Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hypothesis: There are fewer women in science because their brains aren't suited to hostile work environments

I hadn't looked into the story of the (male) biology professor who was demoted for refusing to take part in a sexual harassment seminar, thinking I could safely ignore yet another conservative whiner who can't deal with being implicated in the problems he perpetuates. The "Sexism is terrible and pervasive, and how dare you imply I am part of the problem when obviously I hate sexism more than anyone ever!" hand-waving isn't fooling anyone. From the article:
McPherson maintains that his refusal has little to do with sexual harassment and much to do with individual dignity.
Uh huh, sure, because sexual harassment doesn't harm any individual's dignity, so we can ignore it in favor of some dude who doesn't want to feel like he's ever contributed to the problem. Professor McPherson's feelings are hurt, so let's stop paying attention to the people whose careers are derailed by ignorant jerks and make an exception for him and his illusions.

Refusing to learn anything new about sexual harassment isn't making McPherson look like the expert on the issue he must be if he is so far beyond the problem that it is an insult to try and give him new information about it. If he were really worried about individuals' dignity, he would put some effort into helping maintain it, instead of derailing the efforts others are making. It's just not possible to make this kind of stink in good faith, because if the University feels the need to inoculate itself against the risk of sexual harassment by taking a shotgun approach, it must rely on a certain amount of ignorance to be perpetuated. If McPherson is so knowledgeable on the subject, he should know this, and accept help in being proactive about informing the pockets of ignorance that exist in anyone's understanding of the world. I don't think he doesn't know this stuff, but I think he doesn't care if he's perpetuating the problem. Precautions aren't punishments. People are fallible, and need to anticipate when their weak areas will be pressed beyond what their own sense of decency can withstand.

I will admit that I don't think I, as an entry-level female who has a fair amount of experience thinking about these things, would learn a heck of a lot at this kind of seminar, but a potential victim's ignorance is not as dangerous as a potential perpetrator's. When you're a man in a position of power in a field that tends to exclude women from positions of power, and you exercise bad judgement, you ARE perpetuating the status quo. Losing the privilege that the status quo awards you feels random and unfair, but never having access to it feels that way too.
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