Chinese scientist accused of sexism in study about link between ‘girls’ and cats

Science Direct.com have temporarily removed from their website a study that they had published several weeks ago on a possible causal link between the presence of women at a university and the number of cats in the area. The study was led by Yuhang Li. The study is entitled: Where there are girls, there are cats. The title is unfortunate in terms of perception by Westerners because of the use of the word “girls”. The study actually refers to women at a university but because of possible translation problems and cultural differences the author of the study referred to “girls” on a couple of occasions but it is the title which, although catchy, has caused offence.

Removal of study
Removal of study
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Women should be praised

I wrote about this study when it was published about a month ago and mentioned the possible sexism in the title then. I don’t think the study is particularly controversial because there probably is a link between the presence of women and community cats at a university because women are in general more likely to be attracted to caring for community cats because they are arguably more sensitive to their plight and want to help. If that’s true it is a good quality which should be praised.

For intance, in the USA, nearly all the volunteers carrying out TNR are women. And they do great work and deserve all the praise and support they can get.

'Girl' feeds feral cat in China. Image used to illustrate the study
‘Girl’ feeds feral cat in China. Image used to illustrate the study.

Pulling study implies poor science

If the article picks out a link between a desire to help cats and to improve animal welfare and women then it is hard to see how the article can be criticised. But the problem is not the possible link between female humans and cats on a university campus but the language used, particularly in the title. It’s unfortunate that the article was pulled from the Science Direct.com website because it implies that the science is poor when as far as I can tell it isn’t.

Science Direct at fault?

It is arguable that the editors at Science Direct.com should have been more careful when deciding to publish it and perhaps could have discussed the title with the lead scientist and changed it. That would have been quite easy to do and it would have avoided this controversy.

Defended

The lead scientist defends his position and I agree with this because he says that it is not easy to reach Twitter where there was discussion about the controversy and he wasn’t aware of the cultural differences and sensitivities towards the language he used. He decided to change the title to the current one because it was catchier. He denies that he is sexist.

Use of ‘girl’ and ‘woman’

As I mentioned in my earlier article one problem is the apparent interchangeability between “girl” and “woman” in the Chinese language. Ironically, the words are interchangeable in the English language as well and often we hear grown women in the UK referring to themselves and other women as girls. It is not uncommon. I don’t like it at all because, for me, it demeans women or makes them sound as if they are less independent and more vulnerable when in an age of equality women should be seen as more independent and able to compete with men. Personally, I much prefer that perception. I am strongly for equality without forcing women to be someone they don’t want to be.

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