It took me far too long to get to this (most especially considering I've been subscribed to The Brain Scoop since the first video #internethipster ), but I feel it's touching upon the issue of the institutionalized sexism in STEM fields that's so multifaceted I'd have to write a book to properly cover it. Instead, here's a way-too-long blog post.
First, watch the video if you haven't already. I'm glad nearly 700,000 people have so far, and I'm even more glad it's got a 98% approval rating, which is exceptionally good for that many views (on a side, I have noticed a trend of decreasing approval rating tied to views that seems to work on a log scale, regardless of the content. 98-99% is possible below 100,000 but by 1,000,000 the best is around 95%. By the 10,000,000 mark 90% is the best you can hope for. This is terribly interesting to me and if I discover a magical portal in which time stops I will actually write it up). If all the comments Michael is reading don't make you uncomfortable, then maybe you and I shouldn't be friends.
The idea that the anonymity part and parcel with Internet comments breeds treating people like objects and not other humans has been covered to death, sometimes even in a rigorous and non-insipid manner, too. So we'd all like to assume the guys who left those comments are rightly embarrassed to hear them read aloud. And maybe that's true, but that's a separate, though related, issue.
To be clear, when I talk about how institutionalized sexism in STEM fields I mean:
1) The top positions are dominantly held by men, many of whom started their careers at a time when their fields were, top-down, almost exclusively populated by men.
2) With very few exceptions, tenured and tenure-track positions are becoming increasingly harder to come by. See also: funding. See also: lab space. See also: everything. So even more women entering STEM fields now won't necessarily balance out sex ratios in the future.
3) 6 years of grad school then at least 3 of post-doc - during the course of which one is generally expected to work 60 hours per week and for the first 2/3 of which one is living on subsistence wages - is the new standard in many fields, including my own. That puts a researcher in her 30s just to start her tenure-track career. So when someone says, "well, a woman don't have to choose between work and family," it's always with the assumption that that her "family" won't be dependent on her income or time spent at home.
4) Plus, women are TOTALLY still made to choose between work and family in STEM fields. If you can point me to one single researcher who has not in his or her life seen a candidate rejected because she is recently married and of child-bearing age, then you've found someone who is willfully ignorant or else just plain dumb. I've seen it. Everyone I know has seen it. Again, so much ink has been spilled on it that I feel I don't need to justify its existence.
I almost - in a perhaps foolishly-optimistic sense - feel like humanity's at a crossroads now. Or at least Americans. I see simultaneous and equally-vociferous debates going on about ingrained sexism in the skeptic community, the comic artist community, any number of science fields, and (as I'm sure you can't have avoided if you've used the Internet at all over the past year), the gamer community. Actually, I lied back there when I said they were equally-vociferous. The debate about sexism among gamers has spawned more vitriol than even I thought was possible, and I can imagine a lot of terrible stuff.
It always comes down to the same pair of arguments: 1) "but, but, biological imperitive! Reproduction! Sex drive!" and, concurrently; 2) "women are biologically inferior at [x] because of REASONS."
As someone who studies biology for a living, both these upset me to no small degree, because, like all tyrranies of logic, they stem from a tiny grain of truth and are surrounded by a thick bolus of bullshit. Yes, as a heteronormative male you are attracted to the curvy parts of ladies. And yes, you can totally probably get things off higher shelves and open more pickle jars than an average woman can. No one is questioning either of those. But would it be so difficult to use your smart human brain-meats to, oh, I don't know, consider that someone might serve purposes in addition to having sex at? And that maybe, all things considered, since your odds of making sex at said person are considerably low, you should pursue a social relationship with them along the lines of these other purposes? I know it's unusual, but it's totally something that even what the scientific community recognizes as the dumbest of monkeys (lookin' at you, geladas) manage to achieve. And I bet if you try REALLY HARD, you can, too.
The other point suffers from a combination of motivated reasoning and a lack of understanding of how statistics work. Just because, on balance, the average 12 year-old boy might perform better on a standardized math test than the average 12-year-old girl does not mean you are inherently better at science or math or video games or whateverthehell it is at which you claim a biological advantage. For one, many of those studies are deeply flawed, like a lot of sociology done in the 70s was. Like all of the 70s were. Sorry, 70s, but you kind of sucked in a big way.
Most of the pressure driving results like those that are actually rigorous is from societal factors, too. Boys are good at math so we push boys to be better at math. Once you remove that layer, too, any actual-biological effect - if there is any left - is so weak that making an argument of case-by-case difference is ludicrous on the face of it. Or worse, cultural anthropology.
There's only one thing left to this whole mess, and it's one that drive me up the wall the most because I know I was guilty of it, too, when I was younger: "but, but, I respect women! See, I left her a COMPLIMENT! How am I the bad guy here?" Again, think with your not-a-dumb-monkey brain. Do you leave comments on every interview with Benedict Cumberbatch talking about what a hottie HE is?
Okay, bad example. But you get my drift. If all you can say to a woman is how attracted you are to her, then it's pretty evident you don't consider her to be a fellow human being. By issuing endless compliments on looks, you're just making her a very dear object, but still an object. Most men drool over say, sports cars, or turf maintenance equipment (I like lawnmowers, okay? Leave me alone). Reacting to a woman based upon the shape of her body is doing just the same thing: making her into something you'd like to keep and have be pretty and show off. It took me a long time to realize that when I was doing this as a younger lad, it was just as toxic as misogyny. And that was a bitter pill to swallow. But I'm glad I did.
I know it's really hard, Internet, but the world would be so much of a happier place if we could just try, really hard now, to treat all other human beings like human beings. And I don't mean love everybody because, seriously, no. Just, y'know, recognize that you are not the only one capapble of mustering Theory of Mind. Can we try that, just for a bit? That'd be nice. Thanks, Internet. You're the best.
1) I'm sure Harry Reid discovering his balls for the first time ever will be misinterpreted quickly, so to be clear: the "nuclear option" of eliminating the filibuster and calling a simple-majority vote now only applies to non-SCOTUS nominations. Passing bills and appointing Supreme Court Justices will still be subject to the same interminable delays.
2) I have a very hard time seeing this as a not-good thing. The GOP has ensconced themselves as a permanent minority party by hijacking the eldritch parliamentary procedures of the Senate. All this does is a) make Congress ever-so-slightly-less-insipid, and b) force the GOP to actually consider the merits of appealing to a majority of Americans (as opposed to leaning on a very vocal minority), which they have not done since 2008.
If it makes the NFL more comfortable, we can study the effects of a Weird Al halftime show now, but not tell anyone about it for 40 years.
Please tell me this will air in the US before long. I hate having to BT stuff, but this is a particularly juicy carrot to be dangling in front of me.
On the other hand, the whole "Ohio State is over-rated" thing sure came to fruition, didn't it?
- Emory UniversityLead Research Specialist, 2011 - present
- Northwestern UniversityNeurobiology, 2000 - 2004
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