Over at Uncertain Principles, Chad is a bit frustrated with some of the discourse around the Pipeline Problem (that is, why are so few women retained in higher positions in science?):
One of the things that ends up bothering me about the discussion of how to get more women in science is that it tends to focus on the college and professional level. Everybody seems to have an anecdote about a creepy physics professor, or an unpleasant graduate student, or a sexist post-doc.
This bugs me for a couple of reasons. The obvious one being that I’m a college physics professor, and I’m not that guy. I’m not fool enough to try to deny that unreconstructed sexist pigs exist in the profession, but I’m not one of them, and neither are my immediate colleagues, and sweeping statements that lump us in with the pigs of the world bother me.
Now, Chad’s larger point is about intervention earlier in the pipeline; I largely agree, but I want to focus on something else:
sweeping statements that lump us in with the pigs of the world bother me
I’m a postdoc, and I try not to be That Asshole. When someone says something that effectively lumps me in with Those Assholes, I have an algorithm that allows me to avoid taking it personally:
- whatever cogent criticisms of sexist behaviour this person is making, do they in fact apply to me?
- if yes, fix problem (that is, fix self)
- if no, do said criticisms apply to anyone around me, or the environment I work in?
- if yes, how do I fix that? can the person making the criticisms also give me constructive advice?
- if no, there would appear to be nothing I can do here but be pointlessly offended, therefore *shrug*
Here’s my point, and I think it’s an important and somewhat underappreciated one: I think that not taking such things personally is one of the most important things I can do about the fact that “unreconstructed sexist pigs exist in the profession”. Allowing the people who bear the brunt of said pigs’ actions to vent without shutting them down just because “hey, I’m not like that” is a way to contribute to an anti-pig environment. I think of it this way:
Angry Female Scientist: my fucking profession is riddled with sexist assholes! Jesus fuck! I hate you bastards!
Male Option 1: I’m not like that/don’t generalize, you’ll alienate your allies/don’t be so emotional/etc
(This translates “shut up and keep your place”, not just immediately in the AFS’s mind but in a larger sense, in which an angry woman is immediately confronted, dismissed, argued with and ultimately ignored. Think about what happens when a man gets angry and makes overly general statements; he generally gets cut some slack, or at least left to vent.)
Male Option 2: Dude1, what happened? Did I do something?
(This translates “I accept that there’s a problem, that you have a right and a reason to be angry; I’m on your side, go ahead and vent, maybe tell me how I can help”.
I prefer MO2. I don’t want to be That Asshole, and I don’t want Those Assholes to feel free to be assholes in my presence. So I speak out, and when someone else speaks out — especially if it’s an AFS — I try to figure out if they’re legitimately mad at me and if they’re not, I let ’em vent and don’t take it personally. It’s healthy: there should be a hint of anger in the air, when women are still being raped on the job.
I’d rather be That Humorless Liberal than That Asshole.
P.S. Further to Chad’s opening point, it does indeed seem that everyone has an anecdote about some sexist creep or other. I take that as an indication that there are way too many sexist creeps in my profession: those stories don’t make themselves up.
1American for “mate”; like “mate”, has become a unisex term.