Thus Spake Zuska

Earlier this summer, a famous cheesesteak purveyor here in Philadelphia put up a sign in his establishment that read “This is America: When Ordering, Speak English”, thus touching off a controversy that raged for weeks. Owner Joey Vento was eventually served with a complaint claiming he was in violation of two sections of the city’s anti-discrimination laws.

Vento’s sign was just one manifestation of the xenophobia sweeping the nation these days, politely euphemized as “immigration controversy”. It’s also a stark illustration of how the dominant group (in this case, moneyed Republican xenophobic English-speaking U.S. citizens) feels free to exercise its power and set the terms of discourse for the subordinate group (in this case, anyone in the U.S. who doesn’t speak perfect English – visiting tourists, newly arrived [legal or illegal] immigrants, or even, possibly, Vento’s own Mexican immigrant employees).

Another example of a dominant group that feels free to dictate the terms of discourse to the subordinate group might be described as “nice men in science and engineering”. If only women would be polite, civil, rational! Present their issues in a calm and reasonable manner! Speak in a civil tone to the nice men, and the nice men will surely see what they are talking about, and agree to consider the reasonableness of their entreaties.

Certainly this approach has been recommended by many. Mary Wollstonecraft put forth the argument, in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, that a reasoned, rational approach would convince men of women’s equality and lead them to grant women their rights. Of course, Wollstonecraft made that argument in 1792, and many of us women are still waiting for that reasonable, rational approach to take effect, but I suppose one must never give up hope. Perhaps if we mail copies of Wollstonecraft’s book to all the nice men in science and engineering…?

In my post, Who’s NOT a Leader?, I criticized what fellow Sb’er Chad wrote about the so-called pipeline problem. I also said Chad had his head up his ass when he wrote that post. I did not speak in a civil tone, even though Chad clearly said in his post that he is a nice guy.

Fortunately for Chad, Rob, Colst, Koray, NJ, SMC, and Lab Lemming rushed to Chad’s defense. What a lovely world it would be if we all had so many people to rush to our defense each time we were attacked! You know, when we bring up an instance of sex discrimination in a reasonable and rational manner, and have it brushed off or dismissed, or are told that we should lighten up or not take things so seriously or can’t we take a joke or if we can’t stand the heat we should get out of the kitchen or…well, wouldn’t it be nifty if each of us women had 6 men rush into the breach to defend and support us every time that happened? A girl can dream.

Tonyl and Rob, in particular, have taken me to task for not being polite. Not using a civil tone. Not being courteous. Rob said:

When it’s always general, it’s easy to believe that it’s not in your department; if stuff is going [on] in your department, then everybody in that department needs to know that it happens there. And not in a screaming, kill-the-bastards kind of way, but just in the light of revelation and honesty.

Awww…”the light of revelation and honesty.” That is so touching. Well, Rob, Zuska is here to shine a great big fucking searchlight of revelation and honesty upon all the crap that goes on that nobody wants to look at or admit goes on. Revelation and honesty are not pretty. I am not here to hold your hand and soothe your ego. I don’t know you, and I don’t know Chad. You may both be perfectly nice guys; it’s irrelevant.

You will find plenty of women in your department and on your campus at large with whom you can engage in a polite and civil discourse about the issues facing women in science and engineering, and not just in a general sense – you can talk with them about the specific issues on your campus and in your department, and you can generally expect them to be polite, civil, courteous. They have jobs and careers to protect, and they can’t afford to be rude and obnoxious to people in power. And believe me, no matter what your position in the official hierarchy, as a man in science and engineering, you have power over them. Any man can say to any other man, “god, she’s such a bitch. Always complaining, causing trouble. I hate to be on committees with her.” And the other man will take your word for it, because, of course, you have a penis and penises don’t lie.

