Help me find an old comment on diversity in academia May 20, 2015 9:44 PM   Subscribe

I remember seeing a comment on MetaFilter some years ago, about how letting more women into a social science field led to more discoveries, not simply because of a "more heads = better" effect, but because the women actually found new knowledge by studying a traditionally feminine activity that the men had completely overlooked. I'd love to use this example in advocating for diversity in academia; the only problem is that I simply can't find it any more.

I don't remember much of the details. What I recall, vaguely, is that they were studying something like medieval Europe, and the new women in the field began to look at a traditionally feminine activity, I want to say knitting or crochet or embroidery. They found that the way that activity evolved over time in different places revealed new evidence for interaction and information transfer between regions that could not have been discovered otherwise.

Does anyone remember what I'm talking about? I think it was a fairly highly favourited comment, but I can't find it in my own favourites (or those of my previous account). Did I just dream it -- or worse, see it on some other site that now I have no way of finding?
posted by a car full of lions to MetaFilter-Related at 9:44 PM (30 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

I remember it - I think it centered on types of stitches.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:21 PM on May 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think I might be remembering a different thing but it might be what the man of twists and turns is remembering; it was about conducting an entire meeting in sewing metaphors.
posted by NoraReed at 11:09 PM on May 20, 2015

It's not the comment you're looking for, but one good example of the phenomenon is Annette Weiner's study of women's banana leaf mortuary distributions in the Trobriand Islands. Anthropologists thought of Trobriand society as well-studied by a key figure in the development of the discipline, Bronislaw Malinowski. My recollection is that Malinowski mentions the banana leaf bundle exchanges very, very briefly (I seem to recall Weiner saying so in a video, at least). But the phenomenon is something only women are involved in, so it's Annette Weiner who comes along and figures out what's up and why it's significant. Just googling a bit, it looks like this article covers many of the details, though I've only glanced at it.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:28 PM on May 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

I totally remember the comment you're talking about. Haven't had luck searching for it just now but will continue to look.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:29 PM on May 20, 2015

Maybe it's this one from Eyebrows McGee in last year's #JulyByWomen MeTa?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 11:31 PM on May 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

that's the one I was thinking of.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:48 PM on May 20, 2015

That's the one! Thanks, goodnewsfortheinsane!

Darn, I was hoping there would be more detail and references I could follow up on. I think I'll MeMail Eyebrows McGee soon.
posted by a car full of lions at 11:55 PM on May 20, 2015

It's not a social science, but the field of primatology also famously changed after women became more prominent researchers. Male primatologists really had mostly watched the male primates and had assumed a single, male-dominated understanding of primate social structure. Jeanne Altman introduced the idea of random sampling and actually watching a range of primates within a group, regardless of sex or social status, and we have come to understand that primate social structure varies a lot among species and does not support a single understanding of sex roles in primates. Wikipedia has a surprisingly decent description of these changes.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:23 AM on May 21, 2015 [15 favorites]

I think I'll MeMail Eyebrows McGee soon.

Tell them to post about it here - I think a lot of people would be interested.
posted by zamboni at 6:14 AM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

From Eyebrows McGee's comment:
This actually reminds me of the most quintessentially boyzone-y thing Wikipedia has ever done, which is have a massive battle over whether Kate Middleton's Wedding Dress met notability guidelines, with a large number of male contributors claiming "The sheer presence of this article is one of the lowest points ever reached by Wikipedia!" and "This is frankly trivial, and surely isn't notable enough to be on wikipedia. Request deletion" while over 100 articles on Linux distributions sat undisturbed ...
I've been trying to learn Swedish recently, and one thing I ran into is that Swedish Wikipedia has better coverage of textiles than English Wikipedia, even though Swedish Wikipedia is much smaller. When I say "better", it's not even close: English Wikipedia has articles on 15 different kinds of textiles. Swedish Wikipedia has 21 category pages, and 88 articles. There are 26 articles on "weaving equipment" on English Wikipedia, and 47 on Swedish Wikipedia.

It's kind of frustrating to run into a technical term I don't understand, then try to do the fairly obvious thing – look it up on Swedish Wikipedia, then click the link to the equivalent English Wikipedia article for a translation and an explanation of the term in English – only to find out there just isn't one because English Wikipedia doesn't do girl stuff.

There's something similar going on between articles on food and cooking on Spanish and French Wikipedia versus English Wikipedia, but it's not as drastic.
posted by nangar at 9:18 AM on May 21, 2015 [15 favorites]

Not what you're thinking of, but I had a personal experience with this several years ago regarding an ancient Native American burial site that had recently been discovered; the woman in the grave had been buried with grave goods, including some very special objects that had been placed between her hands which were then placed under her cheek (she was buried on her side) as though she was sleeping. In the paper that was published about this burial site, these objects were described as "two bone needles with intact eyes, and four tapered, incised bone cylinders of unknown utility."

