Observations of a Nerd


“I am not a pretty girl – that is not what I do.”

Ani DiFranco


A few weeks ago, I received a facebook message. It was from a male admirer of my blog (and his fiancée, coincidentally). In it, he said “You are GORGEOUS, and your tits look absolutely incredible.” I froze. I know it was meant as a compliment, but it made me really uncomfortable. It was a sentiment that was much more muted in other comments I’d gotten. You know, ones like “wow, you’re an amazing writer AND you’re hot?” or “who would have thought a pretty girl could be so good at science?”

Of course, if you point out to any of these people that their comments are sexist, they instantly defend themselves and say that’s not what they meant. They weren’t trying to imply women should be less good at science or writing, they just wanted to say that it’s cool that I’m pretty and nerdy. They think women in science are great.

shirtless blogger.jpg
Is this Brian Switek without the plaid?

But what they fail to realize is the fact that my looks are important enough to comment on is what makes their comments sexist.

Sure, maybe male bloggers get the occasional “you’re hot”. But can Ed Yong or Carl Zimmer say they’ve gotten comments about their packages? Has any fan approached them and heralded their tight abs or buttocks? I’m guessing the answer is no*. No one is amazed that a guy like Eric Johnson is good looking and a good writer, because no one thinks it strange that a good looking guy has other talents, too. Men can look however and do whatever – their intellectual pursuits and their physical appearance aren’t intrinsically linked. But for a woman, everything is linked to how she looks. Everything.

Sexism is a hard thing for me to talk about. My generation likes to think we’re past it. Our great-grandmothers and grandmothers fought to secure women equal pay and the right to vote, and our mothers continued to fight through the feminist movement in the 70s and 80s to ensure that we don’t feel as excluded or put down as they did. That was their fight, their struggle, their blood, sweat and tears. They suffered so I don’t have to.

Growing up I was a tomboy. I went to liberal private schools and was allowed to be as strong minded and bodied as I desired. In college, I had powerful female professors (with kids!) that served as my mentors and role models, and I never once felt like being a woman in science was frowned upon.

So why did I go the the session on women in science blogging? I wasn’t set on attending beforehand. But I was one of the many women who talked to Kate Clancy, and in my conversation with her and Anne and the rest of the women at that table, I realized that, more than ever, I needed to be in that room. I needed to hear the struggles of my fellow female bloggers, even if I haven’t experienced them, and I need to be a part of the conversation. Because even if I haven’t been attacked for my gender on my blog yet, I could, and probably will, be. The battle against inequality was not just my mother and my grandmother’s war; it’s my fight, too.

After all, if you look around at the current science blogosphere, you can’t help but think there’s something wrong. Despite the fact that over half of the attendees at Science Online were women, female bloggers make up a small portion of the high-profile blogging networks. As Jennifer Rohn noted last year, no major blogging network even comes close to a 50/50 male/female ratio. Perhaps it is in part the fault of female bloggers for being too meek, mannered and mild and not shamelessly self-promoting in every way they can – but I doubt it.

Why isn’t there a girl version of Ed Yong or Carl Zimmer? Why is there no woman in the elite list of the most well known science bloggers? The excuse that there aren’t enough high-quality female science writers just doesn’t cut it anymore. They’re out there, and they have been for years. Incredible women like Sheril Kirshenbaum have been standing up and taking the full brunt of the internet’s misogyny with the utmost grace. We have to be honest with ourselves as a community. The problem isn’t that the women aren’t there. It’s that they aren’t being taken as seriously.

Most women I know hate the idea that their gender is a factor in their professional life. A friend of mine and fellow graduate student, for example, recounts angrily how she found out she was referred to by one of the male professors her first year as “the pretty one.” She intentionally wears t-shirts, jeans, and little make up at work to downplay her femininity and be seen as just another graduate student. One of my blogging friends, similarly, has told me she blogs under a pseudonym simply because she wants to take her looks out of the equation.

I’m not so complacent. I shouldn’t have to hide the fact that I am a woman just to be seen as a brilliant scientist or a great writer. And I am young and bull-headed and perhaps just naive enough not to hide. You might notice my looks first, but I’ll be damned if you don’t hear my words, too.

I don’t have the same risk-aversion that other female scientists or science writers might because I haven’t been beaten down or held back. Nor am I timid. Trust me, no one has ever accused me of being too quiet. Call me ambitious, driven, or even a bitch – those words are all compliments in my book – but be certain that I will not allow my gender to prevent me from achieving success.

Clearly, we need to make a change in the science blogging community. I won’t stand up and say I have all the answers. I don’t know how to better encourage other female science bloggers other than to say I’ve got your back. I can’t assuage the fears of those who think if they put their name and face on a blog, they’ll lose credibility or get attacked, other than to lead by example. But maybe I don’t have to do more than that. Perhaps all it will take to tip the scales is a woman who is willing to say “bring it” and is still standing a year later.

Well, then. Bring it.

*I’d comment on whether or not the packages, abs or buttocks of the male bloggers are up to par, but I think I’ll let their wives be the judges instead.

UPDATE: Here is the video of the session:


Perils of Blogging as a Woman under a Real Name from Smartley-Dunn on Vimeo.

Comments

  1. #1 Andrea Kuszewski
    January 25, 2011

    I love you for this post! Well, I already loved you, but love that you wrote this. I think this is part of the issue not as many people want to talk about, which is: Just because I’m a scientist, doesn’t mean I can’t still be feminine.

    I shouldn’t have to dress and act like a man in order to be treated with respect, and for my work to be taken seriously. If people have a hard time dealing with me being a female in the science world, then—they will just have to get over it. We won’t make any progress with this issue in the larger view of it if we are willing to change ourselves into the “version of woman in science” that the most people are comfortable with. I’m with you in saying “bring it”… and I got your back as well. :)

  2. #2 Sachi Wilson
    January 25, 2011

    Good work. It has to be said, again and again, until it sinks in.

  3. #3 HP
    January 25, 2011

    One of the difficulties with pointing to people like Brian or Ed is that when men are set apart and objectified for their looks, the social equation — the power dynamic — means that it plays very differently. Ed was photographed sexily for that British geek calender last year. And Phil Plait posed (nearly) naked for the Skepchick calender (and from the neck down, he’s pretty hot).

    If you simply reverse the genders, you don’t get a comparable situation, because of institutional inequities that aren’t going away anytime soon.

    I’m a white dude with long hair, and one time I was walking down the street in a majority black neighborhood, and as I passed, an older man called me an “ofay hippie.” It stung a tiny bit, because the guy didn’t know me from Adam, but mostly I just laughed at the absurdity of it. Because I’m privileged like that.

    Also, there’s some truth to the stereotypes about white male geek culture — an awful lot of us are socially inept loners with poor hygiene. We may be comfortable with allele frequencies or integrals, but geekdom and social isolation can make anyone an idiot. So you either say nothing, or you take advantage of the distance and anonymity the Internet offers to make a complete ass of yourself.

  4. #4 Jennifer
    January 25, 2011

    Well said.

    My daughter loves your blog, well, as much as a 7 year old, future marine biologist can love it!

    I spend a lot of time with her, showing her what women are capable of, using blogs like yours. Knowing that she’s likely on track to become a scientist of some sort, I don’t want her thinking that science is just for men. I want her to admire the women making strides in science!

    So, carry on!

  5. #5 aN
    January 25, 2011

    Why does it matter whether or not your mentors were women or whether or not they had kids? Also, as a male and a feminist, I can say there is plenty left in the fights you seemed to consider over; for example, women’s pay hideously lags men’s.

  6. #6 Steve Silberman
    January 25, 2011

    This is a great post, Christie. Thank you for writing it.

    I don’t want to say much, because I don’t want male voices dominating this discussion too, but I’ll say this: what my fellow San Franciscans used to call “looksism” is still in play for males too, it’s just much more subtle. And sometimes, it’s not subtle at all. For as young a blog as I have — less than 20 posts — I’ve been ridiculed as fat so many times in comments that it’s one of the reasons that I moderate. (The comment du jour yesterday was, “You’re just an obese loser with a vanity blog. Why did this end up in Google Spotlight along with really important news?”)

    Believe me, when it started happening — after my first couple of posts — I was shocked. I’m not shocked anymore.

