Jennifer Ouellette‘s take on how hard women have it in the science/skeptic universes is a must-read. Unlike some of the more polarizing commentaries people have offered in the wake of Elevatorgate, this one’s just hard to argue with. As a guy, it’s tough to read, too.
Like this story about Linda Henneberg, a science communication intern at CERN:
What she found equally bothersome is that because she’s a woman in education, not physics research, she simply isn’t taken seriously by her male colleagues at CERN, who apparently treat her with amiable condescension. Henneberg holds an undergraduate degree is in physics and a graduate degree in science communication, yet “[P]eople here, men especially, treat me like some sort of novelty item. Like because I am not a physicist, I have nothing substantive to contribute to CERN, but it’s cute that I try.”
Some men (and even women) may not even realize when they’re making the situation even worse:
A teacher calls on the boys in class more than the girls. A CEO ignores what a woman says in a meeting but listens intently when a man makes the exact same point. A conference emcee mentions a female speaker’s appearance rather than (or in addition to) her accomplishments, but feels no need to comment on the appearance of male speakers. A guy at an atheist/skeptics meeting hits on a young woman in an elevator at 4 AM, ignoring the fact that she just spent the evening talking about how she hates being objectified at such gatherings.
Again, I know you (male readers) might not act this way, but it’s clear that plenty of men do, and it’s up to us to help fix that. (When I say “you,” I include myself as well.) I’m sure I sometimes do things like this without realizing it, but acknowledging that it happens (even to those of us with the best of intentions) makes me all the more alert to it. I hope I can catch myself if/when I’m unintentionally giving men preferential treatment or treating women as anything but equals.
If nothing else, read the Manifesto for Change at the bottom of the piece. There are excellent suggestions for both men and women to help fix the sexism problems we have in our community.
On a side note, I had a chance to interview Ouellette during TAM9 and we talked about some of these very issues. Not surprisingly, she made several fantastic points that need to be spread. I’ll try to get a transcript up on this site as soon as I can.