Earlier this year, I went to a talk that mostly consisted of text slides. When I realized that the verbal parts of the talk didn't add any more information than what was shown on the text slides, I fell into the habit of quickly reading the slides and then doing some brain multi-tasking (day-dreaming, plotting etc.) until it was time to read the next text slide.
At some point, though, the speaker captured my attention. Part of the talk involved the speaker's opining about the work of others; e.g., "this person did this" and "that person did that". My attention was caught by the fact that the speaker described a woman as "crowing" about her particular idea.
Crowing? What did that mean? And if a woman was crowing, what were the men doing?
So then I started listening to what he was saying and how he was saying it. It was quite stark, the difference in how the ideas of men and women were portrayed. In the opinion of the speaker, the women "went on and on" in an "unconvincing way" about the topic in question, whereas men made "repeated forceful arguments" and presented "a strong case" for their ideas.
Even when the speaker disagreed with some of the men he mentioned, he said that he "respectfully disagreed" with them. The men "knew what they were doing" (even if they were wrong or misguided), but the women were basically just making things up without having "a complete understanding" of the issues.
It was not an important or interesting talk, but, for me, the speaker's choice of words rather effectively undermined his authority to give an informed or interesting opinion on his chosen topic. Once I realized his opinions broke down perfectly along gender lines in terms of the people he admired and those whom he denigrated, I no longer trusted what he was saying.
Of course, no one is truly "objective" when giving a presentation about ideas and results. We all make choices about what to present vs. what not to present, and we choose our words and tone and emphasis. We also commonly inject our opinions when discussing the work of others, either overtly or in more subtle ways.
Many professional talks include references to the work of others, typically listed on a slide as "Schmo et al. (2010)" or similar. In some cases the speaker may elaborate on the people involved, e.g. "this paper by my excellent former student, Bob Schmo". This is a normal part of many talks.
And of course discussion of the work of others can be critical, e.g. "Although Schmo et al. (2010) proposed X, in fact our data are more consistent with an interpretation of Z", perhaps with some details about how the disagreement or discrepancy arose. This can be useful for understanding the context of the evolution of research and thought on a particular topic.
It is possible to humanize Science (and even Scientists..) and to give some of the personal back-story of a body of work and even to criticize work (and workers) we don't like, but it is also possible to be professional and equal-opportunity-respectful about it. It doesn't seem possible for some individuals, but it is possible in general.
So, do I want speakers to "censor" themselves and "walk on coals" in professional talks so as not to alienate sensitive and borderline hysterical women who will then "crow" about perceived sexism, thereby perpetuating sexism, which would magically go away if women didn't talk about it (or whatever)? Yes, I do want this, or, at least, the first part.
9 months ago