    But this is only barely relevant to the point of your post.

  7. #7 EcoPhysioMichelle
    January 25, 2011

    How on earth did this random dude get a good look at your tits anyway? And on what planet does that seem like an acceptable thing to email a stranger about?

    I have gotten my share of off-topic comments about my appearance, but never anything that obviously lecherous.

    Thanks for posting this. It needs to be said.

  8. #8 AR
    January 25, 2011

    I second (or third or whatever-th) the “Great post”! It’s nice to see this out in the open.

    “Why isn’t there a girl version of Ed Yong or Carl Zimmer?”

    I suspect you’re on your way. Good luck with the rest of the journey.

    This post made me examine my own blog choices. On my RSS feed (which includes 10) and those to which I don’t subscribe but check regularly (which adds another 10), you are one of two female bloggers and the only female science blogger. In fact, I couldn’t even name another female science blogger! I was (and am) dismayed by this discovery. Time to revise my reading habits…

  9. #9 HP
    January 25, 2011

    @Steve Silberman: As a fat man (and hairy, and white) myself, I’m still aware that there’s a colossal difference between a man being dismissed for being fat and a woman being dismissed for having great tits.

    You and I could always lose weight and buff up, and no one would think less of our ideas. In fact, they’d think more. Basically, if a woman is in good physical health, with straight teeth, she’s going to have her ideas denigrated.

    On the other hand, if a woman is overweight, or has bad teeth or uneven features, she’s also going to be denigrated. Basically, there’s no way for a woman to have her ideas respected unless she is physically fit and well-groomed and well past menopause.

    So there’s a tiny subset of silver-haired, slender, middle-class, older women who get their ideas taken seriously, but only at the expense of their basic humanity.

    (E.g., Grace Hopper, Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie.)

  10. #10 Shaun Howie
    January 25, 2011

    I’m glad there are women out there who demand respect. By pushing the issue, it’ll become part of the discourse and hopefully will shape a new norm. The average person doesn’t know a scientist personally, much less a female one, so they should treat you like the rare jewel you are. Let the science speak for itself.

  11. #11 Lilian Nattel
    January 25, 2011

    That comment would be inappropriate no matter what you were writing about. It’s an invasion of personal space. I speak as the mom of 2 daughters and as a writer.

  12. #12 Meera
    January 25, 2011

    Hi, Christie—I’m a new reader (and Twitter follower) of yours, as of #scio11. I didn’t attend, but the irresistible force of Bora led me to you. :)

    I wanted to thank you for writing this post, because I’m sure it wasn’t easy to do and I think the conversation it will start is an important one. I’ve been lucky never to have been the victim of sexual discrimination or prejudice in my professional life; I’m a writer by training, and many (though not all) of my mentors and peers have been women. Also, the only photograph of myself I happen to have on my site actually makes me look a little scary, so it’s not one that’s likely to attract comments of the sort you’ve received. ;) (I’m totally flabbergasted by the gall of that Facebook note—I’d have ripped your “admirer” a new one).

    I was really struck by the fact that you wrote this: “Because even if I haven’t been attacked for my gender on my blog yet, I could, and probably will, be.”

    Is it the Facebook comment that makes you feel that way? I mean, the “probably” part? You said that you’d never been held back in your career because of your gender, and that you’ve always had strong female role models. I’m just curious about what exactly it took to override those positives and make you feel like sexism is practically a given in your future. I think what’s worth talking about is how powerful a force seemingly harmless or casual chauvinism (like being complimented on your looks and your work in the same breath, rather than being denied equal pay or opportunities) can be.

  13. #13 becca
    January 25, 2011

    It’s conversations like these that make me wish Ed Yong were more like Chris Mooney. If Ed weren’t such an impossibly nice fellow, I could properly objectify his adorable little tush to make a point.

  14. #14 Kira
    January 25, 2011

    I do a little experiment at the beginning of my summer science class for 3rd graders. I ask them to each draw a scientist. Overwhelmingly, they draw a man in a lab coat performing chemistry experiments(usually with crazy hair).

    While my “experiment” is by no means scientific, it seems that by the time they are only 8, they already have this impression of what a scientist is, and what they do.

    I then use that as a launching pad for a discussion of who scientists are (men, women, even kids can do science in their backyard!) and what some of the many different types of scientists do, which requires them to wear anything from scuba gear to a spacesuit, and everything in between.

    Then, the dramatic twist at the end of the lesson is that I’m not just their teacher, I’m a scientist too. I invite all kinds of scientists on field trips with us or into the classroom, so by the time the summer is over, they have met and talked with many scientists.

  15. #15 HP
    January 25, 2011

    @becca #13. How is Ed’s adorable little tush not germaine to the conversation?

    The point being that Ed’s tush can be as adorable as a Tush can be, but he’s still a man, with a man’s opinions.

    We know Ed reads this blog; perhaps his cute little tush will weigh in.

  16. #16 Leslie
    January 25, 2011

    Let me say simply that I so love you .. and I am so lucky to be you mother … and no you do not do meek or quiet at all well … I so love you … (super big grin)

    to others re TITS comment … to help Christie be realistic when she was just blooming I told her… all guys will choose you for that (they can’t help it) … but that’s good news .. that means it’s your choice … seems she took that “dating message” and expanded beyond it in an awesome way! I could not be more delighted.

    finally re war … you know acting like you are an equal or better goes a long way to having others see you that way too … writing well is your best offense.

  17. #17 Carl Zimmer
    January 25, 2011

    Let me begin by saying no one has ever commented on my abs. I doubt compliments would be in order.

    But what I really wanted to say is this: I have a peculiar data set relevant to this discussion–my collection of science tattoos. Female scientists send in tattoos and get comments on their appearance. Guys send in theirs and get comments about the accuracy of the equations.

    I think the best thing to do in this situation is to build up a community where this behavior is uncool. And I think ScienceOnline is part of that growing community. I doubt building it will mean an end to these obnoxious messages. If one out of a hundred thousand men send you sexist emails, you’ll get a thousand emails a year.

  18. #18 KBHC
    January 25, 2011

    I’m so glad our conversation inspired you to come to the panel and that you liked my reflections. You were an important voice there and this post is a wonderful contribution. I do think we’re starting something here :).

    Just as a small aside to some commenters, I’m not convinced that objectifying men is going to solve any of this, so it might be nice to back off on commenting on Ed’s body… I am quite sure that that’s not what was meant at all and that it was said only in jest, I just don’t like the idea of turning the gaze on the men. I would rather stop with the gazing.

  19. #19 Leslie
    January 25, 2011

    Thinking about this more … “sexist” isn’t as accurate as that’s kind of how men are built … and they don’t realize that verbalizing this aspect of themselves is a tad rude. But to think that folks should not see what they see is naive … The hope is that they read because of the quality and the appreciate the post for what it is .. and just cause they add the “sexist” remarks isn’t necessarily cause they didn’t, just shows they lack manners.

    On the internet … where people rarely stifle themselves … I think it is unrealistic to expect “sexist” comments to disappear. And I don’t think it always means they value your writing less, cause your body was noticed. To be honest, women notice attractive men too … we just tend to able to manage not blurting it out better.

  20. #20 aN
    January 25, 2011

    Leslie, it’s still sexist. I’m a man, and I can tell you I’ve been guilty of sexist behavior before, but this is no excusable “boys will be boys” sort of scenario.

  21. #21 Neil Losin
    January 25, 2011

    Very good post, Christie. I’m a total n00b in the science blogging world, so I can’t contribute much that’s new or insightful to this discussion. I’ve been following the post-Scio11 discussions about women in science blogging with interest, however. I’m curious whether you think (or whether there’s any general consensus) that women are currently faring better / worse / the same in the science blogosphere as they are in academia? Also curious about age structure of the science blogging community… There are plenty of young female scientists in academia (grad students etc.), but fewer in more prestigious/senior positions (though I believe this is improving, ever so slowly). Is the same true in the blogging community? Any evidence of directional change? Or is the science blogging community too young to detect such change?

  22. #22 Leslie
    January 25, 2011

    aN, still disagree … sexist is: prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex

    Commenting on what you like about someone’s looks inappropriately is rude or offensive .. not sexist. I think the cultural norm for men leans towards rude .. and no it’s not appropriate .. but I am a realist … so I say, don’t be surprised or annoyed by it on the internet. Notice that they came for the read and that they liked it.

