Terra Sigillata

DrDrA at BlueLabCoats has returned with an outstanding post, entitled, “I want you to hear me, I don’t care what you see…,” that she wrote out longhand during her recent travels:

In my absence I picked up a whiff of a lot of chatter about what women scientists wear to work… or talk/write about wearing …. going on in the blogosphere. . .

You see- the struggle I’m in daily in my own life and career is not about appearances, and it is not about symbolism or femininity- and it is not about who I am as a person, my likes and dislikes etc. It is a struggle to be heard and taken seriously for my ideas, plain and simple. . .it is about training the students in my group – who right now happen to be all women- to be the best possible scientists, and teaching them how the system works. It is about not having to repeat the same reasonable idea 20 or 30 times and have it laughed off by a group of colleagues for two or three YEARS, and then having a man mention it once and have it roundly applauded and implemented.

Funny that she should write this outstanding post right now – since I’ve been reading her, Zuska, and many of my other women scientist friends (and witnessing my supremely accomplished wife get blown off by fellow academics), I’ve been trying my own experiments (not really experiments but rather real-life observations to which I’ve become attuned after reading my colleagues.).

The last one was at a meeting last week where I noticed at our opening reception a group of women academics next to the bar separate from the other groups of mostly men with one or maybe two women. I gently interrupted to introduce myself then spoke with a few about where they were, what they did, why they were here, etc., intentionally listening for 75-80% of the conversation rather than being the typical male ass who would descend upon such a group and hold forth on his greatness. Indeed, these women smoked me in terms of stature and experience and I did in fact have a great deal to learn from them (as I did for the rest of the workshop).

Well, wouldn’t you know if, but along comes a gentleman obviously hoping to rescue these highly accomplished female academics from a man who was actually listening to them. After a few minutes of his blustering and chest-puffing, I turned back to the person with whom I was already having an engaging conversation and the gentleman took leave shortly thereafter.

I present this anecdote not for any self-aggrandizment – after all, what is such a big deal about listening more than speaking to anyone, any colleague, regardless of their gender or geographical ancestry? Instead, DrDrA’s sentiments caused me to recall what DrugMonkey said in one of his more notable posts, gentlemen, it doesn’t hurt a bit to be “that guy.”

“That Guy” is the one who always says “Hey, how come we don’t have any women on this seminar list? Can we do a little better? What about Professor Smith, she’s got some really interesting stuff”. I have a colleague who has a reputation for this sort of thing (I try to emulate him to the degree that I can manage it) which makes him “that guy”. The one where after awhile the GrayBearded types kinda roll their eyes in his direction, or even make the pre-emptive comments anticipating his observation.

One final note, motivated by Dr. Jekyll’s comment about overhearing “she’s a real ball-buster”. Generalizing to the “too aggressive” critique leveled at your female colleague who is trying to make it in this career, there is an approach to take. Even if you happen to agree that Dr. FemaleColleague does behave a little aggressively and non-collegially. (Yes, my XX readers, it sometimes is the case that that jerk colleague is a woman). You can acknowledge that even if she is less-than-pleasant, you “can certainly understand the discriminatory factors affecting women in science that made her have to act this way to get the resources she needed”. What could it possibly cost you to make that observation?

None of this talk is meant to say that only men can solve these problems. However, my continuing liberal arts studies of gender and race tell me that white men hold the power in academia (and elsewhere). Hence, why can’t those in power use that authority, those resources, etc., to support colleagues with equally great ideas and other strengths who are struggling in this business because of their race, gender, or both?

While much space has been devoted here to my moderating a session with PalMD on blogger pseudonymity at the upcoming ScienceOnline’09 conference, I’ve also been asked by Zuska and Alice Pawley to participate there in an endeavor I actually view as far, far more important: gender in science – online and offline and the potential for enlisting allies.

I’ve been blessed with very strong, intelligent, and accomplished role models in my life, many of whom are (or were) women: my Mom, my sister, my grandmothers, my wife. Their example helps me to strive to be “that guy.”

What about you, boys?

Comments

  1. #1 drdrA
    November 18, 2008

    Abel-

    Hey- thanks so much for writing this post, it is totally awesome. I think about that original post at Drugmonkey quite a bit- so it is great to see it reposted. And thanks also for listening- and for taking small steps in your own way to ‘be that guy’ … I am certain that the women that you interact with daily, appreciate this more than you know. I know that I do!

  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    November 18, 2008

    Questions to ask ourselves, several times a day:

    “Am I part of the solution or part of the problem?”
    “What are the consequences of my (in)actions?”
    “Is this right? If not, see question one.”

  3. #3 Abel Pharmboy
    November 18, 2008

    drdrA, thank you so much for your post to get even further to the true heart of the matter beyond attire and snark. I’m really glad I have that DrugMonkey post to refer to since we guys need to step up and also make other guys feel comfortable to do the same (or at least use peer pressure and make them feel like an ass if they don’t). While we may not influence the GrayBeards, we can help a new generation of leaders be more inclusive (although I am fortunate to know a few GrayBeards who are better examples than many of the young bucks).

