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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  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.

  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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