    Note that fat or ugly is equally rude and offensive.. but not intended as complimentary.

  23. #23 Michael Blume
    January 25, 2011

    Thanks for that wonderful post! I think it is an important contribution to the emerging (science-)blogging culture. No one should have to hide as a person to be taken seriously. It would be a shame if we would lose people and their talents because of the bad manners of some users. Now, I will proceed to tweet your post. Best wishes!

  24. #24 Ed Yong
    January 25, 2011

    A great post, of the type we’ve come to expect from you.

    On the issue of your Facebook comment and what does or doesn’t count as sexism, this is the most valuable thing I have learned in engaging with the feminism blogging community: the person making the comment has absolutely no say in determining whether that comment is sexist. Your intentions do not matter. You don’t get to tell someone that their reaction is unjustified because you meant it as a compliment, or you meant it in jest, or you were just trying to be nice, and so on. Those “compliments” and “jokes”, regardless of your intentions, contribute to a culture that degrades and belittles women and it’s important for us to call out such behaviour when it happens. This is ultimately an issue of social norms. These comments turn up because people think nothing of them, because they’re acceptable. Which is exactly why the “men will be men” attitude is so dangerous – it allows those norms to persist, instead of consigning them to history.

    Also, on this bit – “Why isn’t there a girl version of Ed Yong or Carl Zimmer?” – I know you know this, but it’s worth explicitly saying because I don’t quite like the phrasing of the question: you’re not a version of anyone. A better question might be “Who will be next to join the ranks of Rebecca Skloot?”

  25. #25 Ed Yong
    January 25, 2011

    … I meant perceived as acceptable. Clearly they’re not.

  26. #26 Randy
    January 26, 2011

    I have no interest in your tits. However, it’s extreme that a compliment on your tits and general gorgeousness would be considered sexist. This fallacy breaks down when gay people compliment each other on their looks, on blogs that have nothing to do with looks. Who doesn’t admire the total package? It’s not sexist; it’s normal. If you’re on the internet, people will judge you on your looks, as well as your words. Still, you might want to consider how people will think of you, after such a defensive response. Perhaps your next article will be about my compliment toward your nameless hot guy photo.

  27. #27 David Dobbs
    January 26, 2011

    This hits so many buttons I don’t know where to start. So I’ll just spit a few out while I’m still fully disgusted and delighted:

    * I’m glad Ed mentioned Rebecca Skloot, for though she doesn’t blog much anymore, it’s because she has found such spectacular success for a wonderful book that she lacks the time. Doubtless, however, she too has to endure such idiocy as you rightly — and rightly furiously — object to here.

    • All due respect to my dear dear dear dear dear dear friend Steve Silberman, but I think men should weigh in on things like this and shame the dungheads who just don’t get it. We need to tell them, STFU. Even if we don’t elaborate on that — maybe ESPECIALLY if we don’t elaborate on that — it might inspire some self-reflection. Or at least get them to shut up.

    • WTF are they thinking, anyway? Telling anyone but your sweetheart that you like her breasts is like giving a stranger a squeeze. You may be drooling inside — it happens — but for God’s sake, YOU DO NOT HAVE A SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS PERSON. That’s just your fantasy. Keep it to yourself. It was nothing to do with public life and conversation.

    • I know that to women this may seem slightly patronizing in some ways (though I hope not), but: Men, if this is what it takes to give a crap, think about how you’d feel if someone said something similar to your mom or your sister. I PRAY that thought disturbs you. I care about this because it’s disgusting and idiotic and demeans public conversation, along with just over half the people on the planet. I care about it more immediately because my late mom — an absolute kickass doctor who went through med school in Texas in the 1950s as a highly attractive single mother, a stunner and a hotshit, way-smarter-and-tougher-than-you, cowboy, who took no guff from anyone — had to deal with this crap nearly all her professional career, well into her fifties. She bore it well, for she was tough as hell — so hard you could rollerskate on her — but she didn’t enjoy it, and there’s no reason she should have had to deal with it. My kickass sisters the lawyer and the English prof have to deal with it as well. One, while in college, was straightout offered an A — an A she was already EARNING, thank you — in return for sex, and I was ready to fly down and kill the guy. (She said, No, I’ve got it covered. She did. God save that guy if he encounters her now, when the table is level.) Clearly my daughter, now 6, will have to deal with this as well. Which pisses me off.

    • We can parse sexism-v-whatever forever, but part of this comes down to manners. As my mom said, Some things you just don’t talk about it in public. So men: However short is your personal list of Things You Don’t Talk About in Public, Add to it a woman’s physical appearance. If you truly just can’t resist some reference to anatomy, tell her what Cornell West told my English prof sister — tall, good-looking redhead vying for a job — after her presentation at Harvard: “Sister, you kicked some ass.” Trust me, that goes over much better than “Nice tits!” Keep the latter to yourself.

    • A woman at work — blogging, doing science, lecturing, whatnot; they’re in the working world, for god’s sake — SHOULD feel an insult when they get idiocy like Christy describe at the top of her post. Why? Because the statement, even if well meant, gives notice that the woman must please and impress not just with her work or intellectual contributions, but with an available sexuality, free for inspection, comment, and all but direct physical fondling by the observers. WTF is that? As to, “Well, it could happen to men, too,” the very fact that it ONLY RARELY happens should tell us something: It happens rarely to men, and frequently to women, because some men feel they gain an advantage by introducing sexuality into the conversation. Be man enough to fight fair. Leave the tits out of it. Talk to yourself about them later, when you’re all manly and alone.

    • Given all the above: Men, if it strikes yuou that what you’re getting ready to say might be inappropriate, it may well be. Think about it some more. Or just STFU.

    • Finally, though I’m big on keeping discourse civil, I have no doubt that Christy’s BRING IT attitude has, at least at times, what we might call an educational effect. I was once walking down a Brooklyn street with two friends, a man and a woman, soon after we graduated college — Oberlin, where harassing and sexist language and leering was (rightly) looked at harshly and not often heard — when one of a trio of hefty construction workers, who were sitting alongside the sidewalk having lunch, gave a wolf whistle in response to the sight of my friend Jane. (Such charm!) I felt shocked, bothered, disgusted, and flummoxed as to what to do. Should I be chivalrous and said STFU (and maybe get thumped)? But I didn’t have to decide, for Jane took matters into her own hands. Later she said she surprised even herself. This is what she did: She stopped and turned and faced these three big men dead on and said, “Thanks! Thanks for fucking NOTHING!” Doug and I were in awe. The construction workers were struck dumb. They said nothing as Jane stared them down for a few seconds. They said nothing as we walked off.

    I like to think their behavior and possibly even their thinking was changed afterwards. I know my own thinking about such comments were.

    Okay. Okay. I feel better now. But — oh wait: You in the back there? Yes, you, the fellow with the shirt? I have this feeling you’re getting ready to say something stupid. Don’t.

    Cheers, Christy, for stepping up so boldly and strongly. And I LOVE it that your mom wrote in! It’s wonderful to see her just pride in you. My mom, if she could read your post, would be proud of you too.

    Sister, you kicked some ass.

  28. #28 IanW
    January 26, 2011

    “Sexism is a hard thing for me to talk about. My generation likes to think we’re past it.”

    As long as men have testosterone, we’ll never be past it. That’s why it’s so important to blog these issues as well as raise them in other areas so that we can at least mold behaviors and keep the focus on problem areas.

    There was something on NPR just this morning about genderist behavior from sportscaster Andy Gray (who has rightfully been fired for it):
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/premier-league/8282090/Andy-Gray-sacked-how-the-Sky-Sports-sexism-scandal-has-unfolded.html

  29. #29 Niraj
    January 26, 2011

    i agree with what you say .. well for the most part at least. however i have heard this very very often from many women that they used to behave like tomboys. this is very often a favorite brag in science departments around the world i guess. and very often this is dished out along with “the guys consider me as one of their own”.

    well wouldn’t you say this is sexism too ?

  30. #30 Stephanie Z
    January 26, 2011

    Ed, there’s a very good reason we aspire to be you instead of Rebecca. ScienceOnline, as wonderful as it is in regard to gender in most respects, demonstrated the reason all too well.