    D.C.: Those three lines are going on an index card above my desk!

  4. #4 MitoScientist
    November 18, 2008

    Well played dear sir! I too have been spoiled by excellent role models and mentors who are women. In fact, all my training in science, from the the postdoc who showed me how to survive in the lab (when I was an undergrad) to the MD/PhD who mentored me on the intersects of research and medicine were women. I have them to thank for my entry and successes in the science I dig.

  5. #5 Nat
    November 18, 2008

    D.C.: Those three lines are going on an index card above my desk!

    I had exactly the same thought when I saw that Abel.

  6. #6 Spaulding
    November 18, 2008

    I’ve also been asked by Zuska and Alice Pawley to participate there in an endeavor I actually view as far, far more important: gender in science – online and offline and the potential for enlisting allies.

    I’m not the first one to say it, but there are people like Zuska who excel at alienating allies. Career ambition is not the same as (nor a justification for) knee-jerk unpleasantness. The attitude of posts like this is far more useful.

  7. #7 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 18, 2008

    I’m not the first one to say it, but there are people like Zuska who excel at alienating allies. Career ambition is not the same as (nor a justification for) knee-jerk unpleasantness. The attitude of posts like this is far more useful.

    This is totally fucking wrong, and your arrogant assumption that you know better than anyone else what is “useful” is repugnant. What Zuska does and what Abel Phuckwit is doing in this post are both useful, but they serve different purposes. Massaging the egos of “potential allies” is not Zuska’s purpose, and what she does serves her purpose extremely effectively.

    And for fuck’s sake, did you really need to drag out the misogynist “unpleasantness” trope?

  8. #8 leigh
    November 18, 2008

    my ex-mentor was a puff-chested sonofabitch who rejected every idea i presented out of hand as thoughtless and futile. via email, i connected with an outside mentor who suggested i try “seeding” the ideas and letting him take credit, as a test. sure enough, man, dude had some awesome ideas once i started that trick.

    it made me positively sick, and for that and countless other reasons, i got the hell out of there. it was, of course, my fault that it didn’t work out.

  9. #9 Spaulding
    November 18, 2008

    Abel stated that he’s been “asked by Zuska and Alice Pawley to participate there in an endeavor I actually view as far, far more important: gender in science – online and offline and the potential for enlisting allies.
    So unless I’m misreading this sentence, it posits “potential allies” as one of Zuska’s endeavors (i.e. something she would percieve as useful). Not something I made up, PhysioProf. That’s why I included the quote.

    Another thing I haven’t made up: people supportive of their female colleagues who get tongue-lashed on Zuska’s block for some real or perceived disagreement with Zuska’s take on things. One can’t simultaneously suggest that it’s the responsibility of males to emphasize fostering the careers of their female colleagues while also vilifying those who do so.

    And the idea of “unpleasantness” is not intrinsically a misogynist trope. I’m not talking about being an uppity female, I’m talking about being a dick. When a one is pissed off, it may be appropriate to lash out at those responsible; but when one instead lashes out at nearby bystanders, one invites criticism. To suggest that possession of a vagina would exempt one from this criticism is the sexist view here.

    I’ll stop now because it’s not my intent to derail the conversation or to snipe Zuska while she’s not looking. BTW, a cursory visit to Zuska’s blog will show that she dismisses similar critique frequently, though it’s obvious I think her dismissal is frequently inappropriate.

  10. #10 Spaulding
    November 18, 2008

    and your arrogant assumption that you know better than anyone else what is “useful” is repugnant. What Zuska does and what Abel Phuckwit is doing in this post are both useful

    Ha! I’m not allowed to evaluate usefulness, but you are?

    You undermine yourself. Look up the word “hypocrisy” then we’ll talk,
    since your crude “because I said so” nonsense is not…
    useful.

  11. #11 Abel Pharmboy
    November 18, 2008

    Jeebus, I go teach class and get tied up off the computer and all hell breaks loose. Spaulding has obviously had some experience with Zuska to which he takes offense despite his(?) apparent support of women in science and generalizes about her worldview. I share CPP’s concerns about Spaulding’s use of the misogynistic code words.

    Here is my view, particularly since I have taken the time to read, write to, and interact in the meatworld with Zuska: she is a leader in wanting other women to not face the same discrimination that she and her contemporaries have experienced. She has every right to respond as she does to men who appear to be acting in the best interest of women – I have learned that being an ally in my mind is not always the exact way my female colleagues would wish. Therefore, my approach has been to establish a dialogue with, for lack of a better term, the feminist sci/med blogosphere and listen and try to understand their views in the context of their experiences, some of which I cannot believe still occur today (such as leigh’s experience noted just above). From there, I can then see where I may have been mistaken or even previously taken offense myself – this requires relieving oneself of personal attachment to the views expressed and a willingness to consider “vilification” as a response to something one has not appreciated previously as offensive.

