Wednesday, January 06, 2010

This I Do Not Believe

The following are things that I believe to be generally untrue:
  • If an individual has never directly experienced or perpetrated sexism/discrimination/harassment, these things don't exist.
  • Women who experience sexism/discrimination/harassment see sexism everywhere.
  • Women who are angry about sexism/discrimination/harassment hate men.
  • Angry women further promote sexist behavior by being angry.
  • Men who make remarks about the lack of intelligence or competence of women are typically joking.
  • Women who don't think such remarks are funny have no sense of humor.
  • Women who describe sexist experiences in another country are culturally insensitive and xenophobic.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

Can we add:

"Women can't really call themselves feminists if they spend all their time complaining about how bad things are in their relatively comfortable first-world country when things are so much worse for women in [insert country here]."

Samia said...

Hear hear! The first song, especially. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm just tired of making less money and advancing less in rank than most of my male peers despite my having more proven professional achievements on record. I'd like to see the sexism-deniers explain that. (I'm sure there will be much twisting and turning and stretching of the imagination to follow, it never ceases to amaze me how much faith in miracles these deniers have.)

Anonymous said...

Let's see: (I'm a guy, btw):

1. Agreed.

2. Probably not in their toothbrushes. More seriously? There are probably some people of any category (sex, gender variance, sexuality, race, etc.) who perceive any such "ism" to be present in more situations than others perceive it to be. Some of them might be embittered, angry people with a strong tendency to interpret neutral situations as threatening. I haven't met anyone like that yet, as far as I know, so it's all theoretical to me.

3. Hrm, not unless you're Mary Daly. And even there, "hate" is likely not to be quite the right word.

4. When I do it, I *think* I'm joking, but I also feel ashamed. I'm trying to cut it out entirely.

5. Agreed. (You've heard this one, right? Q: How many radical feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: THAT'S NOT FUNNY. And I hope that's not a special case of #4.)

6. Aw hell naw. One prof at my institution did a lovely talk on "Why Multiculturalism Is Bad for Women" that was exactly about this, and exactly on target.

Anonymous said...

--> Sure!

--> But it is easy to see why they might become predisposed towards embracing the sexism explanation over any other.

--> "Hate men" is too ambiguous to let this line be meaningful. Ask an average Christian if he/she "hates" Moslems. The answer would likely be "No". This, even though the Christian believes the Moslem deserves to go to to hell.

--> Tough call. Yes and No. The same applies to any cause, not just sexism. Does being angry about your cause actually hurt the cause? Depends on how you see it.

--> let's change #2 to : Women who experience sexism/discrimination/harassment TYPICALLY see sexism everywhere. Fair?

--> Again, "sense of humour" is all too vague a term. There is a BBC video of James Randi where some kind of paranormal reader who looks at a horoscope and describes his subject (who turned out to be Hugh Laurie...yes... Dr. House) as someone with a sense of humour. Hugh agrees. Randi says: Everyone in the audience who thinks that he/she does NOT have a sense of humour may please raise a hand. No one raises.

Lesson: Everyone thinks he/she has a sense of humour.

--> Again, this means little. What percentage of people out there self identify as xenophobes? But, fact remains that those who repeatedly make unkind remarks about foreigners and DIRECTLY STATE that the sexist (or any other impolite) behaviour experienced in a foreign country is DUE to the culture of that country, do fit into the broad description of culturally insensitive.

Anonymous said...

The main obstacle for women is no longer discrimination, but the time they spend in complaining about discrimination and annoying neutral people.


amy said...

Ah, yes, the same accusations that have been coming up against any feminist-sounding idea for the last several hundred years. Lots of this crap in response to your last post, of course.

There are some feminist blogs, such as Kate Harding's Shapely Prose, that just block commenters who fail Feminism 101. It can be refreshing to read blogs like that, because you don't have to wade through this crap.

But I also like blogs like yours (which I wouldn't categorize as a feminist blog, but as a blog that sometimes raises issues of particular interest to feminists and anti-feminists), where comments are not heavily moderated. I just have to swallow my irritation sometimes while I'm reading the comments.

