This Biology Student Turns Online Harassment Into A Feminist Reason To Promote Women In Science

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While law enforcement and governments try to update laws to better understand the way online harassment works, there are already people dealing with it in very effective ways. Take for instance Emily Temple-Wood, a biology student at Loyola University in Chicago. Her solution involves not necessarily a molecular precision, but more of a feminist approach at turning a negative situation into something positive.

During the day she spends her time in the school’s developmental biology lab, going to classes, and working on research projects. At night, she goes home, looks at the amount of negative messages she receives due to her online presence, and instead of responding directly, or in kind, she commits to creating a Wikipedia page about a brilliant and prominent female scientist instead.

It is her way of ensuring the world knows more about these women who are not often mentioned in history books, or school text books. The idea began in 2012 when she took part in a Wikipedia edit-a-thon and was shocked not to find any Wiki pages about some of the scientists she had come to learn about.

Wikipedia edit-a-thons are becoming a well-known form of activism among feminist groups who are determined to give visibility and voice to women who have either been silenced, forgotten or simple erased from society. Art+Feminism is a notable group who regularly organizes these edit-a-thons, and they are happening all over the world! They cover a range of industries and topics, but Emily Temple-Wood is specifically focused on making sure women in the science world are known.

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Upon learning that only 15% of English Wikipedia pages are about women, she started her own page called ‘WikiProject Women Scientists’ and has a very long list of scientists that people all over the world can now have access to, if they can’t find information anywhere else.

“A lot of these women, you can’t Google them and find their stories, they’re locked up in obscure books. So we’re making these stories accessible to everyone, and giving these legacies their due. We call it ‘writing women back into history’,” she told SBS.com.au.

After her pages started appearing online (there are now 5000 pages!), the trolls came out. Emily says she started to receive hateful emails.

“It’s the stuff that gets yelled at you on the street, except someone took the time to type that down. A lot of sexual solicitation, insinuations about who I’m sleeping with and how much and where, all that gross stuff. And then they get mad when I don’t respond,” she said.

With all the truly horrific things happening around the world today, trolling a person for creating an informative page about female scientists is definitely the worst use of anyone’s time…

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At first it was frustrating to receive such vitriol, but then she realized how to use it as an excuse to stay motivated to continue her mission.

“I was like, I need to do something productive with this rage rather than sitting around and being angry — that doesn’t solve anything. I decided to do something actually productive that would also make misogynists angry, because that’s the last thing that people who hate women want, for more information about great women to be out there,” she said.

While there are moments when we should definitely respond to online harassment if it means educating someone or changing their mind in a positive way (and to send a message that bullying is wrong!) there are also many times when interacting with trolls does nothing to change the situation. Emily’s response is indicative of the latter, but she didn’t allow it to get the better of her.

“Sleazy come-on? Meet Rosalyn Scott, the first African-American woman to become a thoracic surgeon. Chauvinist remark? Profanity-laced tirade? Here’s Marguerite Lwoff, a French microbiologist and virologist, and Liliana Lubinska, a Polish neuroscientist known for her research of the peripheral nervous system,” writes SBS’ Caitlin Gibson describing Emily’s clever approach.

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Emily, who goes by the user name Keilana on Wikipedia, does admit that she cannot keep up with the number of abusive emails as she has a back log, but her work is already getting plenty of positive attention. Over 350 of her pages on female scientists have been featured on the Wikipedia home page, and many of her articles have been peer-reviewed (approved by academic experts in a field) which gives a page a better rating.

She is not just creating a great way to deal with harassment, she is opening an entire world of science to future generations of girls by giving them role models to look up to. “You can’t be what you can’t see”, goes the famous saying coined by Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman.

“It’s really important that she’s not just writing about white women scientists, she’s also working to address under-representation of women of color in Wikipedia. When I was a kid, I could count the number of women scientists I was aware of on one hand. But I know our daughters are going to have access to so much more free knowledge about scientists who look like them, thanks to Emily’s efforts, and that’s really powerful,” said Siko Bouterse, a former Wikipedia Foundation staff member to the Wikimedia blog.

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Emily told Buzzfeed News that her favorite page is about Barbara McClintock (image 3 paragraphs above), an American cytogeneticist who won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1983. Emily has also created pages about women such as Caroline Still Anderson (image below), one of the first African American women to become a doctor in the US.

Gerty Cori (pictured above) was the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize in science, and Emily refers to her as “the best biochemist the world has ever seen”. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say many people have “not seen” who Gerty Cori was, until Emily made a page about her.

It’s not just American women, there are female scientists from all over the world that you can learn about by checking out her Wikipedia Women Scientists page. We’re so in awe of what Emily is doing and hope her work continues to impact many people as they study her pages.

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