Friday, April 8, 2011

Women and Self-Respect

Instances when even highly-educated, powerful women allow themselves to be treated with a complete lack of respect annoy me to the point where I just get extremely angry. Female Science Professor describes on her blog the following situation that took place during a meeting with a group of male colleagues:
TWICE during the first half hour of the meeting, somewhat out of context, and completely gratuitously, one of The Guys mentioned that I was only part of this group because "they had to have a woman". He hastened to say that he was totally on board with this because he recognized the realities of the world today. Diversity has been deemed to be important -- although he noted that he has seen no evidence of the discrimination that some women in our field claim to experience -- so our group should be diverse.
So what do you think this scholar did in response?  Told this jerk and the group of losers who just sat there quietly in the meanwhile exactly how far they could stick their group and their diversity into their assholes? Not even close.
What did I do when my esteemed colleague made his "FSP is a token" comments? I calmly changed the subject to one more relevant to the meeting, made a point that no one else had thought of, got complimented (by someone else) for having noticed something that had long been overlooked by other members of the group, and basically just moved on with the tasks at hand. I am a useful member of this committee, and I will continue to contribute for as long as it is worthwhile for me to do so.
She gets insulted by some creepazoid and her response is to try to prove that she is useful. When I first read this, I thought it was some kind of joke. This is taking place in a civilized country in the twenty-first century, and a woman whose professional qualifications have been dismissed in such an offensive manner meekly and submissively strives to demonstrate her usefulness and celebrates that one of the jerks in the group complimented her. Has the world suddenly gone insane? I wonder, if she thanked the kind sir and master for acknowledging her usefulness with a compliment.

If something like that ever happened to me, I would immediately and very vocally inform the losers of the group that I despise them and will not find myself in their company until every single one of them issued a public apology to me. Then, I would inform the entire university community exactly of what happened. And finally, I would publish the story on my blog with names and, if possible, pictures of every jerk in that group. 

Women who put up with this treatment signal to the offenders that it is perfectly fine to insult and dismiss their female colleagues in such a way. If the FSP wonders where such jerks come from, I can tell her: they are encouraged daily by meek, weak and sad women like herself. We, the women, form half of the population of this planet. Together with men who are our allies in the belief that women are valid human beings, we are a huge power. We do not have to put up with crap. Let's stop sitting there like silent little robots, smiling and trying to prove our usefulness. Let us finally start telling the jerks that it is not OK to treat us like crap. Let's form our own groups and decide whom we accept based on their usefulness to us. 

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does this mean that you oppose positive action for women?

Clarissa said...

What's "positive action"?

J. said...

And I would have made a single, drier-than-the-driest-martini comment to the effect of, "and you don't even see the irony in that last comment, do you?" (to the guy who said, "well, I don't see any evidence of discrimination, but hey, we need to be diverse")...

And then at the end of the meeting, after I had had time to formulate the perfect three-or-fewer sentences to indicate that this kind of behavior, attitude, and generally disrespectful speech would no longer be tolerated. I would deliver them with icy calm, and then I would get up and leave the room.

I can't off the cuff come up with those three-or-fewer sentences right now, which is partly why I would wait until the end of the meeting to say them. It's an introvert thing.

But I'm with you--I would not tolerate it.

Clarissa said...

Exactly. There are many things that can be done to call the person on their bigotry. Trying to prove you are useful and fishing for compliments seems like the worst reaction possible.

FrauTech said...

I totally get what you are saying. The fact that her immediate impulse was to prove her worth (aren't we always trying to prove our worth? keep our place?) is sad. But not sad that it's her fault because I have been in her place before and been so dumbstruck that I did not have a response ready. And sometimes I get so tired of fighting back I just don't care.

Anonymous- if someone said something incredibly racist in front of you and you called them out on it, isn't that a positive action?

Clarissa said...

I know what you mean about not knowing how to answer back on the spot. However, now some time has passed and this scholar still describes herself as a token who adds value to a group because of being female and still has not condemned the offenders on her extremely popular blog. She just keeps posting the story on different blogs but it's alwyas couched in the same terms.

Lindsay said...

That is really sad, although I can totally see being tongue-tied in response to such a rude comment.

Her response makes sense to me in another way, too --- if I was called a token, my first thoughts would be along the lines of, "What? Can this be true? No, they called me here because of my research on [whatever], just like these guys were included because of their academic qualifications!"

I can see her wanting to show them that she is just as qualified as they are, even though I also agree with you that confronting them with their sexism was a bad idea, and probably means they'll go on thinking of their female colleagues as ornamental non-contributors.

In other words, you're right, but at the same time I can empathize with her and find her response understandable, if flawed.

Pagan Topologist said...

I am reminded of a comment about encountering racism by Samuel R. Delaney. I have not been able to find it online, so I will summarize it.

When Delaney won his first Hugo award (one of the highest honors given in the Science Fiction community) a speaker said in effect that the sf community had fallen victim to political correctness and had given Delaney the award just because he was black. Delaney did not challenge him at the time, and later, after actually reading Delaney's book, the man who had made this racist remark went on to be one of Delaney's strongest supporters. Had Delaney called him on his racism, he would probably never have read the book at all, and Delaney would have acquired an enemy, not a supporter.

The point is that responding to stupid attacks just provides the attacker with attention and encourages more stupid attacks. It is often a sign of weakness, not of strength.

Pagan Topologist said...

To continue, I think FSP did exactly the righr thing. The committee mamber who made the remark was not worth her contempt, let alone her attention.

Clarissa said...

'The committee mamber who made the remark was not worth her contempt, let alone her attention'

-Apparently, FSP disagrees with you. Since this happened, she's been writing endless posts on this subject on different blogs. Obviously, it bothers her a lot. It seems kind of unfair that while she frets and worries about all this, the offender doesn't even know that he didn't anything wrong.

Do you think we have the right to condemn somebody behind his back for, say, having a nasty body odor when we never tell the person they do?

How is this male colleague is supposed to know that his comment was wrong if nobody tells him?

Clarissa said...

As for Delaney, I wouldn't want to have a jerk like that speaker as my fan. Neither would I want him to read my books.

Personal dignity should not be for sale.

Pagan Topologist said...

You certainly have the right to confront people who disrespect you; anyone does. The only question is whether it is always the best strategy. I think the answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no. It will make you feel better, no doubt, but there may be a long term cost.

I have been ridiculed (though not recently) for speaking with an Appalachian accent, for having long hair, and for studying ballet. I have generally ignored it. Getting a reputation for being overly sensitive, even if the reputation is not deserved, is not usually helpful.

Clarissa said...

My friend, helpful to what? What can possibly be worth sitting there with people who just told you that to them you are just a token, a whole on legs, nothing else? What can possibly justify such an intense humiliation?

Michelle said...

"I wouldn't want to have a jerk like that speaker as my fan. Neither would I want him to read my books." Then what is your motivation for calling people out?

GMP said...

Clarissa, I agree with you, especially the aspect that one should not expect anyone else to stand up for her -- if you want someone put in their place, you have to do it yourself. However, I also know what Pagan Topologist is saying -- being known for being overly sensitive is not a good thing. Our society values control very highly, especially of one's own emotions (perhaps I should be talking only of us "liberal elites" at universities? 'Cause there sure are plenty of people quite accepting of wild claims and inflammatory political rhetoric, but that's a topic for another post). Anyway, in the academic circles at least, showing that you are upset (even if rightfully so) is viewed by many as a sign of weakness. Goes double for women, who are always on the verge of being perceived as humorless, overly sensitive, or hysterical.

Pagan Topologist said...

They eventually realize that you are not going to rise to the bait so they can continue to dismiss you with contempt. You refuse to put wind into their sails. Eventually, they come to respect you, and the earlier attempts to dismiss you as somehow inferior are forgotten. I have seen this happen in my own life, both personally and professionally. I have gone from being someone ridiculed to being someone respected just by ignoring the silly buffoons who wee disrespecting me.

Curiously, I have never been disrespected for being Pagan, although I wondered if it might happen. I have always been open about the fact, although some Pagans are secretive about their religious practices for fear of consequences.

Clarissa said...

Why anybody beyond the age of 15 would care about how they are "perceived" is beyond my understanding. If that's what FSP is really worried about, then I'm shocked by her immaturity.

Good thing that all those folks who foughtt for our right to vote, our civil rights, etc.weren't as worried about how they would be "perceived".

Pagan Topologist said...

How one is perceived affects how much difference one can make when discussing important issues. As one simple example, if you are taken seriously, courses you believe are important are less likely to be eliminated in the face of budget problems.

Clarissa said...

I think I'm not getting understood here. In no way to I want the jerks like the ones who were at that meeting to respect me. I'd think that something was seriously wrong with me if such crappy people respected me.

