Distinguished Schmuck Visits, Misbehaves

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.


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As you conclude, "we're not the ones who cause the problem." Right, so why should the entire burden of addressing the problem be on our shoulders when we didn't cause the problem in the first place? Besides, men have broader shoulders, anyway; let 'em use 'em for something besides looking Manly.

It's just astounding how we women have been so socialized to suck it up, because it's "a man's world." Because after all, men suck it up all the time, right? Except they don't get these gender-based slights.

In this situation, the polite thing for male colleague to do is just what Zuska proposed. If certain men feel uncomfortable about getting into sexual politics right there on the spot with Visiting Fireman, they can at least have good manners, can't they?

By T. Bruce McNeely (not verified) on 29 Jan 2007 #permalink

True.. I could have tried to educate my junior colleague, but he is up for tenure, and it's not a slam dunk, and he's stressed and and and.. I can think of lots of reasons but even so, you are right. Thanks for the comments.

I know, it's not easy to develop the habit of calling men out on these issues. We are soooooo socialized to be polite
and to think about people in ways just like you describe ...what's going on with this person at this time in their life? Are they stressed? How can I be considerate of them? In fact, men depend upon us to do this sort of emotional labor for them. (I've been planning for awhile to write a post on just that topic.) It feels unnatural NOT to do that emotional labor and yet, withholding that emotional work is part of our work in changing things.

You're right. Men do seem to need to be trained to do the bare minimum and not casually let these sexist slights pass by without counteraction. If you're lucky you'll be able to train a guy to do not tolerate encounters such as the subject of the post, but he'll probably only do it as long as he's still acquainted with the person who got him to start in the first place. Then as soon as he gets in a groove of things and the friend's goading to stop sexism goes away, he'll be back to passively letting misogynist encounters come and go like a fart in the wind all over again. Sad, sick world.

Here's yet another twist on gender-bias rudeness. My husband and I recently took one of our cats to the vet and had to leave him there for treatment of an infection. When I called the office to check on Mr. Fluffypants' progress, the various nice ladies at the front desk were perfectly polite but nevertheless frustratingly off-putting. When my husband inquired, though, he got results.

Bless that man. He used the opportunity to remind the nice ladies that I was the primary care-giver for our pet and that I had discovered the problem in the first place, but regardless of those things, they'd better treat my calls as seriously as they did his. (To her credit, our vet displayed none of this behavior once we got through to her, and spoke to us as equals, just as she did in person.)

This most recent example is just one of a series of similar incidents in which I've encountered the bias in favor of men being perpetrated by women. It seems that that particular form of stupidity is not necessarily limited to males.

the funny part is that DS would have paid you attention if you were someone's consort. but because you don't belong to a man there, you have no value.

By ilikeathechemicals (not verified) on 29 Jan 2007 #permalink

This reminds me of two situations. The first was when I was an undergrad in London, and we had just done some kind of safety awareness training and it was suggested that men go a little out of the way to prevent women from being attacked. There was a list of ten ways in which men could make women's lives safer and more pleasant. You know, like meet their women friends from the bus or tube station and before going into the pub or crossing a street away from a woman walking on their own so that they, the man, wasn't so threatening. I asked a number of male friends if they would do this and very few were willing to be even a little bit helpful. Quite happy to walk a woman home after a party if...

The other situation was when we had a male candidate for chair who didn't offer his hand to the women in the department. One of my male colleagues excused it as a possibility that it would be misconstrued as sexual harassment. Shaking our hands. WTF.

This might be a tangential question, but what happens if you *do* bring this up (to other female colleagues or to male colleagues) and their response is something along the lines of "meh"? We had a "Distinguished" Visitor a year or so ago whose behavior made me extremely uncomfortable (spending more time talking to parts of my body other than my face, when he bothered to talk to me at all). I brought this up to female colleagues (all senior) in the department that co-sponsored the visit AND to my male chair (the former during the visit, the latter shortly thereafter), and the across-the-board response I got was "Oh. That sucks. I'm sorry." Gee, thanks, but that's not really helpful---their responses didn't exactly make me feel like this would not happen again with the next "Distinguished" Visitor. Is there hope for colleagues like this, and if so, how do we even begin to enlighten them on how harmful this behavior is (allowing either objectifying/ogling or wholesale ignoring) and what they can do to help nip it in the bud?

(And it's not like this happened when I was alone with this guy...this all happened in plain view of several of my colleagues, on more than one occasion.)

Sigh. It's really bad when the Distinguished Schmucks are visiting Local Schmucks, and when the women you count on for support are so invested in the system and so deep in denial about what they've been through themselves that they refuse to call a Schmuck a schmuck.

In this case, I might recommend something like this. If you find yourself in a similar situation in the future, and Distinguished Schmuck can't keep his eyeballs off your tits then you: Look down at your own shirt. Pretend to brush off crumbs while asking, in naive tone of voice, ask, "Is there something on my shirt?" If you are feeling really bold, you can say "Is there something on my shirt? I notice you keep looking at it."

Advanced Zuskateers with tenure should simply say "Please stop staring at my shirt." Then stand quietly and stare at the schmuck.

Seriously advanced Zuskateers who are full professors with attitude could say "Eyes up here, dude."

That way, if he keeps ogling you, he at least has to do it consciously and openly after that - everyone knows he's doing it now, and doing it on purpose, because you've called him out on it.

Sigh. It is so f*cking tiresome to have to build up a repetoire of these types of strategies. Takes away emotional energy and brain cell firing that could have been put to good use elsewhere.

I'm 54 and was taught not to offer my hand to a woman in greeting unless she offered it first. It's a custom I generally ignore, but have occasionally encountered women who seemed suprised when I offered to shake.

Zuska and others, I'm curious about one thing: would it be acceptable to you if, upon our meeting, I admired you in a frank and forthright way? In other words, looked you over and said, "You are an attractive woman."

I also think you, FSP, should have told your junior colleague about the incident, I almost can't believe you didn't. Burst his bubble already! I have never had to deal with being ignored thankfully, but there is a person I know who seems to ignore everyone except those at his level, or postdocs he thinks are "good enough". It doesn't seem to have anything to do with gender.

And now a confession, I have inadvertently ignored someone twice in my life, and once it was a woman I was an acquainted with while I said hello to and chatted with her boyfriend (both scientists), who I was slightly better acquainted with. Terrible, it felt terrible, I honestly didn't see her (they were in a group of 5-6 people). And no, I'm not the least bit attracted to him. I was at a huge conferences, and all day long I had to focus on the person in front of me while ignoring all the people I knew passing by. I think that's why it happened, I'm bad with crowds. Still absolutely no excuse, of course I apologized profusely, and felt like an ass.

Jon: if we're at a party or a bar, and I'm looking to hook up or meet somebody new, I'd be mighty happy if you looked me over and pronounced me attractive.

If we're in a professional setting, however, I'd want to smack you silly if you did the same thing.

Ask yourself this: would you look a male colleague over and say "You're an attractive man" ?

Now, I'm sure there's going to be some bozo out there who will write in and say "why yes, I would certainly look over a male colleague and tell him how hot he is, what's wrong with that?" First of all, it's completely unprofessional; that sort of stuff does not belong in the workplace. People should not be remarking on the physical attractiveness of their coworkers. Unless you know someone very, very well it is best to avoid ALL remarks about physical appearance, even seemingly innocuous ones like "you look nice today". ("What? I look ugly other days?" you might make a paranoid person think.)

Just. Don't. Go there.

Why not post his name on the blog?

Or if you must protect your own identity, pass the tip on to some blogger, who can call the bastard out and let him wonder who the rat was.

I say it's time we started taking names.

Thanks for the reply, Zuska, and for posts on topics like these. I take your point about the setting, and agree with you. But I tend not to filter very well, and often blurt out what's on my mind (I'm one of the bozos who would, and have, complimented other males).

Being short, I find tit-watchers particularly aggravating. There was a study, it might just be an urban myth, that was going around when I was a grad student, It showed that apparently only half the men questioned could recognise the faces of their female colleagues. You could mention this when a guy has concentrated on your tits for too long!

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."

I'm amazed that this isn't a natural response.

or crossing a street away from a woman walking on their own so that they, the man, wasn't so threatening

I do the rest, but this? Why should I have to jaywalk (increasing my risk of being run over) so that a female pedestrian can feel safer?

An introduction might not have helped: A few days ago, I (female postdoc) was introduced to a distinguished visitor, but he did not look at me nor shake hands with me. The person introducing me asked whether we knew each other, and he replied that he had read one of my papers and thought I was male. So what? Is that a reason for being impolite? The situation was weird enough for the men to notice, but they indicated that it was my fault (making the old gentleman uncomfortable and all): I should write my full first name on all my papers, so that people know my gender.


And did your male colleagues not consider how uncomfortable this old "gentleman" had made *you*? Sounds like they need to be educated on a few things, such as how everyone has to step up to create the civil encounter it should have been, such as by saying something like, "Huh. Well, you should be delighted to have the opportunity to meet Dr. Schlupp! We're all just as impressed with Dr. Schlupp's research as you are, and we think she's a great asset to our department."

Your male colleagues can model the response that the guy should have had, even the guy didn't have the capacity to be the least bit gracious to you.

JW, I'm assuming that the situation in which a guy is being asked to cross the road is when it's a dark, deserted street and a woman walking alone might otherwise suspect him of following her and intending violence.

She may well be trembling and terrified, with one finger on the speed-dial of her cell phone and the other hand clutching her keys in the way that provides the best makeshift weapon. She will be calculating whether she can run in these shoes and which way to run if need be - straight into the road to attract attention? towards someone's doorbell in the hope of attracting help? - and all the while trying not to show fear because this may encourage an attacker.

Yes, crossing the road might cause him a slight inconvenience, but it spares her several minutes' fearing for her life. And doing a little thing to make other people feel a lot more comfortable is called politeness (except when women do it, in which case it isn't usually noticed at all).

And chem_fem posted this over at She's Such a Geek:

This reminds me of a story a colleague of mine told me about some of the complete turkeys he has interviewed over the years.

He was doing the non-technical part of the interview with a slightly more junior female collegue and before getting into the inverview room the interviewee asked her where she did her PhD. She hadnt done one and said so (I dont think male colleague was even asked) and in the interview room he sits down with an interviewer on either side and puts his briefcase on the table in front of female interviewer (he SO did!). Both interviewers are amazed to say the least, so male interviewer gets up, gets himself a drink of water and sits back down on the same side of the table as female interviewer. Interviewee has then to remove his case from the table to see both of them.

Funnily enough he was NOT getting the job!!
To be fair rudeness is not limited to sexism and the same colleague has been blanked by a professor at a conference. Still nice to know this stuff is alive and well :(


Perhaps they did see how uncomforable it was for me. Probably. But their idea still seems to be that if there are 'problems' involving women scientists than this shows that women in science are the problem. (Okay, they would deny this, but I suspect them to think so at least subconsciously. It shows.) Oh yes, and nowadays women have it so easy in science, because of affirmative action and stuff.

Anyway, thanks for your reply! I so liked the scenario!

Yes, crossing the road might cause him a slight inconvenience, but it spares her several minutes' fearing for her life. And doing a little thing to make other people feel a lot more comfortable is called politeness (except when women do it, in which case it isn't usually noticed at all).

That's patronising, and unnecessary.

Anyway, a better solution from my perspective is to overtake the woman in question, or hang back far enough not to be perceived as a threat. After all, if I crossed the road, I might get mugged, or, she might get mugged and I might not notice, being across the road and far ahead...


Yes, I know it's not as simple as that. That's why we have Zuska's blog to discuss these things.

I wonder if there's one of the guys in the group that you feel comfortable enough one-on-one to discuss this? I can understand how hard it could be to stand up when you're the only woman in the room, but if you've got a good enough rapport with one guy, and you can grab a cup of coffee and have a discussion with him, maybe you can help get him to see what this incident felt like for you. Educate him. Then hopefully he can act properly the next time and begin to educate the others.

And yeah, I know all about the "women have it so easy in science" line...I don't know if it's still in my essay in She's Such a Geek, but it was there for at least a few drafts. Yeah, heard that one back in the '80s, and you know what a golden age of women's science that was!

[I tried to e-mail the following to you in response to this thread, since it was long and slightly tangential to the topic. The e-mail bounced back, however, so I'm submitting it this way instead. Feel free to hold it in moderation and reply to the e-mail address posted, if you don't want it cluttering up your thread.]

Dear Zuska-

Thank you for your recent post on Distinguished Schmucks. Posts like
that one are the things I love best about your blog - they are good
natured but firm, and offer concrete suggestions for actual behavior
in actual situations.

I do have a question, however. You have plenty of suggestions for
advanced Zuskateers in positions of relative privilege/power/safety
(i.e. tenure), for obvious reasons - they have more freedom to act
without repercussions. What advice do you have for people in
positions with *no* power?

Although a sociologist by training, I'm currently working as an
Executive Assistant while I apply for grad school. Despite
technically out-earning about half of the company (being the big
boss's assistant, of course), I am new, exceedingly young for the
company, and outranked (in experience, if not necessarily on the org
chart) by most of the people my I interact with. We are a minority
oriented multi-service community organization, which makes things more
complicated; at the level of the company I serve, I'm the only one not
visibly Asian-American (though my heritage is such that I have enough
"cred" to fit in - being mixed - I look more like my mother's side of
the family than my father's). Which serves to really compound the
power disadvantage; I'm in an explicitly subservient role (by design
and history), in a cultural context in which I am the absolute lowest
ranked person (young, female, other), in a place that by virtue of our
mission, prizes other types of knowledge and thought than those that I
posess (that its, prior history of the problems we serve, or "street
experience" over formal education. Not that that's a bad thing on its
own, but it is another thing that serves to disadvantage me).

This, of course, is further complicated by the fact that the
organization runs explicitly on a family model (much like the one Dean
Dad wrote about -
http://suburbdad.blogspot.com/2006/10/like-family.htm - only worse),
which, given the history of assistant positions (this is as close to
an "Office Wife" deal as one can get without my having to actually
make his coffee) in general and the cultural factors described above,
paints me as the dutiful daughter taking care of the family patriarch.
Who, here, rules absolutely. His whim is law, and he mentally
rewrites history frequently.

("Why did you do this? You should have asked me first." "You asked
me yesterday, after the meeting. You told me you wanted it to look
like this." "No I didn't, you're doing it wrong. You always do it
wrong. Go fix it." "Okay" is a perennial exchange. My personal
favorite, which I had the joy of experiencing, was when I changed the
routing slips, as ordered by his second-in-command. Upon seeing it,
he flipped out, and demanded that the changes be reversed. However,
the changes were things that needed to be done - replacing the names
of staff who left. When that was pointed out, he continued to rant,
saying that the colors of the slips had been reversed (they hadn't)
and that it had always been the other way (they hadn't, at least not
in the few months I'd been working there, or the few years the
downstairs receptionist had been working there, or anyone else I'd
talked to), and demanding that they be reversed Right Now. That, of
course, made me look incompetent (because it had "always been that
way"), and necessitated major changes in the entire way we process
things in the office, which confused everyone who wasn't him, and made
me look incompetent to them as well, since I was changing things which
had *actually* always been that way.)

Given all that, I think it's safe to say that I have relatively little
direct footing on which to say, well, anything at all. But people
here say things and make decisions that are often prejudicial or
biased, and it drives me crazy. Although there's relatively little
about gender, thankfully, many of the policies and stuff going on
behind the scenes is horribly ableist ("staff can't have agency-wide
voicemail because they're too dumb to use it." "We shouldn't
diversify our 401(k) policies at all because people here don't
understand investment and you'll just confuse them." "We can't give
flextime or any other accomodations to the person with the chronic
back problem, even though she's successfully worked a flextime
schedule for a year and consistently done better than other
traditional staff, because that'll only make our (lazy, lazy, lazy)
staff *all* want flextime. Oh, and I gave her six months to get well,
so she's just being lazy."), not to mention occasionally racist ("gee,
these Cambodians act just like -black- people! They're so ghetto. Not
at all like the Koreans and Chinese we serve."), classist ("we have to
force them to save, because Those People don't understand frugality."
It couldn't possibly be that we pay the vast majority of our actual
counseling staff less than most adjuncts or postdocs, could it?), and
generally dumb. I often *want* to call people on it, because it's
stupid stupid stupid in the extreme, and often counterproductive to
the agency's goals.

How on earth does one tell one's boss, who is Ruler of All He Surveys,
that he's being a schmuck, not to mention shooting himself in the
foot? Especially when one is in a fire-happy agency in an At-Will

- Periphrasis

P.S. I'm sorry that was so long. I just get very ranty about my job.
I was going to post it in the comments of that thread, but didn't want
to hijack it for my own, highly specific, question.

By periphrasis (not verified) on 30 Jan 2007 #permalink


You can't tell your boss anything unless you have another job lined up and you don't need him as a reference to get that job. The boss has no incentive to change. He's in power and sets the tone for the corporate culture. Some corporate cultures are simply toxic.

So, you put up with it as long as you can until you find a desirable job in a saner environment. That's the way the world works.

This is a different situation from the Distinguished Schmuck, which is more a question of courtesy of one professional to another. Distinguished Schmuck is at a different university and so has no real power over Female Science Professor beyond reminding her that she does not enjoy male privilege.

the once or twice i've been walking on the street alone late at night and there was a man nearby and he crossed the street away from me i practically wanted to run up to him and thank him for understanding a little bit. for being considerate, for caring.

otherwise, i've been the one having to cross the street. apparently (according to jw tan) increasing my risk of getting hit by a car, altho as a woman that's the least of my worries.

Sorry, but when I walk alone, even though I'm very tall and maybe scary looking in the dark, I always look at the ground (money, interesting insects) or the sky since it has lots of interesting things there like constellations or planes and helicopters, so I don't notice people around me all that much. I look for cars when I cross though. How can you be in full mental capacity to pay attention when coming back from work late at night anyways? I know I'm not. In fact, the only ones who are, are probably the muggers.

I've had too much of looking over my shoulder from when I lived in the ghetto anyways. A lot of people who haven't lived in the ghetto don't know how to carry themselves comfortably. It's a really useful skill though...

There is no solution that I can offer is this is a serious concern.

Not to intrude on this discussion with my male views, but there are lots of possible trait inferences one could make about behavior such as that exhibited by DS in the lead story. Not knowing anything else about the guy, might I suggest that he is just one of these elderly geeky guys who is incredibly shy around women? Geeks are bad enough around women, but the really old ones never had the benefit of being educated with female students. And then there's the whole fear factor--smart women can be especially intimidating. SO perhaps DS was just exhibiting fearful avoidance, not arrogant avoidance.

Not that he was, nor am I suggesting that all guys who do the things described herein are actually just shy. But unless DS comes out and says to your face "women shouldn't be allowed in the building" or something similar, then your inference of schmuckitude is only one of many that you might fairly make.

If you have an hypothesis that said guy is a schmuck, then it is incumbent upon you to test it directly. Ask politely, "excuse me, sir, but are you ignoring me on purpose?" If you've decided a guy is a schmuck, at least provide him a chance to know the charges against him and defend his honor before you convict him.

BTW, I knew a DS back where I was a postdoc at a prominent Tier 1 research university, who would in fact say often and out loud that women don't make good research scientists.

By boojieboy (not verified) on 30 Jan 2007 #permalink

"might I suggest that he is just one of these elderly geeky guys who is incredibly shy around women?"

Sure you might, but it doesn't change a damn thing. If his social anxiety is interfering with his ability to behave professionally, it's on him to get whatever treatment/help necessary for him to be able to behave in a professionally decent manner. Choosing not to simply because the target of his rudeness is women/people of color/whathaveyou makes him an asshole, not some poor shy guy.

Exactly, Helen. "He's not sexist! He just refuses to deal with women in a courteous and professional manner."

I have no doubt at all that DS was a sneering-at-women sexist shmuck rather than a scared-of-women sexist shmuck, although unless you got him very drunk in all-male company he would be unlikely to say anything that passed the Boojie Stringent Sexism Test. But even if he were "just shy", he still treated FSP like she wasn't a proper scientist because of her sex. He should stop it, and she should not be held responsible for carefully assessing the psychological basis of the sexist shmucky behaviour of every sexist shmuck she comes across.

Boojie, when the DS at your university made that comment so loud and so often, what did you say to challenge him? If the answer is nothing, please write "I am part of the problem" on your forehead in marker pen.

Incidentally but not unrelatedly, "Geeks are bad enough around women" presupposes that geeks are all men, and smart women are only "especially intimidating" if you have sexist assumptions about what a woman should be like.

It's very interesting to see how there are people who want to make excuses for DS's behavior. If Female Science Professor were to behave in the same rude manner, would any of the guys make excuses on her behalf?

On a peripherally related topic, I am frequently annoyed by the male attitude that it is perfectly okay to greet a woman with a kiss and hug, rather than a handshake. While I certainly don't mind that form of greeting from men I know (and, truth be told, I habe been known to enjoy it if they are "hot"), I find it entirely inappropriate before a friendship is in place. I also find it an inappropriate form of greeting in a very public circumstance, irregardless of the relationship between the parties. Witness the January 4 Congressional Inauguration ceremony and how often Nancy Pelosi received a peck on the cheek rather than a professional, collegial handshake. I would have loved to see her pull back and force Mr. Hotshot Politician into appropriate behavior.

By Barb Moore (not verified) on 31 Jan 2007 #permalink

I entirely agree with the idea that Male Colleague should have broken the pattern and introduced FSP as you describe. He (and all of us, male and female) would do well to think about these things in advance and at least have an idea of how to handle situations like this.

At the same time, all Zustra's examples of the male socialization process are negative stereotypes about that process. Part of the problem is that a lot of the discussion of sexism is simply misandrist, targeted at men in general instead of male schmucks, and as such, simply makes men want to escape such situations. Because masculine traits are regularly satirized in our culture (as Zustra has mildly done here), and generally discounted as at best stupid or at worst evil, 'enlightened' men avoid these male socialization behaviors, which makes them ineffective in confronting this behavior in the way Zustra suggests.

Aerik: If you're lucky you'll be able to train a guy to do not tolerate encounters such as the subject of the post, but he'll probably only do it as long as he's still acquainted with the person who got him to start in the first place. Then as soon as he gets in a groove of things and the friend's goading to stop sexism goes away, he'll be back to passively letting misogynist encounters come and go like a fart in the wind all over again. Sad, sick world.

Comments like that are misandrist, reinforcing the idea that all men will always be evil at heart, and calling into question their intelligence ("if you're lucky ..."). No one - in a thread on confronting gender bias - called Aerik on it.

Certainly, non-schmuck males who don't think it's their problem and so fail to address it are part of the problem, and certainly some education and commitment to behavior modification on this is part of the solution. However, recognizing that masculine traits can be very positive and targeting criticism towards schmucky behavior rather than maleness / masculinity in general is also part of the answer, as is confronting the 'all men are bad / stupid' misandry that comes up in much of this debate.

*Are* smart women particularly intimidating? Why?

Also, that business with men kissing only women on the cheek -- yeah, that's no good. At least for someone socialised, as I have been, in the rather physically reserved mainstream Anglo-American culture. It's either uncomfortable 'cause it's creepy (if the guy is creepy) or uncomfortable 'cause it's distracting (if he's hot). In either case I'd rather they didn't, unless I know them damn well already. Like with Pelosi. That pissed me off.

By hallucigenia (not verified) on 01 Feb 2007 #permalink

I would like to solidly congratulate agip for being the first person here to say something in defense of men-as-a-group. While I empathize with your concerns, I find that this discussion - like most other discussions of feminist topics that I have been party to - all carry a covert tone of misandry. A similar discussion pertaining to the behavior of women in the workplace would be condemned thrice over as being misogynistic - and the condemnation would be well-earned!

I have every desire to treat the women around me fairly and equally, and I believe that I do so (on the occasions otherwise has been pointed out to me, I have done my best to change my behavior accordingly.) That said, I have no intention of going out of my way, either - while I would not have allowed the Distinguished Shmuck mentioned above to act as he did (nor, in the past, have I let my acquaintances get away with using words like "fag" and "pussy" as terms of casual insult - I dislike bigotry in my presence), nor would I "cross the road" for a woman.


Because while I believe that acting in a manner so as to make others uncomfortable is inappropriate, especially in a professional setting, I also believe that making others go out of their way to make you extra-comfortable is an act of bigotry as well. No woman here has disagreed with asking men to cross the road and walk away from them at night: would anyone be equally embracing if I asked non-whites to cross the road and walk away from me at night? After all, a white man being followed by a black man alone at night might get nervous.

Of course you wouldn't approve. You would say I was being racist, and functioning on racist assumptions. Who am I to ask black men to change their behavior to suit my racism? Who am I to assume that all black men are muggers - or even enough of them to justify my paranoia?

But if we take out the "black", and just ask the "man" to cross the street to make me comfortable, because I'm assuming all men are rapists - or even enough of them to justify my paranoia - I'm not sexist; no, I'm a "feminist."

I have always considered myself to be a gentleman, and strove to be better. However, I draw the line at quietly endorsing sexism towards men because I disagree with sexism towards women. Because the fact is, I'm not against sexism towards any specific gender; I'm against sexism.

Aside from that, I agree with all of the above.

Does James have a point? Should we be rather focused on the fact that most rape and battery takes place in intimate relationships, from boyfriends and husbands?

Women have a lot to fear, physically, from men. Talking about those fears and expressing gratitude for men who are (1) aware of those realistic fears and (2) go out of their way to do something to alleviate them is not misandry.

Crying misandry when women open up the conversation about the very real and realistic pervasive physical fear of men we carry with us every day is just a defensive posture. Get over feeling personally insulted whenever gender issues are discussed.

I probably shouldn't even get into this, but I'd like to elucidate one woman's perspective on the crossing-thestreet scenario.

Logically, I know that the chances of me being attacked by any given man I encounter on the street are very small, statistically speaking. I certainly don't believe all men are rapists--in fact, I believe most of the men I encounter on the street are, more than likely, the type of people who would intervene if they saw someone hurting me.

But women are socialized to fear walking alone at night--and it's impossible to explain how deep that fear runs if you haven't been socialized thusly. It's not that I believe all men are evil, it's that when I hear any footsteps behind me, I'm immediately trying to gather whatever information I can--without betraying fear or any extra vulnerability--about whether this person might intend to do me harm.

If it's a man behind me, I'm automatically more concerned than I am if it's a woman, for two reasons that neither I nor goodhearted, pro-feminist men can do much about: statistically, I'm more likely to be attacked by a man (and FAR more likely to be sexually assaulted by a man), and on average, I would have more difficulty fighting off a man than a woman. That's not misandry--it's just the unfortunate reality. I'm 5'2".

I know this comment is already long, but I also want to point out that I've lived in major cities for the last twelve years, some of that in not-great neighborhoods. Generally speaking, I'm actually quite comfortable walking around at night--definitely not chronically afraid, per se. In saying all this, I absolutely don't mean to suggest that fear dominates my experience of inhabiting my own neighborhood or my assumptions about men. I love city living. But I am always aware of who's behind me, because there is always the possibility, however small--and I believe it IS small--that that person means me harm. That's true for anyone walking alone at night, but women have the extra disadvantage of being, on average, less physically capable of defending ourselves than men are, on average. Simply put, we have a greater need to be ready to run, if necessary; a greater need to perceive a threat before it's carried through.

So it's a relief and a courtesy I very much appreciate if a guy, realizing I'm trying to suss out any potential threat to my safety, crosses the street or hangs back. (No, overtaking me would not help, because that means you'd first have to pick up your pace and walk toward me, which would make me feel far MORE threatened than if you simply kept walking at a consistent distance behind me.) Usually, if I feel truly uneasy, I'll cross the street or speed up myself.

