Calling out

Janet Stemwedel has a sharp and to the point post on sexism among scientists, The point of calling out bad behavior.

There’s a blog discussion of a particular guy and his particular sexism, with lashings of sexism-denial Bingo. Free speech! Whassa big deal?! Give the guy a chance to grow!

It’s almost like people have something invested in denying the existence of gender bias among scientists, the phenomenon of a chilly climate in scientific professions, or even the possibility that Dario Maestripieri’s Facebook post was maybe not the first observable piece of sexism a working scientist put out there for the world to see.

The thing is, that denial is also the denial of the actual lived experience of a hell of a lot of women in science (and in other fields — I’ve been sexually harassed in both of the disciplines to which I’ve belonged).

And the denial itself is part of the lived experience. So is the rage and sexist name-calling that goes with much of the denial.

I can’t pretend to speak for everyone who calls out sexism like Maestripieri’s, so I’ll speak for myself.

I saw a tweet earlier today – by a denialist – saying

Can we please just stop using this expression “calling out”? If you use it, you sound like a self-righteous, ideologically driven loon.

Really? That’s a strange claim. What’s wrong with the expression? Atheists call out theists talking nonsense. Lawyers call out people who talk uninformed nonsense about the law. Lots of kinds of people call out journalists on bad reporting. And so on. I wonder if the denialist was talking about Stemwedel’s article, or something else.

Stemwedel says what she wants.

  1. I want to shine a bright light on all the sexist behaviors, big or small, so the folks who have managed not to notice them so far start noticing them, and so that they stop assuming their colleagues who point them out and complain about them are making a big deal out of nothing.
  2. I want the exposure of the sexist behaviors to push others in the community to take a stand on whether they’re cool with these behaviors or would rather these behaviors stop.  If you know about it and you don’t think it’s worth talking about, I want to know that about you — it tells me something about you that might be useful for me to know as I choose my interactions.
  3. I want the people whose sexist behaviors are being called out to feel deeply uncomfortable — at least as uncomfortable as their colleagues (and students) who are women have felt in the presence of these behaviors.
  4. I want people who voice their objections to sexist behaviors to have their exercise of free speech (in calling out the behaviors) be just as vigorously defended as the free speech rights of the people spouting sexist nonsense.
  5. I want the sexist behavior to stop so scientists who happen to be women can concentrate on the business of doing science (rather than responding to sexist behavior, swallowing their rage, etc.)

2 is where we are mostly stuck right now. There are a hell of a lot of others in this particular community (to use that word for the sake of argument) who are refusing to take that stand, and in fact supporting people who engage in the behaviors.

And, I’ll level with you: while, in an ideal world, one would want the perpetrator of sexist behavior to Learn and Grow and Repent and make Sincere Apologies, I don’t especially care if someone is still sexist in his heart as long as his behavior changes.  It’s the interactions with other people that make the climate that other people have to deal with.  Once that part is fixed, we can talk strategy for saving souls.

Absolutely. Ditto. Same here. The first order of business is getting people to stop the fucking behavior. The improved attitude can come later, or we can leave that for the next generation. Repression is a good thing.