This morning, NPR featured an interview with a senior astronomer from Caltech, titled "'Playing Around With Telescopes' To Explore Secrets Of The Universe". So far, so fun! The goal of the piece seems to be to communicate a little bit about the science we astronomers do, the telescopes we use, why we do astronomy, and how we're more than just scientists (for example, it points out that its subject is also a fan of Brazilian music, and thinks about becoming a bartender in his retirement). Which is all great.
There is one quote though which disappointed a large number of astronomers though. Right at the beginning of the article, the subject is quoted as saying
"Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call 'boys with toys,' " he says. "I really like playing around with telescopes. It's just not fashionable to admit it."
Boys with toys... hmmm....
Ok, so I get that 'boys with toys' is a saying. And it rhymes. So it's a nice little soundbite there. BUT. It's a gendered term. If you say you think of astronomers as Boys With Toys, you're reinforcing that old sterotype that women in the field are all too often confronted with. That science is a mans game. That the women here aren't really serious contenders. That we're somehow lesser than our male counterparts.
It's probable that the astronomer in question didn't think of this at the time. We all say stuff without thinking after all. But it doesn't lessen the damage that this can do, unfortunately. But what can help is the internet's awesome response to it, with the Twitter hashtag of #GirlsWithToys! Check it out to see a bunch of awesome female scientists, demonstarting that we too, like to play with big science toys. And for a teaser, there are a few tweets below too.