IT HAPPENED TO ME: The Website I Wrote for Was Run by a Sexist Jerk

No matter how much I wanted to write, my enthusiasm quickly curdled when I found out what kind of guy I was writing for.
Publish date:
January 16, 2015
sexism, writing, science, wtf, internet, patriarchy, Meme

I've always liked to write. From an early age I was filling pages, usually with stories about me somehow becoming Simba (then marrying myself because that’s how much I loved Simba and also I didn't know what marriage was).

Writing stuck with me through puberty, misguided romances, and every bad decision I've ever made. When I realized how much I loved science in college, science writing seemed like the perfect way for me to share my excitement about both things with other people.

I already had a personal blog, but let's be real: No one reads that thing, and I get tired of hearing my own voice after a while. I wanted a larger platform. I didn't know how to make that happen, so I emailed some well-known science websites, asking if I could contribute for free. Surprise! No one emailed me back.

I might've gotten a little big for my britches — Nautilus and New Scientist aren't exactly mom-and-pop operations. But you miss 100 percent of the science websites you don't email, right? Or something...

I wasn't really disappointed (I knew it was a long shot), and I kept my eyes open. One day, a friend posted a status about an article she'd written, which surprised me enough to check it out because I never knew she liked to write.

It looked promising: A website in its early stages, obviously started by a friend of hers, with a big CONTRIBUTE button at the top. Aha! Here was something within my league.

The Site That Shall Not Be Named was, and still is, College Humor mated with Thought Catalog. You could play bingo with it — 10 points for every listicle, 10 extra for every gratuitous pair of boobies, and 10 more if there's an alcohol reference.

I thought to myself, Hey, College Humor has its place. It's an equally legitimate form of entertainment as any other, but the fact remained that it wasn't quite the audience I was looking for. Still, I stayed optimistic. I figured something is better than nothing, and maybe I could even teach some people or get them excited about science.

If I managed to get readers of this site interested, it would be much more of an accomplishment than preaching to the already chemistry-minded choir. So I sent in my résumé. Luckily I'd found out about the site in its infancy. The dudebro in charge was desperate enough for content that he let a nerd infiltrate the ranks.

Writing for him was a challenge. I had to figure out how to encourage more interest in science and spread my message in a way that was non-threatening, fun to read, and accessible to people who were there for dating tips and TV recaps.

My first article was all about why science makes everyone's lives better, and after a considerable amount of editing, I submitted it to him for publishing. It got published, all right, with THIS meme as its header:

At that moment, immediately after publishing my first real article, I knew I couldn't stick around for long. I'd referenced sexism in the article. Did he read it? Did he even know what that meant?

That picture is terrible on so many levels, especially when linked to an article I'd written trying to encourage everyone (but especially women!) to not feel intimidated by science.

He immediately countered it with...intimidation. To imply that only dudes do science and women are no more than a distracting pair of tits is downright offensive, and to pair that with the word bitch — and not the Azealia kind — is even worse.

Sexism in science is so well-entrenched, I have to defend my presence in a research lab every day with hard work. I don't need any help finding any more examples of bigotry, thank you very much.

I couldn't fathom why he thought it was cool to start off on that foot or why it didn't occur to him that the photo could be offensive. I'd known from the start I was writing for the wrong crowd, but quitting that soon seemed stupid. I wanted the experience and I had to at least try. Maybe I'd always be the odd one out, but maybe I still had the chance to reach some people.

Sure, I knew Captain Dudebro was a total dudebro, but in some ways he'd seemed pretty cool. He wrote a surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful article about a trans celebrity, so I thought things could still work out.

For a couple more weeks I kept chugging along, ignoring the gulf between our interests and trying to contribute a non-sciencey article for each sciencey one to keep attention. Until the Belle Knox scandal broke. (You might remember that one.) Captain Dudebro wrote an article on it. Part of the title was "In Defense of Patriarchy."

In. Defense. Of. Patriarchy.

I bit back my rage and refrained from throwing my computer. Somehow I white-knuckled through the whole thing because the title alone told me I was going to write a scathing rebuttal, and if I was going to do that I needed concrete things to reference.

It was every bit as bad as you'd imagine, with all the slut-shaming goodness you can expect from those four words alone. All this coming from a dude who openly talked about how visiting strip clubs wasn’t worth your money because you couldn’t “get with” the girls and had a hot-girl-of-the-month feature on the site.

The dozens of supportive comments he got from friends and other writers on the site felt even worse, matched only by the disgust of seeing him bask in all the support, inflating his ego with every like.

I texted him later and asked if anyone was writing a rebuttal. Then I sent another, in what I must say was a spectacular display of self-control, and politely asked him to refrain from using the word feminazi, a word he'd used to delightful effect in his article.

Call me crazy, but I just don't think wanting equal rights between the sexes equates me with one of the most genocidal regimes of all time. So weird, I know! His response was simply: "Its for emphasis" [sic]. I guess my request didn't merit much thought, or punctuation for that matter.

That was it. I couldn't justify working hard for the likes of him. I quit. My email was professional and didn't say anything about his repugnant views — it only mentioned that I'd found another website to write for. I neglected to mention that it was mine and I had yet to build it. (His response was, for what it's worth, "no worries what site." Nice!)

Established science websites were obviously out of my league, and the sites within reach just weren't doing it for me. So a couple of friends and I made our own site, where I can gak out as much as I want on chemistry, biology, art, or politics without any unrelated titty pictures insulting the content.

Anyone is welcome to contribute, as long as they are thoughtful, not sexist or racist, and have something to teach us. We encourage debate and want everyone who reads it to learn something — and the best part is, we're growing, so I learn more every day. Even if no one reads it outside of my friend circle, the fact that I get to learn from others and from the research do I for my own articles makes me so happy.

Sometimes I regret not calling him out, but I just didn't think it would go anywhere. He was totally unreceptive to even an introduction to pushback, so what's the point? Why sully my first writing gig with something that would just make me angry every time I opened my email? In a way, I owe him one. He gave me the kick in the pants to make something I'm proud of.