There is a useful website for people who need to learn the basics: Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog. Their purpose: "Discussions on feminist forums are often disrupted, frequently but not always deliberately, by commentors who post often-seen questions/assertions which end up turning the discussion into arguing about their question/assertion instead of the original issue that was being discussed. This blog aims to provide factual information, for both feminists and those questioning feminism, about those typically disruptive questions/assertions." Sometimes it's more useful just to refer the trolls to that website instead of having to answer their ridiculous criticisms over and over and over again.

Isabella said...

The main obstacle for women is no longer discrimination, but the time they spend in complaining about discrimination and annoying neutral people.

Until the neutral person him/herself becomes subject of discrimination and realizes that the annoyance her/she felt was totally out of place.

zoelouise said...


May I add-

7. People who believe that women should have the same opportunities as men have are FEMINISTS, even if they say they are not.

Happy New year!


sib said...

you could add one more to the list:

you are not a paranoid, hypersensitive pterodactyl from aeons ago for seeing a need to state these things :)

butterflywings said...

Great post, FSP.

iris, oh yes, the old 'but you're so outdated! sure, sexism existed like 30 years ago, but we are totally post-feminist now!' argument. Which is crap. I will stop complaining about discrimination when it stops happening. It hasn't. (For example, women still earn less than men).

sib said...

the perils of the double-negative...
butterflywings: i hope it is evident that i am totally with you!

Cloud said...

Anonymous @ 2:40- the latest excuse for the pay/advancement gap is that it is not sexism, it is motherhood. Apparently, childless women are now even with men in pay, but women with children are not. Therefore, it must be the children.

To which I reply, that is still sexism, unless there is a similar drop in pay when men become fathers.

The period of time in which the mother is biologically required to spend more time on her offspring than the father is actually quite short (a couple of years, or however long you breastfeed, really) and in my experience can be offset by the father picking up more of the other chores around the house.

I'm actually really, really sick of people using motherhood as an excuse to be sexist. Don't blame the kids. Blame the sexist system that doesn't allow for kids.

Dr. K said...

Also untrue: "The main obstacle for women is no longer discrimination, but the time they spend in complaining about discrimination and annoying neutral people."

Also untrue: "It is possible to be neutral on the topic of discrimination."

prosaica said...


@Cloud: actually, the time where biology weighs heavier on the mother is much shorter. At around nine months most children are quite ok with mother's milk only mornings and evenings.

Also, pregnancy complications are medical problems like every other, not a feature of femininity.
I have never complained about all the nice "vacation" "enjoyed" by my skiing colleagues whenever they broke some bone, even though I do not ski myself.
Similarly, I don't see why people who can't or won't get pregnant should complain about having to work a bit harder for a few months to replace a colleague in maternity leave.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Also to the previous commenter who declared that you can't make any conclusions on the basis of many anecdotes - right each incident is an isolated event but some things are rare in nature and we do actually have stats to analyze the occurrence of these events. When I start seeing lots of independent data points coming together to paint a general picture, I pay attention. Also there have been many, many empirically solid studies - CVs with male/female names being reviewed, reviews of journal with double blind review processes vs. single blind (female acceptance rates go up with double blind processes), the pay gap, % faculty hired/tenured, etc. When all the data, plus multiple independent observations point the same way, you're really using shoddy reasoning to declare there's no bias. "All the evidence points that way but I just don't believe it" seems to be the "thinking".

Anonymous said...

In order to dismiss these accusations of "Don't employ women, they just leave you in the lurch to have babies.", I think it would be really useful if FSP and others could post examples of how they've coped with grad students & postdocs becoming pregnant.

How has it affected project and contract deadlines? How has the need to pay the pregnancy leave and get someone in to meet the deadlines affected project finances & budgets?

Is it possible to get maternity cover, or if the post-doc is highly specialized (as should be the case at an R1 institution)is it impossible?

How was the return to work after 6 months maternity leave managed?

How "productive" do you expect someone to be who is only in the lab part time? How many papers/year?

How much scope is there to be flexible about meetings and time on large instruments when the child is sick or normal childcare fails?

I think practical examples will help dissipate the concerns.

sib said...

"How has the need to pay the pregnancy leave and get someone in to meet the deadlines affected project finances & budgets? "

..the last time i checked, graduate students and postdocs don't get paid leave for maternity(or paternity). they can at best avail of unpaid sick leave.
i would be happy to be contradicted.

Anonymous said...

A male colleague of mine recently had a baby with his wife. As his wife and child are almost 5 hours by train away he is only here 4 times a week. I don't know whether it was to do with his ability or his lack of time management skills he was only partially productive whenever he was in the lab, which was still 4 days a week. The results that he had been providing lacked all other variables, thus deeming his work sub-standard. The most annoying part was that his project is the main focus of the team and is directly related to three undergrad dissertation projects. As a result, the entire team are being pestered by these undergrads and two other newcomers to the lab for help on things that most of us don't actually know well on because he is either 'unavailable' or 'too busy' to keep his responsibilities!

I am not trying to extrapolate to incorporate everyone but some people just use the fact that they are having a baby or they've just had a baby to not work. I understand that bringing up a baby is hard work but good time-management is often sufficient to cover for these absences. So, when people say that discrimination against women/parents exists, it's people like that colleague of mine who are keeping it well and truly alive!

Cloud said...

prosaica- indeed, you could just bottle feed from the start and have the biological requirements be equal once the baby is born. I chose to breastfeed for longer, but did not find that this meant my husband had more time for his work than I did, just that he had more time to do the dishes than I did.

anonymous @5:39- so that one guy couldn't manage his responsibilities well. The sexism comes in because no one extrapolates from that one story that fathers can't be good scientists, but we hear a lot about how hard it is to balance motherhood and science.

I get asked ALL THE TIME about how I balance my career and motherhood. My husband (who is in fact home with our 3 month old right now- it is my first week back at work) never gets asked.

I am not arguing that balancing parenthood and career is not tricky at times. I am arguing that the assumption that only mothers need to do the balancing act is sexist, and arguing that continuing pay discrepancies between men and women is "due to motherhood" is sexist unless you also expect fathers to make less than men who are not fathers. I think the data are actually the opposite- that fathers tend to make MORE money than men without children.

@anonymous at 4:21, @iris- DrDrA over at Blue Lab Coats had a thread on this recently. Go search her site for more info. I believe that someone on that thread knew the situation for postdocs paid by the NIH.

Hope said...

@Cloud: I get asked ALL THE TIME about how I balance my career and motherhood. My husband … never gets asked.

Your situation with your husband is *not* the norm. Most of the career women that I know with kids shoulder >50% of the home/childcare responsibilities. These are women that consider themselves feminists, by the way; they have varying reasons why they’ve adopted their respective arrangements. It may be sexist (and no doubt regrettable), but in our society today, children still have more of an impact on the woman’s career vs. the man’s.

I think the data are actually the opposite- that fathers tend to make MORE money than men without children.

I think that this is because fathers tend to be older and more advanced in their careers than men who are still single, but correct me if I’m wrong.

I also know several women that switched to part-time schedules and a couple who took 1-4 yrs off from work to stay home with their kids. These women lag behind their cohort (both men and women) in pay – they haven’t made it as far up the ladder due to time off and promotions they had to pass up. If this is the reason for the discrepancy in pay, then I see nothing wrong with it. All else being equal (i.e., education, experience, etc.), however, paying a woman less money to do the same job as a man is, of course, wrong. Thankfully, where I work the data suggest that this does not happen. But I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that it still happens elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

I don't actually believe that childless women have reached pay equity because we still face the assumption of "oh, she'll just leave and have kids soon". In some cases, it's actually worse because the powers that be consider our maternity leave to be future whereas that of existing moms is considered to be past.

Ironically, the dad who got hired over me (less qualified but considered to be more stable/likely to stay put due to his family status) has taken paternity leave twice while I had to cover for him.

To the person who thinks covering for others while on parental leave should be viewed as "no big deal", that may be the case when one person's work is spread over many people but when one person winds up with more than double their normal workload due to a clump of parental leaves at once, it is in fact very taxing (though I never refered to any of them as being 'on vacation').

Cloud said...

@Hope- the fact that my situation is not the norm is, I think, partly due to the sexism inherent in our culture. It is assumed that women will shoulder more of the "home work", and lo and behold, that is what happens. But there is absolutely no reason why that has to be the case. I do not judge anyone's life decisions. Obviously, each individual woman has to make the decisions that make her happiest. However, when many people are making the same sorts of decisions, I tend to think there is an underlying reason. And I think that the underlying reason for the fact that women are far more likely to take a career hit than men when kids enter the scene is far more cultural than it is biological anymore. And I think our tendency to "blame" motherhood for the continuing inequalities in the work place makes it far too easy for men to tell themselves there is no problem and not make the changes that would lead to greater equality.

My info on pay equity for women without children comes from the most recent Economist. Here is a quote from their leader: "Motherhood, not sexism, is the issue: in America, childless women earn almost as much as men, but mothers earn significantly less." (This quote is also what got me peeved on this topic- because it IS still sexism if fathers don't take the same hit.) I suspect the actual numbers are in the article that supports the leader, but I haven't bothered to read that yet. The leader made me mad enough.

I don't have a source on hand for men's pay, so I don't know for certain that fathers earn more. I just vaguely remember reading that somewhere. It is usual in these sorts of comparisons to control for age and/or career stage, so I don't think any difference, if there is one, can be attributed to fathers being older than men without children.

Anonymous said...

You know, if you add, "I'm just joking, where's your sense of humor?!" maybe the trolls will suddenly all think this is funny and laugh. If not, maybe they'll finally have an inkling of what it's like to be a woman.

Anonymous said...

More than 80% of people who die while working are males.

Is this is a more serious discrimination than all the ones you are complaining about?

sib said...

@anon at 03:01:00 AM:
"More than 80% of people who die while working are males.

Is this is a more serious discrimination than all the ones you are complaining about?"

..well, the data are debate worthy only if you first normalize by the appropriate weights for how many of the relevant workers were men/women.

(rolls eyes).

Anonymous said...

@ Anonymous @ 3.01 pm: May be because the industries that these males die at work, inherently discriminate against hiring women?

Anonymous said...

biogirl, maybe the truth is that women "discriminate" against steel industry and prefer safer and more pleasant works?

Anonymous said...

me again (anon at 10:41)

"Motherhood, not sexism, is the issue: in America, childless women earn almost as much as men, but mothers earn significantly less."

Well, that explains it. We earn *almost* as much as men - despite the fact that selection pressure means that this group includes a much higher fraction of women ambitious enough to have put their family life on hold in order to advance in their career - and who should therefore theoretically earn more than the average male. (I am not implying that women with kids are unambitious - merely that the fraction who are happy with a lower-stress/lower-pay job is higher in the with-kids group than the no-kids group. Nor am I implying that childless women should make more than mothers - simply that our current economic system is set up to reward those who work extra. At least, that's the argument that men use to justify themselves being paid more. Seems like it's broken, doesn't it?)

Female Science Professor said...

More than 80% of people who die while working are males.

sib said...

FSP: the link is utterly priceless!

prosaica said...

@Cloud: you can choose to bottle feed, but you miss on the physical pleasure. At least that's how I felt it. OTOH, introducing solids at 5-6 months is natural to many kids (again, it was to mine).

Also, there's a lot of work you can do while breastfeeding a child (mind you, I'm a theoretician). I even went to faculty meetings and breastfed here. I must admit that I found doing anything useful while breastfeeding the twins impossible.

Anonymous said...

Dear FSP: you complain so seriously about the use of gender-neutral words, and now you make fun of men who die working? In case you want to have more sad fun, here is another statistics: in boat accidents men die more frequently than females (normalized to their relative ratio).

Please complain about the gender-inequality of "Women and child first".

Otherwise, if you accept a suggestion, after many Feminist posts, it would be interesting to read something about your Science Professor research.

Anonymous said...

Dear 2:25
Here's a stat for you. If FSP were to talk about her "Science Professor research" she would probably give away her identity because there are SO FEW WOMEN PROFESSORS in her field!

John Vidale said...

lots of funny stuff on FSP's web page,:

speaking of perhaps unwarranted stereotypes.

