Galactic Interactions

Anybody who’s been reading my blog for a while knows that I’m aware of, very concerned about, and even active in the plight of women and minorities in science. See, for example:

I’ve stuck my neck out on this issue. I’ve even gotten whacked for sticking my neck out on this issue.

I have blind spots, but I’m not the typical clueless male who sticks his head in the sand and ignores the issue.

However, I am seriously considering becoming one. Why?

Because you can’t win. You piss off “the establishment” by making waves. However, if you don’t want to adopt the full extreme tactics and rhetoric of those who are most firm in arguing for women’s equality in science, you also get insulted and attacked by them. It’s disheartening, from both sides. And, while the cause is right, I’m not sure it’s personally worth it.

Two anecdotes. The first is from personal history. At Vanderbilt, I had a friend, a woman, Research Professor A. Professor B, with whom Research Professor A did not work, at one point asked Research Professor A out. Research Professor A declined, and that was the end of the interaction. It was all polite.

I find out about this, and all I know about it (other than the identity of Research Professor A) is what’s above. Later, I’m able to guess the identity of Professor B. However, I don’t see a problem with any of this. To me, this sounds like a normal human interaction. If it’s the end of the story, and there’s no harassment involved, I just don’t see this as a big deal.

The result? Research Professor A goes nonlinear on me. I receive a barrage of extremely angry e-mails about how insensitive I am, about how clueless I am for not being completely outraged that this happened.

The result of that? I being to seriously question Research Professor A’s judgment in gender issues. There are real problems out there, but when you demand maximal outrage for something that’s not a real problem, you cheapen the real problems.

Anecdote #2. Go take a look at this thread, including the comments, including the comment where I completely lose it. The most important comments are the comments from the two individuals who are discussed, originally anonymously, in the original post. Before the person shows up and is an individual, there’s this huge bandwagon of dismissal of the awful white male who unjustly earned his PhD by having a penis. It softens after he’s been individualized, but only so much.

Sociologists and those fighting for minority rights insist on talking about “white privilege” and “male privilege.” While I don’t want to deny that what they are talking about exists, when they talk about it they do it in such a way that it makes people like me want to throw up my hands and go fight instead for a cause that (a) has a hope, and (b) will not leave me feeling like a piece of shit for fighting for the cause while meanwhile being attacked by others fighting for the cause.

“Privilege.” What they mean by that privilege is not being discriminated against. Is that a privilege? Practically, yes, but it should be a right. The problem isn’t that white males need to be dragged down and dumped upon as much as women and minorities in science; the problem is that women and minorities in science need to be treated justly and equitably! However, by insisting that “all you white male guys have this great privilege,” it’s very easy for white males to conclude that they’re being told that they don’t deserve to be where they are, at which point they are not going to be inclined to listen any further.

And it stands the chance of driving away allies.

Let me tell you: I’m here on the edge of being kicked out of the field that I’ve worked the last 17 years for because of funding problems… and I’m constantly reminded that I’m privileged. I sure as hell don’t feel privileged. This doesn’t mean that women and minorities have it worse, but if where I am is “privilege,” then I need a new dictionary. Indeed, in addressing this issue, Zuska had this to say;

You may or may not get tenure; but you made it through graduate school, postdoc years, and got a position as an assistant professor. At each step along that path, there is more attrition of women than men, minorities are vastly more underrepresented than white people.

Implication: given the evidence that I’m not good enough, the only reason I made it as far as I did is because of white male privilege. Did I deserve my PhD? Did I deserve the post-doc? Did I deserve the tenure-track job? Did I deserve the Vanderbilt Chancellor’s Award for Research? Who knows; maybe it was just that light colored penis that got all of that, and the work I did had nothing to do with it!

Way to keep allies, folks!

I don’t deny any of the facts in the quote from Zuska, but in the context, the implication is as clear as daylight. At which point I start to think, shit, this isn’t a cause I should be paying attention to, because there is no way I will avoid stepping on a mine. I will make waves with the senior professors in my department and become (I’m quoting here) a “loose cannon,” and meanwhile I’ll be torn down as the unworthy recipient of privilege by the extremists on the other side.

If you aren’t a part of the witch hunt, you’re a part of the problem.

The problem is real. People need to be grabbed and shooken, hard. Slapping needs to happen. But attacks on those who would be your allies is not the way to do it. I am not going to be part of the witch hunt, especially since I am, by definition, a witch. I just hope I can find the peace of mind and the ability to continue fighting for the good cause in a way that doesn’t require one to become part of the witch hunt.

Comments

  1. #1 Alexis
    June 13, 2007

    Incidentally, one or two of us actually have a sense of humor and will not flay you for 1) not being perfect or 2) not having the answers we ourselves do not have. I’m not for slapping and shaking in the least. I prefer the “solid rock” approach over histrionic and/or abusive.

    So…uh…yeah. It would be a shame to lose you. You’re such a cute witch. I mean, you know, for a witch.
    -Alexis

  2. #2 Drugmonkey
    June 13, 2007

    SLAP. That’s for you Rob. Also, “buck up”. Look, life has ranting nutcase critics. They have a place and can be productive. They can piss one off tremendously. So be it. Focus on your life and how you choose to lead it. Grab your satisfaction from the things you are able to accomplish. Everyone else can, at some level, pound sand.

    You can probably conclude from reading my posts what my particular windmill is. I look at it like this. I have managed to get into a position where I can do concrete things to change “the way things work” for the better in one aspect of my professional life. I can’t do everything. I can’t turn the system on its ear. Ranting in this environment is counter-productive and I do my best to rein it in for that very reason. It is an environment where you have to convince a couple of dozen people in a room to see it your way. Believe me, not everyone appreciates my views at all times. In some cases I may be paying future very direct costs for my windmill-tilting. So be it.

    If I look back at my multi-year engagement in this area and can say I made a categorical difference in just ONE case, well, I’m going to be satisfied with that. And I already got one. Sometimes it is all we get. A single victory is still a victory…

    Eye on the prize, eye on the prize.

    Another example occurs to me. My field has a pretty decent number of now fairly senior women scientists who might uncharitably be described as the “less half” of a research couple who share research domains and often laboratories. Are/were they gender traitors for choosing this route? Maybe some would view it that way. But in the view of someone who came to know them as they are at the senior side of their careers, read their papers, interacted with them at meetings, as journal editors, at study sections and may perhaps only belatedly realized they were actually married to Professor Y….good on ‘em. They managed by hook or by crook to work out a science career that worked for them. They kept their eye on the prize. Could they have been “more” by choosing to do it on their own, not working with Prof Husband, not taking that “research professor” track job early on, etc? maybe. but maybe they would have leaked out trying to do it the hard way…

  3. #3 cvj
    June 13, 2007

    Rob! Drugmonkey said it all just above… I don’t need to repeat. Key is: Just *one* victory can make all the difference down the line. Sometimes, you don’t even know what those victories are until much later. There are many who are doing what they can on the issue in their own ways, sometimes behind the scenes. You are not alone.

    Do. Not. Give. Up.

    -cvj

  4. #4 Melissa Gay
    June 13, 2007

    I’m so sorry, Rob. I hate it when stuff like this happens.

    To commiserate, I was once called a sexist by someone I respect, because I thought she was unfairly jumping down the throat of a guy who was doing a good job of being egalitarian– not good enough, she said! The guy should bend over backwards to put forth a more welcoming-to-strong-women vibe in his publication! Eventually we agreed to disagree, but I still feel burned, and it will be a long time before I jump into the feminist fray again.

  5. #5 Mecha
    June 13, 2007

    Rob, I am very familiar with the frustrations you are dealing with, in terms of dealing with what it means to be a male feminist ally. And I realize this is a rant (which, apparently, is never credit anyone ever gives to Zuska, ever. She’s just always crazy and wrong. 9_9) _However_. There are two things in your post which you bring out, of which the flip sides are real important, so when you’ve calmed down a bit…

    1) You say that you’re tempted to put your head in the sand. You may find this flippant, but _the fact that we, as men, can take a step back and ignore equality in any way is one of the biggest privileges I can imagine_. It’s the same privilege that allows people from the US to ignore this and that massacre, or these and those dying people. Women can’t truly ignore the fact that they’re treated as victims who are responsible for the crimes that happen to them, that the government wants to control their bodies, etc, etc, etc. And so on. You and I can always step back from the conversations, say we don’t want to deal with it. They never can.