  31. #31 pete langman
    January 26, 2011

    I’m not going to bother responding to the original post because, well, why add more long-winded plaudits when I can merely hold my head in my hands and wonder what is wrong with some people.

    I will, however, mention a couple of things:

    The first is that Andy Gray’s sacking (irrespective of his behaviour) is iniquitous. Having been told not to do it again or he’d be out, Sky then used an incident before the current issue, and thus the reprimand, as an excuse to fire him. He may well be sexist and so on, and may deserve to be fired, but retrospective punishment is wrong. Period.

    Secondly, as for David Dobbs’ post here and his blog post, I tried to add this comment but had to sell my e-soul:

    “An interesting piece, possibly let down by its casual sexism.

    Why is Christie Wilcox’s gender relevant? Either she kicked ass or she didn’t. ‘Sister, you kicked some ass’ might well be considered a qualification too far.

    And would you say of me, for example, ‘this smart, tough young man’ like you call her a ‘smart, tough young woman’? I doubt it (ignoring whether I happen to be smart, tough or young at this point).

    As for the actual meat of her blog, well … I’d be offended if someone commented on my rear in the same breath as on my writing or whatever … this is a no-brainer, inspired by the other no-brainer who made the original comment.

    Just thought I’d point it out!”

    So yes. Good blog. Pity it came about because of such crass stupidity. And it’s a pity her time is wasted responding to such idiocy instead of doing the science bit!

    Now, why not read my post ‘Release the inner slut’?

    It’s not as bad as it comes across in this forum, honestly.

  32. #32 SamW
    January 26, 2011

    Great post. I am glad you’re saying “Bring it” when so many others can’t. You have been elevated to one of my blogging heros! :)

  33. #33 Maryn McKenna
    January 26, 2011

    Preach. This was wonderful.

    So, a little story, which most people in my blogworld don’t know (except that I think it ended up in Alok’s podcast) because my past as a newspaper reporter is opaque thanks to paywalls: I spent my entire time in newspapers behind a gender-neutral byline, M.A.J. McKenna. This was partly because as an Irish-American I have lots of spare names, and partly because it was unusual enough to be something people remembered. But the original reason was because I started my writing life as an investigative reporter, first in finance and then in public health, and some editors thought my stories would be more credible to readers if readers didn’t immediately suss that a chick was writing them.

    I liked my byline and, a little maliciously, I liked turning people’s unconscious sexism back on them — to this day there are people in Atlanta who do a double-take when I introduce myself as “the writer who used to be MAJ McKenna.” But I was never proud of the original reasoning behind it. When the publication of my first book gave me a chance to use my full first name, I was grateful.

  34. #34 Scicurious
    January 26, 2011

    AR: There are LOTS of female science bloggers out there, many of them very good. There’s a good list located here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2010/sep/16/women-science-blogging

    Christie, this is a BRILLIANT post and I’m so glad you wrote it.

    And guys, think of it this way: when you are about to make a comment to a woman on her physical appearance, and you are NOT attempting to mate with her: Is it something you would say to a man? If it’s not (and chances are its not), SCRAP IT.

  35. #35 Jeanne Garbarino
    January 26, 2011

    “Why isn’t there a girl version of Ed Yong or Carl Zimmer?”

    Why does there have to be?

    While I understand the point you are making (and it is a very good one), I feel that bringing more attention to gender might actually be counterproductive. I wouldn’t take it as a compliment if I were compared to a man. HOWEVER, I would be most humbled if, say my writing, were ever compared to the work produced by other, accomplished writers (male or female). It should be about the quality of the work and not who produced it (but, then again, if this were the reality, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion).

    Also, I want to touch upon something that might be frowned upon by the good ol’ boys club. I am a female scientist and a good one at that. But, I have no problem talking about the so-called “fluffy” stuff. Why? Because it is a huge part of my life. I won’t apologize to anyone about the random post on diapers inserted between posts on biology. Frankly, I am a little tired of not being taken seriously because I want to discuss baby barf once in a while.

    Anyway, as always, you have managed to construct a beautifully written and incredibly thought provoking post. Thanks for you efforts and I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

    -Jeanne

  36. #36 AR
    January 26, 2011

    Scicurious:

    Thanks! I add blogs to my list of “must reads” by following the links and, until now, the links haven’t led to female science bloggers. I’ll snoop through the blogs at your link over the next few days. I appreciate the tip.

  37. #37 Joanne
    January 26, 2011

    The question was posed as to why Christie’s gender matters.

    Do you know how many young women are craving to see women who love an intellectual challenge and pursue their passion for engineering and science without backing down against the odds, and can do it with class while retaining their femininity? Despite what we want to say about men and women being equal, there are delicate stages in the development of girls where they struggle with their role as a female.

    I do a lot of outreach that is open to boys and girls. I also have my bioengineering camp that is just for young ladies. I find that the girls are glad to be in the presence of someone who says, “Be smart, be talented, and be a woman. Don’t be afraid of all that you are.”

    I hope all women scientists ignore the men who cannot muster up the self-control to behave like gentlemen (we all know we deserve to be treated with more respect than that) and to go out and interact with the young ladies who desperately want to see what passion and confidence in action looks like.

  38. #38 Barbara
    January 26, 2011

    I’ve been writing a science oriented blog for about a year and out of some 45,000 readers nobody has ever said anything about my looks. I should also note that 100% of my blog comments are from men, except a few by my mother. I guess it’s because like Phil Plait I only have a head shot on my blog so nobody knows how hot I really am :)

  39. #39 AgentDarkApple
    January 26, 2011

    A simple rule: if a girl is not dressed provocatively (either in real life or in a photo), and a guy says something like that, he is being a douche. If a girl IS dressed provocatively, she’s asking for it. If you don’t want someone looking at it, don’t put it out there. This includes information and opinions as well as boobs, butts, and any other body part. And we already know WHAT guys will look at, so why dangle the bait, so to speak, unless you want a reaction? I am not sure to what extent this applies in your case, as the only pics I have seen of you on here are from the shoulders and up. Either your revealing pics are hidden away on your Facebook profile, or this guy just has a creative but dirty imagination. But speaking as a female geek, I know that too many guys will totally overlook your intelligence if they see another part of you that they like better. Personally, I would rather be appreciated for my mind. Obviously you are extremely intelligent, so rock that!

  40. #40 MM
    January 26, 2011

    No generation is past it. It has to be relearned every time by every generation.

    The nation that treats everyone the same will rule the world, and change it forever. It just happens in small steps.

    @shooteyeout

  41. #41 pete langman
    January 26, 2011

    @ Joanne

    Your comment is directed at me, I presume, and naturally, I have no idea how many young women …

    I do take your point here, and admit that my comment does exist in a slightly rarified stratum, but … at the risk of bringing down your wrath upon me, who cares if women do all that you say ‘with class while retaining their femininity’? The point I’m making is that in scientific terms, it simply does not matter. And I suspect, for that matter, that there are ‘delicate stages in in the development of boys where they struggle with their role as a male’. Actually, I don’t suspect it, I know it.

    I’m quite sure that seeing a woman ‘do the business’ as we say is very important for young women to see … and yes, I almost agree that they should be happy to ‘Be smart, be talented, and be a woman. Don’t be afraid of all that you are.’

    It’s just that being a woman (or a man) ought really have no bearing whatsoever … and the sooner we act like it, the sooner those boorish men will either get the message or quietly slink away.

    Be smart, be talented, be yourself. Whoever that may be.

    In response to Barbara, well … I can’t even show my face, it would be unfair! Hence the owl … ;)

  42. #42 SamW
    January 26, 2011

    @AgentDarkApple unless you mean underwear with “provocatively” you’ve got the wrong attitude. I wear shorts/skirts/low cut tops in summer and to go out. It gets warm if I don’t. Sweat stains are not a better alternative. “Asking for it” is what rape apologists say.
    Of course, to be safe, it might be better to wear more but at no time am I asking to be objectified, stared at, inappropriately touched (as often happens on nights out) or worse.

