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[personal profile] jedusor
When I was in Chicago recently, I went to the university both of my adult brothers were attending and met some of their friends. After a particular conversation, I mentioned privately to my brothers that one guy had addressed my younger brother the entire time we were speaking--even, in multiple instances, while responding to things I had said. My younger brother thought about this for a moment and said, "Huh. I didn't notice that, but actually, you're right. He did."

My older brother rolled his eyes and said, "Fine, I get it, you don't like my friends." Then he hollered after the departing fellow in question, "Hey, my sister thinks you're sexist!"

I think, already having heard me talk the previous day about how the majority of male hockey fans I meet expect me to know nothing and express surprise or distrust when proved otherwise, my older brother was fed up with my endless complaints. To him, I seemed to be making mountains out of smooth, mole-free prairies. Quizzing a new acquaintance on a subject of mutual interest is nothing out of the ordinary, and correcting her with misinformation is a mistake anyone could make. Eye contact during conversation is a ridiculous thing to even notice, much less care about. I'm sure he knows that sexism exists, but it's something that happens when people get hired based on their gender, or in countries where women can't wear pants. It's a big deal. It's not about imaginary conversational slights nobody even notices unless they're dead set on finding something to be upset about.

Except I'm not imagining it, and sexism is about minor conversational slights. It is about the things we don't notice unless we're looking for them. Because even if we don't notice them, they have an effect. (Really, click that link at the beginning of the paragraph.) Perhaps especially if we don't notice them--because if a girl knows that these condescending speech patterns are being directed at other girls too, then it's easier for her to discount them. If she doesn't know that, she's more likely to assume she deserves to be talked down to and that her words aren't important.

This is the reason girls aren't going into science and tech fields. Overt sexism isn't gone, but it's not as socially acceptable these days, and almost all girls are told that they can do whatever they want when they grow up. They don't think they're incompetent because they're female--they each think that they, personally, are not competent enough for STEM fields, because their everyday interactions indicate to them that no one else thinks they are. It's all that little stuff, the stuff you think isn't important because you don't notice it. I can wave off the condescending male hockey fans because I know the Metropolitans won the Cup in 1917 and not 1907/the Habs have never come back from a 3-0 series deficit/Seabrook's penalty was charging, not boarding/a building designed for hockey is called an arena, not a stadium/whatever else they're wrong about today. But I couldn't do that until I developed a strong knowledge base. It's really discouraging for females of any age to start learning about a male-dominated subject, because for a while, every asshole who assumes you don't know anything is right.

This, Cordell, is why I point out minor sexist speech patterns. Because no, in the long run it doesn't really matter much that some guy told Clayton about his plans for his career instead of the person standing next to him who asked. But it matters that you don't believe it happened. It matters that you don't realize this is part of a larger, systemic pattern. And because you TA physics classes, some of which contain female students, all of whom deal with this shit on a regular basis, it matters that you don't think it matters.

Date: 2014-05-10 08:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There's a military axiom that says "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy."

I've often wondered why it is that sexism survives contact with women. I can almost get racism because it's pretty easy for a culture that isn't your own to present certain illusions of homogeneity. To some extent that's true for something like homophobia. Sexism though... We're talking about HALF OF HUMANITY and there just isn't the same opportunity for "most women" to appear homogenous in any meaningful way.

So yeah, case in point, I was raised to think soccer is a man thing and women will not know or care. But by the time I have a conversation with x number of women, even for a small value of x, that illusion is pretty much out the window.

So yeah. I don't get it.

Date: 2014-05-10 09:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Please don't take this the wrong way, but I feel like you've fundamentally misconstrued my take on this subject from the very beginning. I have never once disagreed with you about this.

You don't need to prove to me that sexism is a problem in STEM. I work in physics and math, and I can see it all around me every day. I've see it overtly all over the internet, and subtly in person. I try hard to be conscious of my own behavior, to do my part to improve the situation. As bad as they are now, I can tell that things are better than they used to be, and I'm optimistic that the trend will continue. However, your walking in spelling this all out to me like I don't know about it is not terribly constructive, and frankly sounds sexist in a whole different way. I wanted to believe that you gave me the benefit of the doubt, but I really don't appreciate being made into a public straw man like this.

On point, I believe you that Spencer didn't make much eye contact with you. Maybe it's because he didn't think you'd be interested in what he had to say, because you're a girl. Or, maybe it's because Spencer was trying to be conscious of sexism and not stare at you. Maybe it's because he's a 19 year old boy who gets nervous from female eye contact. Maybe you has a distracting little sprig of parsley on your upper lip. Many of those reasons are technically sexist, but can you see why bringing it up might sound like crying wolf? You're right that I felt a bit fed up with you at that point, though maybe not exactly for the reasons you thought.

Like many people, I deal with frustration with humor. Like much humor, it doesn't transcribe too well. For the record, I had heard the hall door close, so I knew he wasn't in earshot when I called out. It was humor at your expense, so I apologize if you didn't find it funny. We used to understand each other better than that. You did somehow manage to take offense when I told you that you hadn't made enough of your Thai peanut sauce, so I guess I should have known better. (If you still don't get that one, saying that you want more of something is high praise where I come from.)