    2) Your entire paragraph about ‘what they mean by privilege’ is _close_, but not quite. Invisible Knapsack Time: http://seamonkey.ed.asu.edu/~mcisaac/emc598ge/Unpacking.html

    Read through that. The author explicitly deals with privilege, and how some of it is stuff that everyone should have, and how some of it is stuff that _nobody_ should have. And there’s a reason for that. The author herself is a feminist, but has to deal with her privilege as a white middle-class woman. And even knowing what she does, _it is still hard_. It is hard for everyone. And it needs to be brought up. People need to be aware of privilege, _because it is generally invisible_. Some of it’s silly. Some of it’s serious. But just look at the list of inequalities. That a person of color has to deal with… every… single… day…

    The general conflation of ‘privilege’ with ‘blame’ is a hard one to deal with. It’s something I clash with feminists about on a somewhat regular basis. But here’s the magic, as it were. You’re only truly to blame if you don’t actually care about your privilege and attempt to deal with it. It’s easy to say you’re for equality. But it’s very hard to do it, as you have indicated. There’s a reason I have spent years reading, and processing, and deciding what I accept, and what I don’t, from the feminist viewpoint. What I argue with, and what I try to understand. And it’s because sociology, and psychology, and all those other disciplines which are tied into feminism _are their own body of work, with their own respect deserved_. It’s easy to say ‘Pfft, privilege.’ It’s not just some crazy concept one woman came up with, and the Femiborg took on. It’s a lot harder to say that when you put in the research.

    The fact is that privilege does give males and whites and other majorities things that they wouldn’t get in an equal society. Does that mean that _everything_ they get is without merit? No. And most feminists do not espouse that point of view. Not even Zuska. But that does not mean that people who are in the system, and take advantage of that inequality, unrepenatantly, are ‘just benefiting from privilege.’

    How to talk to and deal with people in the movement when you think they’ve gone too far is always a tricky, frustrating thing. I’m still working it out, but I’m getting better at it. But ‘you’re wrong, your theories are wrong, and you’re still wrong, and it’s mainly because I say so’, is never, never, never going to work. And that is almost always what arguments such as yours ultimately have to offer. ‘My perspective is that you are wrong, and all the research on your side is meaningless, because of how I feel.’

    I recommend approaching http://blog.shrub.com/archives/tekanji/2006-03-08_146 , not with a mind clouded by how all difficult this is, but by how difficult things are for _everybody_, including women. If you’re going to play the game, read how the people really involved in it feel. Because they research it and they live it.

    (As a side note, with notes of sarcasm, there’s also a reason I stayed out of that discussion in Zuska’s blog. We are not always in agreement. Feminism ain’t the monolithic crazy mass you seem to be treating it as. But a very big point can be seen if you look at how many people regularly rail at her in her own blogspace. And how… few… are railing at you in your own blogspace. Hrm. You’d almost think that there were some… inequality… that made it so that people felt that they could criticize feminists anywhere, in any manner, no matter what ground rules they set up. Huh. I wonder if there’s a name for that… entitlement or privilege, maybe…)

    -Mecha

  6. #6 Rob Knop
    June 13, 2007

    how many people regularly rail at her in her own blogspace. And how… few… are railing at you in your own blogspace. Hrm. You’d almost think that there were some… inequality… that made it so that people felt that they could criticize feminists anywhere, in any manner, no matter what ground rules they set up. Huh. I wonder if there’s a name for that… entitlement or privilege, maybe…)

    Let me advance an alternate hypothesis. The hypothesis is that Zuska’s tone and style of her blog is aggressive, designed to be so, designed to challenge, to anger. My tone is designed to convince, to argue a position through reason and rationality.

    One tone generates angry responses, the other, less so.

    Maybe it’s just because I’m so privileged and thus can’t see straight, but to me that sounds like a far more plausible hypothesis than the idea that people are respecting my white maleness.

    (There’s also the fact that my blog is not as well-read as hers.)

    The problem I have is with the word privilege. It’s designed as an aggressive word, and implies much more than is really there. I will freely admit that I have an unfair advantage, but privilege implies much more. One does not get a PhD by waggling about a pale schlong to prove that one is white and male. One does get to avoid a lot of the crap that others have to put up with because of being white and male. To me, that’s an advantage, and one that’s not fair. Privilege implies that you’re in if you’ve got the right credentials. “White” and “male” give you advantages, but are not sufficient credentials.

    In any event, it makes me very angry to be told again and again how much privilege I have when I find myself in a dehumanizing and untenable position.

    -Rob

  7. #7 Mecha
    June 13, 2007

    See, you’re acting like ‘Privilege’ is an all or nothing thing: ‘Privilege’ means you get EVERYTHING handed to you and can do NOTHING for yourself. That’s not true. It’s not true in the literature, it’s not true in general colloquial usage, etc (If someone is ‘Privileged’, they have advantages. It does not automatically confer a victory in your life.) Your interpretation is _weird_ to me. And confusing. Womens studies and feminism, like any area of study, has its own language.

    And you do get certain things if you have the right credentials. Look at the ‘White Privilege’ list. Do you get EVERYTHING? No. But nobody is saying you get everything. You get bumps. Little helps. Little assumptions in everyday life. Big assumptions. People won’t assume you’re poor at any point just because of your skin color. People won’t assume that you’re a slutty person if you are wearing less than absolutely full clothing. People generally won’t assume you have no morals because you say you’re Christian. There are specific subcultures and such that break these assumptions, but in the _vast scheme of things_, that’s how things work.

    Privilege is not designed as an aggressive word. Privilege is the true description of what majorities have: Privileges. Some of the privileges are things that majorities do not deserve. Some of the privileges are things that everyone deserves. They are different, and the Invisible Knapsack essay talks about that.

    Just because one person’s situation sucks does not make the societal way things are set up is different. All it means is that your situation sucks. Unless you can point at a giant societal conspiracy to make sure your situation sucks. Most minorities can. Because that’s privilege, and that’s real sexism/racism/etc. I can see how it is annoying, but that doesn’t make privilege not real. (Plural of anecdote != Theory?)

    -Mecha

  8. #8 Bill
    June 13, 2007

    The Ancient, Secret and Conspiratorial Order of the Brotherhood of the Pale Penis…

    that has a certain ring to it, don’t you think? Or maybe it could have a ring through it, if one were into that kind of thing.

  9. #9 JuliaL
    June 13, 2007

    Rob,

    “Privilege.” What they mean by that privilege is not being discriminated against. Is that a privilege? Practically, yes, but it should be a right. The problem isn’t that white males need to be dragged down and dumped upon as much as women and minorities in science; the problem is that women and minorities in science need to be treated justly and equitably!

    I don’t know much about the details of unequal treatment of women in the sciences, but I do know about it in my own field. It’s probably easier to see those privileges in the early part of my career (I’m retired now) than in the more subtle manifestations today.

    When I became a graduate student, I was able to go to school only because I was being paid as a teaching assitant. At that time, at that school, being a teaching assistant meant actually teaching two freshman classes, without help from anyone else. When I realized that a male friend of mine was being paid considerably more for exactly the same work, I went to the Department Head and pointed out that the young man in question and I had graduated from the same school at the same time with the same degree and that I had higher grades, a much higher GRE score, and better references from the same sources. The Department Head shrugged and said that males were always paid more and that, because of limited funds, the only way to raise the salaries of the females would be to lower the salaries of the males.

    So you see, it wasn’t just a matter of women now being given the same as males had been paid. Because of the limited funds, not only was I not being paid the theoretical average fair salary, the money being denied to me was actually being added to my friend’s salary. The difference between the salary that would have been fair to everyone and the salary he actually got was a privilege for him.

