thesis. This exercise was useful for showing just how many idiosyncrasies come across when I speak or think about what I need to say. Check it out below!

    For our main discussion today, I would like to draw attention to the language we use within our communities and how it can affect those around us. It has been well studied that women and minorities in STEM fields have been woefully under-represented, especially as they go further along in their studies and careers, a phenomenon also known as the "Leaky Pipeline". (Here are a few great examples of blogs about women in planetary science, astronomy, and space! Thanks to Dr. Catherine Neish for the recommendations.)

    While this systematic forcing out of women is an entire thesis at the very least, a casual but large facet of it is everyday language. Examples can include referring to occupations where a male is typically referenced in the position like policeman fireman, congressman. Languages such as German or Spanish where nouns are given masculine, feminine, or neuter can also influence the way we think about them. More gender-fair language (GFL) these terms could be police officer, fire fighter, congressperson. GFL has the specific intention of being more inclusive. This can even extend to folks who gender non-conforming. We need to change our lexicon to be more equitable and less male-centric, like not using 'he' or 'man' to refer to humans on the whole. Here are some examples about how to make the shift, it can often just need a conscientious decision. We can not afford to stand on the sidelines choosing not to engage and in this era, there is no reason for us to not be familiar with how these issues propagate through our society.

    To further this point, we need to acknowledge and reconsider how we describe those around us, especially in context of their gender identity. Just a few days ago, a blogger criticized the wardrobe U.S. Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez trying to undermine her platform. While this may be a little removed from STEM fields, the idea is the very much the same: women are often not judged on their aptitude. Other common descriptors towards women, such as their morality and sociability, in a professional setting are often biased and limiting.  This definitely includes dress codes for conferences (and they are oppressive towards minorities, too)! These differences in descriptions go hand in hand with the double standards that many women have to constantly face. We need to think about where these descriptions come from and what implications they have in the larger picture. 

    And finally, using blatantly sexist language such as the b-word or c-word to put others down, especially if you are a male, is reprehensible. Even though it is becoming rarer in professional settings, it can be more common in casual ones. The words have gone through a sort reclamation and its definitions can vary. The onus of a person who uses the word should to understand its origins, history, and modern day contexts and identify their privilege in being able to say them. 

    With all of this said, it is my belief that we are able to make small changes steadily building towards larger goals, such as paying attention to what we say and how we say it in order to make a more equitable society. Understanding the context society has formulated for us to live in can reveal hidden, and not so hidden, ideas that we cannot afford to turn a blind eye towards, especially since we shape what comes next.  

-W