Repost: It Doesn't Hurt a Bit to Be "That Guy"

David Kroll had a recent post up at Take as Directed that discussed matters related to Hermitage's post on the Academia Ghetto. In the course of his musings, Kroll mentioned this post of mine which he found to be related. So, here ya go.

This post originally appeared April 28, 2008.
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The irrepressible PhysioProf had a recent post pointing out, among other things, that women had motivation to blog pseudonymously in part because of a certain species of stalker-commenter. In the discussion I arrived back at a more traditional topic for women in science careers:

when Abel says:

I have learned so much from people like FSP, MsPhD, Zuska, et al., that we have a long way to go in rehabilitating or eliminating fascist, racist, sexist men.

and Dr. Jekyll says:

Bravo for standing up for women,

I'm starting to get a little WTF myself. Is it really so rare for men to vocally stand up for women? rare for them to ask "wtf? where are the women on this symposium slate? why aren't we interviewing any women?". really so rare for them to say "um, colleague-dude, that comment really wasn't cool."
is it really so rare?

Many women chimed in with "yes" in the comments, for the most part kindly leaving unspoken "you irredeemable doofus! although one did question my terrestrial attachment. Dr. Jekyll and/or Mrs. Hyde went so far as to take in up in a post.

I work with pretty good guys (most of them, in this lab, are guys). Nonetheless, things I have heard lately:
* Referring to a grad student, "She's a real ball-buster."
* Referring to a grad student who got drunk at a party and ended up making out with another grad student, "She was gagging for it."
* To a female rotation student, "You just don't seem to have an affinity for This Lab's Biological Technique." (not, say, "You need more experience with Technique.")
* Referring to his girlfriend in NeighborLab, and to me, who was irritated about his lack of helpfulness regarding a problem, "All the women in my life seem really tired right now."
* After making a salacious comment to several men, and then suddenly realizing I was present, "Oh sorry Dr Jekyll, I didn't know you were standing there."

I'm going to slightly force the link here to the level of more professonal interactions, stay with me because the principles are similar. The observation that women are underrepresented in peer-selected "pools" comes up frequently in discussions of the prospects and status of women in science. Overlooked for invited seminar slots. Left off the list for convened meeting symposia. Ignored for Advisory Boards.
The answers to the question that I raised at PhysioProf's blog bring me to today's thought.

Guys? It is Perfectly OK to Be "That Guy"!!!

"That Guy" is the one who always says "Hey, how come we don't have any women on this seminar list? Can we do a little better? What about Professor Smith, she's got some really interesting stuff". I have a colleague who has a reputation for this sort of thing (I try to emulate him to the degree that I can manage it) which makes him "that guy". The one where after awhile the GrayBearded types kinda roll their eyes in his direction, or even make the pre-emptive comments anticipating his observation. One important point is that this is all done relatively non-confrontationally. The eye-rolling is usually in fairly good humor. Talking with this colleague, he fully admits that he is far less than "successful" in the sense of always having an impact, of getting the seminar slate up to 50% or something like that. What I note is that there is some impact. Three more names considered and one more woman selected. Glass-half-full stuff.
Still, it is important that we men do this sort of thing as often as we can.

First, it provides needed cover to our female colleagues. Let's face it, for the same degree of making this sort of comment into a "reputation", the man is going to be viewed in relatively good humor, the woman is going to be "that feminist", "agenda driven" or worse. Women know this and have to stress over whether they should just sit there and take it (yet again) or speak up. You (men) speaking up makes one less time your female colleague has to do it. It spreads the reputation around a little bit.

Second, there is just seems to be an innate set that we humans have that discounts self-advocacy. It just ends up more convincing when men are fighting for women's rights, whites for minority's rights, hetero for LGBT rights, etc. So there is that little extra bonus that you might actually be more effective at changing the minds of the OldGuard than would be someone who is a member of the suspect class, so to speak.

Third, strength in numbers. It is important to create an overt impression that you are on-board with diversity stuff. Even when you do have "that feminist type" speaking up, go ahead and chime in with "Yeah, how come we're light on women in this proposed panel?".

One final note, motivated by Dr. Jekyll's comment about overhearing "she's a real ball-buster". Generalizing to the "too aggressive" critique leveled at your female colleague who is trying to make it in this career, there is an approach to take. Even if you happen to agree that Dr. FemaleColleague does behave a little aggressively and non-collegially. (Yes, my XX readers, it sometimes is the case that that jerk colleague is a woman). You can acknowledge that even if she is less-than-pleasant, you "can certainly understand the discriminatory factors affecting women in science that made her have to act this way to get the resources she needed". What could it possibly cost you to make that observation?

