“I Support Gender Equity In Principle…”

June 11, 2007

UPDATE: I have appended some text to this post at the end. I have closed the comments on this post because they have become so unpleasant all around and I don’t think further dialogue here is serving any positive purpose. If you disagree with me, I’m sorry. I’m also sorry I didn’t do this a lot sooner.
I was browsing around Absinthe’s blog looking for something in an old post when I happened across an entry I had missed. It seems Absinthe has taken down an older post discussing the differential treatment of two physicists – husband and wife – at Fermilab.
The post commented on an article in a Fermilab publication. The article

…painted the couple as living in “physics [paranirvana]”. [N .B. The square brackets are in Absinthe’s post.] However, I knew the couple, and knew that they were seperately being treated far differently on the experiment, despite the fact that they began their degrees at the same time and at the same university (and, if I am not mistaken, with the same supervisor). The husband got assigned a nice analysis early on, and will be graduating this year. The wife got assigned a year and a half more service work than her husband, and only relatively recently has been allowed to start doing physics full time. She tells me she will likely be graduating a year or more after her husband because of all the extra service work she had to do. She says she is so “sick of the BS” of particle physics that she will be leaving the field after she gets her degree. This is a shame, since she is one of the best students I had the pleasure to work with at the lab. She is an excellent physicist, and I don’t give out praise like that lightly.

Why did Absinthe take the post down?

I recently removed the post because the couple complained to me about their names appearing in this blog. In particular, the husband was very upset because he said that even though he supported gender equity in principle, he didn’t want his name associated with the issue in cyberspace. The wife sent a separate e-mail wherein she described the hell she had been going through on the experiment since I had left it. [emphasis mine]

I don’t know the nature of their relationship and how they personally deal with the inequity visited upon them in the workplace. But I do know this. The kind of attitude displayed by the husband is the kind of attitude that helps to support continuing gender inequity. I am not saying he is directly responsible for his wife’s poor treatment. I am saying he is responsible for being willing to tolerate it to the extent that he doesn’t even want it discussed in a blog. Attitudes like that implicitly convey to others that inequitable treatment will be tolerated by other members of society, so go right ahead, discriminate your hearts out.
Why Mr. Husband behave this way? Having their situation discussed openly in a blog more or less forces him to face up to the very unpleasant idea that perhaps some of his success is NOT due entirely to his own talent and hard work. Perhaps, just perhaps, some of his success is due to the fact that he was given an unfair advantage because of that magical appendage dangling between his legs. I am not saying he is not a good physicist. I am saying, he didn’t get where he is now entirely due to his own hard work and talent. Gender inequity cuts two ways; women get screwed over, and men get an extra helping hand. Mr. Husband does not want to Rock The Boat, not now while it is sailing along so nicely with the island of Career Success For Approved Physicists in view. And the captain just handed him a beer! Mrs. Wife is way back at the docks, paddling along in a leaky canoe, but don’t look back; she’ll surely catch up eventually.
This is why giving more than lip service to gender equity is so difficult for some men; it means facing up to their own unearned advantage. For this husband, it would seem Absinthe’s post made the facing up a little too much in-your-face.
“I support gender equity in principle” is not good enough. Being privately supportive and lending a listening ear to your beleaguered spouse is not enough. Being a private and personal “nice guy” will never do anything to effect real change. “Nice guys” who listen to and console the victims of gender bias are one step better than those who don’t believe it occurs at all. But they don’t go far enough.
ADDENDUM
I’m appending this text to my original post because my conscience impels me to do so.
When I first read this post and this one on Absinthe’s blog, I was left with the impression that Mr. Husband had asked Absinthe to remove her original post from her blog. I was upset by several things, which I shall list here.

  • Absinthe was commenting on a published story in the public domain, and contextualizing it with publicly available data. This is something that bloggers do all the time. She was perfectly within her rights to do this. ANY blogger would have been perfectly within their rights to do the same. As a fellow blogger, it upset me that she was apparently badgered into taking down a completely legitimate post.
  • It bothered me that Mr. Husband was okay with having his name in print in support of painting a rosy picture of what it’s like to be a married woman physicist at Fermilab – a happy sort of fiction – but was not okay with having his name on a blog commenting on that same story, where the point was to try and take off the rose-colored glasses and look more clearly at the situation. However you slice it, that’s taking a stand that’s far closer to maintaining the status quo than not. It is NOT a neutral position.
  • After reading Absinthe’s posts, I was under the impression that Mr. Husband had asked her to take the original post down, not just remove his name from it. This, to me, constituted suppression of information about gender inequity at Fermilab.

If you wade through the muck that is the comments thread on this post, you will see near the bottom that Absinthe says here that Mr. Husband did ask her to take the post down. Then she says here that he did not, that he only asked her to remove his name from the post (in response to his denial of having asked her to take the post down). Two days later she wrote on her blog that the couple asked her to take the post down.
At this point, I do not know if Mr. Husband asked for the post to be taken down, or not. Only Absinthe and Mr. Husband know for sure. Personally, I am no longer interested in the debate on this issue, and I will tell you why in a minute. If people want to continue debating this issue, they can take it to Absinthe’s blog. This post is closed for comments. As for myself, re-reading Absinthe’s posts, I fault myself for not being more cautious in my interpretation of them, and/or for not contacting her and asking for clarification on the issue of how the post came to be taken down. I made an assumption, and that’s not good.
Here is why further debate is not of interest to me:
If I had thought, prior to writing my post, that Mr. Husband had NOT asked Absinthe to take the post down – that he fussed about the post, and the inclusion of his name so much that Absinthe herself made the decision to take the post down in order to mollify him or make peace – I would still have written my post, BUT – and this is key – I believe, though I cannot say for sure, that I would have written the post differently. I would still have been upset, but I would probably have been somewhat less upset, and that MAY have affected what I wrote.
Note that the original post does NOT make reference to Mr. Husband asking Absinthe to take the post down. Nevertheless, when I was writing it, I had that belief in my mind, so it in all likelihood colored my writing.
What we are left with, for certain, is Mr. Husband writing to Absinthe to complain about the post and about the inclusion of his name; both parties agree to this much. Even if he did not ask her to take the post down, his complaint was significant enough to push her to do so.
Bloggers who think of themselves as akin in some ways to journalists ought to be bothered by this, and I’m annoyed with my fellow bloggers who don’t find THIS behavior of Mr. Husband problemmatic, even if they don’t give a shit about the gender equity stuff.
For those who do care about gender equity, Mr. Husband’s behavior still ought to stick in your craw. Here is a gentleman whose wife has been demonstrably discriminated against in her graduate work while his own career has had smooth sailing – through no fault of his own, this cannot be emphasized enough. Gender inequity has worked against her and for him. And what is his reaction to someone who wants to call attention to this and advocate on behalf of women in physics? His attitude is: I’d rather you didn’t. I’d rather you not make it real. Because when somebody Googles my name they will find this post and, well, I don’t want that to happen. It makes me look bad.
Instead of: Glad you’re taking on this battle – we certainly can’t afford to from our tenuous positions in academia.
I suggested Mr. Husband was having a bad reaction to the post because he was having a hard time facing up to how gender inequity had privileged him as well as disadvantaged his wife; Mr. Husband declares this is not so. I’ve suggested Mr. Husband is unhappy with the post because he is mistakenly interpreting it to paint HIM as a discriminator; Mr. Husband declares this, too, is not so. Very well. He just…doesn’t want his name on it…for some reason. Because…people will see it there. And…it’s not nice.
People will think he didn’t earn his PhD. This is an anxiety he admits to – that if we talk openly about gender inequity at Fermilab, if we talk about privilege as well as discrimination, and attach his name to it, people will think he didn’t earn his degree.
This is hooey. Nobody said gender inequity means he got handed a PhD for doing no work. When men insist on misinterpreting the meaning of privilege in this way, it functions as a blocking strategy that keeps them from having to really examine how inequity operates. And that helps keep the wheels of inequity turning.
And that’s why, when men ask women not to talk about gender inequity, no matter what the form their request for silencing takes, it makes me mad. And I write about it.

  1. Cats are Snakes
    June 11, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    Hell’s yeah! I am especially disgusted at the behavior of Mr. Husband, an obviously educated man. I puzzle at the behavior of Ms. Wife and wonder why she has not kicked him to the curb.
    Anyone who supports anything in principle only doesn’t support it at all.

  2. June 11, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    The kind of attitude displayed by the husband is the kind of attitude that helps to support continuing gender inequity.
    While I agree with you, I can visualize understanding the husband’s situation. Husband is done with his PhD, but he’s hardly situated in an unassailable position in his career. What’s more, it may be important for the family as a whole that they don’t both end up ostracized for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
    We had a bit of a kerfluffle at Vanderbilt over the climate for women; you’ve read some about it on my blog, and you probably know about the “censored” blog post. Because of the pushback I got after I’d spoken out on the issue, part of me wished I hadn’t. Part of me wished I’d kept my head down, made sure that my own corner of my house was clean, and that I didn’t cause trouble. It’s not the “right” thing to do, but it’s painful to do the right thing.
    Another has it worse. There is a male graduate student who was signatory to a letter that went to the Dean detailing some of the complaints they had about the climate for women. This male graduate student, in his fourth year, is now without an advisor. Although his advisor never saw the letter, he (incorrectly) concluded that some of the excerpts that had been reported to him by the Dean and the Chair were made by this male student, and the advisor felt he could no longer trust the male student. We do not have a big enough department that the male student could just go and work somewhere else. The male student is a bit screwed. Is this just a matter of him giving up some sort of unearned advantage? No, absolutely not. He’s been kicked down way below any additional advantage he had as a result of being male.
    Did he do the right thing by signing the letter? Yes. But would I fault him if, knowing what he knows now, he decided to keep his head down and keep his name out of any of the issues whatsoever? No.
    We need people to speak out. But when we come down on the most junior people for not speaking out enough, they suffer unduly. It’s the senior people who come down on the junior people, the senior people who know what’s going on and don’t speak out, and the senior people who are clueless, that need a serious kick in the butt.
    -Rob

  3. June 11, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    So, Rob, I’ve said it to you in private and I’ll say it again: what is going on in your department is patently illegal and should anyone wake up one day and realize it, they can sue all your asses. I mean, out and out discrimination AND retaliation. I see lawsuit and $$$$ damages….it ain’t pretty. Is your department chair even aware of federal law regarding gender discrimination and retaliation?

  4. transgressingengineer
    June 11, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    Rob- please tell me that you have counseled this 4th year male grad student to seek a lawyer. Zuska is on point on this- out right discrimination and retaliation IS happening in your department. You owe it to this grad student (and yourself) to advise this student to seek legal help.

