Sexism, Skepticism and Civility Online Transcript – Now Out On CSICOP

On Codes of Conduct, Part II – Sexism, Skepticism and Civility Online: An Interview with Jennifer Ouellette, now out on the CSICOP website!

It is a transcript of some of the interview I conducted for the Token Skeptic podcast three-part interview show, Episode 88 “On Codes Of Conduct Part II – Sexism, Skepticism And Civility Online”. Here’s a small section of it:

In one of those bemusing cases of synchronicity, on the same day that CSICOP originally published “On Codes of Conduct” in my Curiouser and Curiouser column, a similarly themed article was produced by Jennifer Ouellette on the Scientific American blog Cocktail Party Physics.

Jennifer Ouellette is the author of a number of science books for the general public includingThe Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Outbreak (Penguin, 2010); her work has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington PostNew Scientist, and Physics World, among other publications. She is currently working on her fourth book for Penguin, Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self. For two years, Jennifer served as the director of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a LA–based initiative of the National Academy of Sciences fostering creative collaborations between industry professionals in Hollywood and scientists.

Kylie Sturgess:  In your July article Is It Cold In Here? on the Cocktail Party Physics blog, you’ve written about the chilly climate that women can face in male-dominated environments, with an example of Linda Henneberg, who worked at CERN. How can you tell if there is a “chilly climate”?

Jennifer Ouellette:  Well, she talks a lot about subtle behaviors and sometimes not-so-subtle behaviors that made her feel unwelcome, that made her feel like she was not seen as a true part of the team. I think the line that most struck me was not the fact that some of the physicists were flirting with her and treating her with kind of this fatherly condescension but that the attitude was, “Oh, it’s so cute that you try.”

These are very, very small, subtle things and so I know why it’s hard for some people to understand why we are complaining about them. The point that I try to get across in my blog post is that there is a cumulative effect. These little tiny things add up, like little grains of sand can add up and form an avalanche and actually just wipe you out. Collective behavior, with lots of little things acting together in concert, can actually have a very damaging effect.

But to my mind you can tell immediately there’s a chilly climate when you test what happens when you bring these things up. Do people say, “Gosh, we never thought of that; we’ll try to do better so you feel more welcome,” or do they get defensive? Do they start attacking you and telling you you’re crazy?

I think in light of the things I was talking about in that particular blog post, to me that’s a very clear indication that there’s a chilly climate—when a woman cannot set boundaries, cannot say, “I would appreciate it if some of these behaviors didn’t happen. This is how I feel. Can we do something to change this culture to make people like me feel more welcome?”

If the response to that is an invitation to silence, as we would call it—or a sledgehammer to silence—then I think you have a problem.

Read the whole article at the CSICOP website at Sexism, Skepticism and Civility Online.

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