Carl Sagan on why his science organization should stop excluding women (1981)

If membership is restricted to men, the loss will be ours:

Early-1981, following IBM’s withdrawal of support due to the organisation’s continued exclusion of women within its ranks, renowned astronomer Carl Sagan sent the following impassioned letter to each and every fellow member of The Explorers Club — an international society dedicated to scientific exploration since its inception in 1904 — and argued beautifully for a change of policy.

Later that year, The Explorers Club welcomed its first female members.

Carl Sagan’s letter:

Dear Fellow Member of The Explorers Club:
Thank you for the opportunity to write to you about the admission of women to The Explorers Club. The human zest for exploration and discovery is the hallmark of our species and one of the secrets of our success. It is a tradition that goes back much further than the 76 proud years in which The Explorers Club has been in existence. When our organization was formed in 1905, men were preventing women from voting and from pursuing many occupations for which they are clearly suited. In the popular mind, exploration was not what women did. Even so, women had played a significant but unheralded role in the history of exploration — in Africa in the Nineteenth Century, for example. Similarly, Lewis and Clark were covered with glory, but Sacajewea, who guided them every inch of the way, was strangely forgotten. All institutions reflect the prejudices and conventions of their times, and when it was founded The Explorers Club necessarily reflected the attitudes of 1905.
Traditions are important. They provide continuity with our past. But it is up to us to decide which traditions are essential to The Explorers Club and which are accidents of the epoch in which it was institutionalized. Times have changed since 1905. It is very clear that a foolish rigidity can destroy otherwise worthwhile institutions; they are then replaced by other organizations more in tune with the times. IBM’s recent withdrawal of corporate support for The Explorers Club because of our “exclusionary policy toward women” should be pondered carefully by every member. Many other former supporters may follow suit.
Today women are making extraordinary contributions in areas of fundamental interest to our organization. There are several women astronauts. The earliest footprints — 3.6 million years old — made by a member of the human family have been found in a volcanic ash flow in Tanzania by Mary Leakey. Trailblazing studies of the behavior of primates in the wild have been performed by dozens of young women, each spending years with a different primate species. Jane Goodall’s studies of the chimpanzee are the best known of the investigations which illuminate human origins. The undersea depth record is held by Sylvia Earle. The solar wind was first measured in situ by Marcia Neugebauer, using the Mariner 2 spacecraft. The first active volcanos beyond the Earth were discovered on the Jovian moon Io by Linda Morabito, using the Voyager 1 spacecraft. These examples of modern exploration and discovery could be multiplied a hundredfold. They are of true historical significance. If membership in The Explorers Club is restricted to men, the loss will be ours; we will only be depriving ourselves.
The supposed parallelism between our situation and those of other organizations seems to me strained. The Bohemian Club is a resort; The Explorers Club is not. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are for children. Their membership derives almost exclusively from adolescent and pre-adolescent youngsters, who have not yet fully accomodated to the opposite sex. But we presumably are adults, with a special responsibility for interacting with all humans on this planet.
I do not believe that the primary function of our organization is to promote male bonding or to serve as a social club — although there is certain room for both. I believe that the fundamental dedication of the club is that stated on the masthead of every issue of The Explorers Club Newsletter: “To the conquest of the unknown and the advancement of knowledge.” If this is our purpose, then admission should be open to all qualified members of the human species.


Carl Sagan

White Canadians earn more, because they have white privilege.

White Canadians earn more than non-white Canadians, even when comparing only the whites and non-whites with the same education and of the same age. Comparing only the foreign-born white Canadians with the foreign-born non-white Canadians, white people earn more. Comparing only the second-generation, Canadian-born white Canadians with the second-generation, Canadian-born non-white Canadians, white people still earn more.

In other words, even when controlling for age, education, and generation, white Canadians earn more than non-white Canadians. Racial appearance causes the difference in earnings.

Wellesley Institute’s study, Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market, was released in March 2011 and draws on data from the last mandatory long-form Census (which has been cancelled recently by the politically-conservative Harper government):

THE LAST AVAILABLE CENSUS DATA before the federal government cancelled the country’s mandatory long form Census reveals a troubling trend in Canada.

