21 July 2011


Jennifer Ouellette, writing in Scientific American online, describes several incidents in which women receive unwanted romantic or sexual advances from men ~ and then those same women are held up to ridicule or abuse if they protest, however mildly. The experience is called "a chilly climate, and it describes not only overt sexism or sexual harassment -- which most people agree are unacceptable, at least in theory -- but the myriad unconscious diminishing behaviors that seem to proliferate in any male-dominated environment, whether it be a classroom, a boardroom, an Internet chat room, World of Warcraft, or an international physics laboratory.

" .... What constitutes chilling behavior? A teacher calls on the boys in class more than the girls. A CEO ignores what a woman says in a meeting but listens intently when a man makes the exact same point. A conference emcee mentions a female speaker's appearance rather than (or in addition to) her accomplishments, but feels no need to comment on the appearance of male speakers. A guy at an atheist/skeptics meeting hits on a young woman in an elevator at 4 A.M., ignoring the fact that she just spent the evening talking about how she hates being objectified at such gatherings.

"All these sort of things may seem tiny and insignificant by themselves, but they add up, and this produces a cumulative chilling effect that makes women feel unwelcome .... With all the other trouble in the world, why should we care about this? It's because those climate issues chase many women out of the hard sciences -- and indeed, out of any male-dominated community .... [Science blogger Rebecca Watson has been] vilified for over-reacting, for being a diva, a 'media whore', an attention-monger, a bitch, a man-hating feminazi, and a troublemaker who is deflecting attention away from far more important issues. She was accused of being anti-sex (as if), calling all men rapists (she did not), and was threatened with sexual assault .... Those who spoke up and came to her defense received similar treatment."

Given that neglect and abuse are changeable behaviors, Ouellette offers a Manifesto For Change, which includes the following suggestions:

~ "Ladies: even though you might not feel 100% welcome, grit your teeth and show up anyway, because there is power in numbers. Studies have showns that these chilling effects start to dissipate as communities approach 50/50 gender ratios.

~ "There are women out there who do not believe that this is an issue because they haven't personally experienced it, or have experienced things they feel are far worse. Please do not diminish the experiences and emotions of your sisters with skepticism.

~ "Foster top-down change. Leadership, especially male leadership, needs to set the tone for what is and is not acceptable in a community.

~ "Foster bottom-up change. Men at the grassroots level need to reinforce the leadership position and make it clear to their peers that such behavior is unacceptable."

Ouellette winds up nicely with these words ~ "Guys, why wouldn't you do this for people you claim to value and respect? These women are smart, sassy, strong, and yes, sexy. They're amazing. And they're your sisters in arms. It's time to step up and start acting like brothers. The next time you see a guy acting like a jerk around a woman, call him out: 'Dude, not cool .... you're going through life thinking girls don't like you cuz you're a nerd, when really it's because you're an asshole.' (see image below, click to enlarge) .... If a woman calls you out on your behavior, instead of getting angry or defensive, just say, 'Wow, I never thought of it like that. I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable. It wasn't intentional.' Cop to the behavior, and we can all move on."

A few thoughts of my own. As a self-changing man who has been a feminist/humanist for forty years (and I'm still learning and evolving), it amazes me that we're still having this conversation. But it shouldn't, I suppose. Gender roles and attitudes that were centuries in the shaping, will probably persist ~ though I'm happy to report that sexism, racism, and many other -isms are less prevalent among the young than among my generation, or my parents' generation.

There is one issue which bears thinking about -- when some individuals are challenged for making offensive remarks which denigrate an entire group of people (based on their gender, their race, their sexual orientation, their culture, their religion, their age, their disability, or their ideology), those individuals often attempt to deflect the challenge thus: "Oh, I'm so damn tired of always having to be politically correct. People have become hypersensitive, and they need to get over it." Wrong. YOU need to get over yourself, and realize that words are important. Language is powerful, and it matters. It is just as foul (not to mention wrong) to say "All men are pigs" as it is to say "All women are bitches." All group stereotypes ultimately hurt everyone, by limiting our thinking. The world is an amazing, diverse place, and if you cut yourself off from a chunk of humanity based on your own bigotry, it is you who loses.

Don't get me wrong. Some men do behave like pigs, and some women do behave like bitches. That's behavior ~ it doesn't define the total person, and it surely doesn't define whatever racial, gender, cultural, religious, age, or ideological group to which that person belongs. Whining over having to be politically correct isn't about the thought police or having to conform ~ it is a cover for refusing to take responsibility for one's own unfounded prejudices. I'm just sayin'.

No comments:

Post a Comment