In defense of my character, several of the lab sections I have taught were mostly women, some of whom have made it a point to tell me how much they appreciated me compared to other teachers. The only hiring decision I've ever made was voting for a woman, our new professor in Physics Education, Dr. Kustusch. The teachers who turned me onto math, astronomy, and physics were Ms. McHale, Ms. Sparks, and Ms. Williams respectively. Half the physics faculty at DePaul are women, despite the field being like 90% male-dominated. My own sister graduated with a bachelor’s degree before she turned twenty. Most of my personal role models are these women, and I emphatically do not believe that gender has any influence whatsoever on innate ability.

However, like I said, I have seen plenty enough sexism around me, including against those very same role models I admire. I don’t like it, and I’m fighting the good fight in the only way that I can, by being a STEM major who isn't sexist.

If you have any faults, Julia, it’s that you’re far too eager to tell others what you think is wrong with them. Despite the irony, that’s something I’ve wanted to say to you for a long time, and I have a strong suspicion that that’s why you’ve got so many burned bridges littering your past. I suppose that could be considered a good trait in a psychologist; maybe now you can take a look in the mirror and think about why there’s such a bad gender disparity in your own field.

Date: 2014-05-11 12:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I do not think this should have been public. Posting about institutional and social sexism is definitely something that should be talked about, and I think we're all on the same page here, but I don't see why Cordell and I had to have anything to do with this.

Let me just say, we all agreed that Cordell's friend did something that was a part of what causes academic sexism. If someone said differently, it was a miscommunication, because we have had this same discussion before. We know that we are the institution that you are attacking, and we know that we are not always able to recognize the effects of our own unconscious actions on others, but I can agree that little things like speaking to me instead of you are the things that should not occur. Thank you for pointing out when they do.

So please do not equate what Cordell said afterward ("my sister thinks you're sexist") with disagreement. Rather, please recognize that sometimes comedians mistake their audience.

What I'm trying to say is, if this is a post about sexism, personally calling out one person for something said in bad taste is a terrible way to communicate your issues with society. If this is a post about what Cordell said, implying that Cordell is condescending and sexist is a terrible way to communicate your issues with him.
Edited Date: 2014-05-11 12:48 am (UTC)

Date: 2014-05-11 06:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Not wanting to fuel a feud, but, wanting to say that I appreciate what you are saying here, Julia. I have found that the subtle sexism I've faced in my career has been more troublesome than the overt sexism. I happen to be the type of person who really can't always see something as malicious, and hates to fight over small points, but I have come to understand that the accrued toll this has taken over my career is not insignificant. Sometimes you have the fight the stupid stuff.

In the broader context of privilege, of which gender is one component, it feels to me that it is important to be very aware of all these things, all the little stuff that adds up, while not vilifying or dismissing those folks who fall on the luckier side of the line. Its hard to get both sides of that one right. Since I am astronomically privileged on many dimensions, but not on gender, its useful to remind myself where the balance needs to be.

Date: 2014-05-11 05:32 pm (UTC)

Date: 2014-05-12 04:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you for commenting. I appreciate the support; these things are sometimes very hard to say.

Date: 2014-05-12 04:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Julia. I am sorry that your brothers (who I presumeare the people behind the two scolding/dismissive posts in this comment thread) don't seem to get it.

Date: 2014-05-12 04:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I just had a very long conversation with the younger one, and got through to him a bit, but the one who precipitated the post has been saying some unbelievably terrible things to me. Thank you for commenting--it really helps to hear from people who don't think I'm just inventing things to be upset about.

Date: 2014-05-12 11:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for posting this, hooligan; I have studied this myself and it's frustrating to see how little things have changed over the past several decades. You write about the topic articulately, and it's good to be reminded about it.

And I understand your frustration with people who are close to you who don't share your outlook. That said, I was made VERY uncomfortable reading something that calls out specific individuals, a discomfort that increased significantly when it because clear that they were reading this. Personally, I know I have blithely made assumptions and comments based on my own privilege. When called out, I often get defensive about it at first, but if the person calling me out is sensitive, it may eventually lead to a shift in my worldview. In the cases when someone has attempted to publicly shame me, the effect is that I just get really annoyed with them and discount anything they have to say because it seems like a personal attack, rather than an invitation to open my mind.

I certainly understand the desire to pillory people who have upset you. However, it might be useful to take the time to decide if that the satisfaction derived from having others join you in your condemnation of others is worth the cost of losing the opportunity to educate them in a way that they might be open to.

Date: 2014-05-12 03:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It's not about satisfaction, dude. It's about the sheer number of times this type of concern has been dismissed by this person in the past when I've tried to bring it up. I was hoping that seeing other people agree would get it across to him that yes, this is a real problem, I am not making this shit up, and then maybe he wouldn't be an asshole about it this time. Obviously that didn't work out, but I did take the time to decide I wanted to do this.

Date: 2014-05-13 12:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
OK. Sorry for making (clearly incorrect) assumptions about your process here. I may not agree with your approach, but it's a reasoned one, and it's not my place to be judging it (especially as I don't have siblings, so I have no experience with that particular dynamic). I wish you the best of luck in finding a way to communicate this to the relevant parties. Because you totally GET it.

Will I see you in Portland?

Date: 2014-05-14 09:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Probably not, unfortunately. I'm thinking I want to do a road trip to California this summer to get the rest of my stuff from Grandpa's garage, and cross-country trips with hotel costs on the other side are pricy. But I haven't decided for sure yet.

Date: 2014-07-31 04:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think this might be an interesting addition to the conversation:


jedusor: (Default)

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