I, on the other hand, have no job, and no career, because I am disabled. I can say whatever the hell I want to pretty much without fear of any kind of repercussion, apart from some really pissed-off man deciding to turn stalker, hunt me down, and attack or kill me. Which wouldn’t be unheard of. I can’t think of any discipline in which men were shot and killed just for being men in that discipline. I never forget, however, that Marc LePine shot and killed 14 women because they were engineering students. You can refuse to engage with what I am saying because I’m not saying it nicely enough. Just don’t fool yourself about what you are doing. You are saying “I don’t have to listen to you because I’m a man and you’re a woman and you aren’t talking the way I want you to.” That is what you are doing.

Or, as Greg put it:

Authority does always act blind and deaf./ Until the petitioner in frustration starts shouting. / Then authority says he doesn’t need to listen to anyone so abusive.

The problems that women in science and engineering face are long-standing and well-established, and they are due to long-standing and well-established factors. Men who are not part of the solution, even very nice men, will be co-opted into being part of the problem, though they may be completely unaware of it. In fact, their co-optation depends upon their remaining unaware.

In Chad’s post, he is exonerating himself – as is Rob, in many of his comments. “I am nice, my intentions are good, therefore I am not part of the problem, therefore you should not be criticizing me or speaking discourteously to me. I am your ally.” Well-meaning men react this way all the time, as do well-meaning white people or well-meaning straight people when confronted with their unthinking participation in systemic racism or homophobia. Ostensible allies who can’t do much more than be nice are sometimes more frustrating and difficult to deal with than outright obnoxious sexist bastards; with them, at least, it’s pretty clear where you stand. With the “nice” allies, it’s very, very difficult to move them beyond seeing that while they are not engaging in individual acts of sexism, they are in many ways participating in and shoring up structural inequalities.

Ilikathechemicals posted this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tellingly, not a one of Chad’s defenders responded to it.

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.

I have no patience for allies who ask me to be polite. I have encountered precious few men in science and engineering who, when I brought up a concern or issue – no matter how polite or civil I was – did not attempt to explain away, dismiss, deny, rebut, or excuse the behavior or action I described. In over a quarter century in science and engineering, I can count on one hand the number of men who reacted to me as if they actually believed me on first hearing. Always, always, the men side with the men first, if only in their attempt to find an alternate explanation for sexist behavior; a woman’s word is never sufficient.

If I sound angry and pissed-off to you, it’s because I am. Stop taking it so fucking personally and start trying to figure out more about how systemic inequality functions in the university to produce death by a thousand paper cuts for women faculty – and how your blissful ignorance perpetuates the situation. If you are not actively educating yourself then you are functioning as part of the institutionalized system that confers advantage on men and disadvantage on women. Read the Policy Perspectives article on Gender Intelligence as a nice start. This should help you see that, yes indeedy, there’s plenty of work to be done at the level of the professoriate.

Comments

  1. #1 Jeff Knapp
    September 15, 2006

    OK. I have a daughter, 14, who is showing interest in things neuroscience. As she puts it, “I am fascinated with what makes people tick, how brains work.” She is very intelligent and very capable. She is in all AP classes in her freshman year in high school. As her father, I could not be more proud and more hopeful that she is showing an interest in things scientific.

    At the same time, I do worry about her having to deal with exactly some of the things you describe here. I want her to pursue whatever it is that intrigues, fascinates, draws her to pursue. I also want her to be able to succeed in science, if that is what she ultimately winds up choosing, without having to battle this all-pervasive sexism you describe – or at least be able to battle it successfully.

    What kind of advice would you give such a 14 year-old girl?

  2. #2 PhysioProf
    September 15, 2006

    Based on my own experiences as a male in biomedical science, I think you are right. I suspect it is not as bad quantitatively here as it is in the physical sciences and engineering, but as a qualitative matter I have no doubt that the institutionalized impediments you describe are real. As I have stated before, I have never observed or even heard of overt harrassment at any of the places I have been, but the structural features of scientific culture and its institutions that favor men are real.