Despite years of unprecedented economic growth and an increasingly diverse population, this report confirms what so many Canadians have experienced in real life: a colour code is still at work in Canada’s labour market.

Racialized Canadians encounter a persistent colour code that blocks them from the best paying jobs our country has to offer.


Default explanations like “it takes a while for immigrants to integrate” don’t bear out. Even when you control for age and education, the data show first generation racialized Canadian men earn only 68.7% of what non-racialized first-generation Canadian men earn, indicating a colour code is firmly at play in the labour market. Here, the gender gap — at play throughout the spectrum — becomes disturbingly large: Racialized women immigrants earn only 48.7 cents for every dollar non-racialized male immigrants earn.

The colour code persists for second generation Canadians with similar education and age. The gap narrows, with racialized women making 56.5 cents per dollar non-racialized men earn; while racialized men earn 75.6 cents for every dollar non-racialized men in this cohort earn.

Further Reading:

Related posts:

Misogynist activist at the University of Waterloo hates scientist Marie Curie and women.

In The Fourteen Not Forgotten and Sexist Posters at Waterloo, Christine Cheng discusses a misogynist activist at the University of Waterloo who put up fourteen posters last month (February 2011) vilifying scientist Marie Curie and women in general. (Her post is also cross-posted at the Geek Feminism Blog.)

A photograph of Marie Curie has an image of a mushroom cloud next to it. It is titled 'The Truth'. The caption at the bottom of the poster says, ''The brightest Woman this Earth ever created was Marie Curie. The Mother of the Nuclear Bomb. You tell me if the plan of Women leading Men is still a good idea !'

The incident reminds many of us of the École Polytechnique Massacre. Both the University of Waterloo and l’École Polytechnique de Montréal focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering) fields, and female students are a minority. Both schools are located in Canada. Both misogynists appear to be angry that women are attending university and are being educated in male-dominated fields.

The Marie-Curie-hating misogynist at Waterloo has also sent out a misogynist e-mail pretending to be the university’s president, and has created a Facebook page with similar misogynist rantings. The university’s Women’s Centre and LGBT student centre have closed due to safety concerns.

A male undergraduate at the University of Waterloo made this ridiculous—yet typical male-privileged—comment before taking down his post:

Yes, it is wrong, yes, it is inappropriate, but get a life if you are going to fuss and cry over stupid shit like this. Because if you do, you must be living in a sheltered bubble.

A commenter at hook & eye named bakka111 responds to this reaction:

The “Sheltered bubble” comment from Bill’s portfolio is particularly ironic. Just who lives in a sheltered bubble? Those who fear the messages because they have experienced the mundane-threats a patriarchal culture issues to women, or those who have never experienced such threats. Oh the irony.

Further Reading:

Across the calculus sections, women outperformed men on grades.

Several recent studies have suggested that the gender gap in STEM fields is caused not by bias, but simply by different choices made by men and women. What the new research shows, Dasgupta said, is choice isn’t as simple as people think. “People assume that these choices are free choices, based on talent and interest and motivation,” Dasgupta said. “But these data suggest that the meaning of choices, of what it means to choose math or science, is more complicated. Even talented people may not choose math or science not because they don’t like it or are not good at it, but because they feel that they don’t belong.”

Inoculation Against Stereotype by Scott Jaschik (Inside Higher Ed)

There is a common belief among some computer geek communities that women are underrepresented in STEM because we just don’t like it, and so we should celebrate differences instead of making women “miserable” by “forcing” us into careers we “don’t like”. This study would debunk that myth, if only most men in tech who discuss the topic of women in tech actually did some research on it, instead of leaving comments that make male geeks feel good about themselves and rationalize the gender imbalance in “their” field.

