And no, as some of you pointed out when this whole thing started, this is not anything lewd.
On Saturday morning, I was on a city bus in Pittsburgh heading to the airport. I had just wrapped up a week at the Intel International Science and Engineering Festival where I was the “adult-in-charge” from our regional fair’s delegation. I was catching up on social media, something I’m slowly getting better at doing again these days, when I noticed an NPR story circulating in my feed. Turns out, a well-known astrophysicist had described scientists as “boys with toys” in an NPR piece, and some of the scientific ladies I knew were not too happy to be erased, again.
Well, heck, I get the sentiment at its core. I’m sure I have myself compared astronomers to “little kids with toys” when I talk about our excitement at using the amazing telescopes we’ve built. Since I focused on radio astronomy instrumentation specifically in graduate school, I felt that our relationships with our instruments were pretty special, especially for those involved in their designing and building.
I was on a city bus with fairly good signal, so I could access a few photos from when I did build and use telescopes every day, and tweeted them with, why not, #GirlsWithToys. I wasn’t sure I could make a cogent argument for why the “boys with toys” comment affected me so much, but I could defiantly show the world that ladies love their science “toys,” too. Well, I wasn’t the only one, as several astronomers, including Erin Ryan and Alessondra Springmann, starting posting their telescope pictures as well. Astronomers can’t have all the fun, so I encouraged all scientists to post their instruments as well. A quick search showed that Kate Clancy was already on it with a few posts earlier that morning.
And then, something happened. It exploded. Something had been simmering in all of us, I suppose, because the tag became inundated with amazing pictures and posts of women in various STEM fields posing with or showing off their favorite scientific instruments, data, and, yes, even toys. That evening, I finally got some words together and posted over at Skepchick.
It’s almost four days later, and the hashtag is still going strong. Thousands of women have shared their stories and their science. Several media outlets have picked it up. And, of course, there’s been the usual backlash about “women on their periods” and other such nonsense. No, really, that was an actual comment.
But we’re not deterred. Science has a gender problem (and a race problem and an accessibility problem and a host of other problems). Those of us who deal with the regular progression of microaggressions in our careers are going to continue to point them out. I can only hope that makes the community of science stronger and more welcoming.
I’ve been organizing my old photos a bit as well over the last few weeks, and this hashtag has prompted me to dig into the archive and pull out all of my favorite #GirlsWithToys photos, not just those easily accessbile on my phone from a bus. I’ve collected memories from 2003, when I did my first research project, until 2012 when I got my PhD from the University of Virginia, and it was really nice flipping through all of those memories. There are LOTS and LOTS of pictures of cables and parts and circuits and antennas, but I didn’t include those. The pictures I chose show the instruments, sure, but they also tell the stories of some of the ladies that helped make them possible, or who used them to do great science. Check out my little trip down memory lane at Flickr. And thanks!