    As far as your “take no prisoners” writing style, I have no problem with it at all. Your writing is invigorating, and has given me a renewed desire to take personal action to the extent possible to better the lot of women in my field.

  3. #3 Bardiac
    September 15, 2006

    Brava!

    Physioprof: take a female colleague off campus for coffee. Tell her that you’ve heard there are some problems with sexism in your department/unit/university, and you’re trying to figure out how to change things for the better. Then take notes. I think I can pretty much guarantee you’ll need more than one piece of paper.

    I was on a jury panel once for a domestic violence case; we were all asked if we knew anyone who had, or had ourselves been involved in any domestic violence. All the women raised our hands. None of the men did. We were all dismissed, while the men were kept on the panel.

    Was that some statistical weirdness, or is it possible that some of the men didn’t consider a little shoving, a slap, a little old fashioned “keeping her in line” to be violence? Or maybe they didn’t notice when a co-worker came in with a bruise and was upset all day? Or the screaming female voice from the next apartment really didn’t count?

    What I’m trying to say is that many men don’t recognize sexism or harassment when they see it. Many women don’t recognize the wrongness of the sexism and harassment, either. It’s an issue of awareness and fighting for justice.

  4. #4 Rob Knop
    September 16, 2006

    If I sound angry and pissed-off to you, it’s because I am. Stop taking it so fucking personally and start trying to figure out more about how systemic inequality functions in the university to produce death by a thousand paper cuts for women faculty – and how your blissful ignorance perpetuates the situation.

    Believe me, I know about the situation.

    As for the first part, about not taking it personally, I could say exactly the same thing to you. Yet you are angry, becuase you have, at least broadly been attacked. And, you are also, specifically as well as broadly, attacking me.

    If you get angry and yell, why is it that you think that those you are yelling at are going to be able to be more calm and are going to think that they should put up with the screaming and not return it? Is it that you think that white men are a more rational and calmer group than others? Obviously that’s stupid. But it’s implied in telling people to stop taking things fucking personally while you, meanwhile, give every indication of having taken things fucking personally.

    -Rob

  5. #5 Greg
    September 16, 2006

    So, Rob, what are you feeling guilty about?

    You are talking to this woman… well, right away, you know the “wo” part means that “broadly attacked” includes everything from finding her voice ignored to finding herself on her back with her panties around her ankles and wondering how she got there.

    You have been “broadly attacked” for ignoring her voice.

    Do you really think you deserve the same number of victim-points?

  6. #6 Zuska
    September 16, 2006

    I suppose I should have been more specific; I forgot about the tendency of (some) men to assume that everything is always about them. When I said “If I sound angry and pissed off to you, it’s because I am”, I did not mean that I am angry and pissed off at you, Rob, or at Chad. I don’t know either of you, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to be angry and/or pissed off at either of you. No, my anger and state of pissed-offedness goes back much further. It’s based on a quarter century’s worth of accummulated frustration with the sexist, racist, homophobic enterprise we know as science and engineering in the United States. I’m angry about the personal experiences I’ve had, the things I’ve witnessed my friends and colleagues suffer, the stubborn refusals to consider even the tiniest requests for change, the mouthing of pieties and promises of action that mean nothing in reality, the “allies” who say they are all for gender equity (but only as long as nothing they are currently doing has to change). I have been polite and civil and reasonable and diplomatic and courteous and inventive; I have negotiated and strategized and partnered and taught and had conversations till I was ready to drop from exhaustion. I did all that informally and I did it formally, for a living, for several years. I was very good at it. The pace of change was that of a snail’s.

    If you would refer to the information under my “About” tab, you would read there that Zuska “will tell you what everyone is thinking but is afraid to say”. As I said, I’m no longer constrained by the need to protect a job or career. Think of Zuska as the collective id of the women in engineering and science community. 100% id, no annoying superego. Look to your home department and campuses for polite conversations and strategy sessions with courteous colleagues. Look to Zuska if you want to get an inkling of the bitterness and anger many women have to manage on a daily basis in order to keep that polite face when they talk to you. If you do, then maybe the next time some woman “inexplicably” explodes in anger or frustration at you, you’ll have a tiny inkling of why that happened.

