Am I The Only One Who Thinks This Is Sexist?

Female Astronaut
Anna Lee Fisher (NASA STS-51A, November 8, 1984)

While out poking around today, I came across a Tumblr page dedicated to female astronauts.  It’s all female astronauts, all the time.  Personally, I find that sexist and discriminatory.

Of course, I don’t think that the person who put up the blog intended it to be sexist, I’m sure he or she was simply directing well-deserved attention to some of the heroes of space that we’ve had in the past 50 years, specifically those heroes who just happen to be female.  I’m not accusing them of being sexist or discriminatory or anything of the sort, don’t get me wrong. However, the very concept of only looking at a group of people because they are female or because they are black or because they are gay, is inherently discriminatory on it’s face, even if it isn’t purposely designed to be that way.

The recent debacle with Atheism+ and radical feminism has made me much more critical of anyone who tries to tie race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. to anything.  I don’t think we need a site dedicated to female astronauts any more than I think we need one dedicated to black astronauts or gay astronauts.  If we had a sit that only looked at male astronauts, white astronauts or straight astronauts, people would be up in arms, yet reverse it and it’s supposed to be the greatest thing ever.

I call bullshit.

Equality is equality, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.  If the goal here, as so many feminists and social justice advocates tell us, is gender-blindness and color-blindness and sexual-orientation-blindness, how can we keep having these cases where society is only blind from one particular viewpoint, but from every other viewpoint, race, gender and orientation are paramount and presented dead center?

We’ve had some spectacular and brave astronauts.  Full stop.  It doesn’t matter if they’re male or female.  It doesn’t matter if they’re black or white.  It doesn’t matter if they’re gay or straight.  Their gender, skin color or orientation had nothing to do with their accomplishments.  Anna Lee Fisher isn’t a female astronaut, she’s an astronaut that just so happens to be female.

Can’t we just measure human accomplishments without regard to what genitalia one has between their legs or what amount of melanin one has in their skin or who they are attracted to?  Why is this so hard, especially from the crowd that complains everyone ought to be doing it?

13 thoughts on “Am I The Only One Who Thinks This Is Sexist?”

  1. Interesting post, my first instinct is to agree, in a perfect world it wouldn't matter, we shouldn't care about gender or whatever when it comes to accomplishments like this. But do we live in that perfect world or not? Let's take this to the extreme, suppose all astronauts are men except one, in that case it would be okay highlight the one woman right? Suppose instead that the vast majority are men, why not highlight the women to show people that women do it too, maybe inspire some young girls or something. Now the question becomes which world to we live in? Are we closer to a perfect world where opportunities are equal, or where it is much harder for women to do this? If someone believed that women were at a disadvantage here, is it really such a bad thing to try to highlight that women are capable here as well to try to pull us in that direction? I don't know jack about astronauts, I'd like to hope opportunities there are gender neutral, but if they aren't I can certainly see where this type of website would be a good thing.

    Another angle I was thinking about, suppose we are in the perfect, gender neutral world, would this type of thing be bad? I was trying to think of a less charged example, suppose I wanted to start a website about mathematicians and I wanted to focus on people who are from my hometown. I'm not claiming that being from my hometown is an impediment to becoming a mathematician, but given that I was from there it's a perspective I wanted to look at. Would this be such a bad thing? Would you consider that discriminatory to anyone who grew up somewhere else? It seems to me that making that website should be an okay thing to do

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  2. I don't see any evidence of discrimination here. Nobody is losing anything to which they would otherwise be entitled on the basis of their gender. As to whether it is sexist, I suppose an argument could be made that it was if women were not underrepresented among astronauts. But as long as women are underrepresented, I'd have a hard time agreeing that it is sexist.
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    1. But are they underrepresented or are women just not as interested in the space program as men happen to be? There's a difference between something being sexist and there just being a difference. That's what always pisses me off about people who scream sexism or racism, they don't recognize that it might just be coincidence or choice, not something institutional. There are, for example, some fields of science where women are underrepresented, but it's not through design, women simply do not choose, by and large, to go into that field of science.