  43. #43 Andrew
    January 26, 2011

    By some weird coincidence, not long before reading the Wired article I had seen a story from an patient in a now-closed mental hospital, who wrote “…I chose that time to whistle at a sister in Beamsley ward and compliment her on the size of her tits. I was promptly dispatched to Hazelwood, the lockup ward, for my indiscretion, by the stand-in doctor.”

  44. #44 Starwatcher
    January 26, 2011

    People are lazy. Many if not most of us only do as much as we need to to get by. In current society a beautiful women probably has the easiest time coasting if one’s goal is to “just get by”. So until society changes in such a way that beautiful women cannot coast through life (or at least no more then the rest of us) it’s always going to mildly surprising when a singular beautiful women attempts to excel in a field unrelated to her physical appearance.

  45. #45 ResCogitans
    January 26, 2011

    As a science blog you would think evolution would be mentioned in this article.

    yes it would be nice if guys didn’t sexually evaluate every female they see. but they do. they are programmed to by evolution.

    it is unacceptable in society to comment the way that guy did about christie’s tits, but not acknowledging that he is programmed to think it by evolution is also unacceptable in a science blog.

  46. #46 Michael Suttkus, II
    January 26, 2011

    I would like to apologize in advance for the length of this post, but there is so much here that I feel the urge to respond to that this is going to take a while.

    A few weeks ago, I received a facebook message. It was from a male admirer of my blog (and his fiancée, coincidentally). In it, he said “You are GORGEOUS, and your tits look absolutely incredible.” I froze. I know it was meant as a compliment, but it made me really uncomfortable. It was a sentiment that was much more muted in other comments I’d gotten. You know, ones like “wow, you’re an amazing writer AND you’re hot?” or “who would have thought a pretty girl could be so good at science?”

    The first one is just rude. The second and third are more subtly subversive. I think it’s the latter kind of sexism that we most need to point out. The rude is patently obvious and I think most people these days would recognize that kind of comment as inappropriate. “Lovely and talented” type comments are all too often considered acceptable compliments. And this is because…

    But what they fail to realize is the fact that my looks are important enough to comment on is what makes their comments sexist.

    Absolutely. Women in our culture are judged FIRST on their appearance, then anything else. Even in a professional setting, a woman’s appearance is given more weight than a man’s appearance in the same position. Looking good is something we just expect women to do. It drives me batty! And people don’t realize they’re doing it. Worse, when you call them on it, they still don’t get it. “But I was being nice…”

    I wish I knew what to do about it, but I’m afraid my social skills aren’t the best in the world. Still, they’re good enough that I wouldn’t email someone I respected and say, “Nice tits”, so I guess I have something to feel good about.

    ***

    HP:

    One of the difficulties with pointing to people like Brian or Ed is that when men are set apart and objectified for their looks, the social equation — the power dynamic — means that it plays very differently. Ed was photographed sexily for that British geek calender last year. And Phil Plait posed (nearly) naked for the Skepchick calender (and from the neck down, he’s pretty hot).

    This is a problem. Women are treated as being sexual first. A man’s position is solid enough that if he chooses to pose for a beefcake calendar, he isn’t sending a negative message about men or reinforcing negative male stereotypes. A woman doing the same thing operates in a completely different sea of prejudices and assumptions.

    HP:

    Also, there’s some truth to the stereotypes about white male geek culture — an awful lot of us are socially inept loners with poor hygiene. We may be comfortable with allele frequencies or integrals, but geekdom and social isolation can make anyone an idiot.

    Hey, now! Speaking as a socially inept loner, stuff that. There’s no excuse for poor hygiene or for such outright sexism. If anything, being socially inept should make you more conscious of the effects you’re having on other people (if only after the fact, that’s the “inept” part), and seek to correct it. Being sexist is an outright failure of empathy.

    ***

    aN:

    Why does it matter whether or not your mentors were women or whether or not they had kids?

    Because we all have rolemodels. What we see influences what we believe. If you grow up seeing a bunch of men in the positions of intellectual authority, it sends a message to your subconscious (or conscious!) that intellectual authority is for men. We need female, black, asian, whatever rolemodels to send the message that these positions are for everyone.

    Note that I did not say that WOMEN need female rolemodels. They do, but only as part of everyone needing them. I’ve never bought into, or even understood, the line of thought that we need to see people like ourselves to be inspired by them. It’s not like I, as a white male, can’t be inspired by a black woman doing something impressive. I, as a white male child growing up in a culture, need to absorb expected cultural standard that success isn’t about gender or skin color. I need to see PEOPLE being successful, not identify with successful people who match me.

    ***

    Steve Silberman:

    I don’t want to say much, because I don’t want male voices dominating this discussion too,

    Why would male voices dominate?

    Please don’t hold back for fear or anything like this. That sends another harmful message, that sexism is a problem for women. It isn’t. If I may play off of John Dunne, no person is an island, and what diminishes any person diminishes me. Sexism hurts all of us. It diminishes human capacity for greatness. Men need to stand up and say “This behavior is unacceptable”. In many ways, it’s more important for us to take a stand against our fellow males than it is for women to do so. Women have all but won their part in this fight. The law is where it should be, and the culture has (mostly) accepted their right to be whatever they want to be. It’s time for men to start demanding change for ourselves. We need to be the men we want others to be inspired by.

    Steve Silberman:

    but I’ll say this: what my fellow San Franciscans used to call “looksism” is still in play for males too, it’s just much more subtle. And sometimes, it’s not subtle at all.

    As long as there are shallow people, there will be lookism. I’m not sure this will ever go away, but we can at least get the culture to reach a point where it’s openly unacceptable. Currently, fat people are still acceptable targets for jokes in a way women aren’t anymore.

    ***

    Kira:

    I do a little experiment at the beginning of my summer science class for 3rd graders. {snip}

    Excellent! One of the most important ways to bring change is to make people face their current prejudices. In my own life, being made to realize my own sexism has been one of the driving forces in having less of it.

    ***

    KBHC:

    Just as a small aside to some commenters, I’m not convinced that objectifying men is going to solve any of this, so it might be nice to back off on commenting on Ed’s body…

    I think it might help a bit. One of our problems is that double standard. A woman is sexualized by default in our culture, and judged first on appearance. Sexualizing men a little will help reduce the double standard and, like the above post, work towards making us face our prejudices.

    We are a sexual species. We are a visual species. That we will always be doing some amount of judging other people based on our own mating preferences and their state of attractiveness is simple biology. HOWEVER, we are not limited by our biology and our instincts. We can surpass them, but we have to be aware of them first.

    There is a place for complimenting another person, regardless of gender, based on how they look. People put effort into looking good, and recognizing that doesn’t necessarily diminish them, if done correctly and in the context of an appropriate relationship. There’s also a place for a little forthright animal lust. I shouldn’t have to feel bad because I want a poster of a professional female model or actress in my room. It shouldn’t have to be sexist, as long as I keep such drives in their place (and out of professional relationships). A bit more sexualizing of men can help address the imbalance. Now, whether doing so on this forum in response to this blogpost… well, I’d probably have to side with not, but I wanted to make the above comments anyway. : – )

    We should, as a culture, envision the kind of culture we want to be, and I can’t see being completely uninterested in personal appearance as part of that goal. We just need to decide what the proper place and acceptable amount of such behavior is.

    Hint: It’s not saying “nice tits” to a girl who you know only through blogposts. Ever.

    ***

    Leslie:

    Thinking about this more … “sexist” isn’t as accurate as that’s kind of how men are built … and they don’t realize that verbalizing this aspect of themselves is a tad rude.

    And…

    IanW:

    As long as men have testosterone, we’ll never be past it.

    Speaking as a man, HELL NO! If you don’t realize “Nice tits!” is being rude, it has nothing to do with how you’re built (excluding some forms of autism and the like), and everything to do with how you have been trained. I have certainly not been “built” to make such ignorant and hurtful remarks to women.

    I can tell you how testosterone works from personal experience. Naturally, I have a very low level of testosterone. My glands just don’t produce that much. My testosterone level is barely above what is normal for a woman to have. (Yes, women have testosterone too, and it is a sex hormone for them as well!)

    When my hormone problems were first diagnosed*, my doctor put me on hormone replacement therapy. My testosterone level was kicked up four times the amount I had previously been used to.