    Sometimes this is a very difficult dialogue, particularly for those of us who come from a place of societal privilege.

  12. #12 drdrA
    November 18, 2008

    Abel- So right. I’m just going to heap on the thanks and say thanks again for stepping back and trying to understand what my experience (and that of other women scientists) is like.

    And you would probably not be so shocked to learn that Leighs experience is not so rare. I’ve had almost the identical experience on more than one occassion!

  13. #13 drdrA
    November 18, 2008

    Abel- So right. I’m just going to heap on the thanks and say thanks again for stepping back and trying to understand what my experience (and that of other women scientists) is like.

    And you would probably not be so shocked to learn that Leighs experience is not so rare. I’ve had almost the identical experience on more than one occasion!

  14. #14 Jonny82
    November 18, 2008

    Just to let your readers know that Andor Technology plc are running a competition for the scientific community. $400 to the charity of your choice, will be awarded for the winning entry in the 2008 Christmas Card design contest, plus the opportunity to promote your work on http://www.andor.com – Check out:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k85yzCSdhrc

  15. #15 DrugMonkey
    November 18, 2008

    Spaulding, is it so hard to understand intent is not always equal to effect?

  16. #16 Spaulding
    November 18, 2008

    Hey, not trying to start blogwar drama. I hate that stuff.

    Anyway, I’ll grant that vitriol draws a bigger blog audience than a less dramatic approach would, and certainly people appreciate having places to vent their frustrations. Zuska’s a successful blogger in terms of those measures. However, if building alliances is a goal as was mentioned in the original post here, it shouldn’t be controversial to say that you shouldn’t treat those allies as enemies.

    Yet on Zuska’s blog, you don’t have to look far to see that happening. Well-intentioned people are attacked and don’t return. It’s a shame. And it doesn’t have to happen. It’s possible to be vocal and angry at those who deserve it without poisoning your interactions with those who do not deserve it.

    Be cautious of Maslow’s hammer. If you can’t tell the difference between misogyny and someone saying “hey, you’re being a jerk,” then it’s time to take a step back.

  17. #17 Spaulding
    November 18, 2008

    DrugMonkey: that’s a useful point, and perhaps similar to my own:
    When someone’s actions are motivated by noble intent but their means or results are lacking, they’ll generally be receptive to good suggestions for improving their results in the future. This is different than someone who does not have noble intentions, who will not be as receptive. And if you alienate folks who do have noble intentions, then they’ll stop being receptive too.

    Anyone looking for allies would be wise to recognize the difference.

  18. #18 acmegirl
    November 19, 2008

    I find it interesting, Spaulding, that you seem to think the only positive thing a feminist blogger can do is try to build alliances. Zuska is very good at expressing the anger that I often feel when trying to navigate this world as a female scientist. Frustration and even rage are emotions that women should have every right to feel, and express, but often don’t. Surely you can see how criticising a female blogger for doing so could come off as mysoginist? No?

    Not every blog has to answer every purpose, with every post. Zuska’s blog is her own. If she doesn’t want to play nice on there to please the menfolk who feel that angry women don’t deserve to be heard, she doesn’t have to. And as to alienating potential allies, I think it’s very valuable to let such people know that these problems are not going to be fixed with a band-aid. Noble intentions are all fine and good, but really, how much help is an ally who doesn’t want to truly understand the perpective of those they clain to want to help? I get pretty pissed off myself when I hear insensitive, poorly thought out, bullshit, “All you have to do is…”, or, “But I’m a nice guy, so you must be mistaken about what happened…” comments.

    And let’s not forget, there’s room in the blogosphere for all types of voices. Even the ones you don’t like.

  19. #19 thalarctos
    November 19, 2008

    Thank you, Abel–this is, as drdrA says, an awesome post.

  20. #20 Anonymous
    November 19, 2008

    OK, we have a real problem if any criticism of a woman is going to be called misogyny. That people find Zuska unpleasant is barely surprising, but that probably more a reflection of their views on reading the style and content she posts. Many people find anger and discussion of things that make them uncomfortable unpleasant.

  21. #21 lurker
    November 19, 2008

    Thank you Abel – it’s actually healing to read your post (and DrugMonkey’s be that guy post). My grad student experience was composed of disrespect and harassment; I persisted to prove them wrong, but that energy could have been better spent solving problems in the lab. The continuous discouragement contributed to my leaving research for friendlier territory. I wish things had been different. Your demonstrated understanding and willingness to do something makes a big difference to me (and probably many others). Thank you.

  22. #22 DrugMonkey
    November 19, 2008

    And if you alienate folks who do have noble intentions, then they’ll stop being receptive too….Anyone looking for allies would be wise to recognize the difference.

