This has happened so many times:
I am in a meeting at which a woman scientist is discussed (for whatever reason), and she is criticized for being "aggressive".
My colleagues think I am biased and possibly irrational, and that my response is some knee-jerk reflex to Defend Scientific Womanhood no matter what.
My opinions about everything else are not taken very seriously because I have demonstrated that I am not objective.
Criticizing someone for being aggressive is a cheap way to undermine them. What does it even mean? Is being aggressive always bad? If someone is so aggressively competitive that they will step on everyone in their path, including students and puppies, and cast aside all consideration of ethics to achieve scientific glory, then OK, I think that is a bad thing. However, that is very far from the case in every example in my personal experience, including the most recent one.
This insidious phenomenon has been discussed before by me and many others: women who demonstrate self-confidence and comprehensive knowledge of their research/science are seen (by some) as aggressive. I should mention that it is not just men who criticize women for this; women also criticize other women for being aggressive, and no, I am not misinterpreting something that was meant as a compliment.
The recent example that has me so angry today involves a case in which an extremely smart, friendly, personable, and interesting woman was severely criticized for being aggressive. I was so surprised at this absurd statement that I laughed out loud. I asked for clarification, thinking at first that the comment wasn't meant to be as critical as it sounded or perhaps that I had missed some important information somewhere, but no such luck. I think my response was calm, reasoned, yet forceful -- perhaps even aggressive! -- but, whether I was effective or not (clearly I was not), why was I the only one objecting?
And another thing, since I am ranting:
In this meeting, a woman was described as glib, and this was again meant as a criticism. I said to the maker of the glib-comment: I would describe her as very articulate and well-spoken about a wide range of topics, showing great depth and breadth. Where do you draw the line between glib and articulate? My colleague said OK, you're right, she is very articulate. I said And that's a good thing, right? Yes, we all agreed that being articulate is a good thing. Maybe I won that point, but I didn't change whatever underlying reason made that colleague describe someone as glib rather than articulate in the first place.
I hate it when I underestimate the insanity of my colleagues. I am quite cynical, but I think I need to recalibrate my cynicism for some of this committee work.
This semester, I am on more committees than is good for my sanity. I still like to think that it is important that I am there to make people defend their stupid sexist statements, however ineffective I am at changing their opinions, but perhaps I just think that because the alternative is difficult to accept.
6 months ago