Most often, I simply register that a man is there, pick up the cues that he almost certainly doesn't mean me harm--e.g., his pace and distance remain consistent, he doesn't seem to be paying me any special attention--and I keep walking, not worrying about his presence too much. That's certainly the case for me in 98% of scenarios like this.

But it doesn't mean it wouldn't be NICE if the guy just crossed the street, sending the unequivocal message that he's not interested in engaging with me in any way. That would make me even more comfortable. That would take one small worry off my plate, at little cost to him. (Obviously, I wouldn't expect anyone to jaywalk on a busy street--what bullshit.) It would be a stand-up thing for him to do. That's all.

The comments on tit-staring make me wish the women could occupy a man's body for a day. Ignoring tits in your visual field is as easy as it is for a woman to simply ignore a cute baby in the vicinity.

By Paul Murray (not verified) on 18 Aug 2008 #permalink

Waitaminnit. It's 2008. Did #42 really say that, or are we collectively hallucinating?

By themadlolscien… (not verified) on 20 Aug 2008 #permalink

I have no trouble looking away from cute babies, and many women would agree with me. Plenty of men (and I work in a mostly male environment) have no trouble looking away from women's breasts. Grow up, Paul.

Agip, Aerik's comment did not mean that men are inhernantly sexist bastards. What she means is that, if your lucky, you'll know a guy that hasn't already been trained so hard to believe that women are below him. Much in the same fashion, you'd be lucky to get a fundamentalist-nut to listen to your religious point of view because they have already been trained to believe that they are superior to you.

No, masculine traits are not evil. Noone was bashing men for naturally having a group-think mentality, but that they are training eachother to think harmful and sexist things. Furthermore, I have witnessed on countless occassions women and feminists that are more concerned with men being treated fairly than men themselves are.
Two instances:
whilst attending an anti-male-circumcision colloquium (on the grounds that it is infringing the right of the child to choose what happens to their body and the policy of consent, that it is mutilation of an infant, and that it is sexist towards men) I noticed that there were about 5 or so men there out of 40+ people.
Another instance was when I tried to stand up for this kid in a group of males that were pressuring him to get into this fight with another kid. Now, this pubescent didn't strike me as particularly feminine (not that it would bother me if he were) but these guys were mocking the kid and trying to convince him to fight so that he wasn't "girly". Don't you see how that is an attack on both masculinity and femininity. Fighting is an ugly thing, yet these boys wanted to deter this kid's masculinity, his true and natural masculinity, by coercing him to obey the prescribed behaviors of a male in his culture.

So you see, masculinity is not what any feminist wants to attack, plenty of women have masculine traits themselves and would deserve the same right as any other woman, but many men, and I would be lying if I didn't say a vast majority, seem to think it is okay to demonize an animalfeminine nature and punish any man that isn't their definition of "macho", and thereby punishing a man who is simply trying to slip easily into his natural, animal, male behaviors without having to deny the women of his species.
If anything, it is the anti-feminists that are also anti-male, because the confusion they cause is only a means to perpetuate the power struggle that is being ignored. This same power struggle is one of the very reasons why there were eunuchs in the past, and I digress, is one of the flaws of the mentality that we have to tiptoe around the truth. Let's call a spade a spade, shall we? Yes, masculinity deserves to be revered as much as feminity; no one mentioned otherwise except for you, and me, until now. Yes, there are a handful of men that aren't dirtbags. BUT men are the primary reason why us women are in the sad position we are in, that we even need to be having this discussion right now, that we are not treated fairly because men are privaleged.

Yes, crossing the road might cause him a slight inconvenience, but it spares her several minutes' fearing for her life. And doing a little thing to make other people feel a lot more comfortable is called politeness (except when women do it, in which case it isn't usually noticed at all).

"""That's patronising, and unnecessary.
Anyway, a better solution from my perspective is to overtake the woman in question, or hang back far enough not to be perceived as a threat. After all, if I crossed the road, I might get mugged, or, she might get mugged and I might not notice, being across the road and far ahead...""""

Patronising? So, when someone makes a point that you don't agree with, they're patronising? Well done, you've just made yourself look like an arrogant ass.

You want patronising, I'll give you patronising.
Your concern is being mugged? She's talking about rape, and I think you knew that. Your whole argument is a very sly and disgusting way to try to get a woman to shut up, which by the way, was a stupid move seeing as you're commenting on a feminist's blog.
If a woman were to walk across the street with another woman, unless she was in a large group, the threat of rape still remains compared to if she were walking with a male that she could trust. That there are men that have no concern for, or even care to acknowledge that women are in more danger when they walk alone then men BECAUSE of other men, is simply outrageous. And for anyone who's arguement is that women are being unfairly catered when men walk them across the street, I have only two things to say:
it's not like anyone is asking you to throw your fancy coat over a mud puddle for her, and
seriously? when there is a single day in your life that you have to worry about the possibility of being raped, then your arguement would be valid, until then I have no idea why you would think your opinion should hold sway.