    I think we agree in principle. One should not go out of one’s way to piss off people who are supporting things that are important to one.

    I usually have difficulty seeing where it applies in this whole “I think I’m a feminist ally and I’m pissed off because I’m being alienated” discussion.

    Perhaps my position is naive because I am un-invested. I’m not steeped in academic or other feminist theory. I am not conversant with terms. I don’t really consider myself to be that much of a feminist when it comes down to it. So perhaps when someone tells me I’m doin it rongz I am less likely to get the back up.

    But perhaps you can explain the whys to me. Why and when do you feel alienated? Don’t tell me what some horrible shoe-puker wrote but rather explain why it gets to you? Is it so hard to bear that in some way, for some women, on some issue you might just be part of the problem rather than the solution? This doesn’t make you a shitheel or invalidate the ways in which you are part of the solution, does it?

    I just don’t get why feminist “allies” get “alienated”. Or is it just that you are congenitally unable to appreciate rage and humor? Because I could see that being the difference. I got nothing there because I, of course, enjoy that stuff. Misbegotten youth, no doubt….

  23. #23 Spaulding
    November 19, 2008

    acmegirl wrote:

    I find it interesting, Spaulding, that you seem to think the only positive thing a feminist blogger can do is try to build alliances.

    Please refer to my comments above, where I’ve repeatedly addressed that. Pay special attention to where I quoted the “allies” thing from the original post. But if this is a strawman issue rather than a not-reading issue, then thanks for reinforcing my argument.

    DrugMonkey: Thanks for your efforts to steer this in a constructive direction. Let’s look at some possible “whys”:

    is it just that…feminist “allies”…are congenitally unable to appreciate rage and humor?

    I’ll optimistically assume that wasn’t meant as an insult – because yes, it could well be part of the problem. Tone is notoriously difficult to convey on the internet. Plus, one person’s snide response will likely be interpreted differently than dozen of consecutive snide responses from avid blog commenters. However, please note that general rage at everything is quite different than focused rage!

    Beyond that, though, I live in a nation that’s in bad shape from eight years of “either you’re with us or you’re against us.” Like foreign policy, feminism is a lot more complex and diverse than this polarizing language would imply. Polarizing language may effectively rally a base; but it also rallies the opposition, which may include those who simply refuse to buy into the false duality.

    There are more fallacies where that one came from. It’s common to see a dissenting comment in the feminist blogosphere challenged not on its merits, but on an argument to authority. I.e. speculation that the commenter has the wrong configuration of genitals to possess knowledge, experience, or opinion; followed by a scramble to present one’s feminist credentials, as if that’s at all relevant to the argument. This thread is a good example. The original post appears to take a form of “hey, check out my feminist cred”, while the comments quickly shifted to “OMG, someone criticized a blog by a woman! Misogynist!” Abel, your language is civil, yet you still imply that a dissenting voice is guilty of misogyny until proven guilty. (If you’re just defensive because you view me as a stranger criticizing a friend, I sympathize.)

    DrugMonkey, while I’m glad you’re making an effort to understand input like my own, “rather explain why it gets to you” can be read as condescending. E.g. “what personality defect causes you to be bothered by unfounded slander in support of logical fallacies?”

    And the problem is much bigger than analyzing what bothers me. DM, your presence here suggests to me that you’re concerned about women’s issues and/or gender equality issues. I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that you’d agree with the “feminist position” on any number of social issues. Yet like a shockingly large number of people, you’re reluctant to call yourself a feminist. Like adherents of any other philosophy, movement, or goal, feminists need not be a single, monolithic voice; and feminism’s ultimate goal may even be its own obsolescence. Yet the popular reluctance to embrace the term “Feminism” indicates that there’s a problem. Dworkin suggested that “Feminism is hated because women are hated,” but that’s really not the case for so many folks who reject the term. It seems more as if Feminism has been contorted by generation gaps and precariously represented by the sort of academic masturbation that Sokal lampooned. Partisan strawman tactics are a big part of it too, but misdirected rage plays right into that. I hate seeing “feminist” treated as a dirty word, but when internet feminist conversations typically spiral into fallacy and suspicion, then i start to agree with you that the label does not represent me, even if I am enthusiastic about gender equality.

    Maybe this is largely a case of “on the internet, people are stupid and rude,” but Zuska and her crew are manifestly NOT stupid, so I keep expecting better from them.

  24. #24 Ron Sullivan
    November 20, 2008

    Spaulding, I’m still trying to figure out whether you think “Zuska and her crew” are looking for personal allies or feminist allies. If you’re a feminist or a feminist ally, you believe in and act on feminist principles.

    If you can be “alienated” from these principles by tone, perceived rudeness, or personal unpleasantness, you’re not a feminist ally; you’re a Nice Guy(tm).

