Study Reveals Male Internet Commenters Don’t Believe Evidence of Sexism in Science, Also Water Is Wet
Writing for the Internet is a lot like shouting into a garbage pit of despair, especially when readers’ privilege prevents them from acknowledging important issues despite the facts. Case in point: According to a new study published yesterday in Psychology of Women Quarterly, an overwhelming percentage of male Internet commenters don’t believe sexism exists in STEM fields, even when presented with evidence to the contrary. Mary Sue commenters, you have permanently spoiled me.
To examine commenters’ reactions to evidence of gender bias, the researchers analyzed comment sections of three relevant articles posted by The New York Times, Discover Magazine, and IFL Science, respectively. By analyzing 831 responses from the 51% of commenters that the researchers could conservatively identify as male (gender neutral names were excluded), the team came to unsurprising but infuriating findings.
Of the 9.5% of all comments claiming that sexism doesn’t exist, 68% were made by men. (67.4% of comments, 29% of them from men, admitted to the existence of gender bias.) 22% of all comments, 79-88% of which were made by men, attempted to justify sexism; of that 22%, 59.8% used biological explanations to argue in favor of gender bias. 7.6% of commenters, 65% of them male, argued that men face more sexism than women. According to The Washington Post, 7% of all comments contained sexist remarks, “with 76.8 percent of them smearing women.”
100% of the comments expressing gratitude for the study came from women.
Women in STEM face an obstacle course of gender-based discrimination (lower wages and fewer opportunities than their male peers, toxic tech bro culture, and sexual harassment for women who can find employment in their field), but to quote the researchers, studies exposing those issues can be nearly futile in the face of male privilege: “In many ways, evidence of bias is only as impactful as the responses it engenders.”
But it’s not all hair-pullingly terrible! The researchers did find that articles exposing systemic sexism in science weren’t totally unlikely to effect change in male readers: .5% percent of comments said that the article changed their minds about gender discrimination in science. 67% of those comments were from men. .5%, baby! I’ll take it, I guess!
It’s also heartening to remember that there are tons of IRL ways to support women in science and tech without giving jagweed commenters a say—coding workshops, science fairs with a focus on girls, and diversity initiatives from companies like Google are all creating progress. .05% of the festering spider’s nest that is most online comment sections, take note.
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