The headline sort of says it all. The comments on Elise Andrew’s “reveal” post are a mixture of pleasant surprise and aloof insensitivity. My favorite example:
wow who would’ve thought!! you’re a girl and kindda pretty! LOL
I’m reminded of the time that one of my Black friends related a story about a woman walking up to him and telling him he was “cute for a Black guy.” I suppose some people are just pathologically self-unaware.
On the other hand, this critical mass of self-unawareness is the basis of a teachable moment. I’m sure a lot of the people who commented on the fact that Elise Andrew turned out to be a girl didn’t intend to be hurtful or malicious. They were probably genuinely surprised to see a “kindda pretty” girl running a science website with vulgarity in the title. It invokes two gender stereotypes simultaneously: by running a website with “f*ck” in the title, she played herself off against ancient proscriptions against female “roughness” of character. Meanwhile, science is still generally thought of as the purview of socially awkward, asthmatic males who are good at math and bad at sports. While it’s not exactly a flattering stereotype for men that enter the sciences, it does nonetheless exclude women from the job description.
The entire affair is a good example of how culture informs reality as much as empirical data. It is a good case study of hundreds of people accidentally and unwittingly marginalizing a woman based on nothing other than a common gender stereotype. It’s a cultural presumption that’s difficult to change precisely because the participants are often people who may have meant no harm at the outset, but whose actions in aggregate reinforce the social order. That probably explains why—yes, unfortunately—we’re still dealing with it in 2013: