Singled Out

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | March 25, 2009 9:24 am

2003: I’m a budding marine scientist on my first fishing boat. “How old are you?” asks the captain.  “Twenty-three.” He grimaces and blows smoke from his pipe into my face.  “My niece’s younger’n you and she got three kids.  You got no business here, what’s wrong with you?

 2008: Now a science writer, I’ve just returned from a conference, ecstatic to have met one of my–and everyone else’s–science heroes.  He somehow tracks down my number and calls the following week.  How would I feel about being “his next mistress?”  I remind him I have a popular science blog and warn never to call back.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

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

Needless to say, it wasn’t the most welcoming reaction and I missed the allies I had at our old site. Any whiff of misogyny and Isis, PhysioProf, and Drugmonkey will smack you down, Abel, Bora, Grrl will set the record straight, ScienceWoman and SciCurious will embarrass you, and Zuska  might just vomit on your shoes. But then I remembered, this troubling mentality is not limited to any network. I encountered equally unenlightened nonsense at both Wired and ScienceBlogs too.  Furthermore, it’s pervasive well beyond the blogosphere.  For example, when Chris and I recently gave a joint talk, a Nobel laureate commended my co-blogger on his words followed by grabbing for my left hand and uttering, “why aren’t you married my dear?

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.’  As David Kroll pointed out on Phil’s thread:

What the hell is wrong with you people? Is your life so pitiful that [appearances are] the first thing you choose to comment upon regarding an experienced scientist, author, and public policy expert?

a response read:

The problem is not that Electro and I compliment Sheril’s appearance. The problem is that people like you take issue with it, as if somehow that compliment is “lesser” than a compliment on someone’s intelligence. Remove stick from rear end, move on. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I disagree, so let’s not ‘move on‘ immediately.  You see, all of this does matter. Surely it contributes to the reason so many of us wonder about the dramatic gender gap in science, policy, and much of society.  Of course, on a personal note, I say don’t cry for me academia because while there are undoubtedly hurdles, I’m having a blast and plan to stick around the ivory towers for a while. Still, I strongly suspect the veritable nosedive in XX representation over time is, at least in part, a self-perpetuating cycle resulting from long-standing cultural norms and social expectations.

Shortly after entering the blogosphere, there was a period when I stopped posting personal pictures altogether… until I stepped back and thought about why I felt pressure to remain somewhat obscure. These reservations stemmed from wondering whether a woman can really be taken seriously as a writer for her ideas, if on some level she is first perceived as female. Evolutionary psychologists describe subconscious cues and I’ve encountered more than a few folks from the fishing industry to the Senate with overtly preconceived expectations on gender. I’d like readers here to recognize content before appearances, but I never had the option of anonymity. Eventually I realized that the truth is, by ‘hiding,’ I’d been undermining myself by unintentionally creating self-imposed constraints based on fear. I’d been feeling the need to censor myself because of the potential for external bias. Thing is, those outside pressures are going to exist no matter what, so the only opinion of real consequence is my own. And in time, I decided it was incredibly important to openly provide an image of a woman in science to the many bright young readers who follow the blog:

Even in the 21st century there’s still this ridiculous misconception that gets popularized in middle school suggesting girls in academics are weird, unattractive, or nerdy. Beauty and the Geek‘ anyone? I can’t fathom why the negative labels persist. Frankly, I’m having a blast growing up geek exploring the ivory towers and beyond. So what we collectively ought to be doing is finding the means to reinforce reality over ‘reality‘ television! It’s past the time we get the simple honest message out in a way that resonates that women can be successful, intelligent, hip, and most importantly–it’s our choice how we define ourselves. I suspect that society and culture will catch up…eventually.

While I still feel that way, I’ve since decided I’d rather not be labeled a ‘woman in science‘ at all. I have far more dimensions than the ones assigned by base pairs and profession. So as for the response at Bad Astronomy, it’s a microcosm of a broader cultural issue. Furthermore, in the end, Phil’s response was the right one and Carey–one of the original commentors–recognized his error and apologized.  With that, I’ll end by reiterating I’m glad to be at Discover–obviously there’s work to be done!  I plan to continue defying expectations of what it means to be a girl and am encouraged knowing I’ve got several new friends along with the old family who have my back.

Prehistoric boneheads be forewarned: We occasionally exhibit a pack mentality and some bloggers bite, so venture down that road at your own risk…

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Uncategorized

Comments (209)

Links to this Post

  1. Uncommon Priors » Women are ends in themselves too: the wrongness of sexual comments in non-sexual contexts and the Sheril Kirshenbaum post. | March 25, 2009
  2. Admittedly, I seem to be missing the point « The Hardest Science | March 26, 2009
  3. Picture, or no Picture? « Blue Lab Coats | March 27, 2009
  4. Women and science « For the Sake of Science | March 29, 2009
  5. Femmostroppo Reader - March 30, 2009 — Hoyden About Town | March 29, 2009
  6. Female Talk » Women (Aren’t) In Science: Kirshenbaum’s Dilemma | March 30, 2009
  7. Zaskoda » On Misogyny and Misandry | March 30, 2009
  8. The curse of being attractive | lolife | April 1, 2009
  9. No Girls Allowed, Part 1 « The Radical Notion | April 30, 2009
  10. I Get Email: ‘Are Men Smarter Than Women?’ | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | May 26, 2009
  11. Vote for Sheril | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | June 2, 2009
  12. Must Modern Feminism Be Dictated By Political Ideology? | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | June 22, 2009
  13. mental_floss Blog » Morning Cup of Links: Screaming Mummies | June 22, 2009
  14. Gender Bias Bingo | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | November 2, 2009
  15. I’m (Actually) With Sarah | The Intersection | Discover Magazine | November 18, 2009
  16. How objectification silences women – the male glance as a psychological muzzle [Not Exactly Rocket Science] » iThinkEducation.net! | January 12, 2010
  17. How objectification silences women – the male glance as a psychological muzzle | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine | March 27, 2010
  1. A wonderfully written response that surpasses the comments on both other blogs.

    There should be no reason to be called a woman in science or for a man to be called a man in science. If a man commenting might feel very awkward being described as a man in science, then perhaps they will see the double standard. The term is scientist.

  2. Sheril,
    Just plain bravo. I know my coblogger well enough by now to know that when she takes a stand, people had better watch out….

  3. Rocco

    You sure have a pretty mouth.

  4. Brendan White

    While I see the validity in what you have written, I’m not sure I expect things to change. Sexuality is hardwired very deeply, and your attractiveness (I’m assuming I’m safe in commenting on it in context), while it is significant in its own right, is in a sense amplified by your espoused world views (you know, the smart science based ones). I think the drooling problem is worse in the sciences for three reasons. Firstly the gender disparity means that most science interested men are unable to find women who share their outlook and interests (in turn leading to admiring many from afar and becoming more looks oriented than is probably helpful). Secondly Women is the sciences have to watch out for relationships and kids getting in the way (Lets face it, looks, relationships, sex and kids are all tightly balled up together), if you are an author thats a job you can do with ankle biters running around, and a husband, to make it in the sciences you have to know more and do more and those things get in the way. Thirdly People like to be complimented, and most people will take what ever compliments they can get, however you your self feeling that you should receive compliments about your work rather than something you haven’t got much control over probably makes you less likely to derive satisfaction from comments on your looks, if you were one of the women who spent several hours in front of the mirror a day I’m sure that comments on your looks would be much more well received.

    If the mister who asked you to be his mistress really was that blunt then yes he probably deserves all the scorn you can give him.

  5. sdrDusty

    As a gay man, I thought the whole thing was truly bizarre… & I agree: it indeed does matter.
    Welcome, hooray, and as Chris says above, bravo.

  6. Excellent response Sheril. You are a fantastic role-model for scientists (men and women). The grace with which you have smacked down these attitudes and marched on with your science is really inspiring.

  7. Well articulated post as always. I wish I could write as well as you Sheril.

  8. Linda

    As you so accurately point out, there are STILL Neanderthals around.
    If before they comment, or compliment(?), if they might place a MALE pronoun in that sentence and see if it is acceptable if it were them..
    Great post, keep up the good fight.

  9. Julianne

    Nicely said, Sheril. Having been on Discover for several months now, I can assure you that the kerfluffle in Phil’s comment section is not typical. (On the other hand, my only picture has me with a baby, which pretty much cancels any possible association with teh hotness and its negative side effects).

  10. Really excellent response, Sheril. The comments about you made yesterday, and the initial response by those same commenters to David and C PP that really showed that they just didn’t get it- bugged me all evening.

  11. becca

    Right on!
    And your anecdotes are disturbing. The second one was still awfully funny though. On the cry-until-you-laugh principle.

  12. Thank you, Sheril. It’s pathetic that you had to write this post, but you did a fantastic job. I’ve always had issues with the phrase “women in science.” Why not just scientists? Jane Lubchenco is scientist. More specifically, she is a marine biologist and the head of NOAA. As your bio says, you are a marine biologist and an author. I am a marine biologist and a writer. We are not she-scientists, chicks who like sciencey stuff or “women in science.” We’re the real deal.
    Thanks again. Now, I think I will change my twitter picture to a real photo of me rather than one of my dog…

  13. Sheril Kirshenbaum

    I think I will change my twitter picture to a real photo of me rather than one of my dog…

    Excellent Kelsey! And thanks to everyone for your kind words and support.

  14. Very well said, thanks Sherril. I look forward to following you guys over here at the Disco.

    Let’s remember guys…just cuz you feel it or think it doesn’t mean you have to say it. Work on it.

  15. Great essay, Sheril, and more power to you!

  16. Kim Moir

    Sheril, I’ve enjoyed the Intersection at scienceblogs for and I look foward to reading it at Discover. Thank you for taking a stand. I’m a woman who works in open source software which research indicates makes me in a 2% minority. I too, look forward to the day when women working in high tech and science are not seen as anomalies, but rather treated as peers without gender specific cultural expectations and unwanted attention.

  17. Babies get made when women are topped. California’s Octomom amply illustrates the alternative. Africa and Detroit are pathologies of aggressive ignorance abetted by charity. An advocate makes virtue of failure. The worse the cure the better the treatment – and the more that is required.

    YOU did it! YOU weren’t happy making babies and driving black cars with stick shifts. YOU wanted pastels and automatic transmissions. YOU wanted to vote, YOU wanted to be in the workplace, YOU wanted to be in the military. YOU wanted Equal Rights, Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, diversity, compassion, and daycare. You’ve gotten it lady, trumped in spades redoubled. Work your butt off, abandon any thoughts of family, and watch as real experts in whining being carried in golden palanquins beat you to the finish line every time. Nobody dares hold you dearly for fear of being drawn and quartered by “social activists” and their pro bono legal representation. The best you can hope for is to get laid.

    What is your problem, maggot? Save the drama for yer momma. Get down and push!

  18. Hear, hear. It’s about time a stop is put to this inappropriate behavior.

  19. Go, Sheril. Unfortunately, no finite number of sensible explanatory posts will make the attitudes go away; the basics of how to treat people respectfully will always have to be reiterated forever into the future. And some offenders are well-intentioned and clueless, while others are simply malicious, and it’s worth making an effort to distinguish between them, but one doesn’t always have the energy.

    This is a great post, and I think you’re right that it’s important to know that your colleagues have your back. We do.

  20. Claire

    Bredan, there is so much wrong with your post, but lets start with the easy one:

    most people will take what ever compliments they can get

    um, no: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/03/on-compliment-guys-street-harassment.html

    Out-of-the-blue “compliments” of women’s bodies, whether intended to or not, reinforce the meme that women’s bodies are public property and that you or any man has a right to pass judgment on them. Even if that judgment is “positive” the making of the comment can still be demeaning. Commenting on someone’s body in a venue intended for discussion of ideas, reinforces the idea that women are first bodies and only second minds. Check PalMD’s advice.

  21. Excellent post. I am not surprised that people in the senate or on boats would be that biased and ignorant. It’s definitely more saddening to see scientists (or at least those who claim they are scientists) to respond this way. There is nothing wrong in sincerely praising beauty, but it has to be done sincerely and in the right context. As for Uncle Al, he is famous for spouting erudite nonsense; let me just say that on other blogs I have seen his comments provoke laughter, indignation and anger for four years now.

    That comment from 2008 is really startling.

  22. Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Well said, Sheril. We want the Discover blogs to be a fair and welcoming place for everyone—readers, commenters, and especially great new bloggers. This place is based on ideas and writings and arguments (and the occasional LOLcat)—that’s what we want to discuss here, and people should be viewed and discussed through those lenses.

  23. Kim

    Fantastic response.

  24. Ah, Sheril, when you were in Congress were there still offices who had lipstick and skirt requirements for their female employees? I also recall with a mixture of weird fondness and horror hearing a Congresswoman talk about Strom Thurmond being an equal opportunity groper, including in the members’ only elevator. Women in the oceans sciences are on the rise, as are women in politics, but there are still plenty of folks who see the only female part and ignore the substance. All you can do is keep blogging, keep questioning, keep publishing, keep testifying and make an impact that way. And if they’re too mesmerized by your lipstick to fight back when you roll them out of town, well, that’s their loss.

  25. Sciencefan

    Uncle Al is an ASS, and probably needs to get his “jollies” like this because he has no life or intellect.

  26. Sheril Kirshenbaum

    Ah, Sheril, when you were in Congress were there still offices who had lipstick and skirt requirements for their female employees? I also recall with a mixture of weird fondness and horror hearing a Congresswoman talk about Strom Thurmond being an equal opportunity groper, including in the members’ only elevator.

    I’m happy to report Senator Nelson runs a terrific office and while I was there, we had plenty of brilliant and wonderful women and men on the team. It was a very positive environment.

    Unfortunately, that’s not the case for Congress as a whole. I’ve heard details of some rather unenlightened members as well…

  27. In this context you may be interested in a post that I wrote a while ago about underrepresentation of women in the well-known Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). The accompanying comments are also intriguing. I also linked to a post that talked about an interesting Nature article discussing the cutthroat competition in high-profile science, something that the author contended kept women away from the field, sometimes along with foreign scientists.

  28. Jessica

    Thank you for this post. It’s so, so important.

  29. Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Uncle Al: Your comment straddles the line between quite-rude and not-making-a-lot-of-sense. Please be both more considerate and more on-topic—as Sheril, Chris, Julianne, Sean, Phil, and I and all of the other commenters have pointed out, the DISCOVER blogs are not a forum for this kind of thing.

  30. Brendan White

    Claire, What I got from the link that you posted was not that compliments were not appreciated, its that those two young able bodied white men were complimenting in a way that some people thought resembled street harassment too much, and lead those said same people to feel uncomfortable.

    I understand (perhaps only up to the extent that an able bodied young white male can) what street harassment is, and why people feel hurt and uncomfortable because of it (Harassment making people feel bad, a stretch I know) and have been hassled on the streets for various reasons. I did not say and did not mean to imply that she was not correct to feel angry when sexual comments are made in inappropriate situations, or that the miscreants were justified in the comments which they made, I simply said that I doubt that things are likely to change.

    With sufficient legislation the proverbial stick could hit hard enough to do some real damage, and things would change, random guys you meet would probably never hit on you again. But the flip side of that is that legitimate sexual encounters would become very difficult. Really to shift a system quickly you need both a stick and a carrot, in a system where respectful and respectable men received more attention from women that kind of behavior would be displayed more often. Perhaps that is the case in some parts of the country, the television, film, radio, and print media certainly doesn’t reflect that as a reality however.

    This post is just showing men that being cretinous gets them a slap on the cheek, I’m willing to bet that most men knew that already, the root of this problem is that occasionally it will also get them someone in bed next to them at night. Construction workers cat calling occasionally get some woman to flash them, and the positive value of the “reward” (the attention and affection of some females) often out weights the negative value of the “punishment” (the scorn of a majority of women and men). The system is imperfect, its getting better, but it seems to me that to fix it women will have to be very good about no one rewarding the bad behavior, which might be impossible and would probably require more sexual liberality so that the women who feed the cycle are less likely to feel the urge to and more likely to pursue healthy sexual relationships. I liken the effect to people skipping real meals to loose weight then eating junk food because they are hungry.

    To summarize, because I rambled a bit there; What we are seeing is probably a symptom of more than simple immaturity. Reaching for more shame and scorn is going to have diminishing returns, and at some point may in fact be counter productive. This issue is about women’s behavior as well as men’s.

    I do think that not hiding her picture is a positive step.

  31. […] If you have a wife or a sister or a female friend or colleague that you respect in your life….how can you possibly think it is understandable, okay or remotely defensible to talk about physical attractiveness in a professional context?

    It is not.

    So where do we go from here? Punching you right in your ignorant nose is right out, much as I would like to do so. On behalf not merely of Sheril but of my friends, employees, trainees, spouse, offspring and women everywhere. And for myself. I take this nonsense personally. […]

  32. JessSnark

    Way to blame women for their own harassment, Brendan. “To fix it women will have to be very good about no one rewarding the bad behavior”? “This issue is about women’s behavior as well as men’s”? No. Sheril and other female scientists are not “asking for it” simply by being female.

    And your suggestion of a stick and a carrot, as though I’m supposed to reward men who do the very basic minimum of treating me like an equal human being with my “attention” (I think you mean sex) is pretty offensive too. You think “legitimate sexual encounters would become very difficult” if men weren’t able to behave in the ways Sheril described in her post? Here’s some news for you about how I met my boyfriend of three years: He didn’t ask me if I would be his “next mistress;” he didn’t catcall me on the street. He invited me to attend a concert with him and we talked about mutual interests. How difficult is that?

  33. Excellent, kick-butt post, Sheril.

    Regarding comment(s) above on the hard -wired nature of sexuality (= this problem is never going to go away): We can argue about how hard wiring works, but when it comes down to it our nomative behavior in society (as humans) is negotiated, not hard wired. There are all kinds of “hard” realities, and some of those are developmental/genetic/endocrine but hose “hard” realities sit at a very large table with a lot of other stakeholders.

  34. Well said, Sheril. I am so impressed by your science, your writing, and your grace under pressure. I’m sure you are an inspiration for young people wherever you go.

  35. Norah Casey

    As a science geek (albeit an amateur one), I completely agree with everything you have said. I had to work much harder to be accepted into an AP-only science track in junior high, and ended up being only one of two girls who made it into the program (out of 20 students). Now I’m preparing to go back to school in hopes of getting a PhD in evolutionary biology. I won’t say sexism has been holding me back, but it certainly has been partly responsible for the delay. Recently, my 13-year-old sister was told not to take an AP math class by a female school counselor because “girls aren’t very good at math” and “it will be hard finding a boyfriend.”

    Just in case all this wasn’t enough torture, we also like to restore old muscle cars. The most common thing I hear from older men in that field is “when are you going to find a nice guy to settle down with who can take care of this stuff for you?” When I needed to buy a daily driver several years ago, I shopped around not for the car, but for a salesperson who would talk to me like an rational human being (one sales guy tried to convince me to not get a manual transmission by saying “if you get an automatic, you’re less likely to break a nail.”)

    Anyway, thanks for the post! Keep up the good fight!

  36. Nicely done, Sheril. A very well written, well thought out, and necessary smack down (with a kick ass soundtrack even!). It’s heartening to see how many wonderful people immediately had your back. You clearly have the situation under control, but could we maybe arrange for Zuska to go ahead and vomit on their shoes anyways? Just for good measure? Because they deserve it.

  37. Wait??!? Your a girl! How could I not have noticed!

    Looking forward to hearing about your new book, sounds timely. As in any time in history and obviously the foreseeable future.

  38. Brendan White

    @JessSnark, no I did not mean sex when I said attention, in that case I used the word affection. You should use your sexuality how you see fit, it is not my place to comment on it. I was simply stating a matter of reality. I also do not think that anything I said could be reasonably interpreted as suggesting that Women are asking for it, or that fine upstanding examples of Female Human academic achievement like Sheril are asking for it, its clear that they are getting it (that sounds so very wrong and I’m sorry but I’m sticking to it) and my intent is to more accurately find the root cause of it in order to more easily empirically find a solution for it.
    Men act like they do because they get something from it, I’m not in the habit of blame assignment, if I were I’d blame the mathematical reality of the situation.
    Let me know if you see an error in my premises or my conclusions.
    Premise 1: Animals evolved to respond to positive and negative feedback
    Premise 2: Human males are animals.
    Conclusion 1: Human Males respond to negative an positive feedback. (P1 & P2)
    Premise 3: Responses to positive and negative feedback will respond to their magnitudes.
    Premise 4: Males sometimes respond and interact in “lecherous”(is this the word I want? Or is there one with more appropriate connotations?) ways.
    Conclusion 2: Either there is no negative feedback or there is sufficient positive feedback to outweigh the negative feedback (C1, P3, P4)
    Premise 5: Negative feedback is strong
    Conclusion 3: Positive feedback exists that is stronger than the negative feedback (C2, P5)
    Premise 6: The Positive social feedback from Male exclusive social groups does not outweigh the negative social pressure from male social groups and mixed social groups(this one you might not follow on, but given that you seem to see my male gender as a reason for me to not understand some things I’m assuming that you will grant me that I know more about being in an all male social group than you do)
    Premise 7: Some females give positive feedback to Lecherous behavior
    Conclusion 4: Female positive responses play a significant role in the lecherous behavior of men (C3, P6, P7)
    Conclusion 5: Reduction in female positive responses to male lecherous behavior would result in a change in the net feedback from male lecherous behavior (P6, P7, C4)
    Premise 8: Reduction constitutes a change
    Conclusion 6: Changes in female behavior would result in a change in the net feedback from male lecherous behavior (C5, P8)
    Final Conclusion, Conclusion 7: Changes in female behavior would result in a reduction of the lecherous behavior of men (C1, C6)

    That is just for the effects of some females encouraging the behavior, I can write one on the effects of the “carrot” for good behavior too.

    I’m a very results oriented person, for me its not about who is in the right, its about what will work the best for fixing the problem. Lets say you have a house, and your dumb neighbor puts a hole in your roof (air born propane grille perhaps) and can’t pay to get it fixed right now. you have clearly done nothing wrong, however its in your best interest to fix the roof before the next rain, its less than optimal, but the world is less than optimal. Just because you aren’t a woman who is encouraging it does not mean that there are not women who are encouraging it. I can’t figure out how to write it out in premise and conclusion, but my intuition is that male encouragement would fall drastically if female encouragement were to end, that kind of behavior is relegated to very cloistered and dogmatic areas, like the mosque.

    @GregLaden, “Hard wired deep” was the wrong way to say it, very little in the human brain is truly hard wired, “Wired deep” would have been better. I apologize for the error of my word choice. I do think that certain systems would be easier to take advantage of than to change, in the sense that we would have to change them constantly and repeatedly in every new generation, and the resources involved would make it unfeasible, until we understand the physiology of the brain better that is, and can pharmaceutically or genetically rewire the brain, and justify it ethically.

  39. Well said, Sheril. I wondered if you would respond to this, and I’m glad you did!

  40. As someone from India, this is slightly amusing for me and has also been rather puzzling for a while. In India, girls easily outnumber boys two to one in terms of being the top scorers in math and engineering courses. In biological sciences they outnumber boys even more. What’s very interesting is that this trend continues till the end of college and master’s degrees. After that you find very few girls relative to boys pursuing PhDs in math or engineering (although in biology the trend seems to somewhat continue). The reason this puzzles me is that in India there are sound cultural and social explanations for the lack of women in the sciences and engineering. One would assume that similar reasons would not be operating in the most technologically advanced country in the world. Yet other puzzling and some not-so-puzzling reasons seem to result in an underrepresentation of women in the sciences even in the US.

  41. @Brendan: Your core argument seems to be “Sexuality is hardwired ” and therefore it is simply human nature to notice an attractive person of the preferred gender. As Dawkins notes, one of our greatest strengths is our ability to *overcome* our base instincts and behave in a manner more appropriate to a civilized progressive society.

    Noticing and appreciating that someone is attractive is all well and good. Here of course is where it gets sketchy as the internet is global but at least in the context of a Western European style society any reasonably socialized and educated person should understand that there is a time and a place where it’s appropriate to comment on such (for example: a nightclub) at least until one has established a rapport with said individual.

    Phil’s comments about Rebecca Watson were mentioned in the referenced thread, and there’s a fine example: they are friends and presumably already had a comfort level with that sort of repartee. I don’t know Sheril so I don’t know how she would feel about such a comment from a friend, but I know enough women to be quite sure how she would feel about it from a stranger, particularly in this context.

  42. Go Sheril! This is why I’ll miss you at Scienceblogs – you don’t often rant, but when you do, it makes me proud to be a woman in science – I mean woman scientist – I mean scientist AND woman AND blogger. You rock!

  43. Marianne C.

    Good post, wise words. When I read some of the comments I was reminded of that scene from European Vacation where the lone female ended up at an all male nudist beach.

    I do wonder though if science is still an old boys’ network, as you said? At least in the government biology field here in Canada. In government the noticeable trend is to hire women in their mid-20s versus hiring those who are older and have far more qualifications and experience but are male.

    This started happening about 10 years back, but recently has accelerated when they farmed out the sorting of resumes to a central location, which was part of the Equal Opportunity legislation in Ontario. Somewhere in that mysterious sorting black hole where most resumes go to die, there is a preliminary sorting process that has nothing to do with experience or ability.

    People who were getting interviews were suddenly not getting interviews and the people who were hired instead had far less experience (talking decades less experience in some cases). Hiring someone on the basis of gender is still sexism no matter which way it goes. It does great disservice to 1) those who are being pushed out despite their excellence and proven track record, and 2) those who are hired instead of them because the feeling is they have been hired not because of their skills or experience but because of their gender.

    It doesn’t help when everyone knows the other people who have applied and find out they didn’t get interviewed. The usual gasping comment by all genders is something like, “You didn’t even get an interview?!! But they just hired….”. And how is that fair to the poor person they hired? That is too much pressure even if they are perfectly capable of doing the job.

    In our management section it doesn’t seem to be an old boys network either. The ratio seems fairly evenly split even among the upper echelons where biologists are forced to be politicians and policy wonks, spending more time talking to Members of Parliment than doing any research. Decades back when I first started, the old boys club was certainly there, and I had to endure my share of nonsense (unintentional and otherwise) at meetings and retreats as I was the lone female. But there have been large changes as these older fellows retired and more enlightened people came through, and more females were hired or promoted.

    I’m sure that in many other science disciplines there is still an old boys network, but we have to be certain that in getting rid of that network we don’t make the same mistakes that allowed that network to be established in the first place. And I am concerned that we are making the same mistakes, and there is going to be another backlash. Already we have seen four challenges to job hirings by those who did not get interviewed, and the human resource centre cannot adequately explain why these people did not receive an interview when they should have been on top of the list. Word is that at least one of these might end up before the courts.

    It is disheartening. Sometimes it seems we have gotten rid of the bad penny, but other times I think we’ve only flipped it over and the penny is still there, just with a different face showing.

  44. mk

    Sheril,

    Over all, a very well written piece.

    I wonder, though, are Phil Plait’s fairly regular remarks about nerd girls being “hawt” or talking about his “hawt” friend skepchick also “contribut[ing] to the reason so many of us wonder about the dramatic gender gap in science, policy, and much of society. ” ?

    I don’t believe so. I also would say that some of the comments over at his site were clearly playful… not outright misogynistic but playful in the way Phil plays… and certainly not in the league of the two situations you quote at the top of this page (the ones from 2003 and from 2008) and other obviously cringe-worthy comments that are out there. But I would guess some of the commenters feel they have a certain familiarity with Phil and this may have been where they were coming from. Rightly or wrongly.

    Thoughts?

  45. Brendan White

    @Rev Matt

    I felt like that portion was at best accessory to my argument. Greg called me out on my stupid wording and that is why I backpeddled to higher ground. I think most every adult knows that there is a time and a place for compliments, however there is widespread disagreement over where those times and places are. I know some women who feel that it is always a violation of them to be approached by some men in bars, if you don’t immediately strike their fancy you are automatically (in their minds and the stories they tell their friends) a creep. In those instances we cannot all agree that there is a time and a place. I feel like there is a strong trend towards a very very restricted set of times and places, (I feel that there should probably be a gradient), and I see that conflicting with the sexual drive in both men and women. While we can overcome our drives they aren’t all creted equally, after all the cave (wo)man who managed not to believe in a skywizard still had children and passed their non-believing genes on, the cave (wo)man who managed to forgo sex for other pursuits often went extinct.

  46. Brendan White

    Something to append

    Firstly I forgot to mention that i really appreciate you taking the time to articulate criticism of my position Rev Matt.

    Secondly @Marianne C. I’mg glad to hear you thinking about not making the same mistakes, it seems to be human nature to ignore that drive

    Finally @mk I’m going to agree with you, behavior like Phils, although I would deem it appropriate, probably serves to cloud the waters and makes it more difficult to sound out the depths and figure out what is the appropriate time and place. the poster she mentioned apologizing initially did nothing more than calling her fetching, which is a relatively benign word, but he was absolutely reemed out for it, had he mentioned nude shots of Amanda Peet in movies its a safe bet that it would have gone unmentioned.

  47. mk

    Thanks Brendan.

    These forums can get a little strange at times. And it can be difficult…. Looking for the boundaries, gauging the audience, wanting to have fun but not be rude, people being knee-jerk reactionary, over sensitive… ugh.

    We keep coming back for more though don’t we? Heh. ;^}

  48. Although I don’t mind flattery from guys who can appreciate looks AND brains, I certainly agree that the overall problem of less XX is STEM needs to be looked at more closely. Those comments alone wouldn’t be such a problem by themselves if women overall felt equally represented and respected in science and academia. Some of your anecdotes do show where this goes too far. (Really? Mistress? They still have those?!)

    Bravo and I look forward to more great articles!

  49. Chris

    I am upset and, sadly, not suprised by some of the experiences that women have to go through to make it in science. In my short career (I am in my early 30s) – I have had to read the riot act to grad students, postdocs and other PIs who have been guilty of this. It is crucial that we, as PIs, make it a priority that all who work with us work in a safe environment. I supervise a mix of male and female grad students. I do not evaluate people based on gender, I evaluate them based on their work. Also, if anyone, whether inside or my lab or outside, whether senior or junior, harasses one of my students they have me to deal with. Generally, I have found that these people are cowards. I am physically pretty big and when I confront them they backtrack fast. So, confront these people. Don’t let them continue to get away with it.

  50. Lee

    Brendan: Re the responsibility of women not to reward men’s bad behavior, two comments:

    1) Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about the responsibility of men not to engage in bad behavior in the first place? Fix the problem at the source!

    2) I appreciate a well-turned compliment as well as the next woman. But because of crap like the stuff that happened to Sheril, I find that I’m not as comfortable as I used to be with pseudo-flirtatious remarks from men (especially older men) who I don’t know well, in social situations such as those found at a convention. I wonder, if they’re saying this to me, what are they saying to women who are younger and prettier than I am? If I respond positively, am I reinforcing behavior that will turn to harassment in another context? And note, please, that I CANNOT respond negatively without being labeled a ManHatingFeministBitch — even a neutral response carries some risk of that.

    Marianne: I submit that what’s happening there is less a function of gender than of economics. They’re hiring younger people — and especially younger women — because they can get them a lot cheaper (and then work them much harder for the pay) than someone with years of experience. The same thing happens frequently in US industry, and not just WRT scientists, but many other fields as well. This is a situation where sexual discrimination, age discrimination, and greed all run hand in hand.

  51. Sheril, great post! The only reason you haven’t seen me puking heavily on the shoes of those asshats is because I have been taking care of my mom this week with no time/energy left to barely keep up with the blogosphere let alone blog about stuff. I am so happy to see that many of my fellow ScienceBloggers and other bloggers have readily come forward and done the necessary shoe-pukin’ work!

    I wish you and Chris lots of success here at Discover.

    And by the way, that 2008 phone call story made my jaw drop. I continue to be amazed (though not surprised) by the persistence of outright in-your-face offensively inappropriate sexual behavior and comments women still face in the science workplace. The enduring question – why and how is it that science remains so well-defended against gender equity????

  52. Brendan White

    @lee

    1)In an ideal world that would be the answer, however here in the real world I don’t see that getting us all the way towards our goal. These men do not exist in a vacuum. Go up and read the proof* from my post at 4:20

    2) I’m not defending the behavior of Mister Mistress, I thinhe responded in a justified and totally appropriate way in that case. My defense is purely for innocuous and sometimes lightly flirtateous comments. Something like “Oh I like your hair” should be fine, maybe a few lines of flirtation as well, but stop if its not reciprocated; not flirting if its not reciprocated should be standard practice for anywhere. If men aren’t socially allowed to test the flirtation waters you are going to creat a prohabition economy of sorts, where only the bold asses who do not care about making women uncomfortable will flirt, and they will be rewarded for it more than they are punished in most instances.

    @Sheril Re: Zuska’s reply.

    Were you and Mr. Mistress in the work place when this happened? From the story I understood that he behaved inappropriately in the non-professional arena. He still behaved poorly, but I think it is perhaps a different matter.

  53. Brendan White

    Sorry for the double post, you need a preview function!

    @Nicole
    I think you hit the nail on the head.

  54. Brendan, I would like to see any sort of data, even anecdotal, backing up your assertion that “they will be rewarded for it more than they are punished in most instances.” Most adults in a professional situation already have a life outside of it, and it is not necessary or appropriate to flirt with colleagues; in particular, as you mention, “not flirting if it’s not reciprocated should be standard practice for anywhere.”

    A woman complimenting my hair at the workplace, is not threatening to me. I presume she is not coming on to me. A man saying the same sentence is just simply more ambiguous, even with the same ostensible intentions. In the light of that knowledge, he can just keep it to himself and compliment a male colleague on his T-shirt, instead.

    Hunting down someone’s coordinates to ask them if they would sleep with you, even if it were a poorly phrased intentional flirty joke, is way beyond appropriate under all circumstances. I think we’re all agreed on that.

    For the pleasure of other readers, I wanted to point you all toward the storyof yet another competent professional who has had to confront jaw-dropping sexism on the job. (If I get my html right.)

  55. Anon

    Posting anonymously as my name is in the comments on a lot of blogs…

    A very well thought out piece, and I’m sad that we’re still having to deal with this sort of stuff.

    However I can’t help but smile wryly at the ‘oh, the inappropriate remarks on how attractive I am are such a pain‘ comments. Try a career in the sciences as an irretrievably ugly woman, like me, and watch the jaws drop as men stutter ‘But…but…y-you’re smart…OMG I think you might be smarter than me…OMG…ugly chick alert! Ugly chick alert!’

    There’s a huge amount of mysogyny in science. I no longer apply for jobs that request a photo with my CV, as a photo has always guaranteed I wouldn’t get shortlisted. By contrast I have been shortlisted for every non-photo application (12), and been successful in 11 of those interviews – I can talk up a storm as long as I actually make it in front of the interview panel.

    There’s only one sort of person that a man takes less seriously than a beautiful intelligent woman – and that’s an ugly intelligent woman.

  56. Linda

    Anon,
    I never like assumptions, but assuming that you are sincere in your post above, it makes me feel very sad and angry for you and the others whom you allow to make you feel this way.
    No one is ugly. And no one can make you feel that way unless you give them your permission or allowance. It’s how you feel inside for beginners, and you need to work on that.
    As for outside appearances, you can also work on that, especially with all that’s offered today.
    Life is too short, and we need to make it the best we can and be happy and at peace.

  57. Erasmussimo

    I just want to add myself to the crowd of people congratulating you on this essay. This matter troubles me deeply. As a male, I try very hard to combat the sexually driven impulses that are hard-wired into my brain — but it’s really difficult. I can say with absolute certainty that I have never, ever said or done anything injurious to a women because of her appearance. But I must also confess that I have sometimes paid more attention to attractive women than unattractive women. I still remember how many years ago I was at a dinner after a scientific meeting, seated between an eminent old male scientist and a smashingly beautiful young female scientist. I *knew* that I should have been talking exclusively with the eminent old male scientist, but I spent twice as much time conversing with the beautiful young female scientist. To this day, I feel guilty about that rudeness to him. But to this day, I am still happier conversing with a gorgeous young woman than with an ugly old man. I can’t bring myself to the point of self-condemnation for this — it really is deeply hard-wired. But juggling my responsibilities to others against my own pleasures is so difficult. It’s remarkably like the problem of eating properly. I *know* that I shouldn’t have that chocolate torte for dessert — but can I condemn myself for wanting it?

    It’s easy to condemn the guys who behave with no concern for their social responsibilities. They deserve universal contempt for ogling and panting at attractive women. But how do we draw the line between egregious and demeaning behavior and restrained acknowledgement of our human foibles? I don’t know.

  58. David Harmon

    Sheril, that was a very classy response to the whole kerfluffle.

    In catching up with the comments, I’ll just add this: The issue of “instinctive response” is indeed a problem, but that doesn’t mean we can, or should, throw our hands up at it — just that we can’t “declare victory” and be done. While ignorance is curable, it’s also in endless supply….

  59. Brendan White

    @Heather, its that the system will settle out to that point. When women are not bombarded by sexual comments a few bold males will be able to make them and be less likely to get a negative response. However those guys who are getting the positive responses will be the creepiest jerks out of the bunch. Look up what a prohibition economy is, for some individuals today the reward for selling illicit drugs far outweighs the punishment, although it is sever, and the damping effect of the punishment on competition has allowed people to flourish with little effort.

    @Linda, If no one is Ugly then no one is Pretty either. Clearly humans have a system, I’m not saying its right or wrong but clearly it exists. My nose is a little crooked and one side of my face is flatter than the other, if not for that I’d look fantastic, but that is the reality and because of it I get less attention from women and many men who are far less respectful and far better looking than I am. Pretending that looks don;t matter is not the same as looks not mattering.

  60. megbates

    Sheril-

    I followed the link over here from Skepchick and I am bookmarking your blog now. You managed to convey the underlying problem many of us women run into or have to deal with. Sexism is one of the reasons I left my original chosen field.
    Thank You! I am now a fan!

  61. This is going to make me sound like a doofus, but I wanted to say it. I grew up loving science, couldn’t get enough of it. All I ever wanted to be was physicist in an aerospace propulsion lab. I qualified to enter MIT… and didn’t go…because I thought it was God’s will for me to do some other things. I was a very disillusioned Christian for a long time, and now I’m a happy atheist. Sadly, my get into an awesome school and work really awesome DARPA project days are gone. They don’t take 28 year olds with really spotty academic records from 3rd rate Bible colleges, but I am going back to school and working full time, and being a dad and a husband. So, I’m going the right way.

    And the physical attractiveness of a woman played a big part in it. I met Doctor Karen Stollznow (http://skepbitch.wordpress.com/) online. She took the time to teach me a lot of things about atheism. I had been raised to believe that atheists were ugly viscous people inside and out. I thought people became atheists because they were full of hate. Because Karen was smart, and kind, and attractive, it made me wonder what other things I had been taught growing up were just crap, and ultimately ended with me going from a really unhappy life as a pentecostal to finding real joy in the study of science and going back to school. I’m a poster child for better living through rationality and skepticism.

    I understand why, but I think it’s too bad that if I can’t just come out and say “Wow, I had no idea female scientists were so beautiful. If had known that I could be working every day with woman that I both respected and desired it could have changed some choices that have huge life long consequences.”

  62. Mikey
  63. Anon

    Linda:

    Don’t feel too bad about me – I run my own department, and I concentrate on making it a well run, successful workplace that is also fun to be part of. We have some high-adrenaline moments and some great belly laughs. As for me personally – I have a gorgeous home, a huge garden to relax in, enough money to indulge my hobbies…I’m a published fiction writer and ceramic artist. There are many, many people who are nowhere near as fortunate as I am.

    I did, however, read somewhere (and annoyingly I can’t find the article) that a woman’s chances of marriage fall off steeply as her IQ rises over 135. Obviously I can’t be certain of their IQ, but the three smartest women I have known were (and are) single. They are all in the sciences, they are all brilliant company, sharply witty, at the top of their game – and men will not go near them.

    The other side of sexism is how men cope with a woman who can outdo them intellectually. From observation, men respond to other, smarter men by raising their game and enjoying the intellectual stimulation. In the same situation with a woman, they are likely to feel she is belittling them, competing ‘unfairly’, and so on. I’m aware this is a generalisation, and there are men who don’t react this way – unfortunately, they are still a minority. And if a woman’s intelligence isn’t offset by her looks (making it easier to like her) then they are virtually nonexistent.

    But as Israel makes clear, if science or atheism was full of ugly women like me, he really would have no regrets about being part of neither. Because still, it’s about looks first, everything else second.

  64. No, I have huge regrets about throwing away ten years of a finite life to pursue an imaginary God. I like to be spend time with kind and attractive people. I had been told that the scientific community was full of vicious ugly people. Sex is a huge motivator in human behavior. I wanted to be loved and sexual active with some I respected, admired, and was attracted to, and I had been told that women in the scientific community were cruel, vindictive, hateful, and ugly.

    When I found out that they’re were women in science that were kind, compassionate, loving and beautiful, it felt like a slap in the face. I went to bible college so I could married, so I could have sex with someone I respect and love and am attracted to. Had I known that there were women I could respect, love, and be attracted to, in the scientific community, the last ten years of my life would look very different.

    My real point thought, was that like a good brain, looks that other people admire can be a force for good or a force for evil. In my case, the good looks of someone helped to get my attention and ultimately served as force of good in my life. You can have sharp mind and choose not to use it. If you are attractive, hiding it is as dumb as hiding a sharp mind. Just use peoples attraction for good and not evil. Which is, I think, what you are doing.

  65. Sheril, I’m glad you responded to this, and what a good response it is. You are a wonderful scientist first and foremost, and I’ve glad you laid it out there.

  66. JHB

    Sorry to be coming to the party late; my first thought on reading this post was that if you don’t name the 2008 guy then you shouldn’t be posting. He’ll almost certainly do it again and, by failing to name him, you’re making it easier for him to carry on doing exactly the same thing to the next person who comes along. It’ll work for him eventually. I should add that I agree with you and the content of this post absolutely, but, other than getting commenters on this thread all riled up, does your post do anything concrete to reduce this sort of behaviour? I’m aware that it would take a fair amount of courage to do something which could have implications for your career, but in circumstances like this – which sound very like a pattern of serial harassment – if you don’t, then you are, effectively, joining the ‘Old Boys Club’ which brushes that sort of thing under the table by reducing it to a bogeyman, rather than naming names. I could be wrong about all that, ‘though, and am happy to change my mind if there’s something I’ve missed!

  67. Anon

    Israel, I’d stop digging if I were you. That hole’s very deep, and I can still see earth coming out.

  68. Marc Abian

    Even in the 21st century there’s still this ridiculous misconception that gets popularized in middle school suggesting girls in academics are weird, unattractive, or nerdy

    That’s all scientists, not just girls.

  69. Katie

    You know…it’s not just men that categorize us women too. I’ve been told a few times by fellow women that they’re surprised and unhappy I don’t act a certain way, dress a certain way, or speak a certain way: the way they expect women should. I’ve been told literally that “you’re female, and people expect X from you”.

    I’m polite, respectful, and dress tidily. The difference is that I refuse to let my gender dictate exactly how I act or appear. I just don’t think it’s every woman’s job to be empathetic to everyone or ask everyone how they feel in a professional setting, or even to wear makeup.

    And no, I’m not a lesbian.

  70. Good advice to Israel, Anon. Maybe that cute young Brendan ought to take it too, at least until he has some facts to back up his incredible sloppy generalizations. But we can keep him around to be decorative, maybe. And fetch coffee. He looks so grown-up in his pantsuit.

    Great FSM, guys. Is this the best you can do? Is this what passes for sex and/or compliments?

    I’m a woman, creeping up on 60, and homely as a mud fence. I’ve been known to scare small children. (Well, mostly on purpose.) I’ve been happily shacked up with a v. smart, equally-sexloving man for 36 years. This was not how I expected my life to go.

    Know what ugly is good for? It’s a first-class fool-filter. See above for the kind of guys I haven’t had to waste time on for, oh, the last 40 years.

    Oh. And thanks for this post, Sheril. You do good work.

  71. MadScientist

    A high school teacher once told me something like:

    Man has two ends, one to think with and one to sit on. Unfortunately the two ends are often confused and the wrong one is used to do all the thinking.

    As a somewhat public figure on this blog, I’d expect you’ll get a lot more of that rubbish, so get your practice in slapping them down. Imagine what the tv and movie celebrities must go through.

  72. AdamK

    “…to welcome Chris and I…”

    Chris and me: the compound object of the verb “to welcome.”

    You wouldn’t write, “to welcome I,” would you?

  73. Man in science

    Nice post, but I’d like to push a concept a little contrary to yours. Without denying sexism exists as much in science as in any other area, there may be a danger in using your specific examples as evidence for a denial of your scientific ability.

    If a fellow scientist comments on your marriage status or asks you to be his mistress, it does not follow that he considers you a less than capable scientist, or writer, or whatever else. It means he is attracted to you on the basis of your physical attributes. He may also consider you a brilliant scientist.

    Such behavior isn’t excusable, but if you walk back a little from the extreme case and imagine the scenario where a fellow scientist asks you on a date, maybe that’s not so bad.

  74. kamaka

    Three icons of “in the larger scheme of things, looks don’t count for much”:

    Ann Coulter

    Sarah Palin

    Tom Cruise

  75. Susan

    Here thanks to PZ. Excellent post, Sherril. You’ve gained another fan.

  76. MadScientist

    @Katie: Good for you if you resist all that peer pressure. I’ve seen it at work and it’s not a pretty sight. Of course if you want to join the mindless bunch (that’s ‘bunch’ with an ‘itch’) club you can always acquiesce. I think The Simpsons expressed the condition pretty well on the episode with “Malibu Stacey” and “Lisa Lionheart”. As Mama Cass used to sing: you’ve got to make your own kind of music. Be glad you live in a free society; if you travel the world you will find quite a few places where you have to follow some neanderthal rules.

  77. PhopAS

    I noticed your academic credentials, and truly respect your scientific writings.
    How large are your breasts anyway?

  78. sioux laris

    [Led here by PZM]

    Just joining the chorus of approval, should you read down this far. I greatly appreciate the lack of shrillness (which – usually – starts reeking of some weird sort of prudery) in how you state your annoyance. Actually, you absolutely would be justified to be shrill, but it would take something away from your real points.

    These habits, or are they customs, facinate me. In real life I have almost no trouble letting people be people. In my mind, though, I do have the same problems with evaluating women on a scale of attractiveness, both at first sight and over time. Intellectually this bugs the hell out of me, but anthropologically (and philosophically?) it’s fascinating, and absurd.

    It’s a pity that such a thing isn’t simply a comic intellectual exercise.

    With respect and appreciation,

    — BC

  79. I work in Poland and have on numerous occasions witnessed senior male academics abuse their positions to make clearly unwanted advances upon junior female academics, including my own PhD student. I have also seen how difficult it makes for these women to feel like they have a real place in academia. It definitely makes me very selfconscious of how I relate with female students. Having seen you and Chris hold your own at the star-studded Beyond Belief conference I am glad that you have found your place. A humorous counter-point to those not-at-all-funny stories is how, at the end of my latest assessment meeting, my female superior said to the room-full of senior female academics, “And he’s handsome, too.” It really just isn’t the same when you’re male in our society.
    The good news in terms of your reception here is that the effect of beauty tends to wear off quite quickly while the effect of brains just grows and grows (as I’ve found after meeting in first year a particularly clever and beautiful woman who is now a valued old friend). In other words, Sheril, you’re gorgeous, now let’s talk science.

  80. rnb

    Anon,
    Regarding effect on employment of not sending a picture.
    I’ve heard similar from a black engineer I worked with once,
    though it was in regard to telephone interviews vs face to face interviews.

  81. DaveB

    While I totally see your point, speaking for most if not all guys here, (or possibly just me) I’d love it if I posted my picture online in a blog about something unrelated and half the comments were girls telling me I was cute. :(

  82. Kate Crowe

    @JHB

    ” . .if you don’t name the 2008 guy then you shouldn’t be posting.”

    “. . . by failing to name him, you’re making it easier for him to carry on doing exactly the same thing to the next person who comes along.”

    ” . . . does your post do anything concrete to reduce this sort of behaviour?”

    “. . . if you don’t, then you are, effectively, joining the ‘Old Boys Club’ which brushes that sort of thing under the table by reducing it to a bogeyman, rather than naming names.”

    Here’s a thought, JHB: She’s naming the thing that we women fear. She’s coming out in public and letting men know that they’re being asshats. She’s telling YOU that this behavior is unacceptable, and your best response to that is: “Sheril, you haven’t done enough. You need to do this thing that I say, and you need to do it now.”

    What a load of crap. Victim blaming won’t help here. Dictating to Sheril what SHE should do to keep men from being assholes won’t help here. Telling other men your-own-damself MIGHT help here. So stop being part of the problem and try being part of the solution.

  83. Kate Crowe

    @JHB

    ” . .if you don’t name the 2008 guy then you shouldn’t be posting.”

    “. . . by failing to name him, you’re making it easier for him to carry on doing exactly the same thing to the next person who comes along.”

    ” . . . does your post do anything concrete to reduce this sort of behaviour?”

    “. . . if you don’t, then you are, effectively, joining the ‘Old Boys Club’ which brushes that sort of thing under the table by reducing it to a bogeyman, rather than naming names.”

    Here’s a thought, JHB: She’s naming the thing that we women fear. She’s coming out in public and letting men know that they’re being jerks. She’s telling YOU that this behavior is unacceptable, and your best response to that is: “Sheril, you haven’t done enough. You need to do this thing that I say, and you need to do it now.”

    What a load of garbage. Victim blaming won’t help here. Dictating to Sheril what SHE should do to keep men from being misogynists won’t help here. Telling other men your-own-self MIGHT help here. So stop being part of the problem and try being part of the solution.

  84. Brendan White

    @Ron Sullivan, Instead of just declaring me wrong why don’t you point to a problem, I diagrammed my argument so you could do that more easily. If there isn’t a problem than I’m not wrong, and you are just being a pain in the neck because you have sour grapes over the truth.

  85. Sherry

    My experience as an Air Force officer causes me to well relate to the atmosphere you describe.

    I believe it’s worse for women in the military since some women enjoy that attention. I wouldn’t expect too many slutty female scientists.

  86. D. C. Sessions

    Let’s remember guys…just cuz you feel it or think it doesn’t mean you have to say it. Work on it.

    I’ll take the blame on that for my generation. We didn’t invent the bypass circuit around the tongue-biting block, but we certainly did our damndest to glorify it.

    No telling how long it will be before that little bit of cultural damage is undone — judging by the bits of TV and movies I see aimed at kids, it’s going to be a loooooong time.

  87. Josh

    I stopped reading when she used the word “misogyny” to describe “mmmmmmmm……….. wo-man.” I think women how have been victims of actual misogyny would be happy to put up with what she is complaining about. It’s not even a “whiff” of misogyny. It’s immature men being immature men. Right or wrong, it is not misogyny. Fail.

  88. plum grenville

    Linda Says:
    March 26th, 2009 at 9:50 am
    Anon,
    I never like assumptions, but assuming that you are sincere in your post above, it makes me feel very sad and angry for you and the others whom you allow to make you feel this way.
    No one is ugly. And no one can make you feel that way unless you give them your permission or allowance. It’s how you feel inside for beginners, and you need to work on that.
    As for outside appearances, you can also work on that, especially with all that’s offered today.
    Life is too short, and we need to make it the best we can and be happy and at peace.

    Way to blame Anon for other people’s attitudes and behaviour, Linda.

    “No one is ugly” – did you learn that bromide from your Sunday School teacher, Linda? If “no one is ugly”, then why should Anon do anything about her appearance? Which is it?

    Anon’s attitude toward her looks strikes me as being as healthy as it is possible to be in a world in which an looks very much do matter. It is absolutely unfair that people are judged by an arbitrary standard of beauty which by definition, some people cannot meet (as Brendan said, there is no “attractive” without an “unattractive” any more than someone can be rich without someone else being poor). But you can’t be angry all the time, especially without the support of a social movement as exists to combat other forms of social injustice.

    I commend Anon for achieving a substantial level of success despite the handicap of prejudice, for enjoying what sounds like many good things in her life, and for doing what good she can for others.

  89. I, for one, promise solemnly never to objectify you. I would, however, like it if you used the objective case in “to welcome Chris and I”.

  90. Sarah

    Brendan, the major problem with your argument that it’s the women’s behavior that can change the men’s is how much it smacks of the “it’s the slut’s fault she got raped, she deserved it for wearing XXXX” (and XXXX is anything, at this point it makes no difference…tight jeans, skirt, whatever). It’s also the entire reason for the burka. If men have such poor self-control there’s really nothing any woman can do about it other than be sure she can defend herself.

    I’m 31, yet when I was in high school I had a teacher say exactly that to an entire class. I also had my undergrad advisor in college completely sideline me when I worked in his lab. He took none of the time with me he took with the male undergrads and was very sure that none of the work he had me do meant a thing. My career might be very different at this point if he’d been supportive of women doing science. I’m still in the sciences, as a software engineer instead (also male dominated) of the scientist I wanted to be. Tell me how my behavior makes a difference to those men?

    So yea, think it all you want. In the right circumstances with the right level of personal interaction it might even be appropriate to say it. But most the time it’s just best to keep it in your head.

  91. plum grenville

    Yay, Zeno! Judging people on their looks is immoral and irrelevant. Judging people on their grammar on the other hand, :). Fortunately, pace Linda, incorrect grammar is something one really can do something about.

  92. I’m late to the thread, but nice job Sheril!

  93. There isn’t much I can add to this, as it seems to have been said by everyone else above.

    However, Sheril, great post. :)

  94. Kerlyssa

    Congratulations for equating the victim of harassment with the harassers, JHB, when the victim refuses to scuttle her career for a pointless statement that noone will hear because she has no evidence. Your parents must be very proud.

  95. Lyr

    Why can’t people just understand that there are certain individuals who love science, who love to learn about the world, regardless of their gender? I’m a woman and I’ve loved science since I was a kid — astronomy, geology, biology, and chemistry!

  96. Dax

    Beauty and Brains
    I married one of them 33 yrs ago. It was worse then .She was to become a biologist. We spent the better part of 15 yrs fighting everything from sexual harassment(some so extremely blatant that I was actually asked to pressure her to agree) to refusing to acknowledge her seniority.Several lawsuits were filed but none actually got to court. The last 10 yrs or so have been quiet as she is now a full professor.
    The children tell us they never knew what was going on.
    P.S. She’s still beautiful and I’m still short

  97. Brendan White

    @Sarah, Clearly its right to oppose the notion that a tight skirt is a request for rape, My argument is that if you want the harassment to stop, maybe the people saying thank you have something to do with it. Its a different situation, and your failure to see the difference is just that, your failure. The women who do not want to be harassed are not the ones feeding the issue (for the most part, people do make mistakes) its the women who don’t see the actual harassment as harassment who are feeding the problem. I’m not saying its right, I’m saying its happening. There is a difference there. I want us to base our solutions on reality, I do not think that the fantasy solution of pressing a button and making all the men who are harassing women stop is going to work, I think its going to be about as effective as prayer and homeopathy.

    You have clearly missed the entire point of what I said, you are arguing against a straw man and you would be best served by going back and taking the time to read what I actually said instead of what ever it is you feel like arguing against.

    My actual argument, the one I took the time to articulate clearly and concisely, has absolutely none of the problems you are railing against. Sherry said it pretty well “I believe it’s worse for women in the military since some women enjoy that attention. I wouldn’t expect too many slutty female scientists.” Next time you make an argument excoriating me, why don’t you take the time to make sure you know what you are arguing against.

  98. Adam

    So I was sent here from Pharyngula, and with reference to female writers being taken seriously, I thought I’d respond.

    Among websites I follow, there is one that has a women’s group blog of sorts. I read it sometimes and I am almost never impressed by the content. It is usually one-dimensional, self-centered, and rarely provokes or contains any deep, moving thoughts. It is not because the writers are women that these feelings are evoked, but because of the content. Believe me when I say that the thought of not taking you seriously hadn’t crossed my mind: you sound intelligent and thoughtful and have a considerable command of english.

  99. Chakolate

    At my university, the tenured professors in the math department are five percent female. That’s five percent, not fifty. Whenever it’s brought up, we hear the old complaint, ‘These things take time.’ (Sheeeesh!)

    At one tenure committee meeting, a candidate for a tenure-track position was brought up who was extremely well-qualified, with far more publications than any of the other candidates. One of the committee said, ‘She smiles too much’, and that was it. She was no longer under consideration.

    It still makes my stomach churn.

  100. Anon

    Josh says (summarised):
    I disagree with one part of what Sheril said, therefore her whole argument is invalid and she has nothing to complain about.

    Brendan says (also summarised):
    Because some women respond positively to, or appear unbothered by, inappropriate remarks by men, therefore it is the fault of women that men make inappropriate remarks. I’m not going to read what has been written by others here, because that would make my accusations against others a strawman, and that would be hypocrisy, wouldn’t it?

  101. Kristy

    Brava!

    As a hairdresser, now studying science at night and working two jobs
    you wouldn’t BELIEVE the unnecessary comments by ill-informed males,
    student and teacher alike. When I mentioned my profession to a lecturer
    he actually encouraged laughter and asked how I had managed to
    get into the course.

    Actually, I had a combination law-science scholarship out of school
    but I chose hairdressing as I wanted to work with my family.
    Having now seen the discrimination my stupendously bright mother
    and sister received in this profession I decided to do Uni by distance
    to prove that just because you choose a trade you love instead of a
    degree doesn’t make you a 2nd class citizen, an ignoramus or both.

    Congratulations again.

  102. Mic

    Bullshit, bullshit and yes, you guessed it, yet more BULLSHIT!!!

    What is really needed is more young attractive people taking up careers in science so that people like Sheril don’t have to “carry the load” so to speak. With a load more competition in the beauty+brains stakes I doubt the mournful violin track playing in the back of my head while I read this blog entry and many of the comments would be present.
    If I were more attractive and more intelligent I would be milking those attributes for all they were worth. I would write some popular science book and slap a G-string clad picture of myself on the cover. Looking gift horses in the mouth is bad policy.

    The main problem is that we have this gender role, glass ceiling thing all backwards. Have women occupy the positions of authority that men now hold and, voila, problem solved. I mean, what right minded, self assured, young red blooded male scientist wouldn’t get a kick out of a senior female colleague making some lurid pass at him? I’m imagining something like “let’s see what you can do with that Bunsen Burner of yours big boy”.

    Ohhh… if I could only but once be complimented on my looks and not just my brilliantly sharp yet blunt brand of unique comedy, I’d die a happy man.

    Rant over – cue the violins.

  103. Brendan, have you ever considered the idea that many woman who appear unbothered by, or accepting of, inappropriate remarks are actually being deliberately appeasing/conciliatory not because they “enjoy the attention” but because they are *defusing* the attention (which is often *meant* to be intimidating) by not appearing frightened or bothered? That a neutral or pleasant reaction is simply a tactic to get through it and over it sooner?

    Or that perhaps the women who flash construction workers are not “rewarding” them but are defying the intimidation aspects of catcalling? Showing the catcallers that their attempt to shame them about walking while wearing breasts isn’t going to work?

    Because to me, your analysis of the situation is so bizarre that it’s almost as if you live on a different planet.

  104. Gordy

    I don’t wish to condone the kind of behaviour you highlight here, but I would like to suggest an explanation. One of the remaining gender inequalities is that men are almost invariably expected to make the first move in initiating relationships. It’s one of the “tests” that a lot of women use when selecting a partner. If men don’t ask, they don’t get. I’m sure it must be both annoying and uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of unwanted propositions, but men who make such propositions are generally more sexually successful than those who don’t. Until that changes, the problem’s never going to go away.

  105. Pete

    2008: Now a science writer, I’ve just returned from a conference…

    After Phil was kind enough to welcome Chris and I …

    Well, there’s some equality of the sexes for you: your grammar is just as bad as that of most male science “writers”.

  106. A really good post Sheril, but a pity that you have to write it.

    One of the great things I find about science blogs in general (not only ScienceBlogs) is the attitude that sexism is not acceptable. Hopefully this attitude will spread to the readers as well.

  107. D

    It’s a shame that so many respond, seemingly, to the mere fact that you are a member of the “egg-donor” set of potential contributors to the gene pool. I mean, your chromosomal composition is an accidental property which has nothing to do with you as a person.

    It would also be a shame, I would imagine, were the same crowd to respond to your mere intellect alone, as your intellectual capacity is an accidental property which has nothing to do with you as a person.

    Oh, wait, except for the fact that your intellectual capacity has approximately EVERYTHING to do with you as a scientist, whereas your chromosomal composition has NOTHING to do with you as a scientist. Then again, the hormonal responses of various males to your physical appearance seem to have everything to do with their biology, and nothing to do with them as scientists per se.

    I guess my point is that patriarchy is a fact of our time, and it sucks, but try to take it with a grain of salt. You can choose to see it as, “Ugh, they’re looking at my tits and not my brain,” or, “Hey, these otherwise really intelligent people are overwhelmed by my physical appearance – I must be a rather stunning specimen!” The difference between the two is a matter of perspective.

    Of course, patriarchy being what it is, you’ve got an uphill battle to fight. My heart goes out to you – I’ve run into this, myself, and it can be awkward, and painful, and it can lead to a lot of questioning of one’s merits. But at the same time, it can also serve to illuminate that a lot of what gets a person to where they are is a matter of accidental properties out of their control – after all, you don’t control your intellectual capacity, do you? – so you can focus on doing all the good that it is in your power to do, rather than fretting over exactly what it is that puts you in a position to do so.

    In any event, I hope that you keep finding the motivation to do all the good that it is in your power to do.

  108. JHB

    @ Kate Crowe
    @ Kerlyssa

    Yeah, you might be right that I was unacceptably demanding . It’s good of Sheril to highlight a problem and this post does that well.

    I do, however, stick by my point that naming the 2008 guy would have made this a more powerful post. Sheril isn’t going to scuttle her career by naming the guy; she’ll impress more people than she’ll alienate by naming. And, at the risk of over-interpreting her description of events, the guy’s behaviour looks like classic manipulation: he’s just going to laugh at her reply and move on to his next attempt. A more concrete warning that science-hero-behaves-like this would be more useful, if a bigger call than we commenters deserve.

  109. GetAGrip

    Everybody has problems. You’re not disadvantaged by virtue of being an attractive woman, you just have different disadvantages than, for example, an unattractive man. The key difference being that people actually sympathize with your disadvantages and want to do something about it. Probably because you’re attractive, and people are naturally (by naturally, I mean biologically) inclined to want to help you. Get a thicker skin, or get gender reassignment surgery and find out for yourself how awesome it is to never have someone make a pass at you.

  110. Alex

    Don’t underestimate the impact of the anonymity the internet provides. If either of those guys had the balls to say those comments with you or any other female in the room I’d be very surprised.

  111. I’m sure it must be both annoying and uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of unwanted propositions, but men who make such propositions are generally more sexually successful than those who don’t.

    You really think “mmmmmm…wo-man”-dude does well with the laydeez? HAHAHAHAH!

    And sheesh, could JHB and Brendan White be any more clueless? Are you two first-year grad students or something? Your inability to argue coherently coupled with an extremely condescending attitude is typical first-year crap. Grow up.

  112. EvilWombatQueen

    Brendan’s right that some women aren’t bothered by strange men commenting about their looks. However I’m not sure that justifies behaving in such a manner to ALL women. After all some women aren’t bothered by strange men offering them money for sex. But that’s certainly not professional conduct towards a scholarly peer.

  113. KingM

    I’m somewhat sympathetic, but whenever I hear a woman (or occasionally, man) complain about receiving attention for the attractiveness of their person and not their ideas, I wonder if they would prefer the alternative. There are plenty of smart, but ugly or average people out there who would love to be just as smart but better looking.

    And if you’re serious, there is an easy answer. Shave your head, a la Sinead O’Connor, stop wearing makeup, or grow a scraggly beard if you’re a man. You can easily decrease your physical attractiveness with little effort.

  114. poke

    Men also receive unwanted advances. The problem is that women are not nearly so direct; there’s a lot of finding excuses to see you, looks, dropping hints, etc, but never such lurid comments. But this also makes it much more difficult to dismiss if you’re not interested. You can’t just say “thanks but no thanks” even when it’s obvious.

  115. DJ

    Here from a link at PZ’s forum. Good post, made me think a bit about a subject that is hard for me to understand as a privileged white male in science.

    I have a comment and question.
    Comment: I, like most heterosexual males, find the classic physiological cues of attractiveness appealing, however I find intelligent capable independent women to be much more appealing. I can see the inappropriateness of the actions described in the blog post and in so many of the comments… now to the question.

    Question: As a scientist looking at female scientists and finding many intelligent, capable and independent examples in my peerage, where is the appropriate situation in which to approach one in an unprofessional manner and ask for a date? I think it’s a valid question as I don’t often find myself in a setting with female scientists deemed appropriate for that type of behavior. Is there an eHarmony for geeks? :)

  116. Gordy

    @ Comrade PhysioProf :

    It all depends who the ““mmmmmm…wo-man”-dude” is! Some men are better at it than others, I think that goes without saying. My point is that men who don’t make the first move aren’t even in the running as far as many women are concerned, so it’s a successful strategy for some men that is inevitably copied, perhaps less successfully, by others. That neither excuses nor justifies it, but I think it goes a long way to explaining why it happens.

  117. Excellent post Sheril. As the father of a little girl (and another little girl due in August), I admire and appreciate your redefinition of how women are perceived. I hope my little girls are judged not by their gender, or given special treatment because of it. I hope that they can be both attractive and smart, and that this isn’t considered an oxymoron.

  118. Just be glad you’ve never posed for a calendar, or Phil would be only talking about how attractive you are everytime you move as well.

  119. Linda

    Plum Grenville:
    Although Anon seems not to have misinterpreted my intent, and I’m glad,
    you are very angry.
    Did I hit a nerve? Do you consider yourself ugly?

  120. Reggie

    Excellent! It’s always pleasing to see someone illustrate a problem that the many do not feel is a problem because they are not personally affected by it.

  121. Astrid

    I actually agree with Brendon. His point, if I understand it right, is not to assign blame to women for the harrassment they get, but simply to point out that not every woman who get’s talked to like that is going to see it as offensive. Personally, I do find such comments offensive, especially from strangers, but not everyone is like that.

  122. Sarah

    No Brendan, I and others here get it fine. Anytime you suggest the victim of harassment of any sort is at fault for the harassment you’re not far from the arguments that I already described. And it doesn’t matter who the victim is (man or woman).

    Anyhow, excellent post Sheril.

  123. Quiet Desperation

    Uncle Al: Babies get made when women are topped.

    I’m pretty sure a baby can be made even if the woman is on top, Al.

  124. jrny

    Uncle Al: Babies get made when women are topped.

    I’m pretty sure a baby can be made even if the woman is on top, Al.

    Yes. Al probably hasn’t had much experience in these matters. Based on his adolescent response, he has much to learn.

  125. Warszawa

    I agree with Brendan, but I believe he hasn’t been quite as explicit as necessary with some of his points.

    What he has implied in his arguments is not that “it’s the victim’s fault for unwanted attention”, but rather “because some women do respond positively, some men pursue other women with the same type of attention thinking that they will respond positively as well”. Unless you happen to generalize the single group of women to all women (ironically the same error that the men who do this make), the point would be that if the behavior were rewarded less by these women, then it would be pursued less.

    I think some of the problem here is that he said “all women” for the conclusion that “all women should respond negatively to that type of attention”, which is true but some assumed the crux of his argument relied on “all women respond positively or at least neutrally to the attention” (the group all necessarily refers to the women who already respond negatively to the unwanted attention, but he includes them in his conclusion so as to say that these women should continue what they are doing).

    He is not blaming the victim, though if someone could point me out to the specific passage that he did, I would change my view of the argument. I think he has been unfairly treated by those with a sort of knee-jerk reaction to any sort of suggestion that some in the group discussed must change their responses. It is unlike the situation with rape in which the victims almost invariably are victims because there is a significant minority of women in this setting do consider the attention positive treatment. The problem he pointed out is that not all women consider the attention negative, and their positive responses must stop in order for the males giving the attention to discontinue their behavior, otherwise these males will continue their behavior.

    I probably repeated a bit for emphasis’s sake, but I believe I’ve covered at least a few of the criticisms. I think most criticizing him are simply misunderstanding him, with perhaps a few being willfully obtuse. Many have brought up my points and have probably argued them more concisely and effectively than I have here, but hopefully I have helped someone understand the argument a bit better.

  126. minty

    It’s unfortunate that the repulsive incidents from 2003 and 2008 are being conflated with the “mmmmmm…wo-man” comment. It was a joke, a reference to Homer Simpson and a wry observation on men’s one-track minds.

    Of course, no-one is obligated to enjoy this kind of humor, and if you don’t like it, then out of respect commenters should desist.

    For the record, Chris Mooney is HOT! :)

  127. Quiet Desperation

    Yes. Al probably hasn’t had much experience in these matters. Based on his adolescent response, he has much to learn.

    Unless it’s Alzheimer’s were seeing there.

    Here’s a couple question for the quorum to ponder:

    1. If a person (man or woman) has gussied up for an specific occasion, is it OK to compliment them? Like a “you look great” or something?

    2. Am I showing my age by using the word gussied?

  128. jrny

    If a person (man or woman) has gussied up for an specific occasion, is it OK to compliment them? Like a “you look great” or something?

    of course.

    what set the blogosphere on fire was initially was mostly the notion that the commentor expressed:
    “i don’t care what she has to say but it doesn’t matter cause she’s hawt!”

    that’s the problem. sheril wasn’t advertising her sexuality, she joined a serious intellectually grounded community and was received as an object.

  129. Don

    I can’t say I have read enough of your writing to pass judgment as to its depth and perspicacity, Sheril, nor have I seen enough of you (pictorially) to assess your overall attractiveness. But we all respond readily to superficial cues, especially in the matter of physucal appeal. The symmetrical, pleasant-featured, openly smiling face of a young woman will inevitably cause a man to look and look again, with interest and perhaps with a degree of pressing curiosity. It’s nothing to wonder at or to decry, I think.

    I will say this much, however. When you write, “After Phil was kind enough to welcome Chris and I to Discover Blogs, I was disappointed to read several of the responses,” you’re making an egregious error in basic grammar, one that puts a tiny small dent in your appeal. It should read, of course: “After Phil was kind enough to welcome Chris and ME to Discover Blogs, I was disappointed to read several of the responses.”

    Good luck with your writing here. And you might consider frowning.

    Don

  130. Lanny Heidbreder

    Among other things, Brendan said above

    Firstly the gender disparity means that most science interested men are unable to find women who share their outlook and interests (in turn leading to admiring many from afar and becoming more looks oriented than is probably helpful)

    This is it, not “firstly” but entirely. Every nerdy guy’s dream is a pretty nerdy girl. (And by “nerdy” I don’t mean “socially inept” or “awkward”, but simply “smart and enjoying smart things”.)

    Pretty nerdy girls are rare not because of our culture as a whole but because of high school culture. While most pretty girls succumb to social pursuits, nerdy guys in high school are social outcasts with rarely a hope of a girlfriend, so they admire girls from afar and fantasize (non-sexually and sexually) about them. The guys, traumatized and assured of their own social inadequacy throughout high school, never really get over that.

    Some of them are complete pervs, and some aren’t. Some of them get trophy wives who marry them for money, and some don’t. And so you end up with the whole gamut: jerks who proposition you, and probably mostly innocent guys who, keenly aware of the battle between their intelligence and their hard-wired urges, distill their complex desires for companionship, friendship, and sex down to quotations from the muppet Animal.

    The “mistress” guy deserves to be reviled. But most of the rest, I imagine, should be pitied instead: If they thought more highly of themselves, they’d try to endear themselves to you instead of reducing their hearts’ and bodies’ life-long desires to a crass joke about you.

  131. Santoki

    All the power is in your court. I really don’t know what you’re complaining about.

  132. pete

    Smart is attractive. But the point is, why are we talking about what’s attractive at all? As jrny wrote, Sheril’s not here for us to judge her smile.

  133. Brendan White

    @Sarah, your reply only continues to highlight the fact that you have note taken the time to understand my position.

    @Warszawa, Thank you for taking the time to understand my point, and helping me by stating it over in different words. Sadly I am not a great writer.

    @Lanny Heidbreder, I’m not sure I’m ready to go with you on the notion that its the whole problem rather than just a major component (the captain in 2003 probably did not suffer that problem) but I absolutely agree that highschool culture breeds the problem you are talking about (I was fortunate enough to have a drop dead gorgeous friend who would point out my gross inadequacies on occasion, and make me comfortable around beautiful females). I really like what you have written.

  134. *Sigh*

    As usual. I’m always late to the most kick-ass threads.

    My $0.02: Give ‘em hell. (Well, I guess you already did that.)

    I can’t say I’ll ever be in your position, being XY and all. I do happen to be part of another culture where women can’t do anything with a “practical” degree. Of course, they can and do, but half the battle is getting over ingrained knee-jerk responses that have no reason behind them to counter.

    You can’t argue against, “mmmmm- woooman”. It’s too… base.

    I don’t understand the defense of the guys who proposition women like that. I can understand a scientist maybe taking an interest in someone from within their field. That’s not the issue- people are human, but being attracted to someone should never manifest in condescension and tactlessness. Sometimes people need to accept that certain things are off-limits. Especially in professional settings. Attractiveness is never relevant to science- unless it’s something like the mating patterns of North Canadian Geese.

    C’mon, whatever happened to maturity?

  135. Lanny Heidbreder

    @Brendan

    Well, I think the article was mainly addressing science people. That first anecdote was just to make a snarky comparison; I doubt that guys who post on science blogs take kindly to having their brains compared to fishermen’s.

    Paul Graham wrote a brilliant article about nerds and popularity and high school. Skimming through, I see he didn’t write a lot about nerds and girls and relationships, but it may still be relevant.

  136. Pastafarian

    @ Brendan, your reply to Sarah only continues to highlight the fact you have not taken the time to understand her position.

    Your rather lengthy and rationalizing “proof” overlooks one basic fact: why is it more efficient to focus on controlling biologically-based behavior in a small set of females? Presumably “sluts” are acting in a way which could be explained by counterproductive (for modern society) urges. I’m unsure as to why you seem stuck in the mindset it is up to women to behave in a controlled rational manner to solve the problem of men acting in an uncontrolled irrational manner. Unless it’s a fancy way of saying “boys will be boys.” You could save yourself a lot of typing if you’d simply say it outright.

  137. Jeremy

    Great post Sheril. I’d love to know who the scientists you mention at the start of your article is although I’m sure you would have told us already if you were going to. I have a few guesses based on marriage history and other rumours.

  138. Flaming Pope

    Wow… so many replies and still going. First time reading Intersection’s blogs, are all of them like this or only this one “guuurl’s?”

    This brings up the point of the unseen mask of society, to me its not the part of weather the view received is more positive or negative, but the attention given. Many “women in science” paper’s are indeed looked down upon, but why is this? We only hear so much about this because of the attention given to them. This becomes catalytic with others following led example, so on and so on. I find this quite problematic, it draws unnecessary attention to papers which normally wouldn’t get a spotlight, and in *my opinion disrupts civil morals.

    I don’t blame women, I don’t blame pretty people, I don’t blame flamboyant as$h0l3s. I blame everyone who gives a rats eye and fail to take any action.

    And no – I am not an immature brat, I’m an immature activist (yes I know proper writing format, but I’m tired of graduate writing classes).

  139. Hunks get the same treatment

    Hunks get the same thing, as do guys that are “cute”, from both women and men. We just take what we want and ignore the rest. We also are assumed to be stupid, too. Back in the day (40 years ago, alas), I regularly got the surprised “Oh, you’re smart” reaction, even in grad school. When I first showed up, the department secretary was sure I was there by accident. Working loading docs will have that effect.

  140. emote_control

    @Warszawa:

    “It is unlike the situation with rape in which the victims almost invariably are victims because there is a significant minority of women in this setting do consider the attention positive treatment.”

    It’s one short step from here to “some women enjoy being raped.” Just shut the fuck up now. You have no fucking clue what you’re talking about.

    –A Dad

  141. emote_control

    I think it’s pretty telling that several of the comments on here are picking at Sheril’s grammar. They feel the need to attack her to punish her for whatever crazy perceived wrong they read into her post; but they can’t, because they know they’ll just get flamed. Instead, they pick something “safe” that they can bitch about, to get in whatever petty daggers they can manage.

    Craven, and pathetic.

  142. Gordy

    @ Pastafarian:

    I have some sympathy with Brendan here. I think his point could be summarised as “men do it because it sometimes works.” That is not to make any comment on the character of women who respond positively to unsolicited compliments, and certainly not to demonise them as “sluts” (your choice of word, not mine).

    To be fair, some men do use unsolicited attention to intimidate women, often in groups to impress their peers. This is clearly unacceptable and quite different in character from a nerdy guy with poor social skills desperately trying to start a conversation with the object of his affections. The nerdy guy may be equally unwelcome, but his primary motivation is not to offend or make anyone feel uncomfortable. There is a spectrum of behaviour here, and a spectrum of responses. I don’t think it helps to over-simplify it.

    To those who see some equivalence between unsolicited compliments and rape, get a sense of perspective. The two are not in the same league for a myriad of reasons that I hardly think need to be explained here.

  143. Flashboy

    Kudos to you Sheril for handling a difficult issue with many times the maturity of the commenters who started this revolting episode. On behalf of my gender, may I apologise? It’s just a shame that this happened on the ‘net, where an entirely appropriate physical response of a swift kick to the nuts of the offending party cannot be imposed. It’s simply a shame that some people still think this way. By way of analogy, I think Morgan Freeman hit the ball out of the park with this: “Stop talking about it.” Not exactly the words I would have chosen, but his makes his point absolutely clear.

  144. Brendan White

    @Pastafarian, Her criticism makes no sense I know what she is saying, an if I were arguing that some women enjoy rape they would make perfect sense, but I’m not arguing against that, I know what she is saying but it still doesn’t fit at all, its criticizing components that aren’t part of my argument. I wrote a proof (and it is a proof, no quotes are needed, that doesn’t mean its right, or conclusive) not to back up my argument but so that my critics would have a handle to grab onto and use, if I am wrong there should be a clear point within that proof where you can latch on, and in one fell sentence the whole chain will be broken. Address the proof, I laid it all out so that you could easily address my argument, I’m making it Extra easy for you to launch a criticism of my position not a criticism of me. Address the postulates and conclusions, they are all labeled, address them.

    If you look closely you will see that I never once said that restricting and stigmatizing that behavior in males should stop, just that we will hit a point of diminishing returns, and we need other approaches to deal with it. Sarah’s position isn’t complex, and its entirely based on the extraordinarily invalid analogy between my position and the position that “Rape is okay because some women like it”, its a really really weak analogy, and she and you only think its strong because you haven’t taken the time to figure out my position, you are assuming things that you could not assume if you were addressing my proof.

    @emote_control, only in the same incredibly weak sense that survival of the fittest leads to “Kill all the Jews and weak and insane”; Also the post is asking to be taken on her writers merits, highlighting them, anyone who fully accepts what she says and catches the error is as likely to comment as someone who is looking for something to say without getting flamed. If you are criticizing people for playing my the rules your position is inherently weak.

  145. Pi Guy

    Sheril, great job handling this matter.

    I’ve been following The Intersection from back on ScienceBlogs and recall that this situation had come up there with a number of the other female posters there. It’s just sad. As the father of two girls, I’m so disappointed to find that there are XYs (I absolutely refuse to call any male who thinks that this is Sheril’s fault a man) who would make or defend such overtures. Here’s an analogy that I find useful when deciding what’s appropriate:

    When I worked in the Defense Industry, many of my coworkers were ex-military and male and had little reservation about using bad language and generalizing about women. One day, a female co-worker said to me, “I like that you don’t cuss.” I replied by saying that, in fact, I do cuss. But I don’t use it in front of my girls. I don’t do it front of my grandmother. Nor would I talk like that at school functions, kids’ sporting events, or at the mall. And I’d never use that language at a church – and I’m an avowed non-believer!

    So, why do I refrain in those situations? I told her that it’s because I recognize that those who would hear me in those situations who would be uncomfortable, embarrassed, and/or appalled. It’s a matter of respect about/with/around whom I speak. At my own softball games, on business trips with men, or with my girlfriend, who also uses that language (but not in front of the kids, at church, etc.) who aren’t uncomfortable with that sort of talk, I might use it as well. And, without having ever met Sheril, the commenters in question have no way of knowing whether she’s going to see their language and overtures as offending or complimentary (uh, well, they know now; whether they’ve made it out of the Dark Ages with most of the rest of us remains to be seen). Language and “compliments” of the type that we’re seeing here and that Sheril encountered from Captain Nobel a few years back is only appropriate when you know your audience well enough to make that judgment. These clowns do not have that intimacy and should refrain. Period. The flirt/offend line might be thin so, if you don’t know how your comments will be received, keep them to yourself.

    And as for the Grammar Nazis who seem to think that the matter of whether to use “I” or “me” is somehow more important than the content of this post and think they’re clever for using that as justification for saying, “Lighten up, Sheril!”: Glad you paid attention in 2nd Grade Language and Reading class. Now, if you’d only been as attentive when comprehension, logic, and the rules of civil society were presented to you, you might be able to find someone who takes you seriously. You’re not the least bit clever.

  146. mk

    @Pi guy…

    I seriously doubt you recognize how condescending to women your comment above actually is. Dark ages indeed.

  147. Pastafarian

    @ Brendan—I do have to commend you on actually constructing a proof with premises and conclusions; it is rare nowadays to see actual attempts at logical thinking.

    So, if you want to argue your proof, I will offer my criticism. I believe it is factually correct in many ways, but we aren’t discussing the same reward. You do very well up until Conclusion 5: Reduction in female positive responses to male lecherous behavior would result in a change in the net feedback from male lecherous behavior.

    Let’s take your example of the catcalling construction workers. If you observe what’s going on, their desired positive outcome is not sexual. This is pretty obvious–otherwise, why would they not simply pay a prostitute to stand there naked while they enjoy lunch? If the desired reward is simply physiological (i.e., getting to see some boobs, or the unthinkably rare woman who might agree to actually wander over and give them a spontaneous blowjob) that’s much easier to obtain.

    Many women learn not to respond to this type of male harassment because the desired outcome for the males is *dominance.* Observe the construction workers when a woman gives them a negative response, such as “piss off.” They don’t reduce their behavior, they often laugh. What you would term a negative response from a woman REINFORCES their catcalling. Quite simply, they are getting off on the behavior of aggression. It isn’t a means to an end. It is the end.

    So, I would criticize your proof simply because you have a faulty perception of what is the reward. It’s not a simple Hit On More More Chicks=Get Laid More. I think this is why women, including me, are frustrated by your clueless responses. And why rape enters the vocabulary. Aggression for men can (and often is) expressed sexually. Did you think Sheri’s fishing boat Captain was really motivated by the possibility of a sexual encounter.? Nope. His behavior was meant to put her in her place. Men themselves admit they enjoy the “conquest” of women, please google “Spur Posse” if you don’t believe this.

    I would also advise you to closely examine your own behavior. I think men who Just Don’t Get It are unwilling to admit the aggressive side of their advances. They rationalize they are just trying to get laid, instead of admitting the nature of their mixed motivations, or those of other men.

    BTW, the Hit On More Chicks= Get Laid More equation is faulty. You are likely relying on feedback from men, which is greatly exaggerated. If young men were getting as much sex as they claim, women would be busy most of their waking hours gratifying them.

