Women and science

The mooks over at Conservapedia love to parade out old studies that show statistically insignificant leads for boy over girls in math and science. Despite this heavy dose of misogynistic idiocy, it’s no secret men outnumber women in science. Go one step further: famous men outnumber famous women by a longshot. In thinking of just 10 scientists, Lynn Margulis is the only female that comes to mind.

So when commenters focused on the looks of Sheril Kirshenbaum, she became understandably annoyed.

Now folks, I’m not naive. I recognize everyone forms preconceived notions based on visual and nonverbal cues. As it happens, my next book deals with science and sexuality, so this is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately off the blog. Naturally, attention to physical appearance has been hardwired into our neural circuitry over a few millenia, however, you better believe it’s never acceptable judge anyone based on appearances and number of X chromosomes. And of course I’ve noticed the science blogosphere is buzzing over some neanderthal comments from Monday about my photo. After Phil was kind enough to welcome Chris and I to Discover Blogs, I was disappointed to read several of the responses. For example:

    as a living breathing male of the species, I look forward to any article with Sherils picture attached.

Or even less articulate:

    mmmmmmmm……….. wo-man

Okay, I get it. People are focusing on her looks rather than her credentials. But let’s take a look at that first quote. In full.

Having not read any of their material, I am supremely unqualified to comment on any of their writings.

But, as a living breathing male of the species, I look forward to any article with Sherils picture attached.

That’s just bad practice. While Kirshenbaum has a valid overall point, she misquotes a person. I thought reasoned people had left that up to creationists and other stupid conservatives.

Let’s keep in mind what the original post was all about. It was an introduction. Is there a specific, pre-approved, politically correct response expected? I see an intro to a new blog, a short description, and a picture – the most prominent thing about the post – and not much else. It is entirely reasonable to comment on the picture. Naturally, some level of respect should be given. The above, misquoted commenter did that. He wasn’t vulgar, he noted that he cannot speak of Kirshenbaum’s science credentials, and only then did he say, “Hey, she’s pretty”. Kirshenbaum extends this to a broader point.

I doubt any of the aforementioned anecdotes–or the now infamous comments–were intended to be insulting, but they each highlight a broader social issue. Several female colleagues have similar stories of receiving sexually explicit emails and poetry, while I’ve yet to hear the fellows complain of unwanted advances (though surely that happens occasionally too). This is not an isolated problem, nor is it specific to me as an individual, rather it demonstrates that no matter how much the nature of science has changed, it continues to be very much a ‘boys club.’

This is somewhat inappropriate. Of course, science is a “boys club”. It is a field that is dominated by men, shown to the public through male spokespeople, and probably has a good deal of misogyny running amok. That cannot be extrapolated from a few posts that say “I am attracted to this person”. Let’s drive this home. Here’s another quote from that original post.

Is it just me, or do they look YOUNG? It must just be me getting old I guess. I look forward to reading what they post.

WHOA! WHOA! What’s with all the ageism? Come on, people! Science is such an ‘old persons club’. It’s ridiculous. How about some common respect for the young members of the field?

Don’t miss the point. Please.

Kirshenbaum has valid points and she makes them shine through her other anecdotes. The comments about her being attractive, however, do not illustrate her point. If they do, then I just equally illustrated a point about ageism.

From Kirshenbaum:

Now folks, I’m not naive. I recognize everyone forms preconceived notions based on visual and nonverbal cues. As it happens, my next book deals with science and sexuality, so this is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately off the blog. Naturally, attention to physical appearance has been hardwired into our neural circuitry over a few millenia, however, you better believe it’s never acceptable [to] judge anyone based on appearances and number of X chromosomes.

First of all, I prefer accuracy so let’s augment that last statement a tad. It’s never acceptable to judge anyone based on appearances and number X chromosomes, in most instances. If I’m looking for someone to date, I’m definitely going to find a person to whom I am attracted. If that isn’t physical judgement, I don’t know what is. Second, from the comments I read, there was judgement being passed on Kirshenbaum’s looks, not her quality of science. One cannot necessarily take such comments to be outright ignoring her scientific credentials. The prettiest creationist in the world can open up a blog, but I’m not going to give it any praise for that reason. If I say, “Hey, that creationist is sure pretty, but she’s also pretty dumb”, the first part of my comment may be irrelevant, but it is not harmful and it says nothing of the creationists’ credentials – the latter part of the comment does that. Take out that latter part, and no comment was made on scientific credentials. In other words, no credentials were demeaned. If the post was about Kirshenbaum’s research on a particular topic and people focused on her looks, then, yes, that would be inappropriate and demeaning.