  25. #25 Abel Pharmboy
    November 20, 2008

    I’d say that my intent in writing this post was not to advertise my feminist cred as much as it was agreeing with drdrA’s post and noting my willingness to do what I can to understand and help the situation. Whatever Spaulding feels I implied about “guilt” is more a note, like DrugMonkey’s, of trying to explain why I am not as easily alienated.

    But I am struck that Spaulding’s continued engagement in this thread demonstrates his willingness to debate the issues, argue from a point of logic, and present his concern over obstacles such as generalized rage and polarizing language in clouding the resolution of the complexities of gender inequality. I appreciate this not degenerating into a “blogwar drama” because I think I’m beginning to understand where he’s coming from.

    So, how about this? My presence at Zuska’s and Alice’s session is more for me to be a proxy for potential allies who are white XYs – I in no way shape or form even approach being a feminist scholar. In fact, giving some thought to Ron Sullivan’s comment makes me wonder whether I’m an ally or a Nice Guy.

    What list of messages and concerns would Spaulding or others have me convey to those assembled?

  26. #26 DrugMonkey
    November 20, 2008

    Spaulding, just to clarify slightly. I am not in a camp that considers feminist and feminism dirty words or labels that I would shun. I am more in the PhysioProffian camp of “It isn’t up to me to decide if I am in fact a feminist”.

    Part of this is because, as you recognize, there are a diversity of feminist voices. If one proclaims oneself a feminist and then runs afoul of a particular view of feminism it leads to wars over who is a “real” feminist and what the genuine, core perspective should be. Being more interested in viewpoints, policies and laws (that are indeed more or less consistent with the positions generally identified as feminist) I feel this type of argument over identity always ends up as a distraction vis a vis my interests. For those who are really invested in external recognition that they qualify for the feminist label….I just don’t get it.

    Polarizing language may effectively rally a base; but it also rallies the opposition, which may include those who simply refuse to buy into the false duality.

    You are confusing two issues here. I thought we were talking about alienating allies, i.e., ideological co-travelers. Your example has to do with attracting or converting the neutral or opposed. Those can be very different things. Me, I think the past 30 or so years (and particularly the past 8) of US politics has demonstrated that appeasing the opposition in hopes of politely moving things your way is an utter failure. Entrenched positions get changed though a spectrum of approaches in which the in-your-face challenge is at least as necessary as the rational discourse approach. Status quo systems are highly effective at absorbing and deflecting the rational, measured approach. Anger and shouting and shaming is often at the root of much real progress that is, post hoc, attributed to the rational discourse (see US Civil Rights of the 50s-70s).

  27. #27 kiwi
    November 20, 2008

    Abel, I really liked your post. Hearing this stuff helps me to stay in science on days when I struggle and have plenty of rage. Probably not why you wrote it, but I found it really moving. And I’ll stand next to Zuska as well thanks.

  28. #28 Joe
    November 20, 2008

    Abel, I hesitate to sound dumb; but, (why should I break with tradition) I don’t see who “Zuska” is.

  29. #29 Abel Pharmboy
    November 20, 2008

    Joe, I love ya! Zuska is “the kickass alter-ego” of Suzanne Franks who write at Sb at Thus Spake Zuska.

    By the way, thanks to readers coming by from Genome Technology Online where this post and others from Janet Stemwedel and Zuska were cited for this ongoing disucssion. (In fact, many thanks to the unknown blog editor for Genome Technology Online who frequently picks up our posts and sends a goodly amount of traffic our way – delurk sometime, would ya?)

  30. #30 DuWayne
    November 20, 2008

    DM wrote -

    I just don’t get why feminist “allies” get “alienated”.

    And here is the thing, they absolutely won’t. Although I think the language is important here – Men can be and many of us are, feminists. As a feminist, I am not going to be alienated from my fundamental beliefs, because a feminist who has a vagina is rude to me. That can (and has) alienate me from the person in question, but at the end of the day it isn’t going to change who I am and what I believe in.

    To me, being a feminist is much like being color blind. I don’t judge people by the color of their skin or whether they have an inny or an outy. Depending on the context, I judge them by the quality of their work, or the type of person they are – their values, their ethics and how they treat others. Beyond that, I am all about calling people on their bigotry, when bigotry is exposed and advocating for feminist political positions that I happen to agree with (and there are some that I just don’t).

    It really doesn’t matter to me what someone says about me or how I go about my business. When someone makes a valid point that I haven’t considered before, I am happy to change my views accordingly – and that has even happened because someone got shitty with me. But non-constructive criticism isn’t going to change anything.

    As far as the nice guy(tm) versus the feminist (or feminist ally if you prefer), I think it’s kind of a false dichotomy. What Abel and DM are describing is very much a feminist perspective. Being a feminist doesn’t require that one go out and be a political agitator. It’s about respecting one’s colleagues and (for some making a conscious effort) not engaging in certain boorish behaviors. It’s about allowing it to become unconscious. The world will be a great place, the day that we don’t think about whether our colleague is male or female, gay or straight, white or fucking purple – it doesn’t matter and shouldn’t. What should matter is who they are and what they can do.