  5. June 11, 2007 at 10:29 pm

    Rob- please tell me that you have counseled this 4th year male grad student to seek a lawyer. Zuska is on point on this- out right discrimination and retaliation IS happening in your department. You owe it to this grad student (and yourself) to advise this student to seek legal help.
    I don’t think I agree. Reason: this would almost certainly be a case of civil law, and in the case of civil law, he with the biggest lawyers wins. It’s usually not a matter of right and wrong, alas.
    It’s up to him. He’s already suffered, and if he gets dragged into a big and messy lawsuit, it could make things worse for him. And, quite frankly, I’m glad that the professor dropped him now rather than keeping him and resenting him for a few years — which could have been much more painful him in the long run. Yes, he has thought about this, and we’ve talked about it a bit, but at this point for him, what would it get him? He does not want to work with this advisor any more, and would want that even less after an acrimonious lawsuit. Maybe he can get some punitive damages, but in the end if he wants to continue a PhD in the field he’s working in, he has to go somewhere else. Far, far, far less painful for him (who has already suffered) to put this behind him and move on! Plus, he’s in a position right now where the chair of the department *has* to go out of his way to help him. After a lawsuit that would be against the individual professor, the department, and the University, I suspect he’d be in a worse position.
    Just read Janet’s blog about the students who turned in their ethically challenged advisor.
    what is going on in your department is patently illegal
    I also suspect that that isn’t so obvious. It’s by and large a climate problem, not a problem of individual egregious acts. It’s mostly the sum of a large number of small things being put together. It’s people being offended, it’s a climate that makes it difficult for some, not outright and obvious discrimination. Stuff that woluld be *very* hard to prove in a court of law, and there are no individual actions that would be considered illegal. Nothing is clearly overt. It’s all the small stuff adding up– which in some ways makes it more insidious, and is no less real, but it’s not something that’s patently illegal and that legal action would clearly do anything about.
    And, yes, the ODC at Vanderbilt (which deals with this sort of thing) has done an investigation, and is taking it very seriously.
    -Rob

  6. June 12, 2007 at 1:07 am

    Talk of kicking Mr Husband to the curb is presumptuous at best. Rob has pointed out some of the reasons that Mr Husband may be doing what he’s doing, and CatsAreSnakes seems blithely to assume that he (Mr H) has not discussed these issues long and carefully with Ms Wife.
    Calls for radical action on someone else’s part should always come with an offer to pay the costs of that action.

  7. Mike
    June 12, 2007 at 9:34 am

    Funny how unverified anecdotal evidence is considered useful when it vindicates one’s preconceptions. You wouldn’t use this kind of ‘evidence’ when doing actual science, would you?

  8. June 12, 2007 at 11:04 am

    wow has a blog post and e-mails gotten a bit out of hand.
    I am The Wife that is being referred to and I love how I am being looked at as weak and apparently should be taking my biggest support system and throwing him to the curb.
    None of you know the situation here and for that matter neither did the orignal poster on the issue. She talks about the fact that my husband has more talks and more importants talks at that. What she doesn’t mention is that he has a beautiful result and he’s worked his ass off for it. The one talk that she was referring to at a conference last year (she mentioned that he had a physics talk while I was “stuck” with a detector talk) had his result as a part of it. I DIDN’T HAVE A PHYSICS RESULT AT THE TIME. Now who’s fault that is, I don’t know…how about mine for not working the 20 hour days that my husband was putting in. People could argue that I got stuck with a service project instead of a physics project at the beginning and fine yes, I did…but it’s over and I’m working on my thesis work now.
    When all is said and done however… I will have a very strong thesis AND a strong service project that if I were to stay in the field would be a nice background to have. No one is talking about the actual work that I have done and the level that it’s at. In my opinion, it’s very high and I have worked very hard for it.
    The problem we had with the original post was that if you searched for my husbands first and last name and the word physics that post was one of the first to come up. The problem is he will be looking for jobs in the next few months (don’t worry ladies, he’s probably leaving the field) and didn’t want it to look like the only reason that he got a PhD was because he was born with a penis. The fact that the orginal poster never asked us our opinion on the situation or why we were given what is seemingly different treatment I thought was unprofessional. She states that she knows us “both well”. She maybe talked to my husband once while she was here, and while she did work with me closely for a few months, I have not heard from her in 2 years.
    There have been times in my time as a graduate student that I have felt (and seen other women) being treated differently especially in presentations which is frustrating and for me was humiliating. I’m not saying that there were times that I haven’t been frustrated….BUT to say that my husabd is one of the causes is ridiculous. Maybe subconsciously that’s happening…but what should my husband do? Give back his PhD? Come on!

  9. June 12, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Hey kids –
    It’s me, the husband. I’d like to address a few things here.
    a) I agree, it’s a mystery I haven’t been kicked to the curb. As you can see from these blogs, I am an asshole.
    b) I never said that “I agree with gender equality in principle.” That is one person’s interpretation of my comments and is a grossly unfair characterization of what I said. Here’s a quote from my e-mail to the blogger in question:
    “I actually don’t disagree with you about any of it. What I wanted to write to you about it that I never realized how subtle it is, the sexism. Did I think I was being treated favorably? No. Did I think I had gotten lucky? Yes. ”
    here’s another:
    “What I would say is that it’s all very subtle. If it had ever occurred to me that I was getting a gender-based advantage over Leah, I would have strongly objected. First of all, I don’t seek to get handouts from anyone and second of all, Leah is not just my wife but my friend and I want her to succeed more than anyone else. But, little by little, breaks have gone my way and, lo and behold, I’m about to graduate and Leah’s graduate has been pushed back due mainly to spending a year and a half on a service project (with which she did a great job and got *zero* recognition). At this point I suppose I could take a stand and do some extra work to negate the advantage, but I’m not so sure that my taking longer to graduate would help our little family any. Neither of us wants to be poor for much longer.”
    Yep, that’s sounds to me like I agree “in principle.” And finally:
    “To be honest, after reading your post I feel like a total dick for blindly accepting all the advantages while Leah has been treated fairly poorly at several turns but I’m not really sure that I am that kind of person. I don’t like to think of myself as “one of the boys” in this boys club that is physics, although I certainly sound like one from your post. Of course, maybe all of the “old physics boys” say that they aren’t sexist and defend each other against such allegations. I suppose they wouldn’t say anything different that what I’m saying now, right? ”
    See, I know that if I object and claim that I’m innocent of knowing gender bias, I’ll just be like any other member of the boy’s club trying to defend myself. It’s a pretty tough position to be in. And when my comments are completely misrepresented, I look like a total asshole. My thanks to absinthe and now to Zuska for putting me in this position.
    Do you know how I found out about Absinthe’s post? My father found it by googling my name for fun. He didn’t find anything good about me, just an article about how I was succeeding due to gender bias. Oddly enough, I was put off by that. All I asked was that she remove my name from the post. There was no need to put our names in there. The point would have been made either way.
    So what should I do? Renounce my tainted degree? Because, by your logic, no male can ever get a PhD legitimately.
    Obviously men have a vastly easier time in the field. Obviously. But that doesn’t mean all men are in on the joke. My wife is my best friend and I want her to suceed more than myself. I’m guessing you have heard this all before. But what can I say? Your mind is made up.

  10. June 12, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Hey kids –
    It’s me, the husband. I’d like to address a few things here.
    a) I agree, it’s a mystery I haven’t been kicked to the curb. As you can see from these blogs, I am an asshole.
    b) I never said that “I agree with gender equality in principle.” That is one person’s interpretation of my comments and is a grossly unfair characterization of what I said. Here’s a quote from my e-mail to the blogger in question:
    “I actually don’t disagree with you about any of it. What I wanted to write to you about it that I never realized how subtle it is, the sexism. Did I think I was being treated favorably? No. Did I think I had gotten lucky? Yes. ”
    here’s another:
    “What I would say is that it’s all very subtle. If it had ever occurred to me that I was getting a gender-based advantage over Leah, I would have strongly objected. First of all, I don’t seek to get handouts from anyone and second of all, Leah is not just my wife but my friend and I want her to succeed more than anyone else. But, little by little, breaks have gone my way and, lo and behold, I’m about to graduate and Leah’s graduate has been pushed back due mainly to spending a year and a half on a service project (with which she did a great job and got *zero* recognition). At this point I suppose I could take a stand and do some extra work to negate the advantage, but I’m not so sure that my taking longer to graduate would help our little family any. Neither of us wants to be poor for much longer.”
    Yep, that’s sounds to me like I agree “in principle.” And finally:
    “To be honest, after reading your post I feel like a total dick for blindly accepting all the advantages while Leah has been treated fairly poorly at several turns but I’m not really sure that I am that kind of person. I don’t like to think of myself as “one of the boys” in this boys club that is physics, although I certainly sound like one from your post. Of course, maybe all of the “old physics boys” say that they aren’t sexist and defend each other against such allegations. I suppose they wouldn’t say anything different that what I’m saying now, right? ”
    See, I know that if I object and claim that I’m innocent of knowing gender bias, I’ll just be like any other member of the boy’s club trying to defend myself. It’s a pretty tough position to be in. And when my comments are completely misrepresented, I look like a total asshole. My thanks to absinthe and now to Zuska for putting me in this position.
    Do you know how I found out about Absinthe’s post? My father found it by googling my name for fun. He didn’t find anything good about me, just an article about how I was succeeding due to gender bias. Oddly enough, I was put off by that. All I asked was that she remove my name from the post. There was no need to put our names in there. The point would have been made either way.
    So what should I do? Renounce my tainted degree? Because, by your logic, no male can ever get a PhD legitimately.
    Obviously men have a vastly easier time in the field. Obviously. But that doesn’t mean all men are in on the joke. My wife is my best friend and I want her to suceed more than myself. I’m guessing you have heard this all before. But what can I say? Your mind is made up.

  11. pelican
    June 12, 2007 at 11:20 am

    Here here, Bill! I don’t know if any of us know the context of these people’s lives, but they, as a couple, may well prefer to keep one of them on a career track right now, while the other decides what she wants to do next. If their work environment is truly that nasty, it may not actually help if her husband throws himself in front of the train on her behalf … that leads to two underemployed folks, rather than one … and we don’t know what else they’ve got going on- mortgage, health issues, kids, sick parents, etc. These are real people who did not seek out the public bloglight, and who have asked to have the initial post removed.
    Transgressingengineer, there are few things more stressful than protracted public litigation. There is *never* any guarantee of success, and it is never over quickly or easily. I think it’s awfully presumptuous to encourage strangers to go that route. You may well have the personal strength and necessary supports to go forward with a discrimination case- and if so, good for you- but many, perhaps most, people do not.

  12. Frumious B
    June 12, 2007 at 11:40 am

    First, Leah and Jason, that took courage for you to come here and out yourselves. Thanks for your perspective.

    I don’t like to think of myself as “one of the boys” in this boys club that is physics

    This is what Zuska always talks about- being made uncomfortable by the realization that in fact, you are part of the problem. I know Jason didn’t ask to be part of the boy’s club, but his non-asking doesn’t make women any less discriminated against. It’s hard to face this, I agree. It’s hard for both of you to face. Jason will help no one by renouncing his PhD, and no one suggested that anyway. The question I’d like him, Leah, and everyone else, to think about is this: now that unearned male privilege has been thrown in your face and made you feel uncomfortable, how are you going to behave in the future? Are you going to justify doing nothing with straw arguments about how hurting yourself won’t help anyone else and helpless admission that bias exists and whaddayagonnado? Or are you going to actively look for the subtle bias you now know is there and try to oppose it?

  13. transgressingengineer
    June 12, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    pelican- I understand that a discrimination case is not an easy route to follow. My comment was not advocating that this student follow that path, but should seek advice from legal counsel on his options. For me, if I were dealt the hand he was dealt, it would end my PhD as I am unable to move to a different university for family reasons. Maybe that isn’t the case for this student in question. But, in my mind, it is always best to know all options available to you before making a decision that will significantly impact your career. Seeking legal counsel does not imply going through a discrimination trial- it means getting advice on your options.

  14. transgressingengineer
    June 12, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    pelican- I understand that a discrimination case is not an easy route to follow. My comment was not advocating that this student follow that path, but should seek advice from legal counsel on his options. For me, if I were dealt the hand he was dealt, it would end my PhD as I am unable to move to a different university for family reasons. Maybe that isn’t the case for this student in question. But, in my mind, it is always best to know all options available to you before making a decision that will significantly impact your career. Seeking legal counsel does not imply going through a discrimination trial- it means getting advice on your options.

  15. catswym
    June 12, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    but, but…i’m a nice guy. i didn’t do anything wrong. i can’t be one of THOSE boys, can i?
    this is the typical response from men who maybe don’t sit around all day thinking “gee, i hate women and wish they would disappear from science.” but who also don’t want to relinquish any of their privilege. we have to protect the men, the nice guys. we can’t ask them to sacrifice as much as, well, women, who weren’t even asked to make a sacrifice.
    i was watching a movie this weekend where someone said something like: i hope i am always able to sacrifice everything for a cause that is just and right.
    maybe cheesy, but i really appreciate that.

  16. June 12, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    the orginal poster never asked us our opinion on the situation […] She states that she knows us “both well”. She maybe talked to my husband once while she was here, and while she did work with me closely for a few months, I have not heard from her in 2 years.
    This really bothers me, if the OP in question is Absinthe, because I’ve been taking her posts more or less at face value. Zuska seemed to trust her, so I did too. This takes away a big chunk of her credibility with me.

  17. jeffk
    June 12, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    I don’t think the points that have been made about male priviledge are incorrect, but to continue to harangue these people after being caught by the actual people in question making many unfair and incorrect assuptions about them and their situation without so much as acknowledging that seems kinda wrong.
    The implication seems to be that the guy in question was conciously and actively protecting is priviledge, and I don’t think that’s clear. I buy his point that he was unware of the subtlies of the priviledge, they slowly added up, and now he’s no longer in a reasonable position to do anything about the situation. The lesson here is right – looking for, and acting on, subtle bias is very important. But the fairly innocent people that have been harrassed in the process of this discussion, I feel kinda sorry for.

  18. Alexis
    June 12, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Jason, Leah,
    Ah, you have stumbled into the hornet’s nest, have you not? Absinthe’s blog, Zuska’s blog – though I enjoy them fairly regularly – are not intended for a large, mixed audience. They’re by feminists, for feminists, and that leads to a lot of shorthand, and assumptions, and, I hate to say, feedback loops that reinforce the rhetoric and make it, over time, stronger and stronger. This is common with any insular community.
    You were perfectly within your rights to request that your names be removed from that post, and, with all due respect to absinthe, it’s pretty fucking appalling that they were put in there in the first place. Absinthe, who rails quite rightly against the obscenities of academia, to not, for a moment, consider what putting those names there might do to TWO untenured careers? Tsk.
    That said, to be put in a position to question the disparities between the two paths each of you have taken, the two treatments each of you have received (not here, but in your careers), the two outcomes you are each given, is not absinthe or Zuska’s fault. It is hard to do, and if you said otherwise, then I would worry about each of you being “weak” or being “dicks.” But given that you have been grappling with the issues is to be expected and is the correct response. Yes. That’s right. I hope you do grapple with these questions for a long time and eventually come out the other side with a richer understanding of the issues and a stronger sense of how to stand up and respond appropriately when you see these things happening to your spouse. Would it make sense to throw yourself in front of the train? If not, how could you nonetheless stand up and do the right thing without sacrificing your careers?
    There are currently no answers to those questions in these posts because they don’t yet exist. Perhaps there is a way to both do the right thing and not be slaughtered like lambs. But we’re still looking for them. Hence, the anger. For what it’s worth, it is not actually directed at you, only the situation.

  19. male physicist from europe
    June 12, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    “Absinthe, who rails quite rightly against the obscenities of academia, to not, for a moment, consider what putting those names there might do to TWO untenured careers? Tsk.”
    What are two persons’ careers compared to The Cause?

  20. June 12, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    i was watching a movie this weekend where someone said something like: i hope i am always able to sacrifice everything for a cause that is just and right.
    What’s going on right now is a little different. What’s going on is that two people are being chastised by others for not sacrificing everything for a cause that is just and right. And that’s a far, far less high and moral position than the one you’re talking about.
    The two people in question have shared their opinions. They are not a part of the problem. For heaven’s sake, give them a break! Attacking them, or one of them, as part of the problem will not help the solution, because it puts forward the attitude “he who isn’t a part of the witch-hunt is part of the problem.” That’s not going to do anybody any good. All it will do is increase the motivation to keep your head down and not be noticed because you’re going to be attacked by all sides– one side for making waves, the other side for not making enough waves! Sheesh.
    -Rob

  21. June 12, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    male privilige.
    I hear all the time about male privilege, white privilege, etc. I can’t help but think this is framed the wrong way.
    I’m sitting here in the 6th year of a tenure track job, about to be cast out of the field I’ve spent the last 17 years working towards because of funding issues, and I’m constantly reminded that I am the beneficiary of privilege. Would you be surprised if my response to that, given my situation and the deep and severe clinical depression into which it has thrown me, would include a large number of four-letter words? This, you had damn well better believe me, does not predispose me to be sympathetic to the cause of the people who are telling me this. I sure the fuck as hell do not feel privileged in my current dehumanizing situation.
    Is it a “privilege” not to be subject to dehumanizing discrimination? No! It should be a right! The problem isn’t white privilege or male privilege, the problem is the lack of equivalent privilege for others. If you want to convince those who are currently in the catbird seat to be sympathetic to your cause, you would do far better by suggesting that those who are disadvantage should be raised rather than suggesting that those who are advantaged should be pulled down. When you talk about unfair privilege, it sounds like you need to pull people down.
    Framing, folks.
    And I know that a lot of people aren’t interested in what white males think, because after all we are the problem. But, sheesh, if you really want thinks to change, consider using the language of fairness rather than the language of class warfare.
    -Rob

  22. catswym
    June 13, 2007 at 10:32 am

    actually rob, i was more commenting on your response than on the subjects of the post.

  23. June 13, 2007 at 11:21 am

    Rob, I am sympathetic to your personal situation. However, your personal experience does not and can not counteract all the empirical evidence that overwhelmingly shows that male privilege and white privilege do exist.
    Yes, indeed, it should be a right not to be subjected to discrimination, but that is not the case in our present society. And as distressing as it might be to contemplate, the consequences of gender and racial bias are that women and minorities are discriminated against, while men and white people experience unearned and unasked for advantages over women and minorities. You may or may not get tenure; but you made it through graduate school, postdoc years, and got a position as an assistant professor. At each step along that path, there is more attrition of women than men, minorities are vastly more underrepresented than white people.
    It’s emblematic of privilege to tell the less privileged how they ought to talk about their situation “if you want us to listen to you”. As I’ve said once before on this blog, Mary Wollstonecraft was advocating the use just the kind of approach you seem to be calling for – something calm and even-tempered, weighted heavily towards an unemotional rational approach which would surely persuade by sweet reason – several hundred years ago. Didn’t work then, hasn’t worked in the interim, isn’t working now. Sweet reason, the language of fairness, all that crap – nobody listens to you when you talk that way.
    You either care about equity and what’s right, or you don’t. If you care, then you either set yourself the hard task of looking your own privilege in the face and trying to figure out what you can do, as one person, locally or globally, to make a difference – or you don’t. This task starts with listening and learning. What you don’t do is tell the less privileged how they ought to behave.
    There’s a frame for you to consider.

  24. June 13, 2007 at 11:21 am

    Rob, I am sympathetic to your personal situation. However, your personal experience does not and can not counteract all the empirical evidence that overwhelmingly shows that male privilege and white privilege do exist.
    Yes, indeed, it should be a right not to be subjected to discrimination, but that is not the case in our present society. And as distressing as it might be to contemplate, the consequences of gender and racial bias are that women and minorities are discriminated against, while men and white people experience unearned and unasked for advantages over women and minorities. You may or may not get tenure; but you made it through graduate school, postdoc years, and got a position as an assistant professor. At each step along that path, there is more attrition of women than men, minorities are vastly more underrepresented than white people.
    It’s emblematic of privilege to tell the less privileged how they ought to talk about their situation “if you want us to listen to you”. As I’ve said once before on this blog, Mary Wollstonecraft was advocating the use just the kind of approach you seem to be calling for – something calm and even-tempered, weighted heavily towards an unemotional rational approach which would surely persuade by sweet reason – several hundred years ago. Didn’t work then, hasn’t worked in the interim, isn’t working now. Sweet reason, the language of fairness, all that crap – nobody listens to you when you talk that way.
    You either care about equity and what’s right, or you don’t. If you care, then you either set yourself the hard task of looking your own privilege in the face and trying to figure out what you can do, as one person, locally or globally, to make a difference – or you don’t. This task starts with listening and learning. What you don’t do is tell the less privileged how they ought to behave.
    There’s a frame for you to consider.

  25. June 13, 2007 at 11:40 am

    However, your personal experience does not and can not counteract all the empirical evidence that overwhelmingly shows that male privilege and white privilege do exist.
    I don’t deny what you’re talking about — but I think that you could do a whole lot better than calling it privilege. Instead of saying it’s something that white males have that they shouldn’t have, it should be something that *everybody* should have.
    It’s emblematic of privilege to tell the less privileged how they ought to talk about their situation “if you want us to listen to you”.
    I call bullshit.
    It’s emblematic of the extremist that they refuse to stop calling everybody oppressors even if that might help their cause by helping everybody see that the cause is just.
    Is your approach working right now? I surely the fuck the hell the godamn fucking piece ofd shit do not fucking FUCKING thinks so, because what it makes me think is I AM A FUCKING WHITE PRIVILEGED MALE GETTING TOSSED OUT OF THE FUIELD AND THE FUCKING WHITE RADICAL FEMINISTS ARE SAYHING, WSELL FUCK YOU ROB, YHOU ONLY GOT AS FAR AS YOUI FUCKING DIDBECAUSE OF WHITE MALE PRIVILEGE.
    IF taht’s yopur position, then fuck you and yoru cause, bedcause it sure as fuhcking hell is not goin gto ge34hnjereeratred afnyh fucking sympathy from me
    {Put that in yhour craw asnd think abouyt it.
    I was an laly, but if you keep up the SHIT liek this, I’m going to go away and write off everybody who tzalks like you as a radical fucking feemihnist who hates me bvecause I’j m AWHITE FDUCKING MALE
    and no I canpt type strait I’m SO FUCKING ANGRTYA
    I don’t go back to edit bedacuse I think it is necessar4y to make my point. You think that only the male oppressors make people so angry that they scream because of unfair treatment. Well, kyour gbullshit insulting attacks are also unfair and make people so angry that they scream.

  26. jeffk
    June 13, 2007 at 11:43 am

    I hate to go back to something from a previous thread, but I think it’s come up again. Zuska repeats over and over the necessity to not roll over and be nice, and how that won’t work, and in general, I completely agree. But there’s subtleties that keep getting ignored. First, I don’t think this is about “if you want us to listen to you”. If me, or Rob (I assume), or whoever says that they don’t think they way something is being presented is the right way, it’s not about “if you want US” to listen to you”, it’s about, “we’ll listen no matter what, but if you want these other guys to listen to you”. And much more importantly, I still think that while anger, outrage and often completely appropriate, I don’t think it’s ALWAYS true. Dredging up some poor innocents personal story, plastering it up on a web site, and using them as a target for anger and outrage is an exception to the “there’s no point in being nice” rule. The upshot is that while being forceful is certainly the way to advance feminist causes, it’s not a free pass that justifies any manner in dealing every issue that comes along. Save the vitriolic stuff for the clear-cut bastards; use reasonable discourse to deal with people who didn’t identify subtle sexism in time to act on it, but appear to be people who, if properly educated, will do so in the future.
    It’s simply not black and white. The patriarchy comes in all varieties of evilness – and should be dealt with as such. It is not incorrect to say that the couple outlined in this post didn’t recognize male privilege and act on it. However, I can’t figure out why more anger is directed at them than at the jackass who treated them differently in the first place.

  27. antijen
    June 13, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Another point to consider – when we say that there is male and white privilege, it doesn’t mean that everything is easy for men or for white people. It means that women and people of colour have ADDITIONAL burdens and problems as well as the ones faced by white men. Having to deal with racism or sexism doesn’t mean that we don’t have to worry about getting grants funded or tenure decisions as well.

  28. antijen
    June 13, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Another point to consider – when we say that there is male and white privilege, it doesn’t mean that everything is easy for men or for white people. It means that women and people of colour have ADDITIONAL burdens and problems as well as the ones faced by white men. Having to deal with racism or sexism doesn’t mean that we don’t have to worry about getting grants funded or tenure decisions as well.

  29. sl0w_bear
    June 13, 2007 at 11:54 am

    What about white women? Does the female burden prevail the white privilega or otherwise?

  30. Brian
    June 13, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    Yeah, well, unfortunately this isn’t the “feel sorry for Rob Knop” blog. You had your 17 years in the field, and it’s hard all over right now. But it could have been worse.
    And I fail to understand what you mean when you say that the problem is a lack of patriarchal privilege for others. So men should get jobs for being men, but women should also get jobs for being women? Whatever is actually happening, either raising the status of women or lowering the status of men, you sound like you’re predisposed to see it as lowering your own status.
    And I find it interesting that milquetoast liberals that are basically looking for validation of their caringness and fairmindedness tend to freak out when told that, yes, the oppression does apply to them too.

  31. transgressingengineer
    June 13, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    Rob- I can tell you are angry- but if you respond to what I am about to post, I ask that you please limit your use of swear words since they are not conductive for me to be able to hear what you are saying.
    You stated that you want the privilege discussion reframed so we aren’t talking about how white males are privileged, but instead how white women and people of color are disadvantaged. If we take this frame of the situation, then who are we using as the comparative? Who’s experience is ‘normal?’ If white women and people of color are disadvantaged, who are we comparing them to? Answer: white men. This is where MY anger lies. Framing the discussion around issues of disadvantage, as I have stated before on a different comment/post on this blog, sets up the senerio where the people being disadvantaged are seen as difficitent in something or as people. By placing the discussion in terms of those who have privilege, we can shed light on discussions of systematic inequitities that are reproduced in our society.
    When white women and women of color are being disadvantaged because of sexism, does that not mean that men are benefiting from sexism, thus having some privilege over women? When white people can walk through their lives without having to ponder much whether they are being treated one way is becuase of their skin color, isn’t that privilege? When white men can walk around the science building and see other white men and not have to think daily about the lack of people who look like them, isn’t that privilige?
    Reframing discussions of inequity around issues of privilege can be a powerful way to look at systematic issues that are pervasive in the U.S. society. I am sick of being told that I am disadvantaged- deficient- as a woman… I am sick of being compared to white men. Why shouldn’t I be angry?

  32. June 13, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Whatever is actually happening, either raising the status of women or lowering the status of men, you sound like you’re predisposed to see it as lowering your own status.
    Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.
    You misrepresent what I say. It’s not “lack of patriarchal status” I say women and minorities need. What they need is for the additional burdens that antijen talks about to go away.
    The whole “patriarchal” privilege thing sounds like you show you’re penis, and then you’re in the club. Well, it’s not like that. It’s harder for women and minorities because of stupid biases, including stupid biases that those of us who mean well don’t see.
    It’s not me saying that I fear for my status; it’s me pointing out that this huge “status” you talk about is simply lack of discrimination. There’s a difference between not having to put up with extra shit and being born part of the annointed royalty. It would do all well to understand that.
    -Rob

  33. June 13, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Whatever is actually happening, either raising the status of women or lowering the status of men, you sound like you’re predisposed to see it as lowering your own status.
    Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.
    You misrepresent what I say. It’s not “lack of patriarchal status” I say women and minorities need. What they need is for the additional burdens that antijen talks about to go away.
    The whole “patriarchal” privilege thing sounds like you show you’re penis, and then you’re in the club. Well, it’s not like that. It’s harder for women and minorities because of stupid biases, including stupid biases that those of us who mean well don’t see.
    It’s not me saying that I fear for my status; it’s me pointing out that this huge “status” you talk about is simply lack of discrimination. There’s a difference between not having to put up with extra shit and being born part of the annointed royalty. It would do all well to understand that.
    -Rob

  34. June 13, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    There is a difference between advantage, even unfair advantage, and privilege.
    The latter sounds like a right, something that you’re guaranteed. That is very much not the situation.
    When we’re told we have a privilege, and we recognize that we don’t have any special guarantee of success and promotion, it becomes easy for us to write off those complaining as not knowing what they’re talking about. Is that what you want?
    When you continue to shove it in our face even as we are personally facing failure, it becomes easy for us to get so amazingly angry that we never, ever want to hear from any of you again. Is that really what you want?
    And, yes, I many now think I’m the typical white male who wants to deny that there’s a problem. If you do, you are suffering the other problem of the extremist: either you’re 100% with us, or you’re against us. Well, it’s not that simple.

  35. transgressingengineer
    June 13, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Rob-
    From what you are saying, I don’t think you understand what is meant by privilege.
    Privilege is NOT about biases. Privilege is about SYSTEMATIC inequities which are part of our everyday lives, rules of society, and laws that are so normalized that they can appear to be the ‘this is just how things are’ to people who live within that society. An example of male privilege in the U.S. could be the assumption on both many men and women’s part that it is the women’s responsibility to take more time off from her career to raise children than the man takes off. The ‘burden’ of childcare is placed on the woman by society while the man (usually) does not feel this pressure. An example of hetrosexual privilige is that I just framed a childcare example in terms of a man and woman couple. It is so normalized for many people in the U.S. to think about childcare issues in terms of hetrosexual dilimas that those who do not fit that mold are left out of conversations.
    Privilege is not about individualized acts of meanness. Privilege is about opperating within a system (that we did not build) which systematically grants ‘rights’ to some and denies those same ‘rights’ to others.

  36. Alexis
    June 13, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    And, yes, I many now think I’m the typical white male who wants to deny that there’s a problem. If you do, you are suffering the other problem of the extremist: either you’re 100% with us, or you’re against us. Well, it’s not that simple. (Rob)
    No, it’s not. It never is. It’s also not that simple in terms of WHO is fighting and HOW they are fighting, and whether it can even be called FIGHTING.
    Zuska and others who are more…I don’t know…inflammatory, or strident, or just plain loud cannot, and do not, make up 100% of the effort to get women and minorities on an equal playing field. Nothing is 100%. That does not mean what Zuska does is wrong or is hurting the “cause” – hers is simply one facet of many that are necessary to further women’s rights.
    What I would sincerely hope everyone on this blog might realize, however, and no matter what “side” you fall on, is that there are many, many ways to make change, and you cannot use the same way for everything. If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Unfortunately, everything is NOT a NAIL. Vitriol, fighting, screaming, bitching, whatever you want has its place, but Rob is actually right about one thing – it doesn’t work on everybody. It works on some people. But others might need to simply see a woman quietly doing the same, or better work, than a man in order to walk away, sit in their office, and have a minor epiphany 10 days later that, “holy crap…they can do everything I can do.” Some people need it spoken to them in the kind and soft words of reason of Wollstonecraft (and, to answer your question, Zuska, about how that hasn’t worked… don’t be absurd….are you really claiming that we are in the exact same place we were 150 years ago?) Some people need you to get in their face and scream it at them. And some people, no matter what you do, will never, ever get it.
    You can’t build an engine with nothing but a hammer. How in sweet Jesus’ name do you think you will build a society with nothing but a fist?

  37. jeffk
    June 13, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Gosh, I dunno if there’s anything that could possibly be added to that.

  38. June 13, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    Here’s an excerpt from my About page:
    I do not speak for all women, all women engineers, all women scientists, all feminists, or all feminist women engineers and scientists.
    I speak for myself. Some people agree with me, or with parts of what I say. Some people disagree with me, or with parts of what I say. Anybody can come on this blog and do that. NOBODY gets to tell me what to say or how to say it.
    Rob, maybe you need to take a break from my blog. There are lots of other people who are dealing with gender equity in different ways. Read “Fairer Science”. Read “She’s Such a Geek!” Read “Female Science Professor”. Read “ScienceWoman”. Read any of the other blogs in my blogroll (uh, except maybe Absinthe or I Blame the Patriarchy.) You will find different approaches that may offer a perspective that works better for you.
    Thus Spake Zuska is what it is. All the fucking fuck fucks and bad typing in the world will not change it.

  39. June 13, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    This is a comment I wrote last night after Lee Kottner’s comment above but couldn’t post – my internet was out due to thunderstorms.
    I’d like to thank Lee for his well-written comment and for the excellent points made therein.
    I’d also like to point out that in my post I explicitly said “I am not saying [Mr. Husband] is not a good physicist.” I was also not trying to make the point that Mr. Husband was responsible for Mrs. Wife’s situation – it’s clear that the senior folks at Fermilab are responsible both for Mr. Husband’s unfair advantage and Mrs. Wife’s unfair disadvantage. I believe that this is the point that Absinthe’s original post was also trying to make – that Fermilab unfairly advantaged the career of one member of a husband-wife pair while unfairly impeding the career of the other, and she put that anecdotal information in context with statistical information that she also had about gender bias at Fermilab.
    Now, if Mr. Husband reads that, and interprets it to mean that Absinthe is saying it is his fault that Mrs. Wife was disadvantaged, he is making things up in his own mind. Saying someone has benefited from gender bias is NOT the same as saying they are the cause of, or the perpetrator of, gender bias.
    What I said, was that being terrified of having your name associated with a blog post that points out that gender bias exists at Fermilab – and pretending that the reason you are terrified is because the blog post accuses you of perpetrating gender bias – is to deny reality and help support the attitudes that do cause gender bias, simply because it is too painful to face up to one’s own unearned privilege.
    The comments here by Mr. Husband and Mrs. Wife really sadden me. It is clear that this whole situation has been extremely painful for both of them. Mrs. Wife has truly suffered in her career, and Mr. Husband is not able to unambiguously enjoy the fruits of his success. This is how gender bias injures people.
    I would like to point out that gender bias is bad for men just as much as for women, for who wants to know that the success they have is perhaps not fully deserved, or comes at a cost of someone else’s failure or disadvantage? This is the horrible fate affirmative action foes are always trying to save women and minorities from – ironic, isn’t it?
    If Mr. Husband and Mrs. Wife continue to deny the reality of his unearned privilege (while at the same time acknowledging that he is a good physicist, or he wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of that unearned privilege) then they are more likely to become part of the infrastructure that supports its existence. If they can acknowledge his unearned privilege along with his skills as a physicist, and realize that unearned privilege does not make him a dick – but denying it does – then they are more likely to become people who can help in opposing its continuation.

  40. Mecha
    June 13, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    I have mainly stayed out of this discussion for various reasons. The entire thing got quite ugly when it became clear that the beginning of it was a bit disputed, and then when Rob went off on his tangent. However. On the ‘side discussion’ of anger:
    Anger will not always convince people. It’s a constant contrast. But passivity will never fix the problem on its own, unless you assume that everyone is enlightened. The feminist movement needs people to push. It needs people who are outraged at the constant, huge disadvantages that are leveled against women every day, and are willing to express it. It needs the word ‘privilege’, because that is what it is, whether it is a privilege that everyone deserves, or a privilege that nobody deserves (and they both exist, and there are differences.)
    Invisible Knapsack time again: http://seamonkey.ed.asu.edu/~mcisaac/emc598ge/Unpacking.htm
    The top line of that says it all: “I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.” While I do not agree with all the things said in this post, and the man and woman described have every right to deal with the situation as they see fit, _there is still a base inequality here, and it is real, and it does give advantages to people of the majority_. It doesn’t mean anyone has to ‘give up their PhD’ (that’s an absurd argument, strawpersonish.) But it doesn’t mean that things are equal, or that what white, straight, christian, and male society says that they can have is the ‘normal way of things that everyone should be allowed to have.’ Some things yes. Some things no.
    -Mecha

  41. June 13, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    If Mr. Husband and Mrs. Wife continue to deny the reality of his unearned privilege
    I don’t think either of them did this.
    Further, I don’t understand why you continue to attack Mr Husband. He didn’t make anything up; he didn’t pretend anything. He felt Absinthe’s post treated him unfairly — and bear in mind Ms Wife’s comments about Absinthe playing fast and loose with facts — so he asked that she take his name out of it.
    If what he has done so far is wrong, what should he have done — and what should he do now?

  42. June 13, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    If Mr. Husband and Mrs. Wife continue to deny the reality of his unearned privilege
    I don’t think either of them did this.
    Further, I don’t understand why you continue to attack Mr Husband. He didn’t make anything up; he didn’t pretend anything. He felt Absinthe’s post treated him unfairly — and bear in mind Ms Wife’s comments about Absinthe playing fast and loose with facts — so he asked that she take his name out of it.
    If what he has done so far is wrong, what should he have done — and what should he do now?

  43. shiny_things
    June 13, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    Privilege is NOT about biases. Privilege is about SYSTEMATIC inequities which are part of our everyday lives, rules of society, and laws that are so normalized that they can appear to be the ‘this is just how things are’ to people who live within that society.
    I’m sorry, but this doesn’t make much sense to me. Hegemonic systems only exist as a result of the combined willingness/habitus/whatever of the people within them, and the inculcation of people into the system has to take place by the actions/attitudes/whatever of the people already in the system.
    In this post, at least, people are not talking about the most egregious acts of sexism in science, but about more subtle things, things that results from unconscious (or not) attitudes and biases and decisions. It is about individual biases. That’s the whole basis of the system.

  44. Alexis
    June 13, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Yes, Zuska, chopping up bars and waving signs in the street and demanding, demanding equal rights has, indeed, given us equal rights.
    On paper.
    Now we get to go into the lab or the office just like the big boys, and, every so often, one of us does something that everyone applauds and we get our name in the paper and everyone gets to be happy and say, “See! Women really are equal, so now why won’t everyone just stfu already?”
    Well, guess what? I’m not so interested in paper. I’m interested in hearts and minds. And I can’t force my way to win those things, I have to earn them. The hearts and minds I have to win must be given, not taken. In other words, the person whose mind I change has to make the conscious choice to see things my way. That means (as far as I understand it, anyway) that they have to agree with my assertions – that women are equal and deserving – because they want to agree with them, not merely because they are afraid of getting slapped by a pissed off woman and/or a lawsuit.
    So I’ll thank your ass-kicking examples, your Susan B. Anthonies and Cary Hatchets and triangle shirtwaist ladies. I’ll thank them for letting people paint the picture as a vapid bumper sticker – “well behaved ladies ladies rarely make history.” I’ll thank them for reinforcing the notion that there are only two choices for me (ie…virgin/whore or mild-mannered/ball buster) in the spectrum of humanity. I’ll thank that attitude for perpetuating the myth – both with misogynists and feminists – that I must pick one of those options in order to be a “real woman.” I’ll thank them for refusing me the chance to be what I want – a PERSON – as opposed to a woman.

  45. transgressingengineer
    June 13, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    shiny_things: If one goes with what you said, then the only discrimination that happens to a group (women, people of color, etc) is out of individual acts of meanness. What about the systematic and deliberate acts of privilege that have happened in the U.S. past that continue to shape the U.S. currently and our future? For instance, let’s look at the GI Bill of Rights. After WWII, white male vets were given money to go for higher education. Black male vets who served in WWI were systematically denied the higher educational benefits. (The same is true for housing opportunities for whites versus Black vets after WWII.) This institutionalized privilege for whites versus Blacks created a difference in financial benefits that persists today becuase of how wealth is passed from generation to generation.
    This is the point that I am trying to make: individual acts of meanness are not the real issue here- the systematic granting of privileges as ‘rights’ to some and not to others is the issue.
    The subtle things that happen in academia that are rooted in issues of systematic granting of privileges include how people communicate in departments, how information is passed along, who has access to information, how tenure is granted, what activities are valued, etc. Within all of these subtle things, one can see the idea of ‘that is just the way things are done around here’ take form and be used to account for how we have normalized activities in academia around issues of privilege.

  46. June 13, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Bill, I said “if”. “if” they do this, then this, “if” they do that, then that. I don’t know what they are actually doing. I can read what they posted here; from that, it appears to me – and this is solely my interpretation, which is quite possibly completely wrong – it appears to me that they are somewhere in the middle of recognizing that she has been discriminated against and he has been advantaged, but not really wanting to completely acknowledge that this has happened or what it means, because it’s too painful (and it is painful).
    I wish you would read what I wrote more carefully. I am not “attacking” Mr. Husband. I am not accusing him of being responsible for Mrs. Wife’s experience of discrimination; he was not even close to being in a position of power that would allow him to do that. It’s ludicrous to think that as a graduate student he could have that power. I’ll say this once more and hope I can communicate it: a post was written describing the situation and contextualizing it with statistical evidence about systemic discrimination at Fermilab. This post could not possibly be construed as meaning Mr. Husband was responsible for the discrimination – he is at best a pawn or bystander in the whole thing. If you read what Absinthe wrote about taking the post down, she makes this point herself. But he read the post as if it were saying just that, as if it said that he was responsible. Merely having his name associated in cyberspace with a blog post talking about systemic discrimination at Fermilab was so terrifying to him that he did not or could not interpret what was said correctly. And so he wanted the post taken down.
    It is this action of Mr. Husband’s that initially angered me. I saw it initially as an action that sided with the oppressors; an action that said “don’t talk about this, keep it quiet, I don’t want people to hear about it and I don’t want my name associated with it, but really, truly, I’m all on your side, just don’t mention it to anyone.”
    I still see it that way. I was very moved by the comments posted by Mr. Husband and Mrs. Wife, and I really feel for them, but their story, while new to them, is ancient and common. Wanting to keep it hidden in the dark is a collusion with the forces that are acting on both of them.
    It’s incredibly ironic that Mr. Husband and Mrs. Wife were perfectly happy to have themselves profiled in Fermilab’s magazine “Symmetry” as an example of a happy, everything’s-great-successful-couple-at-Fermilab marriage, where the propaganda belied the truth of the gender inequity experienced in their careers, even as Mrs. Wife was planning to exit physics – but they are not willing to have anyone talk about them in the context of Fermilab’s ongoing discriminatory practices, which more closely mirrors the reality of their lives.
    Now you tell me: what, precisely, about that should make me feel less angry?
    And yes, I do reserve my greatest amount of anger for the senior personnel at Fermilab for creating this everybody-loses situation in the first place. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be angry at husbands who want to hide from the truth. I applaud how far Mr. Husband seems to have come, and hope for him to go even farther.

  47. jeffk
    June 13, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    NOBODY gets to tell me what to say or how to say it.
    Obviously. But the whole point of having comments on a blog is to discuss a post. Part of that discussion is saying, “hey, you said something that maybe wasn’t right”, or “the way you said this wasn’t the best and here’s why”. If you don’t want people critiquing your posts, don’t have comments enabled. Unless you just need the self-satisfaction that comes from the dozen or so commenters that basically just say, “yes, I agree!”.

  48. Alexis
    June 13, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    For the record, I am not saying, “the way [zuska] said this wasn’t best.” I’m saying, “the way zuska said this isn’t the only way to say it.”
    The difference is not merely semantic – I mean to indicate that there is not a right or wrong way to say what is being said, nor is there a spectrum of ways of increasing goodness. Each way is vital to getting us somewhere, but I don’t want readers (especially the more or less sympathetic men reading this) to conflate one way of putting it with all the other ways of putting it. If you don’t like how Zuska puts it, frame it a different way or listen to someone else. But don’t lose the message because one person phrases it such that you get uncomfortable.
    Likewise, I am taking Zuska to task only for telling readers (implicitly, by getting hella pissed when they proffer a disagreement) that they must listen and agree with what she says and how she says it, or else they are blue eyed devils. Lack of receptivity to a message’s form or to certain minor details does not equal lack of receptivity to the message.

  49. June 13, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    Bill, I said “if”. […] I wish you would read what I wrote more carefully.
    You said (emphasis mine) “If Mr. Husband and Mrs. Wife continue to deny the reality of his unearned privilege”, which directly implies that they have done so. Since we’re on the topic of reading comprehension, please show me where and how Jason and Leah manifest this denial. (I won’t even bother pasting in the many sentences in which they explicitly agree that such privilege exists.)
    I am not “attacking” Mr. Husband.
    Huh. Then this

    He’s a frickin’ whiner and apologist for the oppressor. He doesn’t want his name associated with it? Because he looks like he is the discriminator? That is so ridiculous! He is projecting a fantasy to prevent himself from the realization that he has benefited unfairly from the discrimination against his wife, _for which he is not responsible_, but nonetheless he has gained an unfair advantage by virtue of just being male, while women have been discriminated against just by virtue of being female. Just as they didn’t deserve discrimination, he didn’t deserve his unfair advantage. And he doesn’t want to look too closely at his own success and think about how much of it is due to unfair advantage.

    is all in good fun, I guess? That was your response to Absinthe’s post about the deletion, and you haven’t changed your tune since then:

    being terrified of having your name associated with a blog post that points out that gender bias exists at Fermilab – and pretending that the reason you are terrified is because the blog post accuses you of perpetrating gender bias – is to deny reality and help support the attitudes that do cause gender bias

    Back to Reading 101: that is not how Jason read the original post. He and Leah have both said so quite directly:
    Leah:

    The problem we had with the original post was that if you searched for my husbands first and last name and the word physics that post was one of the first to come up. The problem is he will be looking for jobs in the next few months […] and didn’t want it to look like the only reason that he got a PhD was because he was born with a penis.

    Jason:

    Do you know how I found out about Absinthe’s post? My father found it by googling my name for fun. He didn’t find anything good about me, just an article about how I was succeeding due to gender bias. Oddly enough, I was put off by that.

    The concern was not that Absinthe made Jason look like an oppressor, but that she made it sound as though the gender-uneven playing field was the entire basis of his success. Leah commented in this thread that “…to say that my husband is one of the causes [of her mistreatment] is ridiculous”. That was a response to your rhetoric, not to Absinthe.
    Further, where did Jason “pretend” anything about accusations of direct responsibility for Leah’s disadvantage? That appears to be a strawman all your own. The couple in question presumably like to eat, and keep a roof over their heads, and so they’d rather not rock boats right now. Anyone who wants to decry that caution had better be willing to pay their expenses while they throw themselves on the spear-wall of gender based discrimination.

    You ask:

    Now you tell me: what, precisely, about that should make me feel less angry?

    where by “that” you mean your interpretation of the situation. I think that you are misreading Jason’s motives, despite his and Leah’s clarifications, and that on my reading there is far less reason for the anger you are directing at him.

    Now, you tell me (since I asked first anyway): what should Jason have done?

  50. csrster
    June 14, 2007 at 2:26 am

    “Rob- I can tell you are angry”
    I think this comment wins transgressingengineer the “No-shit Sherlock” award for 2007.

  51. June 14, 2007 at 8:23 am

    Lots of comments! Thanks to Bill for standing up for our side.
    To Zuska…..we have a start of a little family here. One day we are going to have kids and a nice condo and get out of this financial nightmare that we are in (grad students don’t get dental insurance but teeth still crack 😦 …which by the way is ridiculous and maybe the treatment of grad students in general is a question for another day)….ANYWAYS, maybe my point is that while I don’t think he’s been given an advantage as he has worked his ass off for the past 5 years (please stop discounting that he actually did work for his PhD…because he did), even if he did why can I complain. He’s going off and getting a job and going to help fund our future. Maybe if we were both just students in the field and just friends I would have noticed or cared about any discrimination. But as of now, things he does directly relates to what I do. Maybe I’m not a good feminist, and I’m probably not, but there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a bit more financially comfortable and if that can happen faster BECAUSE he’s graduating first then so be it.
    Maybe I’m just saying that for whatever reason these are the cards we were dealt…be it luck, be it discrimination…whatever. But those are the cards, and maybe we don’t have full house, but we have a pair of aces and that’s worth a lot in my book! (oh it’s early in the am for me, I’m getting a bit silly)
    The bright side is that I get (yes get…there is a lot I like about being a grad student) to be a grad student for another year while we have more income which should make things a bit more fun.
    I also don’t know what Jason is expected to do. Grad students are lowest folks on the totem pole…being one rung up on women (as that is what you are thinking) isn’t that much power.

  52. Jason R.
    June 14, 2007 at 9:00 am

    I had been resisting further commenting as it obviously doesn’t matter what I say. On the plus side, though, Bill said it all for me. Thanks, Bill.
    I think it’s pretty understandable why the post was inappropriate from the start. Think about it. First off, the post was based on assumptions made from someone who has never spoken with me and has never seen me (or my wife) give a single physics talk. The author (who’s name I will politely refrain from using) represented herself as being close to the situation and, after describing the difference in talk allotment and what not, implied that this was despite my being probably a lesser physicist. My issue with this is that she has no way of knowing this since there is no way for her to have first hand knowledge of our skills. Frankly, I hardly think it’s a matter of better. She’s better at some things, I’m better at others. Together we make a good team. But she could be a million times better and Absinthe couldn’t possibly know.
    But whatever. Now, after taking down the post and then using supposedly personal e-mails on her blog (which she poorly paraphrases), the paraphrases are picked up by another blog and represented as fact. Do people make judgements based on this? Well, the first commenter didn’t understand why my wife hadn’t divorced me, so maybe.
    In fact, the only legitimate facts are that of the talks. Why would it be unreasonable to use the numbers and edit out the names? I only asked that the last names be removed for google purposes. Isn’t it only relevant that google picks up the blog post when searching for “gender inequality” and not “Jason ****** Physicist”? Her argument is that it was all a matter of public record, but come on. First off, it’s not, as that is all password protected and secondly, it’s obviously different to consolidate it into one post and tag my name onto it (because I just did a google search and couldn’t find my talks, but maybe I’m just not skilled enough). But please, if anyone can explain how having my last name attached to facts interpretted through speculation furthers the cause, please chime in.
    And Zuska, Absinthe…I never claimed that either of you were saying that I was directly responsible. In fact, I never came close to saying that. And I was not terrified by the original post and its threat to my career. I was annoyed and frustrated, but not terrified.
    This whole thing has just gone much further than is necessary. Only in the blog world could someone say something which is blatantly untrue and then further misrepresent a statement, only to have another person misinteprete those statements and present that as the truth.
    It’s just odd that these people also consider themselves scientists.

  53. jeffk
    June 14, 2007 at 10:23 am

    I’m going to cross post this because I think it’s relevent.
    “Being able to stick your head in the sand is a great priviledge”. This, is absolutely true. But what’s also absolutely true is that those posters stick their heads in the sand when it comes to the billions of other forms of injustice in the world, be it African babies with AIDS or genocide in Darfur or on the other end of the spectrum but closer to home, atheists in the United States being chased out of small towns.
    We all have to life our lives while working for change as much as we can. The world isn’t going to change tomorrow; it won’t change in our lifetimes, and few people are good enough people to make the entirety of their only shot at existence completely self-sacrificing. I know that some of what I have is due to my male priviledge and that’s unjust; and I’m keeping it anyways! … while continueing to devote time and energy to thinking about and fighting for feminist issues. In one sense, that is ethically wrong; in another, it makes me more of an ally than 99% of the other males out there and every time I get angrily harassed for taking issue with a subtlety of Zuska or another feminist’s argument, it just makes me want to quit trying.
    I’m not saying feminism isn’t important. I know that dismissal tactic and that is NOT what I’m doing. I’m saying that a good person lives their own life while doing all sorts of things for various causes, and there’s only so much of a particular person to go around.

  54. June 14, 2007 at 10:52 am

    First, I second what Mecha said.
    Second,
    Jason,
    The person using a pen name agrees that Absinthe should have gotten permission to use your full names before doing so. She also agrees that there are legitimate, un-sexist reasons for not wanting said post to be at the top of a google search.
    However, I am curious about the fact that you characterized Absinthe’s post as saying that you “w[ere} succeeding due to gender bias.” Not having read the post in question, I can’t judge for myself. So disregard this if it explicitly stated that. But if Zuzka’s post describes the situations accurately – up until the issue of the post itself – I find it really interesting that you would describe it that way, since it seems obvious to me that the issue isn’t that you are succeeding due to gender bias, but that Leah is being pushed out because of it.
    I think a part of the problem (and I think this is what Zuska was partly talking about) is that when it’s pointed out to any privileged person that they are benefitting from privilege, all good privileged people feel guilty because of this and/or feel like they are being accused of getting something they don’t deserve. Despite the fact that it’s not directly their fault and that they may actually deserve more as well, depending on the situation.
    So I do wonder if, in addition to the issue of privacy, there isn’t also the issue of wanting to ignore a problem because it makes you feel uncomfortable and because you feel that when people are simply pointing out the problem that means that they are accusing you as being personally responsible for it. Which usually isn’t the case (the accusing) – and is not the same thing as accusing you of being complicit by acting as if they are doing so.
    Anyway, I need to finish this up get to work, so I hope that made sense.

  55. June 14, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Bill,
    The comment I left on Absinthe’s post was left, unfortunately, in the heat of anger. I will agree with you that that comment is unpleasant and in the nature of an attack. I think the things I have written here on my blog have been more restrained and can not be characterized in the same way. I do regret leaving the comment at Absinthe’s and I will ask her to remove it. I stand by the rest of what I have said: reacting to a post that does not describe you as being responsible for gender bias, as if it DOES blame you for perpetuating gender bias, is irrational – it is denying reality, and trying to suppress the post does lend implicit support to the attitudes that caused the original problem. Here’s what Mrs. Wife said:
    The problem is he will be looking for jobs in the next few months – and didn’t want it to look like the only reason that he got a PhD was because he was born with a penis…I’m not saying that there were times that I haven’t been frustrated….BUT to say that my husabd is one of the causes is ridiculous.
    And Mr. Husband wrote:
    Do you know how I found out about Absinthe’s post? My father found it by googling my name for fun. He didn’t find anything good about me, just an article about how I was succeeding due to gender bias. Oddly enough, I was put off by that.
    Which suggests to me they both read the post as describing him as responsible for the gender bias. You read these lines as saying the exact opposite. Mrs. Wife’s statement couldn’t be a response to my “rhetoric” because I did not say that Mr. Husband was responsible for her mistreatment. Nor did Absinthe. Nobody did. That’s the whole point. Nobody ever said that, but they have reacted as if someone did. Furthermore, I have always made it clear that I am not saying Mr. Husband is not a good physicist; that it is clear he has worked hard and earned his success. Being given extra breaks does you no good if you can’t take advantage of those breaks, if you don’t put in the work and the hours to capitalize on your chance for success. Gender bias isn’t someone just handing you a PhD for nothing.
    You said
    The concern was not that Absinthe made Jason look like an oppressor
    But I think this was always the concern, or at least a major part of the concern.
    You think I am misreading the situation, and on that we will have to agree to disagree. You ask, what should Mr. Husband have done? I think what Mr. Husband and Mrs. Wife have done here – coming onto the comments thread, talking about the issue, trying to parse its multiple meanings – is quite awesome. Perhaps they could have asked Absinthe to remove their last names from the post or to give them pseudonyms, as opposed to having her remove the post entirely from her blog. And engaged in a discussion, as they are doing here, under their first names and last initial. That would have been preferable to suppressing information.
    I never expected, nor suggested, that Mr. Husband should resign his degree, or Mrs. Wife should kick him out, or any other radical action that other people have thought or suggested or attributed to me.
    I just know what a difference it can make if the Mr. Husband’s of the world could just look their privilege in the face, acknowledge it, and say “I’m a good scientist, but I’ve also gotten a lot of help that you didn’t. That sucks. I’m going to try never to contribute to that situation in the future.” (There are even some examples of Mr. Husband & Mrs. Wife teams who have made decisions to advance their careers simultaneously; a nice example is Sue Nokes’s story “Because I Did Not Know I Was Different” in Women in Science: Meeting Career Challenges. )
    And that’s all different than saying
    I feel like a total dick for blindly accepting all the advantages while Leah has been treated fairly poorly at several turns but I’m not really sure that I am that kind of person. I don’t like to think of myself as “one of the boys” in this boys club
    That’s just saying “No, not me, I didn’t really have any advantages, because I’m not that kind of guy!” Well, but…you did have the advantages. Just because you are a guy. It doesn’t make you a bad guy. It’s just something that happens because you are a guy. You didn’t ask for it, it just happened to you. That’s what unearned privilege is – unearned, unasked for. It’s not nice to think about, not nice at all, but it needs thinking about. It doesn’t need radical futile gestures like renouncing degrees or casting husbands out into the street, but it doesn’t need squashing back into the dark, either.
    And that, Bill, is where my “if” comes in. “If” there is a continuation of the middle ground “yes, it happened, but no, not really, I don’t want to think about being a member of the privileged club” – or “if” there is a different path chosen. In my reading, there is enough ambivalence in their statements that the if is warranted. You may well disagree with me on that. It would be great if you are right and I am wrong.

  56. June 14, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Bill,
    The comment I left on Absinthe’s post was left, unfortunately, in the heat of anger. I will agree with you that that comment is unpleasant and in the nature of an attack. I think the things I have written here on my blog have been more restrained and can not be characterized in the same way. I do regret leaving the comment at Absinthe’s and I will ask her to remove it. I stand by the rest of what I have said: reacting to a post that does not describe you as being responsible for gender bias, as if it DOES blame you for perpetuating gender bias, is irrational – it is denying reality, and trying to suppress the post does lend implicit support to the attitudes that caused the original problem. Here’s what Mrs. Wife said:
    The problem is he will be looking for jobs in the next few months – and didn’t want it to look like the only reason that he got a PhD was because he was born with a penis…I’m not saying that there were times that I haven’t been frustrated….BUT to say that my husabd is one of the causes is ridiculous.
    And Mr. Husband wrote:
    Do you know how I found out about Absinthe’s post? My father found it by googling my name for fun. He didn’t find anything good about me, just an article about how I was succeeding due to gender bias. Oddly enough, I was put off by that.
    Which suggests to me they both read the post as describing him as responsible for the gender bias. You read these lines as saying the exact opposite. Mrs. Wife’s statement couldn’t be a response to my “rhetoric” because I did not say that Mr. Husband was responsible for her mistreatment. Nor did Absinthe. Nobody did. That’s the whole point. Nobody ever said that, but they have reacted as if someone did. Furthermore, I have always made it clear that I am not saying Mr. Husband is not a good physicist; that it is clear he has worked hard and earned his success. Being given extra breaks does you no good if you can’t take advantage of those breaks, if you don’t put in the work and the hours to capitalize on your chance for success. Gender bias isn’t someone just handing you a PhD for nothing.
    You said
    The concern was not that Absinthe made Jason look like an oppressor
    But I think this was always the concern, or at least a major part of the concern.
    You think I am misreading the situation, and on that we will have to agree to disagree. You ask, what should Mr. Husband have done? I think what Mr. Husband and Mrs. Wife have done here – coming onto the comments thread, talking about the issue, trying to parse its multiple meanings – is quite awesome. Perhaps they could have asked Absinthe to remove their last names from the post or to give them pseudonyms, as opposed to having her remove the post entirely from her blog. And engaged in a discussion, as they are doing here, under their first names and last initial. That would have been preferable to suppressing information.
    I never expected, nor suggested, that Mr. Husband should resign his degree, or Mrs. Wife should kick him out, or any other radical action that other people have thought or suggested or attributed to me.
    I just know what a difference it can make if the Mr. Husband’s of the world could just look their privilege in the face, acknowledge it, and say “I’m a good scientist, but I’ve also gotten a lot of help that you didn’t. That sucks. I’m going to try never to contribute to that situation in the future.” (There are even some examples of Mr. Husband & Mrs. Wife teams who have made decisions to advance their careers simultaneously; a nice example is Sue Nokes’s story “Because I Did Not Know I Was Different” in Women in Science: Meeting Career Challenges. )
    And that’s all different than saying
    I feel like a total dick for blindly accepting all the advantages while Leah has been treated fairly poorly at several turns but I’m not really sure that I am that kind of person. I don’t like to think of myself as “one of the boys” in this boys club
    That’s just saying “No, not me, I didn’t really have any advantages, because I’m not that kind of guy!” Well, but…you did have the advantages. Just because you are a guy. It doesn’t make you a bad guy. It’s just something that happens because you are a guy. You didn’t ask for it, it just happened to you. That’s what unearned privilege is – unearned, unasked for. It’s not nice to think about, not nice at all, but it needs thinking about. It doesn’t need radical futile gestures like renouncing degrees or casting husbands out into the street, but it doesn’t need squashing back into the dark, either.
    And that, Bill, is where my “if” comes in. “If” there is a continuation of the middle ground “yes, it happened, but no, not really, I don’t want to think about being a member of the privileged club” – or “if” there is a different path chosen. In my reading, there is enough ambivalence in their statements that the if is warranted. You may well disagree with me on that. It would be great if you are right and I am wrong.

  57. June 14, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    I have nothing more to say on this. Let Jason speak for himself:
    Zuska:

    Perhaps they could have asked Absinthe to remove their last names from the post or to give them pseudonyms, as opposed to having her remove the post entirely from her blog

    Jason:

    All I asked was that she remove my name from the post.

    Zuska:

    [elided quotes] suggest[s] to me they both read the post as describing him as responsible for the gender bias. You read these lines as saying the exact opposite.

    Jason:

    And Zuska, Absinthe…I never claimed that either of you were saying that I was directly responsible. In fact, I never came close to saying that.

  58. June 14, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Bill, what you are quoting Jason as saying is apparently not what he said to Absinthe in the email she describes on her blog.
    He was unhappy that I had not asked their permission to link to the story and talk about it. He felt that my blog piece painted him as a discriminator against women…He was angry that if a future employer Google’d his name, it would come up with my post, and he felt the posting put him in a bad light as a discriminator against women
    and
    In particular, the husband was very upset because he said that even though he supported gender equity in principle, he didn’t want his name associated with the issue in cyberspace.
    So, either Absinthe is lying, or making stuff up out of whole cloth, or completely misrepresenting what was in the email – or Jason is singing a different tune here.
    IF Absinthe is lying, then I’ll gladly retract my post. If she is not, then I stand by my post.
    In the final analysis I do agree with Absinthe on this point:
    A part of me is not sympathetic to the idea of asking peoples’ (or universitys’, or national labs’) permission to talk about them on this blog, if what I say is based on data in the public domain.
    She was commenting on an article that was in the public domain, and included data that was available in the public domain. Jason and Leah were okay with being publicized as part of Fermilab’s publication – but not as Absinthe’s commentary on that publication. This is something that bloggers routinely do – comment on articles already in print, even articles that name people by name.

  59. June 14, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    Absinthe here:

    Holy snappin’ crap…I just checked this blog today and
    found this posting regarding my removal of one of my
    old postings regarding a married couple who are both
    graduate students on my old experiment. The original posting talked about an article about a couple in Fermilab’s propaganda rag, Symmetry…the article named the couple, and I could see no good way of writing the original post without also using their names (since I linked to the article in the post). The couple contacted me several weeks later and asked me to remove the article. The husband in particular was particularly insistent. He made some good points as to why he wanted it removed, and I took those into account into my decision to promptly remove it, despite some misgivings I have about my right to free speech in my blog. In all my communications with the couple I was respectful and polite, and neither the husband or wife were slurred in any way in the blog postings I made…in fact I described them both as very good physicists. The point of the article was gender discrimination and public mis-representation of same at the laboratory…the situation of the couple perfectly mirrored my aggregate statistical studies of gender discrimination against young female physicists at the lab (which, as hard as it is for some to hear, naturally implies gender favoritism for young males at the lab), yet the lab was publicly portraying them both as living in some kind of physicist nirvana.

    The
    comment thread here took me a couple of hours to wade
    through. The issue surrounding my blog posting, and Zuska’s opinions regarding my removal of it, has obviously struck a nerve and polarized a lot
    of people.

    First, the comment by Cats are Snakes that Mrs.Wife
    should kick her husband to the curb is out of hand.
    I do know the couple (despite the husband’s vitriolic protestations in this comment thread that I am making that up) and they appear to be very much in
    love and good friends to boot. As both Zuska and I
    have pointed out in our separate posts, he is not
    responsible for any gender discrimination she may have
    suffered…the perks that were awarded to him and not
    to her were not his to confer or deny. My own husband
    is persuing a successful career in particle physics
    with tenure on the horizon…should I “kick him to the
    curb” just because he got many more career advancement
    perks than I did??? I think not.

    I agree with a few of Rob Knopp’s points…I don’t think
    that the husband of the couple complaining publicly about the
    situation would have helped either of them. Hell…I’m
    not even sure either he or she noticed the insidious
    divergence of their career tracks when it began to happen.
    No…complaining about such things should be left to the
    tenured, and or to those who have nothing left to lose
    by telling it like it is. Like me, for instance.

    What really bothers me are the comments left by
    Leah and Jason, the wife and husband. Despite the
    fact that I pointed out in both my posts that Leah
    is one of the best students I ever had the pleasure
    to work with, she apparently has misread that to mean
    I think she is “weak”. Leah is disturbingly self-deprecating
    in both her e-mail to me regarding my original post, and her
    comment on this post.