      1. there has been research showing that girls growing up in more egalitarian places show a higher interest in the subjects that are generally deemed male dominated. Men are more encouraged. I think you are wrong and ridiculous for getting your panties all in a twist about it.

        1. I don't have any panties, but if I did, it wouldn't change the facts. Any attempt to encourage or discourage a course of action based entirely on gender is a sexist act on it's face, just like any attempt to recruit an individual based on their skin color is racist. It reminds me of the recent story in Phoenix, AZ where a public swimming pool was specifically looking for hispanic lifeguards, even ones that lacked strong swimming skills, just so the people swimming in the pool could be rescued by people who "look like them".

          If the point is to have a gender-blind and color-blind society, which so many liberals spout as their ideal, then any attempt to operate with gender and color at the forefront has to be called out for what it actually is.

  3. Since I still regularly persons visit the FY Female Astronauts Tumblr from this blog post, I thought it was about time I responded myself. The blog has since moved to a new location:

    The blog is purposefully designed to focus on women in space. I had been on Tumblr for a while, and there were a number of tumblrs dedicated to space and astronauts. Most of these focused on either the early American astronauts, who were all male. Or the recent ISS astronauts, who are overwhelmingly male as well. Due to the dashboard structure this meant that tumblr users were hardly ever exposed to women working in aerospace. I firmly believe that equal exposure to men and women in space will lead to a more equal judgement of men and women in space.

    You state that we, my blog included, should not choose or judge based on gender. I agree, and in a perfect world I would not need to. However this is not a perfect world and women are severely underrepresented in a lot of fields related to space. I am working in the space field myself and I encounter sexism on a regular basis. I have spoken with female space engineers who note that they have not been taken seriously by customers because they were female ( "Isn't there a man that can help me?"). Another example: maybe you know the story of the NASA astronaut who lost her toolbag, it is a famous story and it was partly blamed on her being female. Hardly anyone mentioned that she was cleaning her tools because a grease gun had exploded. However have you heard about the Russian cosmonaut who lost an experiment that was mounted for a year on the outside of the station? Not only was it not given much attention, no one blamed his gender (or his age for that matter). This difference shows that that women are often portrayed more negatively.
    Additionally in almost all fields related space there are a lot less women than men, with the exception of outreach I think, it is getting better, but it is far from equal.

    You stated in the comments that this is because women might just not be interested. I think that is nonsense. Often when looking at pictures of outreach events I see a lot of girls standing first row, eager to learn, eager to expand their knowledge. However, when it is time for college, less and less attend. One of the arguments I have heard for that, from girls interested in space engineering, was that they do not want to spend 5+ years in an environment that is almost completely male dominated. I think it is important to present that women are represented in the space industry, so girls can see they have opportunities in that field. Besides that, the latest astronaut group consisted of 50% women showing an equal interest from both groups. However ISS expeditions are still male dominated, from the top of my head I estimate that the last few years there was about 1 female for 11 males. As long as women are kept being told that engineering and space is not for them, because of their gender, I will keep telling the opposite.

    1. And that's fine, you can tell them whatever you want and I support women who want to go into any field, it ought to be their choice if that's what they want to do. I do think that your words are telling, you've got an agenda that you want women to see that they have opportunities in that field and that's fine. On the other hand, I just want talented and skilled people to be involved in that field, regardless of whether they are men or women. Their gender does not affect the quality of their work and whether more men want to do the job than women, or more women than men, it shouldn't matter. I haven't seen any data that women are being told that engineering and space (or anything else) are not for them, except from the religious who want them barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, which I agree isn't helping anyone. It looks to me that women are making decisions about what they want and do not want, based on their own criteria, not on being threatened or harassed or whatever.