I was at a fiber arts conference and slides about this paper were being presented at dinner, and when the presenter showed the slides of the "cylinders of unknown utility," she said "What do you think these are?" and five hundred fiber arts enthusiasts called out "BOBBINS!!" in one voice. Because duh, obviously. What kind of a doofus do you have to be to not realize that the objects that go along with needles are probably devices for storing thread? A doofus who has never owned a sewing kit, is what kind. Obviously the correlation with gender there is not airtight, but I think it's pretty strong.
posted by KathrynT at 9:18 AM on May 21, 2015 [25 favorites]

If you're looking for more examples, I've also seen some from anthropology like these interpretations of sculptures and calendars.

I am not an anthropologist, and have no idea how accurate these accounts are, but if even remotely true, they're pretty illustrative of the problem of men sitting around speculating about things and building strange and deeply flawed models due to a fundamental failure to remember that women sometimes do stuff.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:37 AM on May 21, 2015 [8 favorites]

Thanks for all the other fantastic examples, everybody!

I sent Eyebrows McGee a MeMail asking her to post here! I hope she sees it.
posted by a car full of lions at 1:53 PM on May 21, 2015

Oh man, this was such a long-ago research interest (like 15 years) and I don't have academic library access anymore ... Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years definitely covers things like tracing trade networks through fiber arts techniques, but you may be reduced to going through the bibliography counting female-written papers to see how female academics have advanced the discipline. Let me comb through my shelves and see if I have anything of interest left!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:52 PM on May 21, 2015 [6 favorites]

Elizabeth Wayland Barber (who wrote the book above) does mention frequently (and often deliciously snidely) that if early archaeologists had been women instead of men, they probably would have denoted the "String Revolution" as a key turning point in human civilization rather than the "Stone Age," since you needed fiber arts to start making nets and snares and carrying possessions around and turning hides into clothes and so on. I think some of her talks are on YouTube.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:54 PM on May 21, 2015 [31 favorites]

Seriously. the invention of the spindle is probably one of the most significant technological developments in human history, right up there with fire and knives. It blows my mind how it gets sort of brushed aside in the academic understanding of the subject. I wrote a whole impassioned plea to the people who make Civilization, the computer game, about including a textiles track in their technology development, but they never responded past the autoresponse.
posted by KathrynT at 3:11 PM on May 21, 2015 [20 favorites]

KathrynT, you have about 19 hours to prep this topic up before you're allowed to post again.
posted by jeather at 4:18 PM on May 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would so play Civ trying to max out the Textiles track!
posted by hydropsyche at 4:26 PM on May 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was considering today posting a MeTa to call out Eyebrows McGee for being absolutely awesome. It's now becoming a really common occurrence -- I'll read a fantastic comment that reframes how I think (and want to think) about the world and get to the byline to see it's EM's.

So hey, Eyebrows McGee: you're absolutely awesome.
posted by davidjmcgee at 5:39 PM on May 21, 2015 [29 favorites]

Let's all go to Peoria for a big Eyebrows McGeetup!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:07 PM on May 21, 2015 [5 favorites]

That would be kind of awesome, wouldn't it. Possibly terrifying? But awesome.
posted by rtha at 8:11 PM on May 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

rtha: "That would be kind of awesome, wouldn't it. Possibly terrifying? But awesome."

I would be there with bells on. Peoria isn't that far away. I can't imagine what could be terrifying about a trip to central Illinois.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:10 AM on May 22, 2015

Unless you have a phobia of corn. Then Central Illinois would be a hellscape for you.
posted by double block and bleed at 4:11 AM on May 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, I meant terrifying for Eyebrows!
posted by rtha at 5:48 AM on May 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've got some time in late July...
posted by maryr at 2:02 PM on May 22, 2015

Eyebrows! We're from the internet! We love you! And corn! And we're coming to Peoria!
posted by hydropsyche at 3:29 PM on May 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

This sounds both awesome AND terrifying! I would find a restaurant that would do an entire corn-themed menu ....
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:57 PM on May 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

One of these days I actually WILL make it to Chicago for a meetup, now that my children are a little older and it's logistically possible for me to go places by myself on occasion! We visit relatives up there in the suburbs a lot but until recently I haven't been able to leave my kids for long enough to go into the city and locate a bar. Probably soon I can!

I will warn you in advance and we shall call it The McGeetup.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:59 PM on May 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Came in this thread to promote KathrynT's own (excellent!) comment about fiber arts contributing to the success of the deadliest sniper in history. Slightly off topic but something that most historians would overlook despite being totally fascinating.
posted by hindmost at 5:21 PM on May 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, here's another diversity-in-science story, more recent and amusing, but it drives the point home:
"NASA had to make some adjustments to accommodate the women in Ride’s astronaut class and later as it prepared to send her to space. It added a women’s locker room, which astronaut Judy Resnik, who later died in the Challenger explosion, festooned with a Tom Selleck poster. Rather than force astronauts to use urine-catching devices that resembled condoms, NASA added commodes to space vessels. Tampons were packed with their strings connecting them, like a strip of sausages, so they wouldn’t float away. Engineers asked Ride, “Is 100 the right number?” She would be in space for a week. “That would not be the right number,” she told them. "
I've seen this linked a couple of times on MeFi and it makes me LOL every time.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:24 PM on May 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

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