The Finkbeiner test

The description for this picture is careful to mention that Mary Alice McWhinnie was the first woman to serve as chief scientist at an Arctic research station. Retrieved from Wikimedia commons, presumed to be public domain. Originally uploaded by the Smithsonian Institution.Christie Aschwanden has an excellent piece up at XX Science, with a simple experiment you can do at home to identify sexism in science journalism! As a long-time fan of the Bechdel Test, I’m easily convinced that science journalism warrants a similar instrument. Finkbeiner’s test is interesting because, unlike the Bechdel Test (which primarily reveals a lack of individuality and agency in fictional women), it has components specifically designed to call attention to “benevolent” sexism. Having applied the test, I believe that science journalism has made great strides forward, and finally achieved routine tokenism. Baby steps.

But memorable formulas like this one can help us do better. And, in fact, some of us are doing better. Aschwanden links to a bunch of excellent pieces that somehow manage to talk about women and their scientific achievements without handing out any Worlds Greatest Mommy awards or degenerating into creepy head-patting. Here’s the actual test:

“To pass the Finkbeiner test, the story cannot mention

  • The fact that she’s a woman
  • Her husband’s job
  • Her child care arrangements
  • How she nurtures her underlings
  • How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
  • How she’s such a role model for other women
  • How she’s the ‘first woman to…’”
Maybe some firsts are still worth mentioning: NASA’s first class of female astronauts. Public Domain per NASA policy, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

There’s also a pretty interesting discussion in the comments section about what a gender-equal rhetoric in science journalism would look like. It’s obviously screwy that we talk about women’s children, but not men’s. But is the solution to that to talk about no one’s children (as would be my personal preference), or to try and talk about all parents as parents to the appropriate degree, whatever that is?

I haven’t yet written any individual profiles for this blog, but I probably will soon. And I’ll definitely be applying the Finkbeiner Test before hitting publish.

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