      There are gender disparities in lots of fields. There are less male nurses than female nurses, nobody goes screaming that men are being discriminated against or told that nursing isn't for them. Those that choose to be nurses can try to become nurses, those that choose to become astronauts can try to become astronauts. There should be no quota system and we shouldn't even look for one. We should just make sure that there is no outright discrimination going on and so far, I've seen no hard data suggesting that there is, sorry.

      1. Of course I got an agenda, every one has one. I think I clearly outlined it in my 2 comments.

        You say: " I haven't seen any data that women are being told that engineering and space (or anything else) are not for them,…"
        Have you taken note of the examples I've given you? While I do not have an statistical examination of the issues, the vast amount of stories I hear from most women in this field indicate that there is a problem.

        "It looks to me that women are making decisions about what they want and do not want, based on their own criteria, not on being threatened or harassed or whatever. "
        Not being harassed and being respected are things people want and do weigh into any decision persons make. These are criteria that are a part of the decisions we all make. Part of their decision is based upon their interest, but part is also based on what people expect from them and how they will be treated if they make that choice. This is also part of why I am running the blog as I am. I want to show that space engineering or astronaut is a valid choice for women to make.

        "There are gender disparities in lots of fields."
        If you read again you might see that gender disparities is one of the problems, not the only one.

        " There should be no quota system"
        I agree, I don't think I have stated anything on the contrary. Moreover, the women in aerospace I've spoken too dislike qouta systems as well.

        "We should just make sure that there is no outright discrimination going on and so far, I've seen no hard data suggesting that there is, sorry. "
        Again, did you miss the examples I've given in this or the other comment? These examples suggest that there is discrimination going on. Another one? How about my own experiences with fellow engineers, who have stated to me that a part of the problem they have with woman X is that she is a woman. That is outright discrimination. Isn't that enough reason to promote equality? I am not aware that any research has been done to proof whether there is or is no discrimination with extensive research and datasets. But all data that is available (of which a part I've presented in these comments) suggest that there is discrimination going on. You have no data showing there is no discrimination, you have some examples showing that there is discrimination, so why do you conclude there is none?

        ps. Actually people are promoting males in nursing, since there is a bias against that as well. I can vaguely remember an article where it was explained that men who want to go into nursing are often looked down upon in society. Getting nursing more accepted as a job for both men and women, will make more men consider to become a nurse themselves. But than again, I'm not really involved in the world of nursing.
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        1. Well no, you have presented no evidence I've seen that supports your claim that women are being told not to go into scientific fields. In fact, you showed exactly the opposite, that women chose not to do it because they didn't want to enter a male-dominated field. That is their choice. No one made it for them. No one said that choices are necessarily easy.

          I'm all for equality. But where I'm for equality of opportunity, where everyone has the same choices to make and can do what they want, if they want, you seem to be for equality of outcome, where everyone is equally represented via quota, there are an equal number of men and women, whites and blacks, gays and straights, whatever, just because things are not homogenous.

          Not long ago, I wrote an article on the difference between the two forms of equality. You can read it here:

          1. I stated I was opposed to qoutas. So why do you state I want qoutas? You're putting up a strawman argument. Two thirds of your post are about this strawman argument, so basically useless as a response. I shall try to respond anyway.

            I try to show men and women that there are women in this field in order to convince them that it is worth going into this field and in order to convince them that the women in this field are just as valuable as the men in this field. With the added goal that it might stop being a male dominated field just for the sake of it being a male dominated field currently.

            You want to hear about women being told not to go into scientific fields? Search for Roshini Muniam, or Rose, who got a big backlash for trying to get into the space. Look into the stories of female astronauts, for example Mae Jemison who, when she said she wanted to become a scientist, was questioned whether she didn't mean a nurse. NASA sent out letters telling girls they did not hire them in 1962, only the current generation of astronauts was born after that date. Or how about the time a female engineer was asked whether there was a male present by a client because he did not believe she was the best. This was a young acquaintance of mine. Only the third time he visited he stopped asking that question, since she was in fact the lead engineer he needed. Have you seen the Sepidah documentary? I've seen female science bloggers being told that they were too pretty to do science.