    It was an eye-opening experience. My sex drive was kicked up through the roof. Suddenly, all the women I was working with became more attractive, and that became more important to me. It was like going through puberty all over again, and not at all a comfortable experience. Initially, I found myself wondering if this is what normal men felt like all the time…

    But you know what? At the height of my problem, at the most outright over-enhanced my sex drive got during the hormone replacement, I never once told a woman, “Nice tits!”

    “How men are built” is not the problem. Not the problem at all. Besides, I’m pretty sure women are “built” the same way, with their own sex hormones and their own physiological responses to men around them. It doesn’t seem to be driving them to say stupid, sexist comments as a whole, does it?

    Please don’t go trying to justify or excuse men with such comments. Civilized people can control their impulses and express them in acceptable ways. Telling men they don’t have to only adds to the problem.

    ***

    AgentDarkApple:

    A simple rule: if a girl is not dressed provocatively (either in real life or in a photo), and a guy says something like that, he is being a douche. If a girl IS dressed provocatively, she’s asking for it.

    Say what? HUH? Seriously, man?

    What is “dressed provocatively”? Ms. Wilcox notes above that a friend of hers dressed in jeans and a t-shirt to avoid sexism, and my first thought was, “Well, that won’t work. What’s sexier than jeans and a t-shirt?” There pretty much is nothing a woman can wear short of a muumuu that won’t be considered provocative by someone, and I’m probably wrong about the muumuu!

    And, I’ll go further and say that it doesn’t matter what she’s wearing. The relationship between the people is what matters. If a woman comes to class wearing a bikini top and daisy dukes, it would still be dead wrong for her teacher to say “Nice tits”. He would be okay asking her to leave and come back wearing something more appropriate, but that’s because she’s wearing something inappropriate for the setting. “Dressed provocatively” isn’t even in the equation.

    You know what, I can’t think of any situation where “nice tits” is an acceptable thing to say.

    AgentDarkApple:

    If you don’t want someone looking at it, don’t put it out there.

    Last I checked, breasts put themselves out there and women don’t really have to do much to get men to notice them. I barely have any testosterone and I sure notice them plenty fast. Maybe you should be focusing on yourself instead of the breasts, how about?

    AgentDarkApple:

    This includes information and opinions as well as boobs, butts, and any other body part. And we already know WHAT guys will look at, so why dangle the bait, so to speak, unless you want a reaction?

    How about, because humans are a social species. Because people feel better about themselves when they feel attractive. Because they might want people they are in an appropriate relationship with to notice their breasts and solicit comments from them, but don’t have time to change their outfit between the glances of one person and the next, perhaps? Sheesh! IT DOESN’T FREAKING MATTER!

    When I worked at the college, I handled the admissions process for the nursing department. I talked to a lot of women wearing a lot of different outfits. (Sadly, there are still very few men trying to get into the nursing program.) They came in wearing conservative business suits (a major turn on for me, incidentally, there’s nothing sexier than well-trimmed business suit making you look competent and in control of your life) and they came in wearing jeans and t-shirts. One woman came in wearing a half a tank top and slashed jeans, complaining about the cold in the middle of January. My first thought was, “THEN PUT SOME CLOTHES ON!” But I didn’t say that, because it would be COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE to our relationship (professional person to “client”). Was she dressed provocatively? By pretty much anyone’s standards, yes. Was she “asking for it”? Arguably. Does any of that actually matter in the slightest? HELL NO!

    AgentDarkApple:

    But speaking as a female geek, I know that too many guys will totally overlook your intelligence if they see another part of you that they like better.

    Then that’s their problem, isn’t it? No woman should have to feel restricted in her choice of clothing or makeup because some guy might decide to be a sexist creep about it. The problem is in the sexist creep, not the clothing. Always.

    * After years of rolling my eyes when people blamed their weight problems on hormone imbalances, and taking pride in myself by admitting that my weight problem was simply because I ate too much, ironically, it turns out a lot of my weight problems stem from my hormone problems. Who knew? I still eat too much. : – )

  47. #47 cjm
    January 26, 2011

    Nice tits is very rude but do not assume that men are not judged, usually wrongly, by appearance. There is a strong correlation between height and promotion for men in the corporate world. I had the experience once of being talked past and ignored by a lady HR manager salivating over the U of Illinois football player interviewing at the same time. It is damn unfortunate you have to deal with this garbage, but at the same time be thankful you are not being shut out of opportunities by plain looks. It is not a pleasant experience either, trust me. And look closely at your own attitudes to make certain that you do not want it both ways; to get the attention and opportunity that comes with being pretty without the unwanted attention. You will soon enough be older and find out the other side of that divide. It would be a better world if we could just relate as human, but nothing is that easy.

  48. #48 AR
    January 26, 2011

    Michael Suttkus, II:

    “”How men are built” is not the problem. Not the problem at all. Besides, I’m pretty sure women are “built” the same way, with their own sex hormones and their own physiological responses to men around them. It doesn’t seem to be driving them to say stupid, sexist comments as a whole, does it?”

    Exactly! I find it strange that, at posts like this one, people pop out of the woodwork to insist that men are built/programmed/whatever this way. It’s a strange response, and one that serves only to perpetuate the problem by excusing that kind of attitude toward women.

    It also, as you say, papers over the fact that — hey, hello! — it’s not just men that are afflicted with sex drives. Women are too. But women don’t read a good science blog and respond with “Good blog but, OMG, your dick is just exquisite!” or similar. “Men are built that way” simply isn’t an important part of the explanation why that sort of comment is more often directed toward women from men, than to men from women. Besides which, it smacks of some of the worst of the evolutionary psychology on the market these days*, which should give us pause when considering whether or not it plays any role whatsoever in explaining the “nice tits” type of comment.

    Although it’s not my blog, may I just say (emphatically) that there is absolutely no apology required for the length of your comment. I found it insightful, and enjoyed reading your thoughts on this immensely.

    * I don’t think evolutionary psychology is all bad, but I think a lot of it is. The men are all designed to be sexist — and rapists to boot — seems more often than not to fall into the “bad science supports dangerous ideas” category.

  49. #49 juliagoolia
    January 26, 2011

    When I got a desk job after just a phone interview, my Dad was astonished they would hire me without seeing me. He couldn’t understand why I found that disturbing.

  50. #50 becca
    January 26, 2011

    “yes it would be nice if guys didn’t sexually evaluate every female they see. but they do. they are programmed to by evolution.”
    True (although I wonder how you view non-heteronormative behaviors).
    Yet guys are *also* programmed by evolution to think and care about how their fellow primates will respond to communication of these thoughts. We (humans) are social creatures.

    As it happens, we (the people here) are social creatures who are currently discussing how to foster the social norm that ensures that those who insist on acting like particularly aggressive sex crazed chimps are kept from getting all the yummiest berries and assistance in their own hunting pursuits. If you want to use evolution to justify animal instincts, you have to recognize that evolution also justifies humane behavior that allows us to override instinct when our big sexy adaptable brains comprehend that the situation dictates it.

    “I’m not convinced that objectifying men is going to solve any of this, so it might be nice to back off on commenting on Ed’s body…”
    Indeed. I tried to ensure that I provided enough details that Ed can see I don’t see him as a mere object. To the degree it was amusing, or illustrated the fundamental asymmetry in admiring attractiveness, I don’t think it was a worthless comment… but if I’d thought harder I probably could have come up with something more constructive.

  51. #51 Jeff Feynman
    January 26, 2011

    Wow. Good article, especially for a woman.

  52. #52 Josmas
    January 26, 2011

    “It was from a male admirer of my blog (and his fiancée, coincidentally).”

    If his fiancée approves or encourages compliments like this why would you expect anything else?

  53. #53 CK
    January 26, 2011

    Nice job!

  54. #54 Leslie
    January 26, 2011

    Couldn’t resist another comment … and then my jaw dropped at #51 … hopefully that was Jeff Freyman’s idea of humor …. hopefully

    Back to my comment … having empathy and understanding is NOT the same as condoning and accepting things as they are.

    Men can be rude … on the internet that’s inevitable .. that’s reality …

    Talking about the subject and reflecting on it in our own behavior is invaluable .. but expecting society to change easily or in our life time is likely unrealistic … but then I am a pragmatic pessimist with an outrageously, optimistic daughter who continues to delight and amaze me.