    When I hear a phrase like “nice guy” I think of someone who is a player. This doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t a nice guy or inherently misogynistic. I have had my feminist values for a very long time and when I was younger, I had no qualms about reaping the sexual benefits that occasionally resulted from my attitudes. But when I hear the descriptive “nice guy” being differentiated from inherent values, I tend to think of someone who is playing at an attitude so they can get something for it. In the context of feminism, that something would usually be Teh Sex.

    This isn’t to say that I am trying to justify anyone’s unpleasant behavior. I’m not. I happen to be fairly comfortable with getting shitty with people when I think it’s appropriate and I’m quite certain that I alienate people by doing that. Honestly, when I do it, it’s because I don’t care if I alienate that person or not. I personally tend not to do that with people who mostly agree with me on the issue being discussed, but to each their own. The only person who suffers from that alienation is the person doing the alienating. And I just assume that the person doing the alienating doesn’t really care that that is the result of their actions.

  31. #31 DuWayne
    November 21, 2008

    I am more in the PhysioProffian camp of “It isn’t up to me to decide if I am in fact a feminist”.

    See, I just don’t get that. It is absolutely up to you to decide. I don’t think the notion of letting others label me is acceptable at all, especially given that there are a variety of feminist theories out there. Who does get to decide who and what you are, if not you? Who gets to say, why yes DM, you’re a feminist, or nope, you’re nothing but a misogynistic fuckwit?

    I am a gay rights advocate. I can say this, in spite of the fact that several of my gay friends believe that my rather voracious advocacy of marriage equality is counterintuitive to the battle for gay rights and divisive. This in spite of gay friends who find the notion that I hate to identify as straight, absolutely absurd.

    I am a feminist. I can say this in spite of the fact that my partner has spent most of the last six years as a stay at home mom (if she had higher market value skills, I would happily be a stay at home dad). I can say this in spite of the fact that because of our living arrangement, I have been accused of misogyny and worse. Why? Because I see my values as they relate to women, as inherently feminist in nature. And there are a great many feminists with vagina’s who also consider my values to be inherently feminist.

    When we let others define us, define our labels – we become nothing more than a doormat. No one else can know you, the way that you know you. No one else can understand your values, your ethics, your moral framework, like you do. You are the only person who can really accurately label you or define what those labels mean to you.

    One of my dearest friends is a male born women. Unlike most transgendered people I know, she chooses not to dress in traditionally women’s clothing (unlike me, who is most definitely a man – yet I love to wear long, light “hippie” skirts) and will never have surgery to change the physical characteristics that make her body that of a man. A lot of people have issues with referring to her in the feminine, most notably, women born women. Yet that is how she chooses to identify – who the fuck is anyone else to decide that she is wrong?

    I am a guy who likes to have sex with people, not a straight guy – in spite of the fact that I am sexually attracted to women and not sexually attracted to men. Who the fuck is anyone to claim that I am straight? I am who I am and only I can define who I am. The same is true of you. You are who you are and only you can define that.

  32. #32 DrugMonkey
    November 21, 2008

    hmm, DuWayne you seem to think the position is one of supplicant, waiting around to be labeled so I know what to think of myself. Hardly. I just don’t have much need to be labeled with “feminist”, that’s all. I don’t disdain it- if someone I respect thinks it fits, I think that a good thing. However, if someone thinks I’m not a feminist, this isn’t going to be a big deal to me. Such a person is free to define his or her own concept and I’m just not going to be too fussed if I’m judged lacking.

    But let’s not let this get too far from the real point with respect to alienating supposed allies. being too keen on defining oneself as a feminist seems to raise trouble when one or two of one’s many behaviors draws fire from other feminists. the defense seems to go along the lines of “but…but…I’m a feminist! therefore I can’t have acted in an unfeminist way…clearly you are an ally alienating screechy angry feminazi!!! (oh, did I say that?)”

  33. #33 anon
    November 21, 2008

    Here’s a great example of where “that guy” could have made a difference.

    At our national ecological meeting last year, a one day symposium was held, with 20 invited speakers, on the latest advances in ecology in our country (with their talks to be published ina special issue of the national ecological journal). Ecology must surely be one if the scientific disciplines with most female scientists, right? And how many of those 20 invited speakers were women? . . . umm, one. That’s right, one.

    (And yes, I did mention it to one of the symposium organisers afterwards, and yes he was horrified).

  34. #34 DuWayne
    November 21, 2008

    hmm, DuWayne you seem to think the position is one of supplicant, waiting around to be labeled so I know what to think of myself.

    I was rather picturing Berkeley Breathed’s caricature of Allen Alda, as expressed by the Bloom County character, Steve Dallas, when his brain was turned inside out by aliens:) Seriously though, that is pretty much what your statement implies.

    the defense seems to go along the lines of “but…but…I’m a feminist! therefore I can’t have acted in an unfeminist way…clearly you are an ally alienating screechy angry feminazi!!! (oh, did I say that?)”