And when women try to do courteous things for men or give them props, it DOES go unnoticed. This is apparent because of a few of the people in here who have a warped view of reality and think that we're a bunch of misandrists here in the commenting boxes. I love men. I especially love the ones who behave as they should and therefore deserve it. This is just like saying that I love women (I really, really do) except for the individual wives and patriarchical-women in power that treat their fellow women the same way that most men do. Let's face it, most of the men that I've encountered, and most of the men that other women have encountred, have made it quite apparent that they see themselves as superior. I do not believe that this is in their nature, but what we are attempting to do here is undo this, which is difficult because of the way that people are conditioned. I digress, this all contibutes to the plain fact that when women do good things for men that switch the gender roles around a bit (the catorer and the catored) it ussually goes unnoticed, because it is easier to come across as less of a bigot when you are ignorant rather than arrogant, unlike when they do bold things that switch the gender roles around a bit, such as being a Female Science Proffesor, they are either shunned or given a enormous amount of humiliation and unwanted attention. For instance, if you ignore someone who opens the door for you, no one makes a big deal out of it. If you are deliberately the only one who isn't greeted at a conferance of or meeting, this type of shunning, or deliberate "not noticing" makes everyone else in the room notice that you are NOT being noticed, that you are being ignored. This is something that women have to deal with all of the time. So, when someone tells you that when women do good things that it requires a big loud effort to get some recognition, they are not patronising you, they are simply telling you the truth that you don't want to hear.

Mr. James Steinberg,
I would like to adress two big mistakes you have made in your argument.
1. the racism, sexism comparison.
Although it would be racist to assume that all black men are muggers, these are not the only factors people weigh in. If you look poor, as opposed to in a business suit, or if you look like you are drunk, as well as many other factors, despite sex or race, you make yourself look more suspicious. Can you claim agism, classism, etc? Yes. Would it be illogical and unatural not to be cautious at night while someone who looks drunk/poor/of-a-race-that-is-generally-more-poor-than-another-race-whether-that-is-fair/other-sad-facts-about-life is following you? Yes.
So, most people who see a black guy in a business suit or just generally looks friendly would not be suspicious of you, but if you were living in "ghetto" or such a community and walking down the street, the sad fact is that people will be suspicious of you, with every right in regards to their safety, and if in this particular community there were laws about how far away people had to stay from eachother when they didn't look like they were together, but seemed stalker-ish, then law enforcement would be necessary.
Rape, on the other hand, can not be so easily determined. Rape crosses the border of race, class, age, etc. and it is difficult to get correct statistics. SO, when it's dark out or uncrowded, and there is a guy lurking around and doesn't seem to be in a hurry in the opposite direction of a woman, you best bet, whether it is sexist or not, that somebody ought to raise hell if there is not a police officer nearby making sure the guy stayed away from the woman. It is far less sexist to look out for the safety of a woman than it is racist to accuse some business guy who seems pretty clean, and happens to be black, of being a theif. The probable situations of coming across a mugger are just far more narrow than the probability of any particular kind of guy on the street that will rape a woman. Heck, even women in the military have a high likliness of being raped, and you'd think something as organized as the military would have proper laws set in place preventing that from happening. Do you see why telling a guy, then, to stay *insert number here* of yards away from a woman when the sun goes down, and other such laws are not sexist, but precautious?
2. you compared mugging with rape.
There is a system for mugging. Study the face and clothes of your offender, give them the wallet/purse/jacket/whathaveyou, find a phone and call the police. Ussually, you can get the guy/girl/whoever arrested or at least sue them, pretty much recovering the money and lost possessions. Although being mugged can be very scary, there is no way that it can be compared to a rape.
There is not virtual way to "get the money back" such as when you're mugged. There is no recovery.
You are threatened with your life and integrity, and there is no way to get out of being harmed. This is happening to your body, not your money. When it is a rape done by someone you had a date with, you are far less likely to be able to persecute the guy in many southern and mid-west states of the US, and when in the case at hand, where it's happening to a woman being stalked in the streets, she is forced into a situation where her body is being ravaged in a public place and it makes the woman FEEL like this crime is on display, even if noone is looking, and that sort of humiliation NEVER goes away. Try, just TRY to wrap your mind around such an intense and irrational emotion. The fear that is thrust upon many women in the city, every. single. night, is unimaginable for you.
You think WE are being sexist? Is a policy that demands that women don't feel as threatened THAT MUCH to ask?
Sure, there are better policies, such as having more people on patrol at night, etc., but any policy that attempts to lessen the threat of rape is NOT sexist.