I just want them ti stop making nasty comments to women. That's all I want. The only way to make them stop is to a) inform them that these are, in fact, unacceptable, nasty comments and b) punish them for making these comments.

As a woman in the field of Hispanic Studies, I have heard much nastier remarks directed at me. Every single time, I would raise hell. I have no idea how those jerks perceived me. I actually couldn't care less. But today I don't have to carry around the burden of allowing some losers spit on me.

Clarissa said...

"As one simple example, if you are taken seriously, courses you believe are important are less likely to be eliminated in the face of budget problems"

-I don't think that this is how it works at all. A person who has a recognizable name as a scholar, who gets grants, who has a stack of publications and stellar student reviews, can afford very easily not to listen to nasty remarks from idiots. Such a person can also afford to have a hissy fit every single day.

I have had a professor who was a total drunk. Several times, courses had to be cancelled in the midst of the semester because she would go into a drunken spell. Nobody touched her because she was an absolute and total genius.

So I really cannot believe these stories that telling a jerk that you will not listen to his insults will get one's courses cancelled. If the courses are in high demand, nobody will cancel them because of that.

GMP said...

I don't think perception is irrelevant in professional circles. For example, in my department, there are those who are well-respected -- some of them are brilliant, but most are not, still they do command respect for other reasons, not all of which I can articulate. Then there are those considered buffoons. Nobody really takes the buffoons seriously, and what they say on any departmental issue carries very little weight. Maybe a person needn't care about how he/she is perceived by others in the context of his/her own self-esteem, but perception/reputation/whathaveyou is certainly important in interpersonal interactions and whenever you try to get anything done as part of a department or any professional group.

Clarissa said...

And the people who are respected are the ones who allow themselves be insulted in public? Who sit there meekly when subjected to disrespect and try to prove their usefulness? I don't believe that.

Last semester we had an important issue to resolve at my department. Everybody voted in favor of a certain crucial motion. Everyone except me. It isn't easy being a new member of the department, untenured, a junior colleague and still hold your ground against everybody else. But I did what I had to do and defended my opinion against everybody else.

After the meeting every single person came up to me to say how much they respected the strength of my convictions even though they disagreed with my opinion. And I felt good not because of anybody's approval but because I did what I knew was right.

Since then, I have not suffered any persecution, marginalization or anything of the kind.

ginmar said...

"If that were me...." And you should have stopped there, because that's an arrogant thing to say and indicates that you have no real understanding that you aren't Princess Sparklepony and that you aren't the perfect example that everybody should emulate. She had her reasons. She explained them. You're not sensitive enough to admit complexity.

Clarissa said...

And here we have yet another one in the long line of readers who wants to prevent me from expressing my own opinions on my own blog.

Anonymous said...

In answer to "What's positive action?", I confess I have expressed myself badly. I'll put my point in a different way.

FSP said:
"I have known all along that I was asked to join the group in part because I am female"

Would she not have done better to refuse to serve on this committee unless it was clear to her and all others that she was there for her abilities alone?

Clarissa said...

Yes, absolutely.

The truth of the matter is, though, is that she is only a token because she believes she is one. The truth of the matter is that people get asked to serve on committees, panels, etc. completely irrespective of their gender. This whole issue only exists in the minds of FSP and the jerk who made this stupid comment.

Stephanie said...

I am a lawyer working in the field of child protection and I am often the victim of crass remarks from colleagues. Last week one of them, during a meeting attended by several other professionals called me “Sweetie”. My instinct was to walk out and refuse to return until I received an apology. The trouble was that I was representing a mother who had her children (wrongly) removed from her care; she was desperate to have contact with them and my task was to negotiate a way to this end. The jerk was a lawyer acting for child care professionals whose advice would be followed by the court. I really needed to get this creep onside. If I had walked out, my client the mother would be the one to suffer. I tried to point out to the jerk, with good humour that he was being patronising, but at the end I felt degraded. Should I have made a stand at the expense of the interests of my client? I don't think I should, but what else could I have done?

Clarissa said...

These situations are markedly different, Stephanie. You were representing your client and your code of professional ethics requires that this become your main priority.

FSP wasn't defending anybody's interests. She was just trying to buy acceptance through agreeing to be humiliated. As a result, she sold out herself and every female student who will be insulted by this jerk in the future under a conviction that women like being treated this way.