For this edition of Sexist Comments of the Week, I cede the floor to my honorable colleague from Ontario, Chanda. Chanda really knows what the eff she’s talking about when it comes to sexism in the sciences, so she’s the perfect person to respond to the male scientist who reported being ‘rankled’ by a dinner for women scientists. Take it away Chanda:
[I’m] a woman in science, and actually what upset me about this email is that it reminds me of a time when the undergrads were asking for a women-only pizza dinner in the physics department, and some of the women grad students opposed it saying that it was discrimination against the men. Now that I’m finishing grad school, I’ve seen a lot of that. Many of the women who decide to stick around in this bullshit atmosphere are either people who manage to bury their heads in their asses or people who are so afraid of being on the outs with the men that they will sell their sisters down the river.
. . . Not to mention in a physics department that it’s possible that you have a specific situation you want to discuss and the aggressor is in the room.
I could fill a book with stories about women who were afraid to speak up because the repercussions for their career were too enormous. Creating safe, private spaces with people who are allies by experience is very important. You might argue that some men might want to be allies, but it is also the case that men sometimes claim to be allies when they actually aren’t. In the case of women, some of them don’t want to be allies. That’s fine. They generally just don’t show up.
The reason you want to hold an official event, as opposed to a private one like the ones we have at the institute where I work, is because the department’s endorsement sends a message about the department’s attitude toward these issues. That they recognize women are having these experiences and that they support their every effort to find ways to not only challenge but also simply cope with them. That kind of messaging alone can go a long way toward challenging department culture. If the chair of the department or other people in positions of power are saying, “I endorse women having these events,” you’re probably going to be a lot more careful about what you say and do, realizing that you can’t just get away with overt and maybe even covert sexism.
. . . calling it discrimination is a misnomer that belies the reality of the situation and also the reason that events like this exist. This kind of stuff is there to level an imbalanced playing field. It is simply nonsensical to call methods that are used to counteract the effects of discrimination, discrimination. These kinds of things are very small spaces that are arduously carved out so that women and minorities have a chance.
Photo via Bennett 4 Senate, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0