    Here’s another example: When I became pregnant with my first child, I had a full time teaching position at a state university but state law requiring the firing of women by the sixth month of pregnancy. Men who had fathered a child were of course not fired. That was the inequality. But it went further than that. Men who had recently become fathers were favored over all women at the next contract time when raises were considered. The reasoning was that such a man really needed a raise to fulfill his ethical duty to provide for his child. Even had a woman not been fired for becoming a mother, she wouldn’t have been on the same footing as the male. The extra salary as a reward for producing children was a special privilege that, because money for raises was limited, pushed the male’s salary above what would have been possible had raises been distributed more fairly.

    Certain scholarships were in effect open only to one race. Those of other races faced an inequality, and those of the favored race had what you refer to as an advantage. But it was more than that. Because many of the applicants were simply ignored, the odds of receiving a scholarship for each member of the favored race were artificially increased, thus providing a special privilege. So it wasn’t just a matter of some races not getting the same treatment. Had they been considered on an equal basis, they could not have the same low odds as the favored people had. The odds for every individual would have gone down.

    When my children were small, a relative would spend ten minutes in the afternoon teaching my daughter, and fifty minutes teaching my son. It wasn’t a simple matter of giving her equal treatment, because the relative had actually only an hour total to spend. So not only was my daughter discriminated against, my son got an extra twenty minutes as a privilege.

  10. #10 Annie
    June 13, 2007

    Rob,

    I know, from many of your previous posts here (and comments left elsewhere) that you’re definitely an ally to (young) women in STEM fields, like myself. But that said, you are arguing here from a very, very limited idea of the meaning of “privilege.” I’d really urge you to look at some of the links that others have provided here. I think that having a better idea of what people are referring to (specifically) when they mention privilege would demonstrate to you that not all of these things are “rights” that “everyone should have” — many of them are pure advantages that no one should have, and indeed that not every one COULD have (because they depend on the existence of an underclass).

    And I’d also hope you would be able to consider that feminist & gender theory is actually an active field of scholarly research, and to consider that there are in fact people who do know more about this than you do. Just as there are many people who know more about it than those active in this discussion, and just as there are people working in astronomy who know more about their own subfield than you do (and vice versa). So, to some people reading this & participating in the discussion on Zuska’s blog, your comments are the equivalent of a non-scientist arguing on your blog that “Evolution is a theory, not a fact” or “Evolution isn’t proper science,” to take an example from your own writings. Without having seriously considered & studied the concept of privilege, it’s a bit disingenuous to claim that your experience is as valid as that of someone who *has* done that kind of work.

    Finally, I’d like to say that the particular instances that you are concerned with — ‘privilege’ WRT women in the sciences — are not, for the women who lack that privilege, a separate set of circumstances or lost privileges. Let’s say that women need to work (even just a little bit) harder, write (just a few more) papers, in order to be seen as “equal” to someone else in the field. But she doesn’t just have to do *that*, she also has to, for instance, juggle her need to spend a lot of time working — to get those papers and grant proposals written! — against the dangers of leaving her office late at night. We could fix every single gender inequality in our own astronomy departments, and make it so that I would have exactly the same chance of succeeding as a male counterpart, but I would still not be able to escape the rest of these hard facts of my life. And I am already a very privileged person — there are people in much more dire positions than mine.

  11. #11 Rob Knop
    June 13, 2007

    your comments are the equivalent of a non-scientist arguing on your blog that “Evolution is a theory, not a fact” or “Evolution isn’t proper science,” to take an example from your own writings.

    The analogy isn’t apt. The people who are doing that are trying to deny that there is anything to evolution, that it’s valid. I may be misusing the language, but I’m certainly not trying to deny that gender discrimination exists.

    Indeed, some of the replies here are trying to convince me that the difference exists. My point is that I know that, but what happens in some cases is that when you question any little bit of the tactics, you get accused of just being one more white male who is motivated by not wanting to give up his status. That is what I find so tiresome.

    If you want to make analogies to the science wars blogs, the blog I’d pull out is PZ Myers. He’s on the “right” side when it comes to evolution, but writes his stuff in such a way that those who don’t fully line up with his position feel insulted. That’s why I gave up long ago on paying any attention whatsoever to him — and that’s the position I find myself in with the examples I’ve given above. I don’t buy into the full extreme that comes across sometimes, I don’t buy into the attacks on the junior individuals like the husband in Zuska’s post, and it has been implied that perhaps I shouldn’t have gotten as far as I did. Well, foo.

    -Rob

  12. #12 Lab Lemming
    June 13, 2007

    ” juggle her need to spend a lot of time working — to get those papers and grant proposals written! — against the dangers of leaving her office late at night.”

    Fortunately for her, as a women she is statistically less likely to get assaulted than a young single man. How she leverages this privledge to offset discrimination in other areas is up to her.

  13. #13 Annie
    June 13, 2007

    I definitely think that there were two different discussions going on in the comments at Zuska’s blog, and I think I can agree with you that commenting on & dissecting the lives of specific private individuals is not A-OK without agreeing with your assertion that “privilege” is the incorrect term to use for what was being called privilege there.

    I also didn’t mean to extend my analogy to the argument being made by those who try to deny evolution; I only meant to point out that in order to meaningfully participate in a discussion, each party needs to come to the table with a certain amount of background knowledge. I can absolutely see why it sounded like I was linking “denial of gender inequity” to “denial of evolution,” but what I meant instead was that a lot of the misconceptions (even among people who DO believe in evolution!) are difficult to ‘talk around’ and sometimes you have to argue a more fundamental point (“The term theory doesn’t mean what you think it means!”) before you can move on to The Big Stuff. Part of what I was getting at is the acknowledgment that instinct and anecdotes may lead a person who is not an expert in a field to disagree with someone who does, in fact, have a stronger background.

    — Ann

  14. #14 Annie
    June 13, 2007

    Lab Lemming — does that statistic include sexual assault? From the stats I’ve seen, studies have found that up to 25% of women in college will be sexually assaulted. Part of the issue might be that different kinds of assault are actually categorized differently by reporting agencies. There’s also stalking and other crimes that would certainly not be reported as assault, aggravated or otherwise.

  15. #15 Bill
    June 13, 2007

    Lab Lemming: data, please! I find that assertion *very* surprising.

  16. #16 Rob Knop
    June 13, 2007

    25% of women in college will be sexually assaulted.

    Isn’t the bulk of that date rape rather than stranger-in-a-dark-alley assault?

    -Rob

  17. #17 Mecha
    June 14, 2007

    Um… date rape happens to be sexual assault, so yes, that would be included. Stranger-in-a-dark-alley assault is a _stereotype_. Rarer, by comparison, than most other kinds of rape and sexual assault. I don’t see why you’re drawing the distinction.

    -Mecha

  18. #18 Janne
    June 14, 2007

    Annie, overall risk of assault (sexual or other violent) is higher for young males than females. And it is higher for younger people than older. This pattern seems to hold quite well across several societies around the world.

    Women are at a systematic disadvantage in many ways. That does not mean they are at a disadvantage in _every_ way, and it does not mean that efforts to reduce inequality will always, without fail, act to improve the lot of females over that of males.

    One example: in Sweden there was recently enacted a law against unequal pricing for goods and services between males and females. One result – and one that really got blown all out of proportion in the media – was that haircuts became more expensive for women and cheaper for men. Hairdressers can’t have separate price lists anymore, but are charging for the time and expenses (hair-care products etc.) used.

  19. #19 Janne
    June 14, 2007

    Mecha, the premise was “walking home alone” which rather excludes the date rape scenario. And even if you include it, young men are still more likely to be victims of violent assault than young women.

  20. #20 Mecha
    June 14, 2007

    Bah. s/stereotype/trope.

    Also, http://thehathorlegacy.info/rape-statistics/ for some statistics. Sourced.

    But this isn’t that relevant to Rob’s main discussion anyway. Just feeding the trolls, as it were.

    I think Annie and I are really getting to the same point. Arguing you don’t have privilege because your definition of privilege isn’t the same as everyone else’s is not particularly helpful. The concept you can say this, though…

    “and it has been implied that perhaps I shouldn’t have gotten as far as I did. Well, foo.”

    … wow. It is impressive you can be dismissive of the concept, while being an ally, isn’t it? I mean, you can be an ally, _and deny a massive background knowledge, details, and study_. I’m sure you’ll meet a astronomy student tomorrow who says, ‘Yeah, everything you work on is crap, and it offends me that you work on it. Just because I feel that way. So, coffer at 10?’, and think that’s totally cool. Right? Does that actually make sense to you? That you can stomp in, say that your interpretation trumps _everyone else’s interpretation_? It’s not just Zuska. It isn’t this weird singleton concept. _Every minority study field_ involves the concept of Privilege, as described in the essay, at some level. It is _solid_.

    Nobody says it’s easy to deal with, Rob, but denying that it could have possibly had any effect on your life, or where you are, or essentially that it exists as a pervasive thing… that’s not exactly a ‘eyes open’ mindset.

    (And yes, that entire thread was just a goddamn mess. Sometimes even I know when to stay out.)

    -Mecha

  21. #21 JuliaL
    June 14, 2007

    Lab Lemming,

    ” juggle her need to spend a lot of time working — to get those papers and grant proposals written! — against the dangers of leaving her office late at night.”
    Fortunately for her, as a women she is statistically less likely to get assaulted than a young single man.

    And Janne,

    the premise was “walking home alone” which rather excludes the date rape scenario. And even if you include it, young men are still more likely to be victims of violent assault than young women.

    If I understand you correctly, you are both suggesting that if two people, one male and one female, work late on papers, grants applications, etc. and leave a campus building late at night and walk in opposite directions (assuming that each direction is equally dangerous/safe) so that each is alone, the male is more likely to be assaulted than the female? Now that’s interesting. Could you give a source for that?

  22. #22 Chris' Wills
    June 14, 2007

    http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/8/4/321

    “The proportion of patients attending A&E identified as victims of assault in this study (2.6%) is similar to other studies in the United Kingdom (2.4% and 2.9%), although our proportion of female victims (26%) is higher than in previous studies”

    So in this study 74% of those recorded as being assaulted are male, it even mentions that the 26% figure for females being assaulted is higher than in other studies.

  23. #23 Anonymous
    June 14, 2007

    I think there are two common ways the word “privilege” is used. One is what Rob has in mind: a privilege is a special favor to which one has no intrinsic right. A privilege can be revoked if granting it is inconvenient, while a right cannot be. If you say somebody got ahead in life through special privileges, then that suggests that he/she didn’t really deserve to end up there.

    However, there’s a different use of the word “privilege”. Compared to many people, most of us in this discussion are greatly privileged never to have had to worry about getting enough to eat. This is also a standard use of the word, to refer simply to benefits not shared by everybody. There is no implication that the benefits are undeserved, and in fact often there is the suggestion that everybody deserves such benefits.

    This second meaning is what “white privilege” and “male privilege” refer to, at least as I use them. They aren’t intended as an accusation of undeserved gain (in some cases there may be undeserved gain, but that’s secondary). Instead, they are a reminder that white men have the privilege of being able to ignore issues that are a constant bother to much of the rest of humanity. It’s tempting for white men to say “Hey, I don’t consciously discriminate, so I play no role in this. What happens in the rest of the world is not my problem.” Rephrasing things by talking about white male privilege rather than everyone else’s lack of privilege is a way of focusing attention on white men, so they can’t easily avoid reflecting on society and how this privilege can be extended universally.

    Unfortunately, the term “privilege” has other, loaded associations, as Rob points out. Is there a better term that plays the same role? I’d be very happy to learn one.

  24. #24 Luna_the_cat
    June 14, 2007

    Rather than jump into the feminist-vs.-privilege fray at the moment, I’d just like to stick in a comment on one of the hurts underlying your rant, to my perception, anyway.

    Rob — good luck; I hope, I really hope, that something comes up and you don’t have to leave a field you obviously love. It’s a primitive and useless superstition, but nevertheless I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you.

    I’ll jump into the “privilege” fray later.

  25. #25 Annie
    June 14, 2007

    From the small bit of research I’ve done, it seems that studies on *sexual* assault are going to great lengths to determine the number of sexual assaults that go unreported, occur at home, are perpetrated by husband/boyfriend, etc., while the studies I’m able to find on general assault statistics are looking at assaults that are reported to the police. So I’m finding it difficult to make a comparison. Regardless, I was just using a single example of something I (mistakenly) thought might get a particular point across, and trying to invalidate one point by a nonexpert doesn’t really invalidate the entire area of scholarship.

    And I hardly think the fact that most women will be raped by someone they know actually acts to make women feel safer walking alone at night.

    One part of dealing with such fear can be found in looking at the statistics and likelihoods. But the other part can be found by looking at the stereotypes and the messages sent to women, and the massive amount of personal responsibility for sexual assault that our society assigns to the victims. If you asked a random woman on campus whether she or a male counterpart were safer walking home at night, the answer wouldn’t necessarily reflect police statistics, but it *would* reflect the behaviors that many women feel they have to adopt in order to just function like a normal human being.

  26. #26 Chris' Wills
    June 14, 2007

    …If you asked a random woman on campus whether she or a male counterpart were safer walking home at night, the answer wouldn’t necessarily reflect police statistics, but it *would* reflect the behaviors that many women feel they have to adopt in order to just function like a normal human being.
    Posted by: Annie

    But why does a random woman on campus believe something that police and A&E reports/records show is untrue?

    Surely this needs to be addressed as it is obviouslly a bad thing that people adopt behaviour that isn’t required and can cause stress.

    Now being white, male and British I should probably shut-up; but isn’t it, at least, a possibility that the problem has in small part been caused by the demonisation of males by some.

  27. #27 Nicole
    June 14, 2007

    Rob, if you need to take a break from caring about the inequalities in society to take care of your own personal situation for awhile, so be it. I do know what that’s like. Luckily, you are able to do that, as someone else said. Of course you shouldn’t feel guilty about that situation, you had nothing to do with it. Just live for awhile, and take care of yourself.

    I know you think your situation sucks. On some level it does. But try to remember that just getting a faculty position not long after your PhD (at least I don’t think it was very long for you, not like 6-9 years as I’ve seen) was incredibly not-sucky. I’m not very good at giving wise advice, so I’ll stop there. Basically, you did your best, life is not fair, you need to make decisions based on what life presents, and not worry too much about what it didn’t present.

  28. #28 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    I don’t see why you’re drawing the distinction.

    Because Annie was talking about the fear of going outside at night going home from the office– which is fear of the latter sort of of assault, not of date rape. Hence the relevance.

  29. #29 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    “and it has been implied that perhaps I shouldn’t have gotten as far as I did. Well, foo.”

    … wow. It is impressive you can be dismissive of the concept, while being an ally, isn’t it?

    HELlo?

    I was “foo”ing the notion that I shouldn’t have gotten as far as I did.

    Is THAT what the field of gender studies says? Because if so, then, what a weird field.

  30. #30 Annie
    June 14, 2007

    Chris — again, that’s a really, really large question, and this is something that feminist and gender studies tries to look at. But your last sentence could be rephrased in a thousand ways: “Isn’t it at least a possibility that the problem has in small part been caused by the difficulty of actually prosecuting a rape?” “Isn’t it at least a possibility that the problem has in small part been caused by the fact that even people trying to be on the side of right will argue that date rape is somehow ‘not the same’ as the stereotypical violent stranger rape?” “Isn’t it at least a possibility that the problem has in small part been caused by campaigns to encourage women to not go out at night alone and not to drink alcohol in public, thereby blaming victims for crimes perpetrated against them — campaigns promoted in part by *their own campuses* as well as by the very police stations that should apparently know that young men are more likely to be assaulted?”

    And if we accept the statistic that around 20% of women will be raped throughout their college careers and around 25% overall, then I think (but I’m not sure) that statistics showing that young men are assaulted around 3 times more frequently than young women *cannot be counting this particular brand of assault*. And, again, the fact that so very many women are assaulted, sexually harassed, and stalked creates a climate of fear (and not having to deal with that climate on a daily basis is one aspect of privilege) that isn’t going to disappear when a woman is in a dark parking lot just because, statistically, she’s much less safe at home.