Hell, take the mook Sean Hannity. Torture yourself with just a few interviews. Women will often make the point that while he is attractive, his points are awful and misguided. In other words, “here’s a compliment, but it has no bearing on what I think about what you’re saying.”

Of course, not everyone is so innocent with their compliments. Some people are just saying it for the sake of saying it. If that’s all they’re saying, give ’em hell. If they’re saying it in response to a picture accompanied by little more than a generic intro, it’s difficult to see a problem.

I really want to drive this home and I keep coming up with examples how. Take, for instance, a blogger who has a butt-ugly blog layout. Maybe some gross looking color scheme or whathaveyou. Even simply an ugly avatar. Would it be unreasonable for someone to say “I don’t know anything about John Doe’s science, but that is one ugly avatar/layout/whatever he has”?

Advertisements

11 Responses

  1. I really want to drive this home and I keep coming up with examples how. Take, for instance, a blogger who has a butt-ugly blog layout. Maybe some gross looking color scheme or whathaveyou. Even simply an ugly avatar. Would it be unreasonable for someone to say “I don’t know anything about John Doe’s science, but that is one ugly avatar/layout/whatever he has”?

    How fucking clueless are you? There is systematic discrimination against women in science almost every other profession. Calling attention to women’s appearance in public is a tool for keeping women “in their place” and reminding them that they do not belong as equal participants ina “man’s” enterprise. That is the function of “complimenting” Sheril in the way that occurred.

    There is not systematic discrimination against shitty blog templates, or any of the other bogus examples you gave. Public leering at women is different from all these things precisely because it occurs in the context of systematic oppression of women in patriarchal societies such as ours.

    You’re welcome for this basic lesson in Feminism 101. Maybe you’ll do some research next time yourself before you spout dumbfuck trivially debunked nonsense.

  2. If you read the quote in proper context (not Kirshenbaum’s quote-mine context), it amounts to “She’s pretty”. That says nothing of her science or abilities. You’re overreacting because it’s the popular PC reaction.

    Furthermore, read my main point. I did not say women do not face discrimination. Please refrain from being an outright liar and claiming I ignored that issue. I agreed with Kirshenbaum’s main point. I disagree with her supporting evidence and the inappropriate inferences being made regarding the statement that she is attractive.

    Finally, I hate when people gloss over specific points to make a general statement. It’s useless rhetoric. Why shouldn’t Kirshenbaum make a rebuttal post about ageism? How is that any different?

  3. Dude, you’re a fucking nut.

  4. Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Don’t judge me based upon one aspect of who I am! That’s discrimination!

    Let me draw it out for you because, yes, you did miss it.

    Judging someone based upon looks – something we all do all the time, no matter what – and then commenting on that judgement is discussing one aspect of who someone is. It does not represent the person as a whole and it is not intended to do that. With Kirshenbaum, those who said she was attractive were not demeaning her credentials. What you just did, however, was determine I must just be “a fucking nut” because I’m not a rabid dog about supposed sexism. In other words, whereas people judged Kirshenbaum on her looks did not extend that to any other aspect of who she is (even if you’re deluded enough to think that), you judged me based upon one position I hold and then extending that judgement to me as a whole.

    You’re inconsistent, deserve the “militant” moniker usually reserved for atheists, and flat out wrong. Look at the principles of the situation before you speak.

  5. “Now folks, I’m not naive. I recognize everyone forms preconceived notions based on visual and nonverbal cues. As it happens, my next book deals with science and sexuality, so this is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately off the blog…” Sheril Kirshenbaum

    Clear, Kirshenbaum is not naive. Her commenter has made a statement that he cares more about looking at women he finds attractive than hearing what these women have to say. He did not judge Kirshenbaum on her scientific ability or her writing style, he merely commented positively on her picture: A picture that Kirshenbaum willingly posted.