Anonymous said...

Dear 3:48, the problem is that the message I get from this blog is that a FSP spends more time in complaining against MSP rather than doing science.

FSP could give a positive message by writing about her discoveries, or at least about her field.

Faraday is appreciated for his achievements, not because he complained against the discriminations he faced for being poor.

EuropeanFemaleScienceProfessor said...

Amen! And you can (and probably do) write about your Real Science (tm) discoveries in the International Journal of Real Science. This is just your blog, as I understand it. Keep on trucking!

As they say over here: you can judge the necessity of feminist words by the loudness of the screams you hear from the men.

Cloud said...

@Prosaica- I don't disagree. I breastfed my first until she was 23 months, and anticipate doing something similar with my second. I wouldn't trade the experience for any supposed benefit the extra time would give me. I read while I breastfeed (and while I pump so that someone else can feed my daughter while I'm at work). Blogs, journal articles, infuriating Economist articles...

@anonymous- I think FSP probably writes about her science in peer reviewed journals. You must have more free time than I do. If I found all Economist articles as infuriating as the one on women in the work force, I'd stop reading it. I wonder why you keep reading here?

John Vidale said...

I'm always amused when a complaint arises that, if someone (FSP) is doing something so well, she must be neglecting everything else.

Perhaps a better POV is that if FSP can handle this difficult topic with such tact and effectiveness, imagine how easily she is probably dispatching science problems.

Faraday is an excellent example of a scientist who tackled a wide range of fundamental, applied, and societal problems, but not a good example of myopic nerdiness triumphing over dabblers.

Anonymous said...

I think FSP can have it both ways. Anonymously on her blog, she writes about many interesting issues related to doing science. Some of these happen to be related to gender issues. And on the other hand, in her real life, she is a successful, reasonably well known scientist (I assume). Who probably spends a reasonable amount of time making the NSF happy by doing various broad impacts. She doesn't need to blog to do even more broad scientific impacts.

EliRabett said...

Insert the words a few in each of those lines and they become true.

EliRabett said...

John V, in his day Faraday was famous for giving rock concert like public lectures about science, a very major BI

Anonymous said...

... says the angry feminist.

Anonymous said...

@ Cloud: "Anonymous @ 2:40- the latest excuse for the pay/advancement gap is that it is not sexism, it is motherhood. Apparently, childless women are now even with men in pay, but women with children are not. Therefore, it must be the children."

I'm the Anon@2:40.

but I am not a mother! I have friends who are also childless women and who also experience this glass ceiling.

Maybe they assume we are mothers (just because we are women, the assumption is we are all mothers too by default). Maybe such an assumption is not sexism at all - maybe all men are also assumed to be fathers by default too. I.e. it is assumed that everyone is married with kids because that's the norm. Whatever, that's a whole other form of discrimination. Let's call it "singles discrimination"?

I think that if you are young, it is advantages to be single because employers will think you are not tied down and so you are a better and more ambitious worker. '

But if you are older, or in mid-career stage I should say, then it's the reverse. Now it's an advatnage to be married-with-kids because now employers will see you as being stable and sane and responsible etc. And if you're not married-with-kids at this stage in career/age, then employers see you as being immature or irresponsible or otherwise not normal and have a bias against you.

That's just my theory based on my personal experience.

Anonymous said...

This blog has described some instances of male professors making comments to each other about female professor candidates' appearances.

So I must ask FSP (and any commenters):

Is it common for male professors to comment to each other about female students' appearances? I know there probably are a few odd creeps out there, but I wondered if it is really common and acceptable.

Kevin said...

In the past 10 years, I have only once heard a fellow professor comment on a student's appearance, and that was after she had already finished her PhD. The comment was fairly mild also--just that we would no longer know what fashionable clothing looked like, as she was always better dressed than the rest of the department.

MarthaWantsToBeAScientist said...

A famous scientist came to speak to me at the first conference I attended, in the first year of my Ph.D. I knew who he was, and was very excited that he approached me - I had anticipated to discuss science.

The only thing he said was: "I guess you got your scholarship with Prof. Y because you have such a nice ass."

That was only a few years ago.