20 responses so far

  • Katharine says:

    After considerable thought, I've boiled a lot of the sexism I've seen down to stupidity and a misplaced desire to get laid combined with a refusal to admit that their genetic material is poor.

    You and Physioprof and Abel Pharmboy and PZ and such should be held up as shining examples to much of the rest of the men in the world as the Awesome Dudes that you are.

    Much kudos from this female biology undergrad.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Well, speaking for myself, no. First, I no doubt hold many views that people who are concerned with such matters would find abhorrent. Second, I don't try to do anything all that special, just to act like a decent fucking person, as PP would say. And let us face it, blogging is an aspirational exercise, I'm not gonna claim I am perfect or live up to the most glowing interpretation of everything I post on the blog. I'm a person like anyone else. All we can do is try to be decent.

    Sometimes it helps us to lay out the whys and hows pretty explicitly, though.

  • Dorothea says:

    Thank you, sir.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I'm not a big diavlogs fan but this one holds my attention. Around about minute 40 for relevance to this post

    http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/34057

  • FrauTech says:

    In my experience the people who say the most atrocious things are people who know they can get away with it, as in fairly high level people. Sometimes I think there are situations where my male allies would pipe up and call that bs out but when it is their boss or their boss's boss they don't/can't risk it.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Agreed FrauTech, which is why it helps to expand the number of people who are willing to say something. The Dept Chair spouts off and maybe the junior faculty aren't going to say anything...but the longer termers can make a comment with less worry. Same deal with PI/trainees and the peer PIs.

    You sit around the bar at a society meeting or around the study section dinner table or whatnot and you can front even pretty senior folks with stuff that might not go down so well at home.

    The point is not to be AutoBotDefenderOfTheFaith 24/7. That annoys everyone. Hell, you might even get Zuska puking on your shoes just for not being hilarious.

    The goal is to do better and not to let perfect be the enemy of good.

  • Isabel says:

    "that we have a long way to go in rehabilitating or eliminating fascist, racist, sexist men."z

    eliminating? How is that done? Well maybe Katherine can help. She has some ideas about how to eliminate stupid people.

    Katherine your childish hero-worshipping is sickening. You don't even know these guys, who love to sing each other's PC praises on-line.

    Why doesn't PP "act like a decent fucking person" and stop encouraging the treatment of me as a crazy person? It is an incredible, classic example of sexism. And what is so decent about his mockery and blaming of the "pig ignorant" lower classes for the problems of society? From the vantage point of incredible privilege?

  • Funky Fresh says:

    Because you are a crazy person?

  • Katharine says:

    FSM, Loonabel, 'hero-worshipping'? Just showing gratefulness where I think it's due.

    Why do you think his singling out of you is a case of sexism? Because he certainly shits on dudes, too, for being dullards. Ever heard of vegofish, the execrable conservative idiot who occasionally posts on there?

    And yes, the lower classes are for the most part pretty pig-ignorant, as is a pretty big chunk of the upper classes. Privilege only factors into it partially. Some of it's not their fault entirely, mind, as poverty does ugly things to developing brains, but I see you've never met Middle American Working-Class Teabagger or looked at the statistics on why Random Segment of America Votes The Way They Do. Most people are unfortunately unable to get a hold on their limbic system.

    Ah, but you can't control your constant stiffies for the poor.

  • AP Saygin says:

    Could some "that guys" help with this? I don't hesitate to be "that woman" (more commonly known as "that feminist witch who's just probably on the rag or not getting laid enough if you know what I mean har har") but I got no reply.

    A few weeks ago, I saw a post going around on twitter on the 10 best neuroscience TED talks (my field). There was only one female listed, and she was talking about her personal experience of *having* a stroke.

    A few people on twitter commented that the list was male-heavy (and white). The person who made the list defended that there weren't sufficient women in the field and among TED speakers specifically.

    Now, I could disagree with the 1st assertion but I saw to see that indeed there were very few women (or minority) neuroscientists who spoke at TED.

    I e-mailed TED and encouraged them to look a bit harder. There are many female neuroscientists who have engaging, active, interesting research. I asked them to feel free to contact me and I would make some specific suggestions.