    Some time ago, I had gotten involved in an on-line community; a small group of men and women who shared similar interests. It was natural to become curious about the people you exchanged ideas with on a daily basis, so I was not surprised when one of the community members suggested we all post pictures of ourselves. I was surprised however, at the notice my photo received. Uncomfortable with the unwanted attention, I took my picture down. Problem solved.

    Kirshenbaum acknowledges that her picture is a visual cue, and then chastises those who look. Give me a break!

    “…Naturally, attention to physical appearance has been hardwired into our neural circuitry over a few millenia, however, you better believe it’s never acceptable [to] judge anyone based on appearances and number of X chromosomes.” Sheril Kirshenbaum

    Your commenter wasn’t judging you, Ms. Kirshenbaum; he was merely acknowledging his own weakness for a pretty face.

    As for you, Comrade PhysioProf, there is discrimination against women in this world, but that’s not what happened to Sheril Kirshenbaum.

    Discrimination against women occurs when a woman has been judged unfairly. Sheril’s commenter didn’t discriminate against her, he commented favorably on her physical appearance. His comment speaks of him far more than it does of her.

    Likewise, your cursing, disrespectful, pseudo-feministic comment speaks volumes about you, and it’s not very feminine, or even politely masculine for that matter.

  6. I think Sherril’s close-up, gleeful smiling photo may have contributed….she should smile more demurely and show a little blazer….it will make her look older.

  7. If you read the quote in proper context (not Kirshenbaum’s quote-mine context), it amounts to “She’s pretty”. That says nothing of her science or abilities.

    EXACTLY. And that’s precisely the problem with the comment. Do you really not see this?

  8. The discussion wasn’t on anything more specific than the fact that she had a new site for her blog. Had there been a discussion, say, about her crappy book, then the comment would have been inappropriate. Furthermore, there were genuinely crude comments on there that were inappropriate because there was no attempt to mediate them by first acknowledging that said comments had nothing to do with the rest of her.

    There was a question put forth several times that asked, What if the same thing was said to Chris? (This question is irrelevant for most of the feminist caricatures polluting my blog right now because they believe sexism is a one-way street.) Well, the answer would be the same. If the context is not asking for a discussion on a specific topic and if the comment is not crude (as a few actually were), then it’s hard to see how someone could honestly get offended by any of this.

  9. Really?

    You are a fucking idiot. Please excuse yourself from the human race, get the fuck off our planet, stop breathing our air and using up our internet.

    I can’t figure out what the hell these posts have to do with science. How many different variations of “This isn’t sexism because Michael Fucking Hawkins says it’s not sexism, bitches.” am I going to find if I keep reading back through your archive?

  10. Yeah. Like how all those science blogs on SCIENCEBLOGS.COM only have science content. You got me.

  11. I find it funny that Sangwine calls CPP out on not being “feminine,” assuming ‘she’ cares, and that ‘she’ is a woman (he’s not).

    This is a classic example of putting women in their place. People use the “unfeminine” tag to discredit females across the board, especially those who rise in typically male-dominated areas (i.e. science, sports, chess, etc.).

    Without getting into a lengthy semantics debate about the nature of discrimination, I will say this: most sexism (in the Western world, at least) is unintended. That doesn’t make the perpetrator (who is not always male, by the way) an automatic misogynist, but it does make them responsible for what they say and how it affects people.

    I can understand the argument against “PC” terms and censorship. However, from a psychological standpoint, no one can argue that words do not affect people’s experiences. Women are proven to silence themselves in the presence of sexual degradation, and men are proven to be less likely to listen to women’s opinions and more likely to interrupt them. Yes, that means rape jokes are not “just funny,” they hurt women’s job and school performance, their self-esteem, and the way others see them, whether or not any of them realize it.

    Feminists don’t suggest that we burn books or ban words. We just ask that others consider that their choice of words can be harmful, and to conduct themselves with some dignity and respect for others.

    See the following study, showing how men target women in high positions rather than women they find sexually attractive for their “compliments”:
    http://nosexualharassment.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/berdahl_uppity_women.pdf

    And this one, about how sexist jokes permit and encourage sexist behavior:
    http://psp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/26/9/1094

    Or this one, about rape jokes specifically:
    http://jiv.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/0886260509354884v1

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: