Repost: I Am…

October 19, 2012

There was a blogpost responding to the Maestripieri comment that noted a tendency for more mainstream outlets to emphasize the complaints of women over those of men. I rush to disagree since it happens that Isis and Janet Stemwedel are eloquent and quote worthy. My post was little more than a “don’t do this”.

Nevertheless it would be bad if there were any impression generated that only women thought the remarks of Maestripieri were out of line. Men object too.

Although this is only part of a complex reason, I was reminded of this previous observation of mine.

I am a friend. A friend to women who I met when I was 5 years old, ones I met in high school, college, grad school. Women I met as a postdoc, as a faculty member, as an inhabitant of my community. They work in any number of professions from publication to politics to public health to scientific research to mainstream media to education, etc, etc. Many different walks of life. Many of them experience uncomfortable moments, sustained toxic work environments and/or flagrant discrimination in their working lives. I like my friends. Their continued happiness and well being is important to me.

I am a boss and a mentor. Women work for me and with me on my various professional activities. In my laboratory or in their own. Sure, I appreciate them professionally for the cool science we can do together. But they are great people as well. People who I like and respect. Their continued happiness and well being is important to me. When they face uncomfortable or discriminatory work conditions based on their gender…it matters. To me.
I am a husband. My spouse is a professional person working, as it happens, in the sciences. Her happiness and well-being…..those are essential to me. Essential. If she faces uncomfortable or discriminatory work conditions it matter. A lot.
I am a father. Of a nonzero number of miniwomen. The eventual professional development and attainment of any daughter of mine will be influenced by views on the role of women in the workplace and in specific professions. It is important to me that things are more accepting and equal when that time comes.

Why are you preaching, DM?” you will ask. We love our spouses, children, colleagues, trainees and old friends as well. Their happiness is important to us too.
Is it? How can you possibly leer at some stranger’s picture on the internet and “compliment” her on her physical appearance while professing frank ignorance of her work which is the subject of the forum? How can you possibly snicker that “she prolly likes the attention, hur, hur, hur“? (Hint: She doesn’t)
If you have a wife or a sister or a female friend or colleague that you respect in your life….how can you possibly think it is understandable, okay or remotely defensible to talk about physical attractiveness in a professional context?
It is not.
So where do we go from here? Punching you right in your ignorant nose is right out, much as I would like to do so. On behalf not merely of Sheril but of my friends, employees, trainees, spouse, offspring and women everywhere. And for myself. I take this nonsense personally.
This is not the most productive of stereotypical male traits, I realize. We can try to explain the deficiencies in your world view. Try to explain to you why your supposedly harmless little comments and compliments are hurtful. I do hope you are listening to what you are being told.
Try to get beyond your tendency to want to make this all about you and your freedom to spout whatever you want, wherever you care to. It isn’t about you and the festering resentment you harbor for attractive women, cheerleaders or whatnot that failed to give you the time of day in high school and college. This is about making the world a better place for all of us.

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