    Noone even responded to me,

    Damsel in distress

  • Isabel says:

    Katharine,

    My name is Isabel. Stop being such a jerk. And I am not a "dullard" and no one has made a case for that at all.

  • Isabel says:

    "or looked at the statistics on why Random Segment of America Votes The Way They Do'

    I do not believe such statistics exist.

  • drugmonkey says:

    AP Saygin,

    I missed this kerfuffle. Does it refer to the blog post at "oscillatory thoughts"?

    http://blog.ketyov.com/2011/01/top-10-neuroscience-ted-talks.html

  • samantha says:

    it makes me happy to see the same circle of people writing science blogs and commenting on feminist ones, or vice versa. or a nifty mix of both.

    unfortunately, it's painful sometimes to get used to the open-minded intelligence of the internet, and then emerge into the "real world" to find not everything is puppies and cupcakes.

    but it still gives me hope. :)

    keep up the good work.

  • AP Saygin says:

    Yes that list.
    There was a twitter convo between him, and (female cog neuroscientists) Sophie Scott, Sarah Blakemore and myself. So I went and checked and indeed TED had very very few women or minority speakers at least in neuroscience.
    Some voices other than mine may help. Thanks!

  • Yeah, that TED neuroscience thing really bothered me. I was acutely aware *as I was making the list* at how few women or minorities were on said list. The (excellent) twitter conversation that followed was very enlightening, but pretty sad in terms of discovering TED's (under)representation of female neuroscientists.

    Within the field, the male/female ratio is easily close to 50/50. In my experience, there are in fact more female PhDs graduating now than males. TED is very neuroscience heavy, in that there is an over-representation of neuroscientists compared to other fields of study, I believe. So there should be ample opportunities to find excellent speakers. However, maybe the (current) TED gender disparity isn't surprising. Among scientists, TED tends to only have well-established, senior researchers, and the gender disparity is certainly more striking for the older generation of scientists. There is certainly more than one female neuroscientist who has spoken at TED, but I found those talks to be less compelling than the ones I posted about. That's not a function of the gender, of course, but rather a reflection of my scientific biases (for example, I'm not a *huge* proponent of fMRI).

    Ayse, I'm sorry to hear TE never responded, however. That's quite a disappointment...

  • Brent says:

    "a misplaced desire to get laid combined with a refusal to admit that their genetic material is poor".

    Speaking as a perfect example of this problem, I very well know that my genetic material is poor, and that no one in my right mind would want to interact with me in a way that would make me happy.

    That does lead to a certain existential problem, however. And given that suicide is generally frowned upon, one wonders what I'm supposed to DO about that problem.

    I know, I know. It's not YOUR problem. But just like it is our responsibility (and I completely believe that it is) to advocate for your problems, even when they don't affect me, it'd be nice to hear some ideas about how to deal with the nasty, raw facts of just how powerless the more pathetic members of the male species would be without the last scraps of patriarchal hegemony to cling to.

    I mean, I want to see you do well. I truly do. And even if that means I have to fail utterly, and never succeed again, I think it's fairer to live in a world where you have just as much of a chance to succeed as I do. But the reality that if we compete evenly, I'm going to lose horribly and permanently *terrifies* me. And before I consign myself to that reality, I'd just like a chance to acknowledge it, you know?

  • Mike says:

    That's a really solid and well-thought-out post (though I have to admit to being disappointed that people working in advanced fields are apparently no better at typing online than anyone else).

    My only real problem with it is the very last part; perhaps it's a personal issue, but I don't believe I'm ever going to accept any excuse for someone being unapologetically less than congenial. The "unapologetically" part is big, because everyone has bad days or weeks or what have you... but if you are consistently unpleasant to those around you, I could really care less what reason you think you have. I mean no one needs my approval to go through life, and if they need to be a jerk to get what they want that's their call, but they'll get no sympathy from me.

  • Mike says:

    *sigh*

    And there I go making it about me. I'm sorry, for some reason I get a real visceral reaction to that sort of thing.

    I want to reiterate that I think that in general the type of thinking and action mentioned in your post is really great food for thought, or more than just thought,in any field.

  • […] DrugMonkey post that he needs to repost at Scientopia has kindly reposted at Scientopia on how it doesn’t hurt to be “that guy” – the one who speaks out in the department about the seminar program being too white or male, […]

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