Undesired attention

Daily Parse | The Mosaic expedition is drawing attention to a little-discussed aspect of polar research. Its organisers would rather have gone without

Gandhi would have approved (📸: Pierre Pirou / Mosaic)

Kevin McGwin

If you cannot see anything out of order with the picture above, you, too, might have trouble with the dress code aboard the Akademik Fedorov, a Russian research vessel, that, for six weeks last winter, was hired in as a support ship for initial phase of the Mosaic expedition.

During the year-long expedition, which will conclude on 12 October when its lead vessel, the Polarstern, returns to its homeport in Bermerhaven, Germany, attached itself to an ice floe and then allowed itself to drift, freezing solid in to the ice during the winter.

It has, by all means, been feat of logistics and endurance; fittingly, the Polarstern, and the work done by the scientists aboard it, has been the talk of Arctic research; reports by embedded journalists and an effective PR machine brought the expedition to broader audiences.

Unfortunately, for the expedition and its organiser, AWI, a German research outfit, Mosaic has, in recent weeks, become better known as the latest way in which women experience unequal treatment.

Reporting by one of the embedded journalists, published on 8 September, revealed the existence of what appeared to be a spontaneously instituted dress code, the main point of which seemed to be to prevent the female expedition members from wearing tight-fitting clothing in the Akademik Fedorov’s common areas.

The dress code, it was explained to the women, who were in the minority of those on board, was a safety measure that was being implemented, in part after incidents of harassment.

In addition to overshadowing the accomplishments, the ensuing media storm has, according to AWI, been “misleading and unfair”. It says the reports reflect neither the organisation’s focus on occupational safety nor its interest in promoting a culture of equality and diversity.

The photograph appears on blog posting explaining how the scientists aboard the ship were keeping. During week two, the entry which the picture accompanies, the scientists report having adapted to life on board in just a few days.

“To stay healthy and keep fit,” they wrote, “we’ve instituted cross-fit work outs on deck, yoga classes in our classroom, and even some self-defense classes.”

In hindsight, it would seem that, already then, it should have been evident that their problems were more than academic.

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