Dear Well-Meaning Feminist Male Friends and Colleagues,
We need to talk about what happened. I’m not talking about the incident when when our co-worker cracked that inappropriate comment at the holiday party, or the faculty meeting where Prof. Curie was asked, again, to take notes, or when that high-profile Nobel laureate said something really offensive at his talk. Remember the other day, when that guy started yelling abusive language, got up in my face, threw some sexist slurs my way, and wouldn’t back down? It was a situation that could have easily escalated, but didn’t. I was glad you were with me afterwards. The glass of water, the cookie, the comforting words, the advice on how to handle it with HR — those were all really helpful. Thank you. But that’s not the part I want to talk about. Continue reading
Today’s post is by a guest author:
It’s happened again. A woman tried to show how bad people are at listening to women, and instead of listening to her, her words got twisted and used to attack women.
In her article, “Famous quotes, the way a woman would have to say them during a meeting”, Alexandra Petri describes how “Woman in a Meeting” language is unique. In order to avoid being seen as aggressive (or bitchy), and to be heard and taken seriously, women frequently police their at-work language. If they don’t do this and instead speak assertively, women are often perceived as being aggressive, and angry women aren’t taken seriously. Petri shared the example of Jennifer Lawrence being accused of being angry and aggressive by one of her male employees when after she spoke to him assertively (i.e., not using “Woman in a Meeting” language). It turns out, men frequently mishear assertion as aggression when women speak. Continue reading
I was recently at a workshop where I was one of two women (out of ten). I’ve generally had a really great experience in working groups, but this once quickly morphed into a Bingo card of sexist microaggressions. With the plethora of recent articles on how there is no sexism problem in science, and how talking about microaggressions is the greatest threat to our universities (and not, say, funding or the adjunct crisis), I think it’s worth sharing this experience.
This workshop had it all. My female colleague and I were routinely interrupted, talked over, and ignored. One senior male participant stood up and gave a spontaneous presentation on something that “he’s never seen anyone mention before,” despite the fact that I had just shown the exact slide and mentioned the very point he did, not ten minutes before. Participants in very different fields mansplained our research to both of us, or in some cases dismissed our entire fields outright. They responded with hostility or patronizing tones to our questions or contrary points, but accepted the same criticisms with good nature from their male colleagues. The men asked one another questions that the women were better-suited to answer based on what we do, but we were talked over. During meals and coffee breaks, the men clustered together in groups and didn’t socialize with us. Continue reading
This past week I was lucky to be able to attend the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, which is one of the (if not the) largest gatherings of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the world. With over 3,000 attendees, it’s one of very few spaces where trans people are in the majority.
In its thirteenth year of providing space for trans people and health care providers.
It’s a strange feeling, suddenly being surrounded by others like you. One that I seem to share with many other trans people in STEM, based on how few trans people raised their hands when a session chair asked, “How many of you have met another trans person in your field before this workshop?” The session was hosted by an organization called oSTEM, or Out in STEM. During the workshop, we brainstormed ways to make the fields better for trans people: ways of calling out inappropriate behavior, how academic curricula fail trans students, role models and lack of overlapping social circles, and how to create a healthier environment. I want to focus on that last one a little, because there were a lot of important points that came out of it.
My route to work takes me along a line of sorority and fraternity houses. Usually, I don’t think much about them, but this week was different. This week, I saw the sorority houses as citadels. I found myself subconsciously assessing their ability to keep out an armed attacker.
As I passed the fraternity houses, I wondered about the young men inside. I’ve become acutely aware of the men on campus, just as I am every time there’s a new high-profile story about violence against women in the media. On the best of days, I’m constantly aware of my surroundings, almost as though I had an assault-prevention algorithm running in the back of my mind. This is because of my experiences, and I am not unusual in that way. On the worst of days, I find myself wondering if the men I see can be trusted, if they find my feminism quaint or offensive, if they have raped or would rape, knowingly or unknowingly, or how they would react if I were to tell them NO.
Elliot Roger had planned to kill more women at a UCSB sorority, but they didn’t open the door. In Nigeria, nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from school by an organization that doesn’t believe that women should be educated. These incidents, worlds apart in terms of circumstance, are intrinsically linked in my mind not only because they are contemporaneous, but because I am a university professor and these crimes were committed against students, on academic campuses. Violence against women on campuses aren’t new; these are just the latest in a long string of events that remind us that, for many women, getting an education is dangerous; even deadly. Continue reading
There is a plethora of research on the causes of hostile environments for women in academia, and on why we have an underrepresentation of women in many fields. There are support groups for women, societies entirely devoted to women academics (broadly and field-specific), workshops for women in academia, and countless articles and blogs devoted to the topic.
These initiatives are important, but here’s the thing: gender equality has to be a collaborative venture. If men make up the majority of many departments, editorial boards, search committees, labs and conferences, then men have to be allies in the broader cause of equality, simply because they have more boots on the ground. And, as much as I wish it weren’t so, guys often tend to listen more readily to their fellow guys when it comes to issues like sexism. I’ve also found that there are a lot of guys out there that are supportive, but don’t realize that many of their everyday actions (big and small) perpetuate inequality. So, guys, this post is for you.* Continue reading