— Science Magazine (@sciencemagazine) July 11, 2014
When you see the cover of the latest issue of Science magazine, the dimly-lit high heels and mini-skirted legs of two Jakarta, Indonesia, sex workers lure you in to the cover, which is curious. The print, positioned at their feet, reads “Staying a step ahead of HIV/AIDS.” The women appear to be walking.
Inside of the issue, which features 11 articles that comprise a special issue about HIV/AIDS, is a story about Indonesia’s new minister of health, who is aiming to curb the spread of HIV by targeting men who have sex with men, sex workers and their clients, and transgender people, where the rate of transmission is highest.
On Twitter, Jim Austin, editor of Science Careers, jokingly suggested if men were drawn in by the legs, it would be “interesting” to see how they felt once they discovered the women were trans. Maybe it was an awkward use of “bait and switch” intended to be harmless, but others said the tactic was thoughtlessly deployed at trans women’s expense, given perpetrators of violence against trans women often hold up “she tricked me” — the “trans panic defense” — as justification for hurting their victims.
Violence against trangender people, particularly people of color, is a huge problem. People who are trans are almost 30 percent more likely to be attacked than those who are not.
— Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) July 16, 2014
Furthermore, Science faced harsh criticism, not just for depicting trans women in the most stereotypical way possible, but for objectifying them as well. The heads of the two women in the foreground have been cut off. A third in the background is obscured by the “S” in “Science.” At Slate, Katy Waldman accused the magazine of depicting the women as “Typhoid Marys who are also hot, and fake” by making them the emblem for an issue dedicated to talking about HIV/AIDS and preventing its spread.
Science responded with an addendum to the cover caption from editor-in-chief Martha McNutt:
Science has heard from many readers expressing their opinions and concerns with the recent [11 July 2014] cover choice. The cover showing transgender sex workers in Jakarta was selected after much discussion by a large group and was not intended to offend anyone, but rather to highlight the fact that there are solutions for the AIDS crisis for this forgotten but at-risk group. A few have indicated to me that the cover did exactly that, but more have indicated the opposite reaction: that the cover was offensive because they did not have the context of the story prior to viewing it, an important piece of information that was available to those choosing the cover. I am truly sorry for any discomfort that this cover may have caused anyone, and promise that we will strive to do much better in the future to be sensitive to all groups and not assume that context and intent will speak for themselves.
“Pro tip: When you ‘raise awareness’ about the plight of an underserved group of people, the type of awareness you raise matters,” Waldman wrote. “Transgender sex workers should not be expected to thank Science for ‘raising awareness’ of them as erotic objects, jokes, or disease vectors.”
McNutt also responded with this tweet:
From us at Science, we apologize to those offended by recent cover. Intent was to highlight solutions to HIV, and it badly missed the mark.
— Marcia McNutt (@Marcia4Science) July 17, 2014