  148. Brendan White

    @Pastafarian, I would isagree on the hooker count. I once went to a strip club, it was awful, its not that I don’t appreciate breasts, its that someone showing me their breasts because they want me to see them is much better than me paying for them. I imagine the same applies to catcalling. I will also grant that the power response is part of it, some people like knowing that they can ruin someone else’s day, however this negative response by women is just more positive feedback for the construction workers. Conclusion 5 stands with out this component, but it could easily be added in the form of another premise and conclusion, making the argument encompass more situations. The bottom line is that we should avoid giving them feedback that they are after. I think you have added something to my argument that is not part of it if you think that I was encouraging the negative response. My position is that stoicism with rational well reasoned punitive responses is the best solution.

    That is a way in which you have not understood my position, but rather manufactured a position that is more easily countered, I’ve tried to leave things like positive response very vague, for just that reason, I’m sure that there are a thousand different positive responses that could be given, and there isn;t enough space to show them all.

    I don’t see where it fits into my argument but Hit on more women = get laid more is actually an accurate equation, to a point. Hit on more women != have a higher batting average. A guy who hits on 2 women in a night at a bar is a lot less likely to go home alone than a guy who hits on 0, a guy who hits on 20 is more likely still than the guy who hit on 2. You do hit a point of diminishing returns, but I never would argue otherwise. No resource is infinite.

  149. Sven

    I agree with the sentiment you express in this post. But I have to pause when I see you use the word misogyny used in reference to some guy saying he looks forward to any article with your picture attached. That is boorish, inappropriate and crude but most definitly NOT misogyny. Don’t undermine your position by letting your emotions override the facts.

  150. Wes

    I think that perhaps much of this problem would disappear if women (in general) would take more responsibility in the initial interaction rituals. They have far more power to choose who/what they want in a mate/lover/etc. Men that act like asshole would be picked up by women that like assholes. Why is it usually the man’s job? We suck at it for the most part anyway. Given, this argument is based on the fact that I prefer a woman who has enough confidence to ask me out and doesn’t like to play stupid games, so take it for what it is worth.

  151. Ralph Johnson

    Boy, that Sheril sure is smart. And cute, too!

  152. Dude

    Wow. You ARE hot. Do you have any, like, other pictures you could post?

  153. Sang

    Brendan White Says:
    “…I think the drooling problem is worse in the sciences for three reasons…”

    Don’t forget the fourth reason: A society that tells social youngsters “major in business or fine arts instead of science or engineering and play football or be a cheerleader instead of reading comics or playing Dungeons & Dragons”…

    and tells anti-social youngsters “your major should be science or engineering and your hobbies should be comic books and Dungeons & Dragons, those are especially for you.” This stereotype can make scientific and engineering workplaces vulnerable to The Geek Social Fallacies too.

    Sean Says:
    “And some offenders are well-intentioned and clueless, while others are simply malicious, and it’s worth making an effort to distinguish between them, but one doesn’t always have the energy.”

    Worth it? Why?

    That seems like a pretty harsh double standard: Dr. A shouldn’t have to learn even minimal social skills such as not appearing malicious, but Dr. B should have to learn extra social skills far above and beyond decent behavior such as practially reading Dr. A’s mind?

    JessSnark Says:
    “Way to blame women for their own harassment, Brendan. ‘To fix it women will have to be very good about no one rewarding the bad behavior’? ‘This issue is about women’s behavior as well as men’s’? No. Sheril and other female scientists are not “asking for it” simply by being female.”

    …and we’re not “asking for it” simply because some other women. who are not us, may reward it.

    JessSnark Says:
    “You think ‘legitimate sexual encounters would become very difficult’ if men weren’t able to behave in the ways Sheril described in her post? Here’s some news for you about how I met my boyfriend of three years: He didn’t ask me if I would be his ‘next mistress;’ he didn’t catcall me on the street. He invited me to attend a concert with him and we talked about mutual interests. How difficult is that?”

    Exactly!

    Anon Says:
    “…However I can’t help but smile wryly at the ‘oh, the inappropriate remarks on how attractive I am are such a pain‘ comments. Try a career in the sciences as an irretrievably ugly woman, like me, and watch the jaws drop as men stutter ‘But…but…y-you’re smart…OMG I think you might be smarter than me…OMG…ugly chick alert! Ugly chick alert!’…”

    Very well said, and thank you for the reminder!

    Linda Says:
    “As for outside appearances, you can also work on that, especially with all that’s offered today.”

    Not all of us can afford what it takes. Breast implants for a woman who still can’t fill her old training bra, breast reduction for a man with gynecomastia, laser hair reduction for a woman who inherited a beard and moustache from her foremothers, reconstructive facial surgery to reduce scars and burns, etc. can cost a lot of money and time. Not everyone can afford these, especially if she or he doesn’t have a job yet!

    plum grenville Says:
    “Anon’s attitude toward her looks strikes me as being as healthy as it is possible to be in a world in which an looks very much do matter.”

    …and in a world in which looks matter for survival, not just for sex. Unless you have enough real estate to live off the land directly, you have to be accepted by someone else in order to get and pass a job interview, seal a barter deal at the bazaar, etc.

    Quiet Desperation Says:
    “Unless it’s Alzheimer’s were seeing there.”

    Either that or yet another one of those people who diagnose themselves with autism or Asperger’s (not to be confused with people who actually have autism or Asperger’s) in order to show off how alternative they are.

    Lanny Heidbreder Says:
    “…Pretty nerdy girls are rare not because of our culture as a whole but because of high school culture. While most pretty girls succumb to social pursuits, nerdy guys in high school are social outcasts with rarely a hope of a girlfriend, so they admire girls from afar and fantasize (non-sexually and sexually) about them. The guys, traumatized and assured of their own social inadequacy throughout high school, never really get over that…”

    Meanwhile, what about non-pretty nerdy girls, nerdy girls in high school who are social outcasts with rarely a hope of a boyfriend (rarely even a hope of a nerdy boyfriend)?

  154. Brendan White

    @JessSnark, Before I start let me say that its really confusing how you are quoting, it makes it seem like other people are posting. Yes I figured out it was you after a moment, but the “@Name” response is standard for here and a whole lot easier to follow.

    Starting now its not fair for you to make a point that is totally 100% in agreement with my argument but still use it to be critical. I’m not saying that Sheril was asking for it, or that you were asking for it, or that its just or right or fair. Please Take the Time to Read My argument and respond to my argument, not a straw man form. I’m talking about moving north and south, you are criticizing me for moving to far west, problem is I haven’t taken a step in the east west direction.
    2ndly I have explicitly stated that the behavior in the post is not appropriate, and that she responded correctly, you cannot criticize me for supporting something that I explicitly did not support, its not fair, its not logical, its not constructive, its not helping your point, its simply being annoying. I should be made to defend my position, not positions that are contrary to me own. Attack my position, not straw men dressed up as my position!

    You seem to have misread Plum’s post. Plum said her attitude was healthy, it did not the utility or lack there of provided by looks.

  155. Dex

    @JessSnark, I was on the fence about you before. Now I am certain, you don’t bother to read before you reply. Its sloppy and a childish way to argue.

  156. insanecarbonbasedlifeform

    Sheril, I’m sorry to hear that even in the assumed rational and progressive air of scientific discourse and culture you’ve been treated not as a colleague but as interesting only because of your sex and appearance. The world *is* getting better, but it often feels like it’s taking too long. Keep on following your love of science, and tell everyone about any of this patriarchal condescention and objectifying lust that you encounter. It’s only by letting us know that people will realize they can’t continue treating others that way. Especially for my daughters’ sakes, I really hope that by the time they are grown the culture will change to a point where this is viewed as an oddity of the past.

  157. James

    How about “Female scientist?” Just putting “female” in front of something makes it more exciting and will get you attention due to your genitalia. Also I did not read any of your article.

  158. Brendan White

    Perhaps it was wrong of me to assume this, but I had been laboring under the assumption that she did not have children (Daughters or Sons), not that that changes anything, but still… Thoughts?

  159. Will Von Wizzlepig

    It’s a bit of a shame that beautiful people get harassed so much.

    You can’t even walk up to a pretty girl and ask her what time it is anymore without her telling you she has a boyfriend- even if all you really wanted was the time of day.

    I suppose this could be chalked up to bad manners on the part of most men, or, perhaps, just something that comes with the territory in the battle of the sexes… err, that is… the way we interact.

    It makes me think of make-up. If all women just quit wearing it, no problem! But since we can count on someone to look for and exercise an advantage, the game is ruined for all other women, who now have to deal with this nonsense.

    So it seems with men speaking to women- if all men would mind their manners, women could rest easily, wouldn’t feel pestered, and asking for the time wouldn’t be so bad. But since some men will hit on anything that moves, especially the pretty moving things, well, now the rest of us guys have to walk around on eggshells to balance the scale out. Thanks, creeps.

  160. Sang

    Will Von Wizzlepig Says:
    “It makes me think of make-up. If all women just quit wearing it, no problem!”

    There would still be a problem for the women who wear makeup to conceal acne, birthmarks, scarring, stubble, wrinkles, etc. If all women just quit wearing makeup, some of these women would be considered too “ugly”/”dirty”/etc. to pass an interview or seal a deal. If these women do wear concealer makeup, they have a chance of “catching up” to some other women (including ones who already don’t wear makeup) – in other words, a chance to be as tolerated in society as some other women (including ones whose bare skin is already tolerated instead of deemed an eyesore). Likewise, some men wear makeup for similar reasons (except the stubble, of course).

    It’s not always about going from “plain” to “pretty”; sometimes one has no hope of appearing “pretty” and would have to spend a lot of time and money just to achieve appearing “plain” instead of “ugly.”

  161. Nick

    A guy from outside science chiming in…

    Thank you. Thank you so, so much, for standing up and being a scientist (and a good one! I love your work) who also happens to be a woman, and not the other way around.

    Maybe I’m wrong about this, but where I live, in China, I meet far too many women who limit themselves by defining themselves as a woman. Women don’t like science, don’t like politics, don’t like driving big machines, don’t like loud music. Women don’t _____, or women do _____. No, see, some aren’t that way, and it has nothing to do with their gender, a notion that sometimes gets met with blank incomprehension.

    *palm, forehead*

    A person’s status as an object of sexual desire has its place, but it’s not in the middle of a discussion of professional importance. In a professional setting, or in any setting where non-sexual roles take primacy, the focus should be on the role in question, not your boobs/wang. That’s a rule of efficiency, respect, decency, and kindness.

    Thank you for the work you do, thank you for sharing your experience, and thank you for standing up and telling the world what you are. You’re doing us all a favor by being yourself.

  162. Brendan White

    @Will Von Wizzlepig, Various things come in and change the game, read up on game theory and it will make more sense, The world was not made for us 6000 years ago, it is what it is, and we must live in it.

  163. Ben

    Sheril,

    I can’t even imagine what it is like to be a female scientist and I wish you all the success in the world. It sounds as if you’ve faced some obstacles in your face-to-face dealings. But I have to say that you seem like an Internet-savvy person so I’m shocked that you take any blog comments seriously. Most of the time the things these people say are just to get attention and nothing more. They would never say these things outside their parents’ basement.

  164. JessSnark

    @Brendan White, It wasn’t me, it was someone quoting me. I use the @Name format, so calm down.

  165. JessSnark

    and the same goes for Dex.

  166. Q

    Sheril,

    Well written article! As a guy in science with a MS degree, it’s always great to see women excel in science given so many hurdles over the years. I respect what you’re doing and it sucks you have to deal with some of the neanderthals of the day but hopefully your work will pioneer more women into science so that scientific brains of the day can be thought of for that instead of being ‘a pretty face’. I’d much rather be with a woman with a brain then a woman with a pretty face… one fades much much faster then the other :-)

  167. Brendan White

    @JessSnark, I’m very sorry, I said I was confused, clearly I just didn’t realize how confused I was.

    @Sang. STOP THAT NOW! and read before you write, and again, stop that now, It makes it very hard to follow.

  168. Abigail

    As much as I wish posts like this were unnecessary, part of me is relieved to read it and know I’m not the only one who gets this treatment.

    A while ago my parents were talking to some friends of theirs who asked if I was married or engaged yet, when my parents said no, their friends delicately asked if I was a lesbian. I was 21 at the time.

    A year ago, I had a slight sense of humour about sexism, but no more. I moved to France last summer and since then have been subjected to sexual harassment on an almost daily basis. In the UK the most you would get is a man looking at you or the occasional wolf-whistle. Here in France, complete strangers stop me in the street and attempt to strike up conversations, proposition me while at work, follow me around shops and in one case even grope me in the middle of the street in broad daylight.

    It has completely opened my eyes to the fact that a lot of men think women exist for their amusement and that we only have equal legal rights to stop us complaining. They don’t take us seriously academically, professionally or as human beings. I used to think it was a minority of men who held this view, but now that my eyes have been opened to this, I realise that these sexists are a larger group than we realise. While older men view women as intellectually inferior and think we should just stay at home and have kids, younger men see us as sex objects here for their pleasure.

    Either way, we can’t win and I seriously doubt women will achieve true equality within my lifetime.

