The world is shocked. Popular Facebook page on science is run by… a woman. On Wednesday afternoon, she revealed her identity, which incited commenters around the world to sexist “compliments”. Here is what’s happened.
Elise Andrew is the founder of several Facebook pages on science, the most popular of which is I f*cking love science, with over 4 million likers. When she posted about her decision to explore other social media and added the link to her Twitter account, she received many comments as to her looks, not performance. Several hours later, she wrote another post saying she was “absolutely astonished by an onslaught of comments expressing their […] shock” that the page was run by a woman.
Now, I admit that the news surprised me. I associated a Facebook page on science, containing strong language and humour as run by a man or at least a group of people. According to the comments to both posts, so did most of the other followers of the page. And even though my surprise was nothing else than an oh-okay-who-would-have-thought kind of surprise, I am curious about why this type of news catches us off guard.
We construct stereotypes long before we encounter an issue. This may be one of the reasons that many people have been surprised or even shocked by learning that the Facebook page in question was run by a woman. Ever since childhood, we have been learning things about the world we live in. We create a focal point which we use as a reference to juxtapose with reality. Sometimes, we get it challenged, which may result in the necessity of editing it.
Both men and women, we are human. At our core, we are all the same. Nevertheless, we are very different, too, not least physiologically. Through the course of history, there have always been a distinction between things more typical of men and things more typical of women to busy oneself with. Films portraying women disguised as men are for some reason a lot more in number than those depicting men as women.
So, what could have sparked the stereotypes we have constructed to catch fire and flare into the sexist comments directed at Elise Andrew? Arguably, it was the combination of the characteristics typical of men (swearing, science and humour) that are present in the style she maintains on her Facebook page.
Digital media has brought us closer, which also means we have become more exposed, more vulnerable. I believe that unless we learn to see past the surface of triviality, prejudice and conventions, we will all remain disgusting sexist pigs.
Update: Elise Andrews is interviewed by CBS, check it out.