Last night the good Dr. Isis posted a fairly droll video of the “Grad Student Rap“. After enjoying an amusing 3:51 minutes on YouTube, I clicked through to one of the many “Suggestions” on the right hand side. As a Flight of the Conchords fan, I was drawn to a parody of their “Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” (Lyrics from the original: “Looking at the room, I can tell that you/Are the most beautiful girl in the…room./(In the whole wide room)./And when you’re on the street, depending on the street/I bet you are definitely in the top 3/Good lookin girls on the street./(Depending on the street).“)
The parody was “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Lab”. The guys performing it did an impressive job of capturing the vocal stylings and presentation of the original, and their revised lyrics were clever. But watching it, I suffered from a creeping feeling of “ick”. Take a sec and watch:
So here’s the ick factor, for me. The chick is just trying to do her freakin’ job. I know that’s part of the intended humor, but it just hits a little too close to home for many women. I doubt that there is any harm that has resulted from the video, and I’m sure the video’s creators had no intent beyond making a funny, well-done parody — indeed, the original video was taken down in response to comments, and replaced with a statement acknowledging how the video might have been interpreted, while opening up the comments to a discussion of issues facing women in science. (Graciously handled, although it now looks like the heavy hand of humorless feminists and political correctness run amok. You just can’t win.)
That said, I feel like I need to explain a little why even a fairly easy-going viewer might be squicked out. It’s like someone losing a loved one to a brutal clown attack, and having a hard time finding clowns funny down the road. (Ok, it’s not exactly like that, but you get the idea — sometimes your past experiences make it impossible to ever “lighten up”, no matter how innocently something was meant). Now, killer clowns are thankfully not a common scourge, but it is a rare young women that hasn’t had to deal with someone being openly more interested in her sexual desirability than her job performance in a professional setting.
Just to drive this point home, this morning I ran across the following:
At a Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) was questioning a panel of experts on the tax code’s fairness. To kick off his questions, Mr. Roberts jokingly said he was conferring an “honorary doctorate of economics” on each of the four witnesses.
One of the witnesses, Aviva Aron-Dine, actually is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at MIT. Making nice with the senator, she said she appreciated the conferral of a degree, because she wouldn’t mind getting hers a couple of years early.
“I always heard a Ph.D. was a pretty hot Democrat,” Mr. Roberts replied.
“Pretty…sorry?” Ms. Aron-Dine responded.
“Somebody asked me what a pretty hot Republican was, and they said, `Nothing,’” Mr. Roberts continued. “So, you know, it’s an equal deal.” Then he went on with his questioning.
Feeling proud about getting to testify before the Senate as an expert witness, and one of the first things she has to deal with is some senator commenting on her being hot? This crap happens to guhzillions of women in workplaces throughout the world, especially if they also happen to be in the top 3 of good lookin’ girls on the street (depending on the street). And, it’s complicated, and frequently humiliating when it does.
Which explains why even well-intentioned clever YouTube videos can sometimes have a stronger reaction than intended.