  31. #31 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    Unfortunately, the term “privilege” has other, loaded associations, as Rob points out.

    This is where I’m coming from.

    No, I haven’t read all that literature. I can’t keep up with the literature in my own field.

    But privilege means two things to me. First, the implication of undeserving; and Zuska DID imply that in the comments. Second, consider terms like “driving privileges” or “library privileges.” These are things that, if you have them, you HAVE THEM. That’s different from an advantage.

    If the field of gender studies and the ranters over at Zuska’s blog are using “privilege” as a synonym for “advantage,” they sure aren’t communicating it to most of us.

    -Rob

  32. #32 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    But try to remember that just getting a faculty position not long after your PhD (at least I don’t think it was very long for you, not like 6-9 years as I’ve seen)

    Actually, in Physics, for the most part you get it after 2 to 6 years of post-doc, or you never get it. I was right in the middle of that (5 years of a single post-doc– which is rare, 2-3 years on a single post-doc, or two post-docs of 2-3 years each is far more common).

    -Rob

  33. #33 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    Look, folks, the statistics of men vs. women getting assaulted is completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

    The FACT is, that no sane person would deny, most of us understand a woman walking alone at night to be in more danger than a man walking alone at night. Whatever the real statistics are, that’s a greater burden on the woman working late at night than the man working late at night.

    -Rob

  34. #34 Annie
    June 14, 2007

    Rob, my earlier point was that people could say we astronomers aren’t doing a good job of communicating to the public the difference between “scientific theory” and “idea that is totally made up to the point that it can be refuted by straw man arguments.” That doesn’t actually make us incorrect.

  35. #35 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    Nobody says it’s easy to deal with, Rob, but denying that it could have possibly had any effect on your life, or where you are, or essentially that it exists as a pervasive thing… that’s not exactly a ‘eyes open’ mindset.

    And, by the way, where have I done this?

    Right here you are a find example of exactly the sort of shit I’m complaining about.

    I don’t like some of the tactics, and I find that some of the language is bothersome– even if the problem is that I don’t understand what the language is supposed to mean, that’s my reaction.

    And this gets twisted into my denying that there’s a problem!!!!! Wake up and pay attention to the huge number of things I’ve said!

    I mean, geez. This is EXACTLY what I’m talking about when I say “If you aren’t a part of the witch hunt, you’re a part of the problem.”

    -Rob

  36. #36 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    Rob, my earlier point was that people could say we astronomers aren’t doing a good job of communicating to the public the difference between “scientific theory” and “idea that is totally made up to the point that it can be refuted by straw man arguments.” That doesn’t actually make us incorrect.

    This thread is too tangled now. I have no idea exactly what you’re referring to here. I do know the earlier comparison and my reply you were referring to, but “That doesn’t actually make us incorrect” is in comparison to which other comment?

    -Rob

  37. #37 Annie
    June 14, 2007

    Rob — I don’t want to stress you out any more — this is your blog after all! But if you’re interested, I’d like to discuss with you why I see a difference between the term “privilege” and the term “advantage.” Or you could email me and we could talk off-blog.

  38. #38 Chris' Wills
    June 14, 2007

    Annie – I was trying to point out, obviously poorly, that the message sent out to women is perhaps engendering uneccesary fear & loathing. When I see/hear statements that “all men are rapists” or even “all men have the potential to be rapists” and I have heard such things being stated, then men are treated as a threat and an enemy from the outset.

    The comment I made was serious and for you to poo poo it the way you did was both demeaning to me and silly. What happens on dates and at home has little relevance to walking home from work.

    Oh yes, have a quick check to see what percentage of males (not limited to those in college) will be raped and/or sexually assaulted. From the way you post you appear to be saying that it is insignificant or perhaps it doesn’t concern you.
    http://www.malesurvivor.org/default.html
    http://www.aest.org.uk/survivors/male/myths_about_male_rape.htm

    You say this examining such things is what feminist and gender studies does. How many white, males are employed as senior tenured academics in gender and feminist studies or is it classed as a minority space?

    No matter, I’ll just wander back to my bungalow as it is going home time.

  39. #39 Annie
    June 14, 2007

    Chris, I didn’t dismiss or poo poo the comment you made; I just pointed out that the questions you asked were part of a much, much larger set of questions, and people can be concerned about *all* of them.

    And I absolutely said nothing that implied that I did not think sexual assault of male victims was insignificant.

  40. #40 mollishka
    June 14, 2007

    … and overnight the comments got too long for me to read, so I’ll be brief: for once, I actually agree with Rob on a post about gender. The reasons he lists here are just a few of the many (somewhat similar ones) why I find most feminists annoying and do not consider myself one.

  41. #41 Mecha
    June 14, 2007

    Yeah, people going off into tangents about rape stats never really help a discussion. Anyway. Here we go, hopefully for the last time.

    Rob, you deny that privilege means that you maybe, maybe, MAYBE, might not completely, 100% deserve, every last thing you have. You argue with the ‘loadedness’ of the term, because it implies that some things may have come your way that you may not deserve. Here I am going to point out how privilege _does_ benefit you AND disadvantage others, why it _is_ a good word, and how you _are_ denying the inequalities of the world by fighting it. Although not in that order.

    The criticisms you are bringing up are the same ones in the Wikipedia article on White Privilege. You ‘don’t feel you have privilege.’ You feel like you’re being blamed for all the inequalities in the world.

    Look at the White Privilege list again. As I have said, MULTIPLE TIMES NOW, there are privileges which everyone should have (which you see), and privileges which are actively controlling/damaging (which nobody should have.)

    Compare:

    If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.

    To:

    I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.

    The first is something that only majorities would get, but it would be _lovely_ if everyone had. That’s the kind of privilege you think exists, that you talk about so you should say that minorities are ‘disprivileged’ or something.

    But then there’s the second. They’re being disadvantaged and you’re being advantaged. That’s another privilege. And it has a cost. And whites generally benefit from it. Other people brought up examples of that in Zuska’s blog for male/female.

    (There are other examples of this comparison in the list. The author of the list TALKS ABOUT THIS FACT. It is getting real frustrating to explain things repeatedly, and just be told, ‘But no!’)

    You act like we’re pulling beliefs from you you don’t espouse. But you are the one who said that privilege doesn’t help you, it only hurts minorities (in Zuska’s thread, especially.) You’re the one who’s arguing that a part of the technical language of an entire discipline is not _good enough for you_, despite it meaning _exactly what it says_. Let’s look at a dictionary… I’ll just pick m-w.com. Reasonable enough, I hope.

    Privilege: a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.

    Society has _given_ you the _right_ to not have to deal with minorities above you, the unassumed belief that that will happen. (Both of those emphasized words are important. Given AND Right.) The _right_ to feel you can speak up in any forum, or do most anything. Come on. Tell me that you were told, by the entirety of society, there were things you couldn’t do. Places you couldn’t go. TV programs which made it clear that you couldn’t be a hero, because you weren’t represented.

    These are all advantages, sure. You like the word advantage. But they are more than that. They are _granted_. Given. They come from the abstract society. The fact that they call it privilege is a way to say _it isn’t your fault_. It _comes from elsewhere_. That is what the word privilege means. Granted. Given. Conferred upon you. _Not innate_. Advantages can be anything. You can be born with an advantage. Privileges can _only be given_. And they have been given. To you, to me, to most people. And using the word _privilege_ instead of _advantage_ makes it clear that it is _not inherent to you as a person, but only to you as exists in our inequal society_. Please, please tell me that makes it clear. I don’t think anyone’s ever laid it out that clearly for me, but I don’t know if you can lay it out any CLEARER.

    The fact you continue to _fight_ the concept that you have done _anything_ but earn 100% of what you have _is_ denying that there’s a problem. Maybe you would have only gotten 90% of what you have in a equal world. Or 50%. Or 100%. We _can’t be sure_, so most people do not _specifically go_ ‘You got that because of your privilege.’ (Especially in the general. You can only look at specific situations and be sure. But such arguments are always iffy.)

    But you, no. You are _denying the concept of inequality_ in deed, while saying there’s inequality in word. That is what it means to disagree with a basic premise, strangely enough. Really. Truly. Just as if someone denied macroevolution, but said ‘I still believe in evolution.’ Uh, no. (Go ahead and look around Scienceblogs. You’ll find plenty of commentary agreeing with _that_.) Where do you think the inequality comes from? How do you think it is expressed? In the privileges that people are given from society. In the societal beliefs and standards that say white males can do most anything (Except, perhaps, play basketball 9_9) and people of other races and sexes can’t do this, or that, or are violent, or angry, or emotional. The inequalities you would likely agree with, in _concept_, all are intricately tied into the concept of privilege.

    As such, if you do not believe in privilege, then you are missing the fact that there are things in this unequal world that benefit you, and your race/sex/creed, that some of the things you get come from things that others do not get. You are denying a body of work. Etc, etc, etc. That is where I am pulling it from. Because that’s what it means to say ‘No, you are completely wrong on my say so.’

    The fact that privilege is _granted_ means that you do not have to take responsibility for _having_ it. How can you? It was given to you by someone else. You are not to blame for privilege existing, you weren’t one of the many who perpetuated it in the past. What you are to blame for, if anything, is if you perpetuate it now. Do you do that? I don’t know in other aspects of your life. You seem like you’re not trying to. But, in your words, insisting that there is nothing in your life you gained out of the benefit of your race or sex, even a little… yeah. I’m sorry, it sorta does feel as it if hurts. It hurts your case for equality. It hurts because it says that the society which told you that your sex, your color, is normal and pretty and smart enough to do anything… that that doesn’t disadvantage anyone. Saying that there’s nothing you can do. Saying that the literature is wrong. Denying anything but your (now admittedly, since you said you couldn’t keep up with even the basics of the research and terms) somewhat uninformed opinion.

    That’s… not a positive thing. I would like to see how you would argue it _is_.

    To cut off a response of sorts, the argument that some people are not perfect advocates is a _separate_ argument, however, it is what I currently call a ‘second level’ argument, which cannot be engaged until you agree with and know the premises to a large degree. As such, I have mainly tried not to deal with it here. But criticizing form the outside is not always the most effective way, and not admitting to the basics of the theory… puts you on the outside. And there’s nothing I can do about that but point it out. Sorry.

    *sighs noisily* I have to get to work. I can’t keep rehashing things with you, Rob. And, like Annie, I don’t think that this format is helping all that much. If you want to take this to e-mail, you’ve got my e-mail in the entry log. But I felt that this post would at least provide some clarity on its own. (Some… very long clarity. Oy. I do ramble.)

    -Mecha

  42. #42 jeffk
    June 14, 2007

    Good post Rob; I feel very much the same way you do.

    Several posters have basically said, “being able to stick your head in the sand is a great priviledge”. This, is absolutely true. But what’s also absolutely true is that those posters stick their heads in the sand when it comes to the billions of other forms of injustice in the world, be it African babies with AIDS or genocide in Darfur or on the other end of the spectrum but closer to home, atheists in the United States being chased out of small towns.

    We all have to life our lives while working for change as much as we can. The world isn’t going to change tomorrow; it won’t change in our lifetimes, and few people are good enough people to make the entirety of their only shot at existence completely self-sacrificing. I know that some of what I have is due to my male priviledge and that’s unjust; and I’m keeping it anyways! … while continueing to devote time and energy to thinking about and fighting for feminist issues. In one sense, that is ethically wrong; in another, it makes me more of an ally than 99% of the other males out there and every time I get angrily harassed for taking issue with a subtlety of Zuska or another feminist’s argument, it just makes me want to quit trying.

  43. #43 Mecha
    June 14, 2007

    Jeff: You’re assuming that because they’re talking about one thing, they can’t be doing anything else. That’s patently false. It’s a very good dismissal tactic, too. ‘Isn’t there something more important?’ ‘Why haven’t you given up all your money to the poor, and be poor yourself? Is it because you hate poor people?’ But that’s not what most sane people espouse. (Not even most feminists.)

    And there are differences between ‘arguing subtleties’ and ‘denying the effects of privilege.’ Seriously. I’m familiar with the difficulties of arguing subtleties, but Rob’s argument that there are no privileges, only ‘disprivileges’ is disingenous. The argument that privilege is a ‘loaded word’ is clearly a bit off, as per the definition of privilege. Etc, etc. And how can you argue ‘subtleties’ effectively… if you don’t read/get the literature/basis?

    It all seems more like just venting/complaining. Which is more or less fine. Right until you start trying to justify it, as Rob has done. Then it’s real.

    -Mecha

  44. #44 Panya
    June 14, 2007

    Rob,
    Forget all that for right now (but I reiterate my eternal thanks for the existence of even /one/ man like you in the world — and you’re but one of several equally wonderful men I know!) — forget all this, and look forward to Hypericon, where there will be adoring masses ohhing and ahhing over your scientific genius. Have a little salve for your wounded pride. /hugs

    *deleted commentary to Mecha*

  45. #45 jeffk
    June 14, 2007

    To clarify, I’m not signing on to the entire thing with Rob’s discussion of priviledge, I’m identifying with his frustrations in trying to be a male feminist. I know the dismissal tactic you speak of, and I don’t think I’m using it. I’m pointing out the realities of being a human being. I’m not saying feminism isn’t important. I’m saying that a good person lives their own life while doing all sorts of things for various causes, and there’s only so much of a particular person to go around.

  46. #46 Mecha
    June 14, 2007

    Jeff: Okay, fair enough. I think I was a bit overready to reply to you on that one in a thread dealing with ‘close-but-not-quite’. You’re right on the base that there isn’t enough of anyone to go around.

    I think the mindset that ‘I know I have male privilege and I’m keeping it’ is a little odd, and caught me enough to want to respond (why say so strongly that you ‘keep’ it?) But this gets into more philosophy than stricter arguments (what kind of activism is best? etc.), and this isn’t really the forum.

    -Mecha

  47. #47 Lab Lemming
    June 14, 2007

    Rob:
    At the risk of being rude, how much will the scientific establishment care about your level of advocacy if you leave academia? Do ex-academics have any practical leverage to effect change inside the ivory tower?

    Mecha:
    Your value system doesn’t seem to have a lot in it for us dead white males. Is there any redeeming feature (from our POV) to prevent us from dismissing it as contrary to our interests?

  48. #48 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    Mecha–

    I’m REALLY not interested in talking to you in particular about this any more.

  49. #49 Mecha
    June 14, 2007

    Lemming: As Rob isn’t interested in talking to me anymore, this’ll be my final post on this thread. (I won’t talk about any of the other topics, I don’t want to play a last word game.)

    What’s in it for white males (I’m assuming you’re not dead?) I thought that question was answered already. Real equality. Recognizing privilege, and how it has benefitted you, is part of tearing down the inequalities through personal action and societal change. It does require giving some things up (hiring inequality, stereotypical beliefs about ), but it also means gaining some things too (freedom to be as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ as you want, the ability to relate to women without them being explicitly afraid of rape or sex pressure just because you’re a man because society told them that’s what men want.) It’s a real complex situation, and I can’t go into it in detail. But nobody says it’s easy.

    -Mecha

  50. #50 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    At the risk of being rude, how much will the scientific establishment care about your level of advocacy if you leave academia?

    It won’t matter one iota.

    It doesn’t really matter now.

    My point is not that I’m so valuable that people have to avoid pissing me off to keep me on their side. My point is that what I’m experiencing is something that a lot of people experience. They would fight for the cause, except that there is at *least* the perception, and I argue the reality, that if you don’t fight to the extremes that are demanded by the “witch hunt” crowd, you end up being tarred by them as just one more part of the problem. Which is frustrating and disheartening and tends to make people throw up their hands. Which, in turn, hurts the cause in long run.

    It’s not about me. I’m just one junior guy, who will never make a whole lot of difference. It’s about how many people are being driven away, and I suspect that number is not insignificant. It’s also about just civil behavior.

    -Rob

  51. #51 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    Your value system doesn’t seem to have a lot in it for us dead white males. Is there any redeeming feature (from our POV) to prevent us from dismissing it as contrary to our interests?

    This is the wrong question. I hate this question. I also hate the answers that are tailored to this question, because they indicate that this question is being asked as if it were legitimate.

    What ever happened to fundamental fairness and justice? I mean, sheesh, even if there were nothing in it for you, that should be enough. But it’s also generally true that if you’re in a system that’s just and fair, you’re less likely to suddenly find yourself on the wrong side of it and thereby stepped upon.

    Whenever I read “we need the ‘best possible’ people and therefore the biggest talent pool,” it irritates me. First, because given the huge overproduction of (at least) Physics PhDs right now, size of talent pool is not the problem; *composition* of the talent pool is the problem. This argument is just not convincing. However, it’s made as a direct answer to the white guys who ask, “what’s in it for us?” It really, really irritates me that “um, being fair and just?” isn’t a good enough answer, that they must have some personal benefit to consider doing the right thing….

    -Rob

  52. #52 semcsquared
    June 14, 2007

    Ignoring all the comments above, I do have something to say.

    Thank you.

    I suppose I don’t have a right to ask you to not give up, because I have, but it would be nice if you didn’t.

    I’m a young woman who just finished her B.S. in mathematics and physics, and I’ll be coming (surprise!) to Vanderbilt this coming fall for graduate school, but not in math or physics. I liked my undergraduate coursework, but an REU was all it took to scare me out of trying for a Ph.D. in physics, which had been my plan. Between all the nastiness between the faculty and the general attitude toward women, it was too much. I really like physics; I knew I would major in it from the time I was in middle school, but to me, it’s not worth putting up with that atmosphere and those attitudes.

    I really appreciate that you’re trying to make a difference in all that. Maybe when it comes time for my nieces to make decisions about their education, conditions will have improved.

  53. #53 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    Between all the nastiness between the faculty and the general attitude toward women, it was too much.

    It’s very sad, but there’s reality to both of these things.

    Re: nastiness between faculty and that sort of atmosphere (leaving aside gender issues for the moment), it’s to some degree everywhere, but varies a great deal. Six years ago at Vanderbilt, it was horrible in my department. Now… well, it’s still there, but much, much better. Some places are better than others, and it’s a matter of finding the right place and time. Which is not at all easy, especially since finding a job at all is very difficult.

    Re: the women issues, I am optimistic enough to think that it’s getting better and continues to get better. Things are still not where we want them to be, but, for instance, talking to Meg Urry, things are a lot better now than they were 20 years ago. What’s more, the issue has been raised, is on the radar of many college administrations (which, granted, are more interested in appearances than reality) and is on the radar of the American Physical Society.

    What field are you going to graduate school in?

    -Rob

  54. #54 Agnostic
    June 14, 2007

    Privilege / advantage has little to do with the male-female disparity. Before women’s liberation, females earned proportionally more Nobel Prizes, for example, and it’s from that era that we had Emmy Noether, Sonya Kovalevskaya, Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie, etc. Same is true for the visual and literary arts. That was when smart, determined women had few options available: artist, scientist, or teacher.

    Women have complete freedom to choose their careers now, and they are urged and often bullied into those where women are “historically underrepresented.” So why fewer greats — the kind who are so dedicated to science that they’re not going to wimp out on their way to a tenure-track job? Because women more than men prefer jobs other than grown-up nerd jobs, even when you restrict the focus to intellectually gifted and determined individuals. Females more than males are interested in people and helping rather than things and figuring stuff out. Females more than males prefer to work fewer hours per week.

    Most non-scientist females you talk to in private find the “women in science” activists condescending — like, “don’t tell me I have to solve equations for a living just to show the boys I can do it too.” And it is rather patronizing, as though women are free to choose — but only within the narrow range the activists allow.

    If you want to do your part to get more females into science, have kids by a smart, hard-working female scientist, and insulate your daughters as much as possible from social pressures that would steer them in the direction of careers that girls more than boys tend to be interested in: PR, advertising, publishing, nursing, etc. Law is another brain-killer. Tell them you won’t pay for college unless they major in science or math, although they’d be free to double-major in something useless if they wanted.

    You’ll have to walk a find line between restricting their choices (since you don’t want them to join an Ad firm) and not being patronizing. I think forcing them to do science work up through undergrad, while allowing them to do other things and ultimately choose their career afterwards, is the right approach. “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” rather than unrelenting social shaming to the effect of “You don’t want the boys to think you’re stupid, do you?”

  55. #55 jeffk
    June 14, 2007

    I’m not keeping my male priviledge – or at least aspects of it – to be a prick. The statement was simply to point out that you keep your American privilege, or perhaps (and I don’t know your story but this is probably true for other feminists) your white priviledge, or middle-class priviledge, or physicially attractive priviledge, or intellectual priviledge – the list goes on and on. The only way to never keep *any* priviledge in the literal sense would be to hop the next plane – or better yet, canoe – to Ethiopia and start farming.

    I keep my male priviledge – if my status as a graduate student means such a thing, or to whatever degree it does – because it allows me to do all sorts of ethically good things, like use my meager stipend to eat all organic, mostly local food, and advance the cause of science.

    The point is we all have to make choices, and set priorities. And just because a guy doesn’t throw himself on the altar of feminism – whatever that would entail, but in the case discussed on Zuska’s blog, essentially making his job search significantly more difficult to remedy a problem caused by someone with much more power – doesn’t mean they are not a supporter, and doesn’t mean they are an enemy. The only reason these people – the man from the other blog, me, Rob – get heaps of animosity is because they’re convenient targets, having wandered into the, as it was described, hornet’s nest.

  56. #56 jeffk
    June 14, 2007

    To avoid a serious aside, “intellectual priviledge” should not have been included in my list in the post above, and I understand the mistake, so please disregard it.

  57. #57 Drugmonkey
    June 14, 2007

    Game on.
    Rob, you mistake my point or you are straw-ifying it. I am not, repeat NOT, suggesting, in my position with respect to talent pool, that we need to increase the size of the pool of people in training. We need to improve the “composition” of the pools, as you have it, at every level. This is not a cap on the deficiencies of “kids these days” in training or anything of the sort. It is a longer view and perhaps an optimistic one that there is always someone great just around the corner.

    The underlying assumption is that barriers, of whatever variety, will have the potential to keep that next genius (or even bunch of merely great scientists) out of our respective field. Therefore, I favor the lowering of systematic barriers so that the normal process of cream-rising-to-the-top may proceed with less impairment. The one I’m focused on is the entry card to independent work (aka RealJob), yes. Transition for biomedical postdocs and survival for junior faculty (you should be with me there). But the principle applies to all categories of systematic barrier. More importantly, the fight against, in essence, old-boy-ism and status quo and for the triumph of ideas/approach/potential over nebulous ideas of “track record” will have the inevitable effect of attacking barriers based on gender, race, likely orientation as well.

    In case you are still not getting it, the sports analogy is just so bloody apt. Can anyone say that golf would be anywhere near as fun as it has been in the last decade without Tiger? Remember how the Williams sisters absolutely galvanized women’s tennis at first? Are you, as I am, eagerly anticipating when the trickle of African-Am/Can’s in the NHL turns into the inevitable avalanche? Chinese women are starting to break into international cycling and ooo, it’s gonna be good! It isn’t that these things always develop because loads more people are in a sport. Scads of young African-American youth started signing up for golf and tennis after Tiger/Williamses, not before. Progress is made because the systematic barriers have been lowered such that the rare talent / driven person can succeed as they “should”. Unimpeded by irrelevant crap.

    Now that is “fair”. And that is “what’s in it for me”. Note however, that at my current level, the thing I am in favor of is in direct opposition to my personal career. I should be arguing for fewer people competing for grants and ginning the system so that people who are “lesser” than me on paper credentials (i.e., don’t have a RealJob) are systematically hosed.

    But here’s the thing Rob. If junior scientists in my field come up and complain to me that I am not doing enough to change things, I’m not going to get all red about it. I’m not going to threaten to put my head in the sand and stop working for their advantage in what little ways I can. Because I think that my approach is right. It is my proper professional behavior. It is fair as well. This is why I do it. Not because disgruntled postdocs pat me on the back.

