Ultimately, as science communicators we have to ask who we want to communicate science to. Any science communicator who is truly passionate about their subject should want as many people as possible to share in their enthusiasm, and that includes people with no education, people with masses of education, people who are women, people who are children, people who are football fans, intellectuals or hippies, or that weird bloke at the bus stop with his pants on his head. Science shouldn’t be exclusive; it is after all the knowledge which allows us to wonder at the magnificence of life.
Today I want to explain a bit of why I write this blog, and alongside that explain why I think science writers should write for women’s magazines, and push for publication in them. I write because I love science and because I think it is too often dismissed as boring, difficult, dull or uncool when in reality it is none of the above. I write because I want more people to love science like I do, not because I think if more people like it, it’ll be cooler and I won’t be such a geek, but because I think if you shut yourself off from science because you think it uninteresting or intimidating then you are missing out, because science is thrilling, awe-inspiring, amazing, mind-blowing, and hundreds of other adjectives too. But I believe one of those adjectives should be definitely be ‘accessible’.
On this note, I wonder why science has never really made it into such a wide-ranging genre as women’s magazines. Partially I suspect because there are not that many prominent female science writers to put it there, and partly because many people feel that science shouldn’t be in women’s magazines, that it has no place there. Well, in the case of the former, much has been written recently about the difficulties of being a woman science blogger and/or writer, and I leave it to people better placed than me to comment on why women are less prominent in this field and how to address that, such as Kate Clancy and Christie Wilcox. However, on the second point, I strongly disagree. And here’s why.
So why is there so much reticence regarding publishing science in women’s magazines? And does it come from the publishers, or the writers? Well to either group I would ask this… does reading a women’s magazine automatically mean you don’t want the opportunity to learn something scientific? That you don’t deserve it because you’re daring to read something that may be deemed frivolous? Or that you’re bound to be uninterested because you’d much rather look at handbags and learn about weight loss? None of the above, actually. As far as I can see, the only necessary step to getting science into women’s magazines is tailoring the science to the demographic, which is always necessary when writing for any reason at all.
But I fear that some science writers don’t want to tailor their writing to the readers of women’s magazines. Do they think it’s below them to write about science for this specific audience? I don’t see why scientific issues that are relevant to women’s lives can’t be discussed and explained and understood. It’s not unusual to be more interested in something when it is made relevant to your life, in fact almost all science communication should try and relate to real life, or people won’t care. Why the hell would they?
So we should write about women’s science in women’s magazines… write about which painkillers work best against period pain, and explain why that is. Write about how the contraceptive pill works in a molecular level, and why it causes such an astonishing array of side effects. Write about the science of sex, but y’know accurately. Write about the science of everyday life. Write about the science of alcohol, food and weight loss. Write about being a scientist. Write about pseudoscience, for heaven’s sake. Pouring scorn on astrology, homeopathy and alternative medicine is easy, any science writer can do that. Explaining why astrology is nonsense to the people who read horoscopes the most would surely be a much better way of going about the business.
We shouldn’t be judgemental or squeamish about how we bring science to people; we should use what is interesting to our target audience, and stuff whether it’s considered ‘of value’ to the scientific world. After all, if you make just one piece of science interesting and relevant to someone, they are already much more likely to try and find out more. Don’t patronise women by assuming that because they read a magazine targeted at their gender, they won’t want to read something educational or just plain interesting. To my knowledge, finding any aspect of science fascinating, stimulating and exciting is not mutually exclusive with finding handbags, shoes, diet plans, beauty tips, real-life stories, recipes, feminism, equal rights or celebrity gossip fascinating, stimulating and exciting. There should be no need for women scientists to deny an interest in the latter subjects, nor is there a need for lay women to deny an interest in science.
We say we need more women in science, but how can we achieve that unless we set out to show all women how incredible science is? As long as it’s all accurate, interesting, fun and relevant, let’s go for it.