    If I respond at all to people who treat me like that, it is more along the lines of; “gods you’re a fucking asshole.” I’m just not insecure enough to feel the need to go on the defensive. At the same time, I can understand why someone would feel that way, given how I have been treated in the past. While I would tend to think that feminazi is going to an opposite extreme, the fact that someone gets offended by assholes who happen to have a vagina, doesn’t mean they are inherently misogynistic.

    And such attitudes can alienate people who have valuable input to offer. While it isn’t going to change their fundamental beliefs and attitudes, it can drive them away from helping with a particular issue or circumstance. For example, there is a gay rights activist who has been an activist for more years than I’ve been alive. He was involved in a forum that was trying to get the anti-discrimination policies of Ingham county to add women to their list of hiring practices for contractors seeking construction contracts – basically, companies that employ minorities get preferential treatment in the application process.

    He had been heavily involved in getting glt’s added to that very same list and so he went to the forum so that he could offer his input. He was flat out told that his input wasn’t welcome, because he couldn’t possibly understand what women have to deal with, trying to get jobs in construction. So he left and didn’t get involved. It is impossible to say whether or not his involvement would have made them successful, but it took them several tries before women were added to the list. What I can say for sure, was that his input would have been valuable, because he had been there and done that. But because of the way he had been treated, he wasn’t interested in helping when his help was finally requested.

  35. #35 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 21, 2008

    It really doesn’t matter to me what someone says about me or how I go about my business. When someone makes a valid point that I haven’t considered before, I am happy to change my views accordingly – and that has even happened because someone got shitty with me. But non-constructive criticism isn’t going to change anything.

    Dude, are you fucking nuts!?!?!?!? If someone says something in a manner that pisses you off, you must completely ignore the content of what they said, ATTACK and DESTROY, and EXPEL THEM FROM THE COMMUNITY!11!!!11!!!!!!!11!!!!!!!!

    Seriously, man. Get with the motherfucking program.

  36. #36 cashmoney
    November 21, 2008

    CPP, you forgot the part about “by any means necessary”.

  37. #37 neurospasm
    November 21, 2008

    CPP, you also forgot the other part of “mak[ing] their lives difficult if there is benefit to doing so.”

    *cough*

  38. #38 DuWayne
    November 21, 2008

    CPP -

    I am more of a wait until they least expect it sort of guy. But I’ve got a list motherfucker, oh I have my fucking list. And rest assured, even if I don’t get through the whole thing – or if one of them gets me before I destroy them, I have a son and I’m raising him right. He’ll get the motherfuckers – or their kids if need be.

  39. #39 anon
    November 22, 2008

    “But because of the way he had been treated, he wasn’t interested in helping when his help was finally requested.”

    Gosh, I guess he was really committed to the big picture.

  40. #40 DuWayne
    November 22, 2008

    anon -

    Actually he is and was. What he wasn’t committed to, was a group of women who asked him to leave the forum, if he was going to be a misogynist who thought those poor, defenseless women couldn’t manage without the help of a man. They were the ones who burned the bridge, not him.

    Besides which, he’s pretty much busy all the time, consulting with a number of gay rights groups on specific projects. He had been asked by a friend to come to that forum and was willing to take the time then. But he is way too busy to bother with folks who think it’s ok to treat him like shit, until they realize that they could really use his help. He has done the same thing with glt advocacy groups that treated him badly too. Being committed to the big picture, doesn’t mean one needs to put up with abuse.

    Or are you going to claim that because one supports a cause, they should just grin and bear it? Sorry, but most of us aren’t keen on being doormats.

  41. #41 Becca
    November 25, 2008

    @DM- you’re a feminist. The tribe has spoken (I’m positive someone died around here and left me Queen of Sheba, if I can just find my throne…).

    @DuWayne-

    The world will be a great place, the day that we don’t think about whether our colleague is male or female, gay or straight, white or fucking purple – it doesn’t matter and shouldn’t.

    I resoundly disagree, good sir!
    Fucking purple colleagues will always = fucking awesome. Plus, they need special protection from flying purple people eaters, so we can’t just ignore their purplehood.

    Also, point of clarification- “Nice Guy” (TM) has a perculiar meaning in these parts of the blogosphere. It’s distinct from how it might be used in other parts of Teh Internets(TM). Your view of it is interesting, but probably not precisely what was intended.

    the fact that someone gets offended by assholes who happen to have a vagina, doesn’t mean they are inherently misogynistic.

    Too true, too true. Yet, on the internets, we don’t always see every single raving “I’m OFFENDED BY YOU!!!eleventy!” post. So it can be difficult to distinguish the sensitive souls who are offended by all assholes, from the misogynistic twerps who see humans-who-happen-to-be-in-possession-of-a-vagina as assholes for behaving in a fashion deemed perfectly acceptable for humans-in-possession-of-a-penis. Double standards do exist, after all. So some hypersensitivity is probably to be expected.