  7. #7 Kristin
    September 16, 2006

    I’m not Zuska, but my advice to the 14-year-old girl mentioned in comment #1 would be to find a mentor as soon as she can and learn about the scientific path. Get into a lab once she gets to college and be assertive about doing an interesting project. I wish I’d done those things, but I had no idea you could do that way back when I was in high school in the pre-information age.

    Also, I wonder if there shouldn’t be classes for girls in how to play politics. And to be aware that sectors of society are still a few generations away from giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are competent at their careers in male-dominated fields that the men enjoy by birthright. Guys are socialized to project confidence even when they’re not competent. Girls should be able to do that, too (not that I think this is the sanest thing for society–I’d rather have people well aware of their own strengths and shortcomings, but we don’t live in that world. So I think girls should know how to play that game).

  8. #8 Ilikathechemicals
    September 16, 2006

    Zuska, thanks for the shout-out. I think Dr. King pretty much summed it up. He was a real visionary. And he got killed for it, don’t you all forget that part.

    Jeff Knapp: teach your daughter to be a fighter, like my father did. Also to demand respect, but to respect others as well. Your influence means more than anything. My father is a real character, a man who is kind and blunt and who’s personal circumstances always gave him a measure of distrust for authority. Ironically, the passing along of that distrust is something that kept me out of a lot of trouble. I went into all situations with a healthy disregard for authority and being ‘nice’, despite doing my best where possible to be polite.

    The world, in its many forms, can only make you a victim if you allow it. I’ve been put through a lot of crap but I’m not bitter, and I never let anyone fight me down. I’ve been a hell-raiser and I’ve had a good time, and the men that were worth it respected me for it.

    There are an unfortunately large percentage of men in science that suck. That being said, my most important mentors and influences were all men, people who really made a difference in my life. If I didn’t like men, I wouldn’t work in a male-dominated field. To those men who treated me like anyone else, or even better who supported me and mentored me, I want to express my respect and gratitude. And to the others who got in my way, you can’t shut me up and I can shout louder than you.

    Peace ;)

  9. #9 Dad
    September 17, 2006

    “what makes people tick, how brains work”

    It may be that she is interested in philosophy or psychology, software rather than wetware. …it has been way too long since I was fourteen… Perhaps something like Blackburn’s ‘Think’ or ‘Truth’, or Nussbaum’s ‘Poetic Justice’, might pique her interest. There are many Ado books about ‘getting along’, ‘dealing with bullies’, and the like, which could be presented as practical psychology manuals. However, I would examine “self-help” books very carefully. Have you asked at local schools and libraries, guidance counsellors, life-skills teachers, book selectors? And of course, ask her.

    The question you explicitly presented : she needs role-models. A mentris or two would be most helpful, women who know the sheep in wolf’s clothing and all his disguises, when to run when to fight, how to detect traps before either becomes necessary.

    Popular culture will only teach her how to be a victim. At fourteen, she is probably already an expert (victim). I say that not to discourage but to suggest the magnitude of the problem. Women do survive, however, I believe it is more often luck than skill.

    Friday evening is not the most opportune time to pose such a question. I suggest, if Zuska doesn’t pick it up and run, that you ask again. Also, if intellectuals are not already visible in your social circle, you might consider how your daughter might be able to make contact.

    Whatever else you do, ALWAYS BELIEVE HER, and always LET HER CHOOSE how to respond.

  10. #10 zuska
    September 17, 2006

    I will indeed be making a separate post on what parents – and especially dads – can do to encourage a young girl’s interest in science and engineering careers. And I thank Jeff Knapp for raising this topic. Very proactive. Yay!