For other male geeks who insist that there are hard-wired brain differences in men and women, and argue that women’s brains are hard-wired against understanding math and science as well as men (instead of hard-wired against enjoying math and science), this part of the article should be emphasized:

Skeptics might wonder if some of the [gender] differences [in engagement] among students relate to how well the students know the material. The researchers checked for that and found that, across sections, women outperformed men on grades. So the data point to women losing confidence with male instructors — even if female students know the material as well as or better than their male counterparts.

Link: Inoculation Against Stereotype (Inside Higher Ed)

This is an example of sexism in tech recruitment.

This is an example of unconscious sexism in tech recruitment that assumes that women are bad with math and computers.

A public transit ad shows a brain with two hemispheres. A box pointing to the left hemisphere asks, 'Can you solve one of our puzzles?' A box pointing to the right hemisphere asks, 'Can you explain it to your mom?' Text at the bottom says, 'We're hiring hackers with people skills.' There is a real yellow sticky note stuck on to the ad that says, 'My mom has a PhD in math.'

The yellow sticky note says, “My mom has a PhD in math”.

Close up of yellow sticky note that says, 'My mom has a PhD in math'

I am not a mother, but if I reproduced, I would be.

The job ad is also based on the same stereotype of female technical ineptitude as “So simple, your mother could do it”.

Original photo by Jessie Bennett (via Sociological Images and Geek Feminism Blog)

If tech discussion was really about tech, it wouldn’t be sexist.

Cross-posted at Geek Feminism

There is sexism in tech culture. However, I continue to love tech, because I think of the sexism as a separate, unnecessary appendage to pure tech. I cannot think of sexism as intrinsic to or inevitable in tech, because then I would be either self-hating, or I would have to give up my love for technology. Maybe my personal ontology is compartmentalized thinking in order to survive as a woman in tech, but I think it’s also true.

Some people argue that for tech to “attract” women, the culture needs to be broadened to include humanistic aspects. However, this proposal may derive from the implicit sexist assumption that men really are better at tech, and women really are better at the humanities.

Actually, what I hate most about tech news sites is that when I go there for technology news, there are off-topic comments about love and relationships. It’s typically men discussing being single; having trouble with women; being Nice GuysTM; giving advice about what women really want; talking about how women have it easier; bragging about how even their grandmother/mother/wife can use technology X; and other sexist generalizations about women. In other words, the idea that pure tech scares away women, that tech culture is currently free of human influence, is a product of male privilege and the inability to recognize that the state of being male is not the state of being neutral.

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The ethical corollary of “sex is a basic human need” is that rape is justified.

(Trigger Warning: This post discusses rapist logic and rape.)

Some men argue that when women “withhold sex” from men, we are depriving men of their basic needs:

A sense of entitlement? That’s what you want to call the basic human need for love, companionship, approval, and sex? […] And then you wonder why guys perceive hostility from women. Gee, I wonder.

— unapproved comment from a Geek Feminism post

If a woman declines to have sex with a man, is she violating the man’s human rights, his alleged “right to sex”, or is the man’s experience of being deprived of his rights actually evidence of his sense of “entitlement” over women’s bodies?

Physiological - breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion. Safety - security of body, employment, resources, morality, the family, health, property. Love/belonging - friendship, family, sexual intimacy. Esteem - self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others. Self-actualization - morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts. This visual representation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts “sex” at the bottom base of the pyramid (falling under the category “Physiological” needs, which are the most basic needs), but “sexual intimacy” is also at the third rung from the bottom, falling under the category of “Love/belonging” needs. “Security of body” is at the at the second rung from the bottom of the pyramid, falling under the category of “Safety” needs, which is above “Physiological” needs but below “Love/belonging” needs.

If the “right to be not raped” falls under “Safety” and “security of body”, then is the alleged “right” to obtain sex a more basic need than the “right to be not raped”? Or does “Safety”/”security of body”/the “right to be not raped” have higher priority than fulfilling everyone’s alleged “need” for sex?

Of course, if one assumes that sex is a more basic need than security of body, then the ethical corollary would be that rape is justified. If you accept “rape is wrong” as an axiom, then you should agree that a person’s security of body/the right to be not raped has a higher priority than a person’s “need” for sex.

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