The ongoing fight for equal rights and its heroes

18 Oct

It’s been a crazy two weeks, my twitter feed and facebook newsfeed are exploding. And it has nothing to do with the government shutdown.

Sexism and racism in The Netherlands

The social media explosion started with Asha ten Broeke who argued that it is not okay for a toy company to encourage girls (but not boys) to do household chores and be “just like mama.” See here for an English language commentary on the topic. It became a twitter storm because many people in The Netherlands (including the biology professor who was on the same talk show as she was) think this kind of sexism is perfectly OK.


This is how a Dutch toy company tries to sell toys (the pink text says: “As good as your mom, that’s what you want”).

Just a day later or so, another storm erupted when Quinsy Gario argued that “zwarte piet” should be eliminated from the Dutch Santa Claus folklore. Zwarte piet is like blackface and many Dutch are not willing to part with the tradition because it’s “just fun.” Both Quinsy Gario and Asha ten Broeke got many negative reactions, from anonymous tweeters and “respected” politicians and scientists. It is not easy to fight for equality and I have great respect for both of them because they stick their neck out.


This is how the many Dutch (including national television!) celebrate “Sinterklaas”. In the folklore story, the black guys are the clumsy but athletic helpers of the old and wise white guy. To me it’s pretty obvious that this story should be changed as soon as possible.

The science blogging world explodes

The twitter storms in The Netherlands were not yet over when a new storm started. This one was about Danielle Lee (who blogs as DNLee), a scientist and blogger (biologist and postdoc, like me) who was called a whore by an editor (yes, you’re reading that right) and wrote a blog post about it. The blogpost was then removed by Scientific American, and after much protest reposted. Read about the story here. And read the original post by DNLee here.

Then, just as everything seemed to be calming down a little, a new storm started when Monica Byrne wrote that Bora Zivkovic, blogs editor for the same Scientific American harassed her last year (she had written about what happened before, but not revealed his name previously). Her blog is here. Bora Zivkovic said he was sorry: “it happened only once,” he said.

Which was not true, as another female blogger was quick to remind him.

After that more and more stories surfaced. Karen James storified it here. Also, check out Priya Shetty’s great story about it here.

The things that happened and are happening everywhere make me furious.

But as long as there are people like DNLee and Monica Byrne and Asha ten Broeke and Quincy Gario (and many many others) who are willing to stick their neck out and fight for equality, I have great hope that things will get better.

2 Responses to “The ongoing fight for equal rights and its heroes”

  1. asianelephant October 28, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    Indeed – and it is always a bit jarring when such stories reveal what lies beneath the surface of people and societies that think themselves progressive. You’ve probably seen this before but I love these photos:

  2. pleunipennings October 28, 2013 at 10:52 pm #

    Oh, yes, that’s a great photo-series!

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