  11. #11 Rob Knop
    September 17, 2006

    Do you really think you deserve the same number of victim-points?

    Counting beans will only obfuscate. You can find women in Saudia Arabia who would have reason to laugh at the victim-points of the oppression women in science in america feel. Which is, of course, completely irrelevant.

    Just because somebody else has been treated more unfairly doesn’t mean that you haven’t been treated unfairly. My point is that it’s surprising to me that people are surprised I feel attacked when I am belittled by name in the original post.

    -Rob

  12. #12 Rob Knop
    September 17, 2006

    I did not mean that I am angry and pissed off at you, Rob, or at Chad.

    Could’ve fooled me with your specific-attack-on-Chad post….

    If you didn’t really want to specifically attack Chad, let me suggest that an apology that you did that might be a bit more convincing than a denial that it ever happened. If you do think it was justified to specifically express pissed-offedness at Chad as a part of the larger problems, then also a denial that it ever happened also doesn’t make sense.

    The larger issues here are getting completed lost in the fact that you have attacked at least one individual person, and that the best you can do to mitigate that is to deny that you were angry at that person.

    -Rob

  13. #13 Rob Knop
    September 17, 2006

    Guys are socialized to project confidence even when they’re not competent. Girls should be able to do that, too (not that I think this is the sanest thing for society–I’d rather have people well aware of their own strengths and shortcomings, but we don’t live in that world. So I think girls should know how to play that game).

    I’m with you on the parenthetical comment. It’s endlessly annoying when people carry on as if they are fully confident even when they don’t fully know what they’re talking about. Alas, people tend to pick up on this, so everybody else tends to assume they know what they’re talking about. Those people get the acclaim, they get the proposal money, etc. Success in science is as with success in everything else : your ability to be arrogant and sell yourself is the #1 predictor of success.

    And, it is also true in our society that boys are socialized to do this and girls are socialzed not to do this. I’ve observed this (and had grad students of both genders observe it) among a fairly gender-mixed study group of Physics grad students where I am.

    I agree that girls should be taught to do this — but also boys should be taught to avoid doing it, and everybody should be taught to recognize it so that the ploy won’t continue to work so well forever.

  14. #14 Jeff Knapp
    September 17, 2006

    Thanks all for your comments to my question. I didn’t intend to “highjack” Zuska’s post if it seems like I did. Your comments are good food for thought.

    It may be that she is interested in philosophy or psychology, software rather than wetware.

    You are right, I was assuming a “hard science” POV (fMRI, and other high-tech toys) but, it could very well go in any direction if at all. Only time will tell. I can only guide her towards what she already draws her; I can’t push her where she does not want to go.

    Popular culture will only teach her how to be a victim. At fourteen, she is probably already an expert (victim).

    Aaarrrrgh! Don’t even get me started on what popular culture teaches young girls what they should be/are/need to be in our society. I have my daughter plus two step daughters. The crap that is constantly thrust upon them in popular media and popular culture absolutely makes me cringe. Has anybody seen the “Bratz” dolls that are very popular with young girls these days? Or all of the shaking, shimmying, thrusting, barely clothed booty and boobs that girls are shown on an ongoing basis on TV? This is what we teach girls that they have to be in order to be acceptable in society. It is awful and the message is ever present in always in your face. (Yes, I have given my daughter the “condom/protect yourself/don’t let anybody dis you” talk.)

    Whatever else you do, ALWAYS BELIEVE HER, and always LET HER CHOOSE how to respond.

    Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. More than anything else, I want her to be able to succeed in whatever it is she wants to do. She is smart and capable. The best thing any parent can do is to just listen.

    Zuska, I am looking forward to your new post on this. You seem like you might be the kind of roll model my daughter could really benefit from.