  169. Lara

    Good Grief, Gentlemen! Now that we have successfully derailed a discussion of sexism in the workplace into a discussion about the defensibility of innate masculine sexuality, (which is smelling ever so faintly of a knee-jerk defence of unconscious male privilege) let’s stop for a moment and take a slightly different tack.
    Exercise a little imagination. Flex a few of your empathy muscles.
    The issue is not one of biological imperative, the issue is one of context and professionalism and courtesy.
    Imagine, for a moment, that you are at a party. Throughout the night, women approach you, murmuring “Nice ass, hot-stuff. Are you as good in the sack as you look?” Now, instead, imagine that you are in an office, presenting the results of several weeks of hard mental effort and the end of your presentation, your boss says to you “cute suit” instead of commenting on your work. Or imagine that you are at a job or tenure interview, and after you present the achievements of your career to date, the head of the tenure committee responds with “rawwww… nice ass hot stuff. Are you as good in the sack as you look?”
    Same comment, different context.
    I find it difficult to imagine that you wouldn’t find the comment at least irrelevant, and at best completely inappropriate.
    Now, imagine that you belong to a segment of the population that for most of recorded history has in fact, custom and law been regarded as accessory and object rather than person. Your testicles are the most important part of you. Often the only publically regarded part, even though you suspect that there might be more to you than this. Your intellect and personal passions are denied to the point where your moral and political leaders state that they don’t even exist! This fact is in accord with the natural order of things, so basic and self-evident that even today, in many parts of the world men who exercise either are faced with extreme and personal violence. The violence is quite often sexual, as an explicit reminder of what part of you is the important part.
    After generations of struggle, most people in your country are willing to give the intellect issue a public pass these days and let boys go to school, but you are regularly reminded by people who should know better that they just don’t have the brain for the real stuff, but they do look handsome and are great in the sack…
    Makes you think of the good old days, doesn’t it?
    Now – imagine a woman who thinks and ponders and labours over the intellectual passions that have been denied to her for a large part of human history, and puts those passions out in a public forum, and men respond with “raaaawwww…. hot stuff.” And when she becomes upset, yammer on about their genetic imperative to admire attractive women and their helplessness in the face of a biological reaction to the same. Flex your mental muscles, gentlemen. Imagine why she might find that the faintest bit inappropriate. Just as when you are faced with an unexpected erection on a crowded subway you don’t whip it out and scratch the itch, you’ll find that you are surprisingly capable of restricting your other actions to the courteous, the professional and the contextually appropriate.

  170. Sang

    JessSnark Says:
    “@Brendan White, It wasn’t me, it was someone quoting me. I use the @Name format, so calm down.”

    Yeah, I noticed that the @Name format lets you specify who you’re responding to but isn’t as good for specifying which of his or her statements you’re responding to. That’s why I use the quote format this page uses to make it extra-clear.

  171. YouKnowWho

    Sorry! CLEAN VERSION;-)

    # Comrade PhysioProf Says:
    March 27th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    “You misogynist losers are still babbling on and on and on trying to justify piggish behavior? This is really not that complicated.”

    Hah ! check out the level of hypocrisy I’ve exposed on his own blog! A sample:

    YouKnowWho Says:

    March 30, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    What pisses me off is the way you females want it both ways. It’s fine when Chick with PhizzleDizzle calls Corrinne Yu a “hott Asian chick kicking ass and taking names in a male-dominated computing field” and posts her picture for proof, to which Mrs. CH said…

    That is really cool! Thanks for posting this! I don’t know why, but I love to hear about scientists that are smokin’ hot women!

    or when Arlenna at Chemical BiLOLogy brags about her student evals calling her hot:
    # “Her facial features. She is probably the most beautiful teacher I have ever had.”
    # “HER HOTTNESS (two T’s)” **(sic–”two T’s” was NOT added by me, lol)
    # “She’s much better looking than Dr. Y. She also goes slower”
    # “she’s pretty damn hot”

    to which Professor in Training said…

    Haha – congrats on your excellent evals … and on your hottness!

    and Massimo (formerly known as Okham) said…

    Congratulations, you hottie !

    Yes, the same crowd encourages sexual attention from students when it’s a hot chick friend of theirs.

    also, all the female bloggers who blog anonymously have this need to talk about how hot they are – constantly. They are uncomfortable without their mask of hotness, I guess.

    but some guy compliments a woman and it’s the end of the world.

    Good Luck With Your Blog!

  172. Geek Goddess

    I bet I know who the “Mister Mistress” scientist is. There’s a particular one that has a reputation – I know some of his former ‘victims’.

  173. Excellent commentary Sheril. It is sad that the issue is so unimportant in the eye of the public that the mainstream media can publish trash like this article about female politicians with impunity. Perhaps when anti-discrimination laws have real bite and the majority are sufficiently well educated and care enough to see them enforced, then women might receive comments about their achievements rather than their appearance or gender.

  174. V-Warrior

    As a fellow Vagina Warrior in science, I salute your bravery, Sheril.

    I am in my last year of a PhD in Molecular Gynecology at UC Riverside – every day is a struggle.

    When will they stop the oppression, the discrimination? Stay Strong, Sister!

  175. Brendan White

    @Sang, Copy paste the quote in. Being F’ing confusing does not make anything extra clear, please stop. I am not the only one who finds what you are doing annoying and confusing.

  176. PhysioProf,

    And sheesh, could JHB and Brendan White be any more clueless? Are you two first-year grad students or something? Your inability to argue coherently coupled with an extremely condescending attitude is typical first-year crap. Grow up.

    I am quite fond of this sort of insult. If anyone disagrees with you, it is because they have not attained the same level of education as you. It isn’t that you may be wrong. No. Surely there isn’t something worth discussing in this comment section with nearly 200 responses. Why, PhysioProf disagrees and has a degree that proves she’s right! She need not actually defend any position. Just point to that piece of paper and use rhetoric and insults (don’t forget to say “fuck” a couple dozen times, you linguistic master you); that’ll do the trick.

  177. Brendan White

    PhisioProf is surprisingly a dude.

  178. Bravo – I need to read this again more thoroughly but you can be sure I will be writing something up about this in support and if I may, referencing this site. Thank you.

  179. “Geek Goddess Says: I bet I know who the “Mister Mistress” scientist is. There’s a particular one that has a reputation – I know some of his former ‘victims’.”

    I’m worried that I know who he is (or someone like them) too – and that I know someone who eagerly took him up on the offer under the unashamed stance that she’d get a job with him. But then, they have always embraced the ‘hawt’ stereotype and see no problem with it being used. :/ Makes it tough on the rest of us.

    Excellent post – lots to think about and lots I will use in the future when I’m once again sneered at for being uncomfortable with a guy openly leering at a science conference and being told I’m ‘too sensitive’ for complaining.

  180. Cara

    Brendan, who do you think you are, exactly?

    I’ll tell you who you’re NOT: The arbiter of when it’s *okay* to hit on or *compliment* a woman and when it’s not.

    Know who DOES get to determine that? The woman you’re *complimenting*.

    Talk about privilege in action. Sheesh. This concept is only difficult if you think you have the absolute right to (1) judge a woman’s appearance and (2) decide whether she *should* be flattered by your noticing. Oh, wait, was this you?

    If I am working with a woman I should be allowed to test the waters of flirtation

    Why, yes, it was, on the other thread. Hm. “Should be allowed to [bother any woman I want whenever I decide to]”. Right. Gotcha. And I’ll bet you have a female friend who loves to be *complimented* by strangers so all other women should just get over it, with your help and understanding and head-patting explanations about why they *might* feel that way and why they *should* feel differently.

    Sorry, kiddo. Grow up.

  181. Brendan White

    Its not about who gets to decide, its about what is realistic. Yes it would be nice if women were only hit on by guys they liked, I would like to not be hit on by girls who are into astrology and gay men, However I recognize that women who like astrology and gay men need to be able to hit on men, and that there workplaces would be greatly diminished if they could not explore that avenue of their lives.

    My way isn’t right because of who I am, its right because its the only way with a chance of succeeding. I’m not saying excessive bothering, I’m saying test the waters. No matter what no matter where If flirting isn’t working the peruser should stop. You are just loading my position up with your baggage, that strawman doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight with me sorry,

    I took the time to lay out my position carefully, and explain why its better, If you want to just be a pain in the neck go on ahead and keep doing what you are doing?

  182. Cara

    You. are. incorrect.

    You’re not right.

    You’re not “allowed” to hit on anyone, especially (!) not at work. It’s. not. a. right. You THINK it’s a god-given right because you’re an entitled little boy. You’re wrong.

    Your privilege is showing.

    You can spout off all you want, kiddo. You’re missing the main point.

  183. Brendan White

    I didn’t say it was a right, I said doing it any other waqy will creat more problems than it fixes.

    So you are the one missing the point.

  184. Cara

    You, again, are wrong.

    There’s nothing to “do” any “way”. It’s not a god-given right to hit on women.

    It’s not a right. It doesn’t HAVE to be done. Not at work. Not when a woman’s doing HER work. Not when a woman’s minding her own business. Not on a boat, not in a plane, not in a house, not on a train.

  185. Brendan White

    It does have to be done, we are descended from billions of generations that did it. If some of us stop doing it than 100 years later there will be nothing left of that group. You cannot ignore the biological imperative, it will not work, its been tried before and is always met with total failure.

  186. Brendan White

    Also you can’t criticise me for calligh it a right right after I said I wasn’t saying it was a right.

  187. Matt P

    Brendan,

    No one has specifically addressed your proof and you have asked for this several times so I thought I would chime in regarding some of its inadequacies. As a starting point you chose to not define several terms that are ambiguous. For instance you appear to implicitly use positive feedback and negative feedback to mean “items which encourage a behavior” and “items which discourage behavior”. This is certainly not the only usage of these words and especially in the realm of psychology where we can have both positive and negative reinforcement it is important to clarify. Now onto specific premise/conclusions questions and criticisms I will try address each stage rather than stopping at the first issue areas.

    Premise 2: This also has a undefined idea of “magnitude” and is a little weird because it contains two variations of respond. One way this might be improved is:

    Premise 2 “Positive and negative feedback can be of different magnitudes (define). ”
    Premise 2a “The effects of a positive or negative feedback increase/decrease with increasing/decreasing magnitude”

    Premise 4: This has what is called a major unstated premise that there where always be some percentage of males that act in a lecherous fashion. The assumption impacts your results.
    Conclusion 2 – This is where the trouble really begins. First it misses the case of no feedback it assumes. It assumes that the cause of lecherous behavior is positive feedback. Which given my definitions is acceptable but those definitions are so broad to not be useful in characterizing human behavior. Effectively such a definition says that a behavior has causes – nothing more. Perhaps you are using the terms more narrowly and would like to provide your own definitions. Additionally you probably need to state as a premise that negative feedback may counteract the effects of positive effect and vice versa.

    Premise 5: This is not really necessary and doesn’t really provide additionally clarity.
    Conclusion 3: This statement is actually assumed by your conclusion 2 and this should really be represented either as a restructured conclusion 2 or as an outright premise. You are assuming this conclusion based on a few steps back. Conclusion 2 has basically already stated this when it says “sufficient positive feedback to outweigh the negative feedback”

    Premise 6: Ok so this is extensive premise. Again you are so loosely using the positive and negative feedback terms. At this point you seem to be using it in a reverse fashion then in earlier parts of the proof. Before this can be really criticized I would need you to clearly define terms. But basically at this point your premise really needs deeper justification. I believe (in short) you are saying that enough males do not discourage lecherous behavior or do not do so in a strong enough fashion. This is fine but requires further explanation. Are you saying males could not provide adequate positive social feedback? If so this is a major unstated premise and completely impacts your conclusions.

    Premise 7: Ok so now you seem to be saying positive feedback encourages the lecherous behavior. Define. But I have no issue with this statement. I would add the same premise that some male groups encourage lecherous behaviors.
    Conclusion 4: The word significant is unwarranted. You have not established the degree that female behavior versus male behavior versus other sources of control impact behavior(the individual, social norms, law etc…)
    Conclusion 5: Nothing invalid about this statement but it is not really enlightening. From everything you have written I could replace female with male I could replace female with laws etc… You need to distinguish how females exert a differential control over males. But this statement is true … females could start shooting every person who acted rudely to them and we as a society could just to support such an act. Lecherous behavior would certainly go down.

    Premise 8: Not sure the point of this
    Conclusion 6: Sure but I would have stopped at conclusion 5.

    In short you need to define your terms, present your major unstated premises (so the merit of using them can be judged.), and you need to provide further evidence of why females can be chosen to the exclusion of all other sources of influence at premise 7. There is really nothing wrong with the overall conclusion that females alter behavior of men you just haven’t shown that it is the primary method to alter their behavior or even a significant one (you used the word but provided no evidence to support the use of the word).

    Cheers,

    Matt

  188. Sang

    Cara Says:
    “It’s not a right. It doesn’t HAVE to be done. Not at work. Not when a woman’s doing HER work. Not when a woman’s minding her own business. Not on a boat, not in a plane, not in a house, not on a train.

    Brendan White Says:
    “It does have to be done, we are descended from billions of generations that did it. If some of us stop doing it than 100 years later there will be nothing left of that group. You cannot ignore the biological imperative, it will not work, its been tried before and is always met with total failure.”

    That is not true. I am biologically descended from at least three men who did not do it.

    Cara is correct – it doesn’t need to be done at work. My father and my mother met each other outside the workplace before they fell in love, married each other, and had children. They did not and still do not ask for sex while they’re at work. Likewise, neither of my grandfathers found my grandmothers by asking them for sex at work. 100 years later there will be something left of this group.

  189. Sang

    Oops, my apologies for not closing off the second HTML markup correctly!

  190. Superstringy Indian

    Look here.Women have a greater reproductive value.Not needed much nowadays,but sure as hell in the savannah.One woman not having kids is a big loss to the society.
    Old memes die hard.Can’t blame men for that…it’s a vestige.

  191. Isabaite

    @ Brendan White

    You’re assuming that the ‘positive feedback’ which encourages men to continue to continue their ‘lecherous ways’ is coming exclusively from women – you’d have to prove this and although the plural of annecdote is not data, I have witnessed men encouraging other men to harrass women (catcalls/groping/etc) both in meat-space and print – in the UK, FHM (magazine) is the one I’m most familiar with – as well as comments on forums etc.

    I strongly suspect that the ‘positive feedback’ which encourages public harrassment largely comes from other men, both in person and in virtual space and through films, op eds etc

  192. Sorry to be coming to the party late; my first thought on reading this post was that if you don’t name the 2008 guy then you shouldn’t be posting. He’ll almost certainly do it again and, by failing to name him, you’re making it easier for him to carry on doing exactly the same thing to the next person who comes along. It’ll work for him eventually. I should add that I agree with you and the content of this post absolutely, but, other than getting commenters on this thread all riled up, does your post do anything concrete to reduce this sort of behaviour? I’m aware that it would take a fair amount of courage to do something which could have implications for your career, but in circumstances like this – which sound very like a pattern of serial harassment – if you don’t, then you are, effectively, joining the ‘Old Boys Club’ which brushes that sort of thing under the table by reducing it to a bogeyman, rather than naming names. I could be wrong about all that, ‘though, and am happy to change my mind if there’s something I’ve missed!

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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