Someone who blogs at the CHE under the title “Female Science Professor” ruminates on how to respond to sexist comments.
The incidents themselves are not what generates the debate on my blog. Instead, the sometimes-heated discussion focuses on how I have chosen to respond to such slights: that is, my tendency to react in a calm, polite way, perhaps with a bit of humor or gentle sarcasm. Except in extreme cases, I prefer not to respond to insulting remarks with anger, and I try to move on with the research, teaching, or service task at hand.
No wonder there’s debate.
Granted, it’s sensible to respond calmly and politely, in a professional setting. You don’t want to turn purple in the face and shout a string of oaths. I understand that. But without anger?
No, and no, and no again.
Anger can be calm and polite. Be as icily calm and polite as Rex Harrison on a very cold day, but still be it with anger.
I’ll give you an example of one of these incidents: Not long ago, during a meeting of a somewhat prestigious committee, I openly disagreed with another committee member. He responded by noting that I was there only because “we needed a woman on the committee”—unlike the men, all of whom were apparently invited to serve because of their superior talents, wisdom, and experience.
He was trying to undermine me, and, therefore, my argument. My response was to ignore his statement entirely and continue to make a case for my opposing view. By remaining calm and professional, with a focus on the topic at hand, I think I was more effective than if I had acted defensively, traded insults, or walked out of the room in anger.
Yes but those three items don’t exhaust the possibilities. FSP could also have calmly but firmly pointed out the sexist nature of that remark before going on to make a case for her opposing view. (I couldn’t do that, in such a situation; I would instantly turn purple in the face and shout a string of oaths; but FSP sounds like the kind of person who could simply make the factual statement without flooding her system with adrenalin.)
I think it’s a mistake to ignore overt sexism. The more I see of it, the more I think it’s a mistake to ignore it.
H/t to Christopher Moyer for the link.