  15. #15 Helen
    September 17, 2006

    Hmm, to follow Rob’s logic given elsewhere, “Funny. I thought the whole damn discussion was started by a blog post about the posts of Chad and Zuska,” which was given as a reason for assuming anything posted must be about Chad and Zuska specifically, that means that:

    “It’s endlessly annoying when people carry on as if they are fully confident even when they don’t fully know what they’re talking about”

    is either referring to Chad or Zuska or both. Hey Rob, which is it, and why are you maligning them in that particular way? They both seem to know a fair bit about the subject.

  16. #16 Greg
    September 17, 2006

    “women in Saudia Arabia”

    If they are so “completely irrelevant”, why did you bring them in? To obfuscate?

    No need to ask why you brought in “beans” : you tell us it is to obfuscate.

    So, about the victim points, do you really think your injury and detriment are as great as Zuska’s? Remember the tort on her side ranges from having her voice ignored to having her body assailed; and on your side, from being suspected of ignoring women’s voices to being “belittled by name”.

    Nobody is surprised, by the way, that you “feel attacked”. Your predictable feelings are implicit in the title, way up there at the top of the page.

    As is your putting your hurt feelings in front of the “larger issues”.

  17. #17 tonyl
    September 17, 2006

    Zuska,

    Frankly, I don’t care if you are polite or civil. I don’t expect bloggers to be polite. I do however prefer that you show the common courtesy of not mischaracterizing what other people say and not demonizing any person who disagrees with one small portion of what you say.

    To put it another way, If I can’t trust you to honestly characterize what other people say when you are criticizing their remarks, how can you possibly expect me to trust you to honestly characterize the more important issue of the problems women face in science and engineering? If I see you demonizing people because they don’t say exactly what you want them to say, how can you expect me to be willing to listen to you in the future when you are making legitimate complaints?

  18. #18 Zuska
    September 17, 2006

    Rob: Please try to get this through your head. Chad is a big boy. I don’t see him posting on my blog, demanding apologies for my blog post. Even if he were, I would not apologize for what I said. I said what I wanted to say. I think you are at some level good-intentioned but you just can’t seem to handle the fact that I am extremely critical of men, and not just men in obvious positions of power, but men who are operating as unthinking agents in a gendered hierarchical system that favors men. This type of criticism is a major focus of my blog, and as such is unlikely to end anytime soon. If YOU are feeling upset and wounded, you might want to take some time to figure out why. I wrote in criticism of what Chad wrote, I disagreed with his assertion that there are no issues of significance at the level of the professoriate. I wrote to expose how one person’s “I’m a nice guy and not the problem” attitude is actually a piece of the problem. You insist on seeing this as a personal attack on Chad, whom I do not know personally.

    Tonyl: One man’s demonizing is another woman’s truth-telling. I’ve spent enough of my life already trying to figure out how to say what I need to say in ways that won’t upset anyone and that don’t cause a fuss and that everyone can be happy with and that don’t offend anyone and that everyone can agree upon. “Everyone” here meaning the men I’m trying to explain gender issues to. This blog exists for me to say what I want to say in the way I want to say it, whenever I want to say it.

    If this blog is really that upsetting for either of you, perhaps you might not want to read it anymore. If you want to keep reading it, you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that I write what I write. You cannot dictate how I will do it or what I will say.

  19. #19 NJ
    September 18, 2006

    Zuska to Rob above:

    You insist on seeing this as a personal attack on Chad, whom I do not know personally.

    Zuska about Chad in blog entry titled �Who�s NOT a leader�:

    Which just goes to show that even an advanced degree in physics is no guarantee you won’t have your head up your ass now and then.

    Nope. No personal attacks there.

  20. #20 Rob Knop
    September 18, 2006

    Zuska — I’m not so much asking you to apologize to Chad — which I’m pretty sure I never did — as pointing out that your behavior towards Chad was, in my opinion, antisocial. Am I not supposed to say something when I see something I think out of line?