    BTW My comment “tad rude” … was intentionally understated … my way of responding to such blatant ridiculous crude behavior … which, in case I have not been clear, I do not condone or see as justifiable … just understandable and to be expected inevitably, on some occasions by some folks, given our current culture and the nature of the beast.

  55. #55 VVK
    January 26, 2011

    “Why isn’t there a girl version of Ed Yong or Carl Zimmer? Why is there no woman in the elite list of the most well known science bloggers? … The excuse that there aren’t enough high-quality female science writers just doesn’t cut it anymore. They’re out there, and they have been for years. The problem isn’t that the women aren’t there. It’s that they aren’t being taken as seriously.”

    Brilliant post. As a female “blogger,” (I quote because I’ve had only a few posts on my blog), I have a hard time bringing myself to write on a paper when most papers are covered by popular scibloggers. Ones whom I envy terribly for their creativity and brilliance. And those scibloggers are 50% male and 50% female. For a female who has been black-balled by a female PI, then a whole new grad dissertation, then a sudden lay-off, and now with no career to speak of, due to the black-balling (Why is it black-BALLing anyway?), what is a lady of science to do but attempt a science blog because the unemployment check covers the internet bill? But, I’m here, and I’m a female, and I’ll post again, when I don’t feel so intimidated by all the brilliance.

  56. #56 Michael Suttkus, II
    January 26, 2011

    Blackballing derives from an old practice used in old men’s clubs. A prospective new member was voted on by the established members. In order to make the vote anonymous, each member was given a pair of balls, one black and one white, and each member put one into a bucket (or a fancier system was sometimes employed). One black ball meant someone disapproved and the person would not be accepted.

    It has nothing to do with maleness, though.

  57. #57 KBHC
    January 26, 2011

    I just want to comment on one thing that I’ve seen crop up in a few comments — that one can be asking for it if one dresses a certain way — and link it up with Joanne’s beautiful comment above on intelligence, love of science and femininity.

    I spent most of my young adult years not being all that pleased to be female. I wore baggy, ugly clothes, a lot of hand me downs from my father. I wore my hair in a ponytail most days and was aggressively rude to most males who sought my attention.

    As I got a little older, I started to dress more nicely for work, but still felt like an impostor.

    Then, when I was a new mother to a little baby girl, I was talking to a friend on the phone about how I didn’t want to gender my child to give her the space to be whoever she wanted. “But you also need to teach her to love who she is,” she said. “You know, there is nothing wrong with being female, and she needs to understand that with you.”

    That hit me really hard. When I am dismissive of femininity, and reject it, I am teaching my kid we should be ashamed of ourselves.

    These days, I wear sweatpants, I wear dresses, I wear makeup and I don’t. But I delight in my hardcore science, my athleticism, AND my gender in front of my toddler, not to enforce particular norms, but to model happiness in one’s own body.

    I don’t reject my femininity that much anymore, except in rather particular circumstances: when I am objectified. I don’t think men realize how much this makes us hate ourselves and our bodies. It’s for this reason that when Christie says BRING IT, I raise my fist and shout BRING IT too.

  58. #58 daedalus2u
    January 26, 2011

    Not to be totally evolutionary psychology on this, but there was a blog post I saw today that might be relevant.

    http://scienceblogs.com/thoughtfulanimal/2011/01/spendid_fairy-wrens.php

    Essentially it is “scare the shit out of someone and they become more romantic”.

    I suspect that is the meme that many guys are working with, if they scare the shit out of women, they will find a GF easier. I don’t understand it and would never do it, but that might be an explanation.

    How to fix it? I don’t know, call guys who act this way on it. If it was inadvertent, they will apologize. If it was deliberate, they will try to mansplain it away.

  59. #59 Zinjanthropus
    January 27, 2011

    @ResCogitans

    “it is unacceptable in society to comment the way that guy did about christie’s tits, but not acknowledging that he is programmed to think it by evolution is also unacceptable in a science blog.”

    Is it also unacceptable to leave out how female primates are “programmed” by evolution to turn around and present to males they find attractive when they are turned on? That part of the conversation always seems to be left out…

    Many of us have even learned that trying to take charge of our own sexuality in subtler ways is frowned on by a lot of people. Women are “supposed” to be passive receivers of “compliments.” You’ll be hard-pressed to find other primates who frown on proceptive behavior in females, so where’s the evolutionary explanation for that?

  60. #60 tütüne son
    January 27, 2011

    I suspect that is the meme that many guys are working with, if they scare the shit out of women, they will find a GF easier. I don’t understand it and would never do it, but that might be an explanation.

  61. #61 Leslie
    January 27, 2011

    evolution? culture? rude? something else?

    I can see saying the physical reaction to tits is built in … but what comes out of your mouth via typing is somehow explainable by evolution? really?

    I’m still waiting for that chimp to type up Shakespeare …

  62. #62 Tom
    January 27, 2011

    The guy (and fiancee) who commented on your tits did so in a rude and probably unwelcome way, but that’s more what he’s saying about him than what he’s saying about you. He (apparently) didn’t imply that it was surprising because you’re also a scientist or because he enjoyed your writing. To me, the bigger problem is the other people. And not even necessarily them, because it’s probably not their fault that they hold that attitude. Others might have different experiences, but in my engineering, science, and math classes in college – particularly in grad school – there simply were not a lot of women. The attractive ones certainly grabbed my attention. None of my professors were women. I don’t recall that any of my textbooks were written by women, and I think if one had been, it would have struck me as a notable thing. That was 98-04. Same in my career. 7 women out of 53 non-admin employees in my current company. My last one, there were 12 women in the entire building of 120 or so, half of whom were admin. It’s unusual. People notice.

    I’m surprised more people haven’t focused on this: “I shouldn’t have to hide the fact that I am a woman just to be seen as a brilliant scientist or a great writer. And I am young and bull-headed and perhaps just naive enough not to hide. You might notice my looks first, but I’ll be damned if you don’t hear my words, too.”

    Michio Kaku wouldn’t be on TV so much if it weren’t for his silver mane. Neither would Neil deGrasse Tyson, if it weren’t for that deep bass voice that pulls you in – and the fact that he’s a black astrophysicist makes him more compelling. Christie Wilcox wouldn’t have as many people click on her blog if she weren’t a cute blonde with a nice smile. But it’s what is said after that first impression that keeps people listening or reading.

    That’s the point. Use what you have to your advantage. Everyone else does it, in every field. Why shouldn’t women in science, or science writing?

    (And how in the world do you expect to recruit girls into science careers if the female scientists they see deliberately hide their femininity? Doesn’t that reinforce to them that science is not for girls?)

  63. #63 Gaythia
    January 28, 2011

    Excellent post, Christie. I find it highly unfortunate that this message still needs repeating. Years ago, on my first day of my first job after grad school, I was greeted when stepping into the lab for the first time with a comment of “Gee, you were supposed to be a blonde” by one of my new peers. It’s high time women scientists were seen as professionals, not sex objects.

  64. #64 michael
    January 28, 2011

    I am a white male graduate student in aerospace engineering. And while engineering is known to be a predominantly male field, I have known and am good friends with several female engineers. I have nothing but respect and admiration for anyone (male or female) that can work hard and be successful in those fields.

    However, I have also witnessed on several occasions women that take advantage of their own sex appeal in order to gain influence over weak-willed men (which many male engineers are weak willed when it comes to an attractive woman), and they use that influence (based on their sex appeal) to get ahead. This includes fellow students, graduate TA’s, and even professors to an extent. This kind of behavior on the behalf of a fraction of attractive female engineers is what perpetuates the sexist behavior on the behalf of a fraction of men, at least in my opinion.

    On the other hand, I also know several attractive female engineers that do not follow the aforementioned behavioral pattern, and many of them are incredibly brilliant. Unfortunately, at least in engineering, this is somewhat uncommon to see and leads many male engineers to be astounded when confronted with such a girl; and well, engineers are not exactly known to have the best social graces. Personally, if I were to pay such a girl a compliment, I would compliment on one factor or the other, but never link the two together as the superficial compliment has the effect of diminishing the intellectual compliment since it implies that the two are somehow related. That likely is not the intention of the person giving the compliment, but that is how it will be received.