    And this is why you should ignore your version of disgruntled postdoc, because you know what you are doing is right and it is what you can manage to do in this short life.

    oh and, “you don’t understand privilege because you aren’t educated in FeministTheory(tm)”? I’ll go ahead and call bullshit for you Rob since you already took on the post mod crowd. Good gravy. This “you can’t understand unless you are a believer and acolyte” business is just exactly like theological denial of science. “we don’t have to convince you because you are OppressorMan and evil and can’t be changed anyway”? ditto. “we need our own space (read, House of Worship, Sun at 10) to rant”? ditto, ditto, ditto.

  58. #58 Lisa
    June 14, 2007

    It’s easy to get caught up discussing a few contentious details, and every argument has people on the extreme ends of it (you should worry a bit, I think, if you’re the one putting out the most extreme position you can find on an issue), but it seems that a lot of people here agree about the big picture. So in light of that, I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your blog and you are doing a great job!

  59. #59 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    The underlying assumption is that barriers, of whatever variety, will have the potential to keep that next genius (or even bunch of merely great scientists) out of our respective field. Therefore, I favor the lowering of systematic barriers so that the normal process of cream-rising-to-the-top may proceed with less impairment.

    I’m fully with you on this.

    The problem is that when we talk about having the “best possible people,” it’s not realistic. First, while I’m completely with you that we don’t want to keep the next genius out, there are very few actual geniuses who make contributions to science. Most of them are good, talented, hardworking people. I submit that we really don’t know how to figure out who is “the best.” The metrics that are used by the people who want to tell us that women have less intrinsic aptitude are clearly BS. But I don’t think we have *any* good metric. Different people bring different things to the table, and it’s often very hard to judge them all together. Indeed, that right there is an argument for diversifying the talent pool.

    Too often I heard this argument made in terms of “we need the biggest possible talent pool.” I think that’s the wrong way to state it. We need to avoid gratuitous barriers to the talent pool.

    -Rob

  60. #60 Counterfly
    June 14, 2007

    I really wish people would spell privilege correctly, in this of all threads. It’s burning my eyes.

  61. #61 Rob Knop
    June 14, 2007

    Counterfly — I have to catch myself every time, because it’s a word that I tend to misspell….

    I have mostly tried to spell it right, but have probably goofed up at some point.

  62. #62 IER
    June 14, 2007

    Rob,
    I want to thank you for your insightful prior posts about women in science. I’m a female grad student in physics and it helped a lot to see that there are men out there who care about this and are aware.
    I do agree with you that Zuska exagerated on her post and I still don’t understand what they expect the young scientists to do. In my view they are bitter and angry for a reason, but this anger makes them sometimes unreasonable.
    Best wishes with your tenure and I hope you will not start sticking your head in the sand after all.

  63. #63 Eleftherios Gkioulekas
    June 14, 2007

    Dear Rob,

    Welcome to the “feminazi” world! I met my first feminazi when I was 18, so I learned quickly. Basically “privilige” is goodfact for the word “opportunity” in realfact. It is true and very sad that some get less opportunities than others. BUT, what you accomplish with the opportunities you’re dealt with is YOUR accomplishment! The feminazis don’t see it that way, and that is deeply offensive to any person who has accomplished anything by working his(/her/it) ass off.

    The best medicine for all this crap is here

    Best wishes.

  64. #64 Jenn
    June 14, 2007

    Of all the comments above the one that really struck me was:

    “The reasons he lists here are just a few of the many (somewhat similar ones) why I find most feminists annoying and do not consider myself one.”

    by mollishka

    This whole thing suddenly struck me as a variant of the ever rampant “fundamentalist vs. moderate” debate. Do you stop being Christian because some fundamentalist Christians damns you to Hell because they don’t think that you are Christian enough? And in a similar vein I know of some Christians who would never put someone down for believing differently than they do who are wary of admitting they are Christian because of the perception other people have of that title that is due to previous bad experiences with vocally disapproving fundamentalist sorts. Isn’t that actually contributing to the poor view some people have of Christianity?

    I’m not denying that language is powerful – it is – but with the more radical components setting the tone of what a given label stands for it feels some times that the whole debate descends into an argument of semantics that really gets us nowhere.

    But to jump on the semantics band wagon anyway…

    My main experience so far is that male colleagues are given more credit at the start. They are more likely to be heard and believed sooner than me and my female colleagues. The women can earn the credit by working to make themselves heard and once the credit is earned, at least in this respect with the person in question, the playing field seems to even out. This doesn’t imply that the men don’t and don’t need to say intelligent things – credit can be lost as well as gained. This doesn’t negate the work done by men but it does mean more work is required by women for the same reward. Is that an advantage or is it that the men have the privilege of starting out by being given more credit? Does it matter? The fact that in some cases you may not have had to work as hard doesn’t mean that you didn’t work hard and doesn’t negate what is done.

    If you are running a marathon and one racer starts 10 feet ahead of the other is one at an advantage? Or is one at a disadvantage? I’m sure the perception or the situation depends a lot on the position of the runner and their attitude. Now what if the runner who has to run 10 less feet is starting exactly at the 26 mile mark – does this change the perception of the situation any? The subjectivity of the whole thing is a nightmare and just complicates the whole issue.

  65. #65 Nicole
    June 15, 2007

    For the regular person who does not know anything about feminist theory, I think the advantage of the concept of “privilege” is that it redefines the norm, instead of the norm always being white Christian male. Using “discrimination” has the white Christian male as the “normal” vantage point, which I think some see as part of the entire problem. I still use the term however, as I also use the term “privilege”, and I hope it balances out.

  66. #66 Alexis
    June 15, 2007

    Oh. jeffk. jeffk. There’s a difference between wandering into the hornet’s nest and poking it with a stick.

  67. #67 PhysioProf
    June 17, 2007

    “‘Privilege.’ What they mean by that privilege is not being discriminated against.”

    Actually, I’m pretty sure that is not exactly what people like Zuska, Absinthe, et al. mean by “privilege”, although it is part of it.

    As I understand their view, male privilege is not simply the absence of discrimination. It is also the presence of a whole set of systematic structural features of the scientific enterprise–and society at large–that support the success of men at the expense of women.

    Under this view, discrimination is only one of these structural features.

  68. #68 nobody
    June 18, 2007

    Shooken?

  69. #69 BetaCandy
    June 21, 2007

    I don’t have much to add, but I noticed no one attempted to guess where Professor A might have been coming from. It’s quite possible she had unreasonable expectations of you. That happens.

    But was there any chance she might EVER be in a position to take orders from Professor B? If so, do you have any idea what it’s like to be asked out by someone who might someday be your boss, and bear the burden of rejecting him, perhaps not knowing him well enough to guess whether he’ll take that in stride or hold it against you down the line? It’s not a situation men commonly deal with. It is a situation women encounter. It’s… a lot more stressful than it sounds, sometimes. Seriously.

    It’s possible something like this was part of the issue, which would explain why it wasn’t obvious to you, and why it wasn’t obvious to her that you didn’t perceive a problem. And YES, this is because you have the privilege of not being in the group that historically relied on the other group for pretty much everything (in exchange for sex).

    But like others said, privilege is not the big deal you’re making it out to be. Everyone has SOME privileges. I’m white and heterosexual, so if I don’t want to think about race issues or queer issues, I can just happily tune out – there’s my privilege. But I’m a woman, too, so there’s a non-privilege I have to cope with. I’m sure you have some things that have worked against you as well as things that have worked for you. Most of us have a little of both.

  70. #70 Rob Knop
    June 21, 2007

    But was there any chance she might EVER be in a position to take orders from Professor B?

    Practically speaking, no.

    But if you’re going to be that severe about it, refusing to accept any risk whatsoever, I don’t understand how anybody can ever ask anybody else out. It’s entirely possible that at some point in the future the two of them might find themselves at a place in life where one of them is taking orders from the other. There’s always some chance, however small.

    There are some cases that are clearly problems — professors asking out grad students in their department, for example. There are some cases that are dangerous gray areas — professors and grad students in completely separate departments dating. There are some cases where the gray area is small enough that insisting that it’s a problem does disservice to the people who are dealing with real problems.

    -Rob

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