            This is not only about women being told not to go into space and engineering, this is also about women being mocked if they make that decision. They opt not to go into male dominated fields, because there is a high likely hood (and plenty of examples) of harassment. As I said before (which you opt to ignore, just as all the examples it seems) is that harassment shapes the decision people make. I do not think harassment is ok, I do not think harassment should be happening. Do you?

            If you want to talk in terms of forms of equality, this is basically a third form of equality, not of outcome or of choice, but of treatment. I want people despite their gender, sexuality or culture to be treated equally. When they are treated equally, they will also have equality of choice. Men and women are currently not treated equally as my growing list of examples shows.

            If you want to stick to your own 2 kinds of choice, I think that you will have to admit that equality of opportunity should include equal benefits for equal choices. This is currently not the case, a woman entering the field of space engineering will face ridicule because of her gender at numerous points in her career, a man will not. To make an hyperbolic comparison: if two people have to choose between a yellow pen and a purple pen, but one of them will have his hand cut off for choosing the purple pen, is it an equal opportunity? The outcome for the same choice, is vastly different. Thus that is not equality.

            In your linked post you claim that certain people just leap from raw data to conclusion. I don't support my standpoint with just raw data. I also support it with a growing number of examples showing cases in which women are treated differently for the sole reason of what is between their legs. (Examples are the difference in how Soyuz TMA-11 was handled versus Soyuz TMA-01 and Soyuz TMA-11, or see other previous examples.). You say you consider that evidence and I have shown you, so why do you claim you have seen no evidence?
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  4. To answer your questions:
    "Can’t we just measure human accomplishments without regard to [bodily features]?" Yes we should, but because society doesn't, we can't right now.
    "Why is this so hard, especially from the crowd that complains everyone ought to be doing it?" Because if I show people of a female astronaut drinking in space, they make sexist blowjob jokes, while if I show a male astronaut drinking in space, they remark that they want to go to space. Because people doubted that Svetlana Savitskaya could weld, and only stopped complaining when she did it perfectly in space. Because the head of the Russian space agency blamed problems with the Soyuz capsule on the amount of women aboard, even though the two previously all male landings suffered from the same problems. Because female engineers are assumed to be selected on positive discrimination laws, even though they are the best in their fields. Because no female ever visited the moon. Because of the Mercury 13 women, who passed all the test the male astronauts did but were not allowed to fly. Because a person blamed the challenger disaster on women, even though there were no women involved in the decisions taken. Because a female astronaut was complimented on her sewing skills as if she learned it as a housewife, even though she was a trained surgeon. Because women were attacked for participating in the Lynx astronaut challenge. Because journalist ask question about how it is to be a mom in space, but hardly ever about how it is to be a dad in space. Because girls are told space is for boys.

    My blog wouldn't be necessary if no one was surprised about seeing a female engineer or a female astronaut. However, people still do. People still judge them as less qualified. I am convinced this can only be solved by constantly exposing people to female astronauts, space engineers and scientist. A Tumblr is a perfect tool for this.

    Do I discriminate? Yes, I discriminate between men and women, since women are discriminated against in the rest of society. Therefore I think they deserve more exposure for the good deeds they do.

    Does this make the blog sexist? No, I do not judge women to be better than men. Neither do I judge men to be better than women.

    Do I think we should be gender-blind? No, a woman is a woman, and a man is a man. We should not judge on their gender in unrelated matters. However, a woman is judged differently by society. We should acknowledge that and fight it were we can. We sadly life in a society that judges on gender, and thus we should not be blind for it. If you are an upright citizen that is gender-blind, that is swell. But that also means that you are blind for the way a woman can be treated just because of her gender.

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