    Guys are typically very “straight to the point” and often don’t think about how a compliment could be turned around into a sexist comment. An attractive and intelligent girl is highly sought after by otherwise nerdy men, so when they see the two together that is one of the first things they will think of to compliment upon. That is, unless they know better.

  65. #65 tütüne son
    January 28, 2011

    However, I have also witnessed on several occasions women that take advantage of their own sex appeal in order to gain influence over weak-willed men (which many male engineers are weak willed when it comes to an attractive woman), and they use that influence (based on their sex appeal) to get ahead. This includes fellow students, graduate TA’s, and even professors to an extent. This kind of behavior on the behalf of a fraction of attractive female engineers is what perpetuates the sexist behavior on the behalf of a fraction of men, at least in my opinion.

  66. #66 Woozle
    January 29, 2011

    Yay, I get to be first to post this link, which I can’t believe nobody has mentioned yet!

  67. #67 Lilly Sanovia
    January 29, 2011

    Well said and much needed!

  68. #68 Wow
    February 2, 2011

    “If you simply reverse the genders, you don’t get a comparable situation, because of institutional inequities that aren’t going away anytime soon.”

    Although that’s true, it also works two ways.

    A homely girl is still going to choose.

    A homely man is probably going to get little little.

    Women get to say yes or no. Men get to ask. I’m fine with this because most of the consequences are placed on the female not the male partner (unless we really CAN let the baby gestate in a box…).

  69. #69 Wow
    February 2, 2011

    little choice, not little little.

    Or was that freudian of me…
    :-o

    PS
    “Gee, you were supposed to be a blonde”

    is not treating you as a sex object. It may be a sexist joke or even just nuts.

  70. #70 Wow
    February 2, 2011

    “that one can be asking for it if one dresses a certain way”

    Depends on what “it” is.

    “Nice tits” and wearing low cut or skimpy clothing that reveals underboob (or whatever the meme of the week is), well, yeah.

    But as for assault, no. In much the same way as I’d insist that someone who says “she deserved it by wearing that dress” have their goolies torn off for misusing them.

    I think a problem men have (being one of them) is that women want compliments about their looks or bodies (they are different to the observant) BY THE RIGHT MAN and they dress for THE RIGHT MAN to notice. But if you’re NOT “the right man”, then dog help you if you notice…

    Passive aggressive is still aggression.

    There’s no rule about who is allowed to notice and so sometimes men guess wrong. Some men just don’t care and try anyway. Notice how they still manage to get some action, mind. Some women want that sort of man. It’s not me, but then I can’t get no satisfaction. Meh.

  71. #71 Wow
    February 2, 2011

    Ah, I see the problem. AgentDarkApple trolls and got a reaction and I reacted to that reaction without seeing the cause.

    Yeah, ADA is a plonker and he does mean some form of assault (even if merely verbal “to keep you expletives in line”).

    Over email you lose almost all your nonverbal communication. Is “nice tits” meant to be appreciative or possessive? Can’t tell by email. However ADA probably means the latter.

    NOTE: *saying* “nice tits” would mean me knowing the person extremely well. For someone I know only poorly, some changes required “you look gorgeous in that”. Walking past, not a word.

    Just because I can like the look of a good looking woman doesn’t mean I’m going to boff her. I enjoy looking at a beautiful sunset; doesn’t mean I’m going to podger the sun.

  72. #72 sue.welsh
    February 2, 2011

    Guy was rude. Modern equivalent of a street whistle or cat call. Stupid, naive. Shockingly lots of people are stupid, poorly educated or badly socialized. Your professor was probably infatuated. Sad, embarrassing (for him), icky for you.

    Your attractiveness is to your advantage, as is your intelligence.

    If a person “takes advantage” of another, so what? Anyone, has a right to use his/her natural or developed advantages for his/her own reasons. If it’s fair, legal and you consider it ethical and reasonable, go ahead.

  73. #73 Wow
    February 2, 2011

    “And on what planet does that seem like an acceptable thing to email a stranger about?

    Posted by: EcoPhysioMichelle | January 25, 2011 5:01 PM”

    Took me a while to read it, but plenty of ^^^THIS^^^.

    That’s why it’s creepy. That’s why it’s worrying. That’s why the message shouldn’t have been sent.

    And I would feel worried if they got an email out of the blue saying “nice ass”. It’s just creepy.

  74. #74 AgentDarkApple
    February 2, 2011

    Wow said
    “he does mean some form of assault (even if merely verbal “to keep you expletives in line”)…
    Over email you lose almost all your nonverbal communication. Is “nice tits” meant to be appreciative or possessive? Can’t tell by email. However ADA probably means the latter.”

    Huh? I wasn’t the one making the “nice tits” comment. Nor did I email anyone. Nor did I make an assault or use expletives. What comment were you reading?

  75. #75 Wow
    February 3, 2011

    No, I know you didn’t and like I say, assumptions are necessary with the limited comminication over the internet.

    You did say “dress provocatively, you’re asking for it” which is often used to justify assault. The comment you made when that was truculent and got the reaction you likely were looking for.

    HOWEVER:

    I think I have thought of a way to help clear up a possible problem with the different ways “asking for it” occurs between sexes by using a little parable.

    The parable of the weed and the weed-whacker.

    I go up to Mike Tyson and tell him his mon is a slapper and I’ve had her many times, she’s a right dirty cow.

    Mike then puts me in hospital.

    How many people would say I deserved hospitalisation?

    Almost nobody.

    How many people would say I was “asking for it”?

    Out of the men, almost all of them. I suspect most women would say no again.

    “Asking for it” is not “deserve it” and I think many women assume they are the same thing or at the very least close enough to indicate a prediliction to blame the one “asking for it”.

    Similarly walking down Harlem with a “I hate niggers” shirt I’m “asking for it”. The “it” I get will be a severe deathing and being an extremely offensive idiot doesn’t *deserve* a death sentence. It’s what I’m going to get though if I wear that shirt in Harlem.

  76. #76 Wow
    February 4, 2011

    OR short version: take care of yourself and don’t do anything stupid.

  77. #77 AgentDarkApple
    February 4, 2011

    @Michael Suttkus, II To me, provocative has more to do with intent than substance. Like I said, the only pics I have seen of Christie did not seem to be provocative at all. Maybe she has pics elsewhere that are, but I have not seen any. If a woman is wearing just a bikini or lingerie to the mall, it is going to attract attention, and that is most likely her intent. If she is wearing a bikini to the beach, to many Westerners that is normal. If she takes a pic of herself in a bikini or in her underwear or whatever and puts it online though, to me she is saying “hey, look at me”. I have no idea what sort of photo the “nice tits” guy saw. I just wanted to make the point that some women (and Christie herself may not have done this) wear certain things to deliberately be provocative. Douchebags like her “fan” have seen so many of those types of women that they lump girls dressed in similar attire, even those not meaning to be provocative, in the same category as those who are whoring for attention. Hence the guy’s comment. BUT most females are, in fact, aware of this, and they can expect that for every polite guy who either isn’t thinking about her boobs or at least will not admit it, there are at least as many pervy douchebags who would make such a comment. But I do get tired of guys being solely blamed for these incidents when sometimes the chick makes just as much of a contribution to how the incident goes down (and I’m not saying Christie did, as I have no clue what she was wearing). Also, I do not think guys are right for acting on their impulses like this “fan” did. Even if he is thinking it, I think he should have the manners and tact not to say it.

    @Wow Whaaa? People like you shouldn’t breed, mmmk?

    As for the females who sport both femininity and brainpower, go for it. Be who you are. However, I find my gender and both the natural and social stipulations it carries to be inconvenient or even burdenous and would rather suppress it while focusing on the mental and the spiritual. Creativity and ingenuity may have a hand in changing the world, but simply being pretty will not.

  78. #78 Wow
    February 7, 2011

    “Whaaa? People like you shouldn’t breed, mmmk?”

    Based on personal experience?

  79. #79 Curtis
    November 16, 2011

    The depth of humanity descends far in to darkness. It is a flaw of humanity. It is the price we pay to benefit from wonderful individuals like you. To struggle is the natural state. Ever we will strive and yet we will never see perfection until we realize we are perfect. You are perfect. The light you cast is seen by thousands all you have to do is continue to shine.

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