    Of course you’re going to say what you say and write what you write, but you can’t expect me to sit back and think, “well, gee, because she’s an oppressed woman I just have to like it when she behaves in an extremely obnoxious manner, because after all she has suffered in the past.” I mean, perhaps you think I *should* think that, but I doubt you are really so shallow as all of that.

    Nor do I think there’s anything wrong with the subject of your blog. I *do* think– or, I should say, *I* do think– there is something wrong with your treatment of Chad *in this specific instance*, and I’ve made that abundantly clear up to now…. You obviously think you didn’t personally attack Chad, and seem to be able to get it through *your* head that other people might read it that way.

  21. #21 Brian
    September 18, 2006

    You know, Rob, it’s far more telling in how you’re responding to what Zuska said even than what Zuska herself said. If your first response to hearing about a society-wide problem is “Well, I have nothing to do with it” – then you are probably part of the problem. And if somebody rightly calls bullshit on your response, too bad.

    Keeping women behaving demurely and following “acceptable” channels is a very large part why this problem is resolving itself at a glacial pace. And this isn’t even direct action we’re talking about here – just what you consider obnoxious behavior. Well, you know what? Obnoxious behavior gets noticed. And then the problem gets noticed. This problem is decades old, and it’s time for it to stop.

    So maybe Zuska wasn’t trying to get personal. I think your responses warrant it, though. *You are part of the problem.* So am I. If that makes you feel guilty, too bad. When we acknowledge our role in this, we start trying to change it. A good start is noticing what’s going on around us and speaking up when something is wrong.

  22. #22 Absinthe
    September 24, 2006

    Dear Zuska,

    I love your comments about “if only every woman had 6 people come to her defense every time someone verbally attacked them”. I sat in more friggin Fermilab meetings than I care to remember where some poor female was either getting shouted down, ignored, and/or belittled, and there could be 50 people in the room (around 90% of whom would profess themselves to be “nice guys” and “pro-women”), and they wouldn’t say one single fucking word to the 10% of the men in the room who were responsible for continually perpetrating that kind of crap. It *appalls* me what so called “pro-women nice guys” will witness before their very eyes and not say a word to intervene. In fact, they would, at times, let it go on uninterrupted for a couple of hours without intervening.

    At times I personally witnessed that many of those “pro-women nice guys” would then leave the meeting and have lunch together and chuckle about how entertaining it was to see physicist Y “sparring” with physicist X (totally shouting her down every time she tried to make a valid point, more like it, and leaving the poor woman nearly in tears (and in fact sometimes actually in tears in the ladies washroom afterwards)).

    After one exhausting two-hour meeting wherein a male colleague kept shouting down a female colleague who was trying to make a very valid and important point, I told my supervisor about how appalling I found it to be, and his response was “yeah, I know how to handle her too [when she speaks up in meetings]…I just ignore her until she shuts up”. Frankly, to this day, that response still leaves me speechless. And Absinthe is rarely left speechless, as regular readers of her blog are no doubt aware.

    As I became more and more pissed off about the whole meeting situation as the years progressed, I finally started to tell the bad-boy-10% to put a friggin sock in it when they would start in on a female in a meeting, usually using the premise that I was a busy person, and I had far better things to do in my day to sit for two hours in a meeting listening to that kind of unproductive crap. (I left out any comments about what I thought about it as a gender-climate issue because at the time I wanted to progess in my career, and you don’t progress in your career as a woman in physics if you say a peep about having any complaints about gender-bias in your workplace culture).

    As readers of my blog know well, I was labelled an uppity bitch, and despite an absolutely stellar research record, I am currently thoroughly unemployable as a physicist (being a “mouthy bitch” in the meeting was only one contributor to that; complaining about having my childbirth leave denied, my workload tripled (literally), and my pay cut nearly in half after having my baby, and then being subsequently fired after complaining are other main contributors to my current employability situation (along with the fact that I am currently suing my former employers over it all)).

