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?