    @ Spaulding- it *is* hard to convey tone over the internet, so please accept my assurances that I am sincere in these questions, and am in no way attempting to be condesending or any other flavor of unpleasant.
    I’m curious about your perspective. You say you are enthusiastic about gender equality- what would you like to see done? What are you doing? Have you been “that guy”, and what was it like?
    Seperately, what exactly is offputting about Zuska? Do you usually understand where her anger comes from, even if you think her fury falls disproportionately on innocent hapless passerby (is that even a fair description of what you think she does?)? Or does it usually seem inexplicable to you?

  42. #42 Luna_the_cat
    November 25, 2008

    DuWayne writes:
    Who the fuck is anyone to claim that I am straight? I am who I am and only I can define who I am. The same is true of you. You are who you are and only you can define that.

    Um. I agree with a lot of what you write, but here, I think you are wandering into dangerous territory. What other people label us — how other people see us — absolutely DOES matter, in terms of how they react to us if nothing else. And, we’re not always right about what we are, and other people are not always wrong to take a different view.

    What about creationists and and anti-vaxxers and fundamentalists who label themselves as “seekers after truth”, when they ignore every single bit of evidence presented to them if it is counter to their preferred beliefs, and what is true or not is irrelevant? Are they justified in insisting on their own label and ignoring the naysayers? ….And, what about those people who genuinely seem to consider themselves “feminists”, but insist on judging women by whether or not they are pretty and how they dress, rather than on professional skill, and who think that it is better for a job to go to a man than a woman because “men really need jobs, and women are happier being home”? Are they right to be able to label themselves feminists, and to ignore the people who say to them, “no you fucking aren’t!”?

    This is not a black-and-white “you’re right about what you are and you don’t have to listen to other people” issue. People can be self-deceiving. Not saying you are…just that it happens.

    There’s an old Russian Jewish saying:

    If one person calls you a donkey, you’re not a donkey.
    If two people call you a donkey, you’re not a donkey.
    If three people call you a donkey, you’re not a donkey.
    If ten people call you a donkey, you’re still not a donkey.
    If a hundred people call you a donkey…maybe you’re a donkey.

    It is possibly useful to listen for donkeyhood.

  43. #43 DuWayne
    November 27, 2008

    Luna -

    I think that I probably worded that badly. It’s not that I am advocating ignoring what anyone else has to say, because I’m not. I am who I am today, because of the input I have gotten from a whole host of other people, both personal advice/input and input posed to a larger audience. Such input can and for me has, on a number of occasions, been pretty fucking harsh – rightfully so at times. What I am objecting to, is allowing others to define me (or you). I know who I am and what my principles, my moral frame is all about. No one else can know it, so ultimately only I can really define me.

  44. #44 Spaulding
    December 2, 2008

    Luna – love the donkey quote. It’s broadly applicable.

    Becca – Judging from the direction this conversation has led, my general point has been conveyed. If I were interested in cataloging detailed grievances with Zuska, this really wouldn’t be the fair place, I think. Anyway, as DuWayne’s examples suggest, the point is probably a broader one.

  45. #45 Pam
    January 5, 2009

    I’m quite late to this party – but have been trying to catch up on some reading…and got caught up in this discussion.

    For me, all of this has gotten exhausting: the constant attempts to be heard. It is a struggle to be heard. You have to repeat yourself alot, speak more loudly than you normally would – whatever. Sometimes I wonder…when will my accomplishments be just that? When will they be enough? But enough of that (same-old, same-old). I do agree that there are allies, but it is frustrating to have men quietly, or behind closed doors acknowledge the lack of females in many situations – yet not simply speak up and say ‘why don’t we include…so and so…’? There are many men fully aware of gender bias that sit silently, and we desperately need their voice.

  46. #46 Zuska
    January 8, 2009

    I’m sure this will seem completely confusing and impossible to some of you (Spaulding?) but: it is entirely possible for me to participate in a conference symposium dedicated to talking about the topic of allies (what are they, how to get them, how to be one [and here I note that those of us who need allies, also will find ourselves occasionally in the position to be an ally to someone else]) – it is possible to participate in such a symposium, and yet write a blog that is not entirely dedicated, or even partially dedicated, to the care and feeding of allies with tender sensibilities. It is possible on one occasion to think and talk about ally issues, and on other occasions to mostly focus upon the unending torrent of crap one must deal with, that results in unpleasant feelings like anger and rage that society generally does not like to see expressed in women (nor even acknowledge that women might feel such things, certainly not because of any kind of systemic gender discrimination).

    In short, if, as ally, you find that you prefer meek, mild, and fawningly grateful supplicants, then I would probably agree that my blog is not for you.

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!