    Oh yeah, and my supervisor who made that comment about the woman in the meeting I mentioned above, and whom I am currently suing; he proclaims far and wide that he is a “pro-woman nice guy”, and some of his senior colleagues have responded in outraged letters to the editors of various papers and magazines that have run stories about my lawsuit. They say that even though they don’t know me and know nothing about the details of my case, Professor Y could never do anything as heinous as the things of which I accuse him because they think he is the epitome of a “pro-woman nice guy”.

    Besides, he’s white and has a penis, and white penises don’t lie. Don’t ever forget that.

  23. #23 Pam
    September 25, 2006

    “It *appalls* me what so called “pro-women nice guys” will witness before their very eyes and not say a word to intervene. In fact, they would, at times, let it go on uninterrupted for a couple of hours without intervening.”

    No kidding here. If I could count the number of times that male colleagues walked out of a meeting with me and said “I can’t believe he said that to you” or “I can’t believe how they just ignored your suggestion”, etc – as if by acknowledging the injustice on any level made them not a part of the problem as far as they are concerned. I’ve gotten so I routinely say, when that happens, that unless they aren’t willing to say that opinion in a more public forum (i.e., the meeting) that they don’t need to share it with me either. I’m really tired of all of the nice guys out there – whose silence is more damaging than they seem to know.

  24. #24 Benjamin Franz
    November 14, 2006

    “Which wouldn’t be unheard of. I can’t think of any discipline in which men were shot and killed just for being men in that discipline.”

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/11/13/iraq/main2174981.shtml

    “A female professor visiting at the time of the kidnappings said the gunmen forced men and women into separate rooms, handcuffed the men, and loaded them aboard about six pickup trucks. She said the gunmen, some of them masked, wore blue camouflage uniforms of the type worn by police commandos.

    The abductions appeared to be the boldest in a series of killings and other attacks on Iraqi academics that are robbing Iraq of its brain trust and prompting thousands of professors and researchers to flee to neighboring countries. ”

    Note that the women *were not* abducted. Only the men.

  25. #25 Zuska
    November 14, 2006

    Benjamin, this is a truly horrific incident. And clearly gender was a central issue in the mass kidnapping. In this incident of religious/sectarian violence, (from the article you cited)

    The academics apparently were singled out for their relatively high public stature, vulnerability and known views on controversial issues in a climate of deepening Islamic fundamentalism.

    But gender intersects in a somewhat different manner in this tragedy than it does in the Montreal massacre. In Montreal, the women were killed merely for being women who dared to study engineering. The shooter was personally offended by the notion of women being engineers. In Iraq, the men were not kidnapped merely for being men who dared to be professors. They were kidnapped because professors were chosen as a high public stature target that would garner attention, not because the kidnappers were personally offended by the notion of men being professors. Once the target of professors was chosen, a decision was made to kidnap only men, not women. This is when gender comes into play, as some twisted version of chivalry. The Iraqi kidnapping is not a mirror image of the Montreal massacre. Saying so should not in any way lessen the horror or diminish the meaning of either.

  26. #26 Benjamin Franz
    November 15, 2006

    You are correct that it is not a perfect mirror image of the Montreal massacre. It is a matter of subtle emphasis in the phrase “…just for being men in that discipline” vs “…just for being men in that discipline.”

    But in both cases the statement is correctly specific (although shaded differently): Just for being men in that discipline.

    My point (obviously) being that you were being over-general in your original assertion and perhaps insensitive to the fact that men are also frequent targets of gender-based mass killings.

    It is in no way intended as a defense of the rampant gender discrimination present in many aspects of life. It is just a nudge to remember that women are not the only ones targeted by gender discrimination, gender role stereotypes and gender based violence. Are women the recipients of the most frequent ‘routine’ daily gender based discrimination and violence? Hell yeah. Are men also targets based on their gender? Also: Hell yeah.

    A site you may find interesting: http://www.gendercide.org/