Female Science Professor describes the amazing (and amazingly depressing) power of invisibility women in science seem to possess – at least when Distinguished Schmucks are visiting the department:
A male colleague and I walked up to the Distinguished Visitor in the hallway, and the visitor stuck out his hand at my male colleague and gave him a manly handshake; they introduced themselves to each other. For some reason, I assumed it was my turn for a handshake and introduction. Social horror! He ignored me. I dropped my hand, but I introduced myself anyway, saying something like “I’m on your schedule for tomorrow and am looking forward to talking with you.” He glanced at me, confused, then turned back to my male colleague, who was by this point very uncomfortable about the situation and extracted himself from the conversation. When we were out of earshot, he said to me “That was strange and creepy.” Yes indeed.
Distinguished Schmuck didn’t give her a chance to show that she was, in fact, not only visible, but a Real Scientist during their scheduled visit the next morning.
I was the second-to-last person on his schedule, and he decided to go to the airport 3 hours early for a domestic flight, and pass up the opportunity to talk to me and a postdoc. He was probably tired after 1.5 days of visiting with people, but it was still rude.
Women and postdocs – who needs ‘em?
So now Female Science Professor wonders:
Friday’s post — and similar ones by me and others who write about encounters with people for whom women scientists/professors are invisible — raises the question: What do you do when you have one of these encounters? Should you confront the situation directly then and there (and if so, how?) or not? I’ve touched on this before, but it seems to be a rather eternal issue…I talked to my colleague about it more after the encounter last week, and he said that he was (1) stunned, although he knows this happens all the time, and (2) disgusted, and wanted to get away from the conversation as quickly as possible.
So, what should you do when when someone behaves like a total jackass in front of your male colleagues? This is the wrong question.
The right question is, what should your male colleague do? This is NOT, as some of Female Science Professor’s commenters worry, about being “rescued” by a man. No, this is not one of those times where you need to demonstrate that you are a strong independent woman who can take care of herself in all situations. This is about men taking responsibility for their role in ending gender bias.
FSP’s male colleague was upset about what happened. Good – that’s a start; he at least recognizes that the Distinguished Schmuck was a jackass. But what he needed to do was to say, “excuse me, this is my colleague Dr. Female Science Professor. I’m sure you’ll be interested to meet her. She works on such and so and is well known for this and that. Luckily, you’ll have the chance to spend some time with her later on.” His duty was to call the jackass out on his bad behavior in the politest way possible so as to not let him get away with the bad behavior, all the while showcasing how fantastic FSP is. His duty was NOT to say to himself “oh my god I am so uncomfortable, I must get out of this situation as soon as possible.” He should have been thinking to himself, “If this makes me feel uncomfortable, I wonder how it must be for her. I’d better do something.”
For cryin’ out loud, if he “knows this happens all the time”, he needs to get with the program and start doing something about shit like this. Start being prepared to deal with it when it happens. I have enough brains in my head to think that if I hear or see someone behaving in a racist or homophobic manner, it behooves me to speak up in some way to counteract it, even though I carry with me the privileges of being white and heterosexual. And just think, it’s only a tiny little woman’s brain that I possess! Imagine what a great big ol’ man’s brain could do if he decided to use it to think about gender issues!
Sadly, few men think like this. They need training. They need training to the effect that THEY ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR INTERRUPTING THE CYCLE OF DISCRIMINATION. It’s not all on our shoulders to figure out the solutions. They have to figure out how to re-socialize each other. They are plenty good at socializing each other how to be Real Men and How To Be Macho and How Not To Be A Wimp And A Pussy. They are perfectly capable of letting each other know when one of them has Behaved Like A Faggot, You Wuss. They are good at reminding each other Not To Cry Like A Little Girl. Clearly, they do have this mechanism built in for communicating to each other expected norms for male social behavior. So I don’t think it’s asking all that much to expect the more enlightened among them to start using that mechanism to pressure the dolts, schmucks, and morons to start acting like decent human beings, even if they can’t be made to think like such.
Female Science Professor’s junior colleague, who invited Distinguished Schmuck to campus, later spoke to her in glowing terms of DS, starstruck with his aura of Distinguished Schmuckiness. “isn’t he just the dreamiest ever?” Well, no. But Female Science Professor did not feel like spoiling Junior Colleague’s crush on Distinguished Schmuck, and so she said nothing of his boorish behavior. Here, I find the tiniest of fault with Female Science Professor. After all, this was a junior colleague, so I think she could have risked telling him that Distinguished Schmuck was a total jackass – and a gasbag of a scientist, too. We have to stop worrying about hurting the feelings of the men around us. They need to be disturbed once in awhile; they need to be made aware that gender bias has a cost, and that they suffer for it, too. Why should we bear all the suffering? Why should we internalize all that crummy feeling? Let Junior Colleague know that the Schmuck behaved like a shit and that you did not like it; let him go away feeling upset and worried about how this person he invited created a difficult and embarrassing situation with a senior colleague of his who may well be evaluating him for tenure someday. Let him think that maybe in the future he ought to be careful about inviting people who have better reputations for being gender equitable, as well as good scientists. Let gender bias incidents make men uncomfortable, let it be something they have to deal with. Not us. After all, we’re not the ones who cause the problem.