Was the Science Careers website right to pull That Advice? Morag says yes. (Jane says no).
Yesterday (June 1st) the Science careers website had a blink-and-you-missed it advice column that caused a wee bit of a stooshie over some rather controversial advice given by Dr Alice Huang, noted virologist. The column was quickly removed by the website, but because Nothing Ever Truly Dies on the Internet, let’s talk about it anyway.
So basically this woman is all “My supervisor keeps trying to look down my shirt.” Her pseudonym is ‘Bothered’, so let’s assume this is bothering her.
My completely 100% fair and unbiased summary of the response, in short, easy-to-digest chunks:
- Imagine what life would be like without people you fancy in the world. IMAGINE. NOBODY YOU FANCY. This is a relevant observation for reasons that… well, if you don’t know then I can’t help you.
- Fun anecdote: I had a friend who was reduced to a state of lust-induced catatonia by a nice straight nylon seam, poor boy.
- Sexual harassment law is for proper stuff like assaults and threats and grades-for-sex, so…
- Though I guess if you were really bothered by it that would count. Are you really bothered by it? Like I know you signed this letter ‘Bothered’, but really? REALLY?
- Basically, you need this guy to get through your PhD, so do you actually want to rock the boat on this? Thought not. Run along, there’s a good girl. Jesus, kids these days…
Yeh, it’s not a good letter.
The fact is, many women have had their moments where they’ve been leered at a bit, whether consciously or unconsciously on the part of the leer…er, and have decided it wasn’t a big deal and just ignored it and moved on. This girl was troubled enough to write for advice about it. Once you’re that bothered, we are out of the ‘just ignore it’ territory.
So far, so predictable humourless feminist harpy response, and to be honest I could end this article here, but I want to make a tangential point that I think is relevant here so don’t leave yet HEY SIT DOWN I SAID.
A few of the folk have talked about the fact that this woman is probably a million years old, grew up in a different era and is being called upon to give advice to today’s aspiring young women, and basically I think the take-home lesson here is pretty simple:
Women: Do not listen to your elders.
Not about this sort of stuff, anyway. I’ve run into this before, where I was at a ‘Women In Science’ panel discussion where the panellists – all older women revered in their field and all folk who I think are totally amazing by the way – talked about how they’d had no trouble really, they just worked with great men who didn’t care, they just didn’t give up, they just did their thing and ‘everything just went right for them’ (one properly famous Woman In Science actually said this).
Another prominent female scientist of my wider acquaintance was heard to say that: “it’s easy to balance work and home as a woman in science: you just make sure you find a man who’ll do the childcare.” Simples (particularly for us lezzers).
Most of these women, these awesome, remarkable, scary women, are not going to tell you anything useful about being a Woman In STEM unless you are already one of the types who are ‘robust’ enough to succeed anyway. All they can tell you is: “Be a ballbreaker.” What if you’re not a ballbreaker? All they can tell you is: “Be lucky.” What if you’re not lucky? All they can tell you is: “Ignore him, and make sure he’s paying attention to your work.” What if you can’t ignore him? What if you’re not sure whether he’s paying attention to your work or has been reduced to a quivering wreck by your décolletage, and are too intimidated to ask?
In short: What if you’re just a smart, dedicated, hardworking scientist or techy who wants to get on with her job, not blaze an Amazonian trail leaving the corpses of lesser warriors strewn in your wake? Sure, STEM is competitive, but if you’ve worked in the field for any length of time you’ll know that there’s no shortage of guys who can barely string a coherent sentence together without collapsing in a nervous mess who are nevertheless powerful and respected on the merit of their work, and yet the women have to be fucking Xena crossed with Hillary Clinton crossed with Mother Theresa just to get by? How is that fair?
Okay that was a rhetorical question; clearly it’s not fair, but what’s worse is your Matriarchs of STEM have nothing useful to tell you about how to get by as one of these non-Valkyrie women, because they’re all Valkyries. Very few of the shy ones who didn’t enjoy being ogled made it, and the ones who did are all hiding, not appearing on panels or writing advice columns.
This actually goes for younger women who say that same stuff too. Like, no one would dare ogle me but if they did I wouldn’t care, but my response to women who are not like me is not “Be more like me. Cease to care. Just… don’t be bothered.” If not being bothered just isn’t an option then what? A career in science isn’t for her because she can’t ignore a dude looking at her boobs to the point where it perturbs her?
So basically, this is shitty advice, withdrawing the article was totally the right thing to do on the part of the Science Careers website, and these women need to learn that just because they had to be terrifying and indomitable and immune to creepers as well as brilliant to get by in STEM doesn’t mean the next generation should have to be the same. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just be brilliant?
And y’know, not have to put up with some dude staring down our top to get Science done?
Addendum, 03/06/2015: It’s been dawn to my attention that this phenomenon is actually an example of survival bias. I was aware that what I was describing was a type of selection bias, but it (stupidly!) didn’t occur to me that it was actually its own subtype. YAY LEARNING!