Courtesy Jennifer Mierisch
Emily Temple-Wood was 12 years old the first time she was trolled online. She was being a good digital citizen, excising the foul language and lies added to pop-culture posts on Wikipedia, and the cyber vandals were having none of it. They left ugly comments on her Wikipedia and Facebook pages about her looks “that would make my mother’s hair curl,” says Temple-Wood, now 22 and in medical school. Her biggest crime, she believes: “I was a woman on the Internet.”
“I tell people who are being trolled that it’s OK to be upset. But now you need to find a productive way to take revenge.”
Over the years, she considered how she might exact revenge. Then, as a freshman in college, it hit her: “What do misogynists hate most?” she asked herself. “Women who are productive!” Her solution: For every insulting comment she received, Temple-Wood vowed to post a biography of a female scientist, and thus, in 2012, WikiProject Women Scientists was born. She profiled her heroes, like Barbara McClintock, who was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and Caroline Still Anderson, one of the first African American women to become a physician in the United States, in the late 1800s. With help from other women, many of them scientists who have also been victimized online, Temple-Wood has published hundreds of these brief biographies—each a thumb in the eye to misogyny—and women of all ages have taken notice.
“When I was a kid, I could count the number of women scientists I was aware of on one hand,” wrote Siko Bouterse, formerly of the Wikimedia Foundation. “But our daughters are going to have access to much more knowledge about scientists who look like them, thanks to Emily.”
The nasty comments still come, says Temple-Wood. Being a strong woman online is not easy. “We all have days where we break down and need to snuggle a cat and have a glass of wine,” she says. “I tell people who are being trolled that it’s OK to be upset. But now you need to find a productive way to take revenge.”