Optimism? Don’t believe in it anymore

I must have a case of terminal cynicism, because I read this article with the thesis that there are signs of hope in the fight against academic sexism, and my heart just opened one eye and sighed flatulently.

Maybe you’ll be more receptive.

It just seems to keep happening, over and over, never ending. I suppose it doesn’t help to read it in the morning, when I’m drinking bitter coffee after going through and deleting my night’s accumulation of hate mail from dudebros.

Hmm. Maybe this isn’t the best way to start a day.


  1. Athywren - Frustration Familiarity Panda says

    404 – hope not found.
    I keep swinging between believing that it’s just the final backlash against the current feminist push before a landslide of positivity and change, and the depressing certainty that I won’t see much more progress in my lifetime.

  2. says

    From the linked article:

    When The New York Times published an article that quoted Marcy’s wife and was broadly sympathetic to him, more than 200 scientists signed a letter calling for its retraction. “The article gave more weight to his voice than to the students he has traumatized, and it is that exact practice that allowed the abuse to occur for as long as it did,” Laura Lopez, the Ohio State University astronomer who wrote the letter, tells WIRED in an email. The Times‘ public editor agreed.

    I’d be impressed if The Times public editor had ‘agreed’ before publishing the sympathetic article, which millions of people read, rather than issuing a tepid agreement and retracting the article.

    It seems like a lot is happening because before absolutely nothing happened, and any improvement, you know, but it seems like too little to me.

  3. says

    “And now, a famous Berkeley astronomer has been allegedly sexually harassing students for years.”


    I believe we had got somewhat beyond “allegedly” on that one.

  4. marcoli says

    There is more work to be done, since the existence of sexism pops up its head pretty regularly. But where you are a pessimist, I choose to be an optimist. Back when I was an undergrad and in grad school, we knew about profs pawing the undergrads, and getting them to sit on their lap. We knew about profs that made passes at grad students and several who slept thru several of their grad students. What happened? Nothing. Not ever.
    Now when this shit happens there is an elevated chance that the dudebro will get hashtagged and Twittered plenty good. Of course there is no sign yet that such males are no longer popping up — they keep coming– but at least they get spanked. Eventually. By just about everybody.
    Slow progress, but it is progress.

  5. Dreaming of an Atheistic Newtopia says

    The amount of cases we are hearing of is definitely depressing and despair inducing, but on the other hand it’s also cause for hope, as at least now these cases are not being kept quite, they are very much in the open for large amounts of people to see and be disgusted by. I also like to think that the excuses that inevitably follow one of these cases are loosing their ability to convince and becoming more transparently problematic…maybe….hopefully….please….?

  6. ravensneo says

    Oh do not despair! These cases were always there, they are just “allowed” to be discovered and reported now. Nothing new. This is good! You always say something like the first step in solving a problem is admitting there is a problem. Women know, the media now will publish it because it’s hot, and some men are beginning to understand. Some men of course will never admit there is a problem. Just like the racists. Disregard them and continue to educate. As the nature and frequency of the problem becomes better understood by the general public, it will become clear they are wrong. But they will always be there. That biologist in the article is correct–there will always be pushback in social media–to any recognition of a problem or proposed change.
    Start off your day with puppies. Really. YouTube of puppies and babies. Not YouTube comments to feminist videos. We need you to keep writing. Take heart!

  7. doublereed says

    Back in my father’s day, this wasn’t even considered a big deal. Now there are like a lot of articles and such condemning it. If anything, there’s a lot more awareness of feminism and intersectional issues nowadays than there ever was. We’ve got a much wiser generation growing up.

    What’s there to be cynical about?

  8. Raucous Indignation says

    Peez? “It just seems to keep happening, over and over, never ending.” Really? It doesn’t seem that way. It was happening. All the time. It is happening. All the time. Professors. Admissions. TA. Staff. You name the position; some man is doing it. Get your head outta you Minnesota butt. Be optimistic that ANY of them were disciplined.

  9. Amphiox says

    You know the old saying “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”?

    Not only for gender equality but for all progressive egalitarian causes, there will always be a regressive element that will seek to roll back equality because they will personally benefit.

    The day you THINK the fight is won, and stop fighting, is the day you start to lose it all again.

  10. psanity says

    Tiny bits of optimism. I found this a bit cheering over the weekend; too bad it’s taking so long to achieve the critical mass of non-dudebros, but we’re sneakin’ up on ’em, here and there …

  11. Jason Dick says

    These stories do give me some hope. This kind of shit has been going on probably about as long as there have been universities. The fact that these reports are finally being shown to the light of day means that we have a chance of drastically reducing this kind of behavior.

    Sadly, academia is slow to change in general. Coming close to eliminating this problem will take a long time, and a lot of people will get hurt along the way. But having this kind of crime come to light is a necessary step in ending it.

  12. Callinectes says

    There are worse things to be than a terminal cynic. Such as a profoundly disappointed optimist.

  13. Al Dente says

    my heart just opened one eye and sighed flatulently.

    PZ, you definitely have to give your body to an anatomist or physiologist when you die. Your heart must be truly unique.

  14. kevinalexander says

    This kind of shit has been going on probably about as long as there have been universities.

    This shit has been going on since sex was invented. What humans have is the ability to recognize it and say no to it.
    Which, as others have pointed out , is happening so there’s no reason for pessimism, maybe just frustration that it’s taking so long.

  15. Gregory Greenwood says

    We are making progress on this; painfully slow, limited progress but progress all the same. That said, and as much as I dislike borrowing military jargon, we need to remember that all these gains are very much fragile and reversible.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think we will see a day soon (or perhaps ever) when we can erect a tombstone and inscribe it with the words ‘here lies sexism – rest in pieces you arsehat’. This kind of misogyny – like all forms of bigotry – is going to resurge from time to time. We have to be ready to fight the good fight over and over again until we can go on no longer, and then trust that there will be others waiting to take up the torch of being a decent human being when our strength finally falters. That we won’t achieve total victory for a really long time (if ever) does not mean that things can’t get better in the interim, or that it isn’t possible to take steps to marginalise and isolate sexual predators and make society a better, safer place by it. For now we need to just keep on keeping on, just as we have been doing for decades, and enjoy whatever victories, however small, we achieve along the way.

  16. kaboobie says

    Caine @ 2:

    Unfortunately, the article was not retracted. The referenced statement from the public editor reads:

    The science editor, Celia Dugger…strongly defended the article’s author, Dennis Overbye, who has been criticized by those who say he was too friendly with Mr. Marcy to write an objective article. And she said that The Times stood by its article, and that there would be no retraction.