    In interesting contrast are the comments left by her husband near the end of the thread wherein he complains:
    The author (who’s name I will politely refrain from using) represented herself as being close to the situation and, after describing the difference in talk allotment and what not, implied that this was despite my being probably a lesser physicist. Ay yi yi…in my original posting I squarely blamed the difference in talk allotment as being due to gender discrimination against females on that experiment perpetrated by the administration of the experiment (and backed it up with aggregate statistical data), and I refered to both the husband and wife as being very good physicists, with Leah perhaps even slightly better, “in my opinion”. The husband has turned this into a slur against his abilities as a physicist because someone actually states his wife appears to perhaps be slightly better than he is, and then he further (deliberately) completely misinterprets the blog article as painting him as getting more talks within the collaboration despite his being a “lesser physicist”. No Jason, the unabashed point of the article was that Leah got fewer talks within the collaboration despite the fact that she is at least your equal, and that your situation as a couple perfectly follows the patterns in the aggregate data for young physicists on that experiment. My aggregated data show that young females on that experiment are saddled with twice the service work (ie; grunt work that few people enjoy doing) compared to their male peers. The point of the article was gender discrimination against Leah and her female peers, not a I think I’ll write an article today for no good reason other than to paint Jason as a really shitty physicist who gets job perks he doesn’t deserve.

    I’ll likely get slammed for saying this, but I think the
    contrast between the comments left by the husband and wife regarding their separate opinions on how my article painted their physics abilities tells an interesting tale of gender dynamics in the sciences.

    I also am disturbed that both the husband and wife are
    painting me as a liar, yet she agrees early on in
    the comment thread that I have
    represented the facts correctly (ie; he got given
    a plum analysis early on while she got given grunt work
    (for which she was given no credit), and that she will
    be graduating likely 18 months after him because of it).
    Their accusations of me being a liar seem to be centered
    on my claims of how well I know them. I worked for a couple of years in the same physics working group as they did (consisting of around 50 or so active participants, and met every two weeks…in these meetings I observed presentations given by both Leah and Jason), and Leah worked under my supervision during my last months at the laboratory. I admit I’m not
    part of their family, and I’ve never been close enough to
    either of them to go out to dinner together, but obviously
    I know both of them well enough that I got the underlying facts
    behind their situation correct enough that at least the wife does
    not dispute them. I am distressed that I am being painted as
    a liar, and that commentors like Bill seem to think that
    the mere suggestion of prevarication connected with
    Absinthe is enough to make him distrust everything I say
    in my blog. How well
    someone knows someone else is a matter of opinion, not
    an empirically defined quanitity. Readers of my description of my connection to the couple can judge for themselves how well I know them.

    I am a blogger…my original blog posting was based on
    a Fermilab propaganda article that painted the couple
    as living wonderful physicist lives. I knew the truth
    to be different, and, what’s more, my knowledge came from my personal knowledge of the couple and from
    PUBLIC DATA (and no, as the husband claims, it is not password
    protected…see http://d0db-dev.fnal.gov/D0_sb_dbcode/, click
    the radio buttion for “All” under “List Conferences”,
    and proceed to the “Click here after choosing button”. Voila,
    a list of all the talks ever given by people on the experiment).
    And that is not some top secret url I am pointing everyone
    to…anyone can find it by google’ing “D0 conference database”.

    I consider my blog a form a journalism where
    I try to represent the data and facts that showcase the
    discriminatory environment at Fermilab (an environment, by
    the way, that the wife admits in her comment was at times
    difficult to deal with as a woman). Bloggers and/or
    journalists do not have to ask peoples’ permission to
    write about them as long as they get the basic facts right and
    don’t misrepresent data. And regarding the comment in this
    thread that it was “unfair” of me
    to name their names because they were not public
    figures…the Fermilab propaganda piece made them
    public figures. I never would have mentioned the name of
    the couple if it was not already public, with their careers
    as physicists being publicly misrepresented as essentially
    equal and blissful. I am at heart a nice person who tries to
    avoid playing dirty pool at all costs…which is why
    I promptly removed the post when they asked me to, despite
    my misgivings regarding my right to free speech. And I
    did so without any vitriol. I was respectful to both of
    them in the e-mails I exchanged with them about the original
    posting.

    In neither my original post, or my second post describing
    why I removed the original, did I ever blame the husband
    for discriminating against his wife, nor did I ever suggest
    that he should have spoken out about it. Indeed, the original
    post pointed the finger of blame firmly at the adminstration
    of the laboratory and the supervisory infrastructure controlling
    the couple. Yet in the emails the husband sent to me and in his
    comments in this thread he appears to be doggedly insisting on
    misinterpreting my posts to be a finger of blame pointed at him
    for not speaking out to protect his wife. The extensive vitriol
    he has been spewing over this issue is actually kind of scary to me
    (and Absinthe is no stranger to vitriol).

    Frumious B’s comment is wonderful…most
    female particle physicists are married to other
    physicists so I know a lot of “dual” couples. During
    a conversation about gender discrimination one evening
    at a dinner party with a bunch of our physicist-couple
    friends, a couple of the males (including my
    husband) openly admitted that they were privileged
    because of their gender, and that it made them very
    uncomfortable to see the trials and tribulations their
    wives had to suffer through. Both males have yet to
    get tenure, but both do their best to ensure that any
    junior female that is anywhere under their sphere of
    influence gets treated fairly. Unlike Jason, instead
    of spewing vitriol because someone pointed out that their
    career was on the fast track compared to their wives’
    they have acted proactively. Other husbands at the
    dinner party were reluctant to admit any gender
    advantages, although there was a spirited discussion
    wherein their careers were compared to those of their
    wives (they all were further ahead than their wives).
    But again, unlike Jason, they did not spew vitriol…
    instead the discussion appeared to have illuminated some
    things for them that they had not noticed before (but that
    their wives had!).

    As Frumious B asks….now that you (Jason) have been
    confronted with the ugly facts of gender discrimination happening
    right in front of your eyes, whaddayagonnado in the future?
    Just spew more vitriol if someone points out any future
    inequities between the careers of you and your wife?
    It is not your fault that the inequities happen,
    but Zuska is right that your vitriolic responses aren’t helping
    the situation. Jason, I took down my original post because
    I like you, and you made an argument for removing it that
    frankly, either rightly or wrongly, had not occured to me when
    I made the post.
    I just checked on Google, and there is not even a cached version
    of the original post. You got what you wanted, and I was
    respectful to you in my emails to you and in my second posting.
    Your continued raging vitriol against me is unfounded, and,
    I might add, really immature compared to the response of all
    other male physicists I’ve seen in similar situations.
    Your immaturity is underlined by the fact that you pretend
    to think that Zuska (and I) are publicly rooting for you to
    give up your PhD just so that you don’t appear to the rest
    of the world to be “a dick”. Come on Jason, some may view it
    to be wrong that I included your name in my original posting,
    but it is gone now at your request, and I did so promptly and
    nicely. To speak frankly, grow up fer chrissakes.

    My original post about the parts that Jason and Leah
    play as members of the lowest level of the
    whole rotten gender
    discrimination food chain at
    Fermilab, and how they were egregiously misrepresented as living in some kind of physics nirvana by Fermilab in the lab’s propaganda rag, has resulted in a comment thread here that has been
    interesting and enlightening for me to read…frankly, I don’t
    necessarily disagree with the major points that either “camps”
    in this discussion thread are trying to make. I hope that
    you too, Jason, have been enlightened by the thoughts on both sides
    of the issue.

  60. June 14, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    I would like to say that I was really really excited about the Symmetry article. I got a lot of copies of it and I got to show my family it. My mom who has *no* idea what I do was so excited about it. My dad who was a high school physics teacher for 25 years gets to show it all his friends. Sometimes it’s nice to have your parents proud of you, when you do good work as a kid and it goes up on the refridgerator…that’s what this was for me. I didn’t have a problem with the article, and I was proud that we were featured in it.
    Can we please just let this go. All we asked was for you to remove *our names* from the post…and we both agree with all the points you bring up…but given the situation that we are in at the moment there isn’t much we can do about it. It’s such an important issue, and no one is denying that.
    a thank you to Absinthe for her comments on my abilities on being a physicist. It is appreciative and it’s nice to see someone from the outside (other than hubby and parents) hand out a comment like that. so thank you.
    no go….go be fruitful and physicsy 🙂
    this is LeahC…signing out.

  61. Jason R.
    June 14, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    Your immaturity is underlined by the fact that you pretend to think that Zuska (and I) are publicly rooting for you to give up your PhD just so that you don’t appear to the rest of the world to be “a dick”. Come on Jason, some may view it to be wrong that I included your name in my original posting, but it is gone now at your request, and I did so promptly and nicely. To speak frankly, grow up fer chrissakes.

    For the last time, I *did not* ask you to remove my name. Please keep in mind that my e-mails are saved in the sent mail and I can reference them at any point.
    “Perhaps you could remove Leah’s and my name from your post. ”
    Did you get a different e-mail?
    The e-mail is posted above where I say it makes me feel like a dick (since I feel bad about Leah’s and my situation), not that you are implying that I am one. This is after I agree with you.
    Raging vitriol? I said that you are rooting for me to give up my degree? No, I asked “what do you want me to do, give up my degree?” This would be to indicate, in my position of power, what can I do to reverse the problem between our career paths.
    I will freely admit that Leah may be a better physicist than I am. I’m not sure what better means, but she’s better at many things in physics than I am and has an amazing, amazing analysis that blows my mind. Frankly, I don’t see how any of this is relevant. I just asked that we not be the poster children for gender inequality. All you had to do was remove our names and your point would not have been remotely weakened. Hell, they’re in the article you link, it’s easy to figure out (and no, we are not public figures. Give me a break).
    None of this matters. Everything I written you is being read through a filter. You see vitriol and defensiveness and continually misquote me to prove your point. I’m not sure that there’s anything I can do to change that.
    I’m sorry it had to come to all this. I was upset when I asked you to remove my name (after my initial polite e-mail) and that was almost all because of how I found out about it. Sorry about that. Any yes, you were initially cordial. Thanks.
    Well, I think I’m done with this.

  62. Jason R.
    June 14, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    For the last time, I *did not* ask you to remove my name.

    oops, that should read “remove the post.” I did ask to remove my name.
    Sorry, long day.

  63. absinthe
    June 15, 2007 at 9:22 am

    A clarification:
    Jason, it is true that you only asked to have your names removed from the initial article, and it was my decision that it was better (given the concerns you described, whether I agreed with them in principle or not) just to take the whole post down. Note I never mentioned in my second post that you demanded I take the entire original post down…I merely talked about you being upset about how it might affect your future job search. And yes, I paraphrased your two e-mails in that post with an interpretation you happen not to agree with.
    I guess what really bothers me (in fact I know it bothers me because I had nightmares about it last night) is that you did indeed ask that your name be removed from the post because of the damage you thought it would do to your job search…you felt that any employer who google’d your name and came across my original post would view “your thesis as tainted by gender equality issues” (and yes, that is a direct quote from your email). You yourself say Do you know how I found out about Absinthe’s post? My father found it by googling my name for fun. He didn’t find anything good about me, just an article about how I was succeeding due to gender bias.. Jason, the article was neutral regarding you (ie; neither good or bad (other than stating my opinion that you are a good physicist))…it merely stated that your career was going nicely but your wife’s wasn’t, and that I felt the differences were due to blatant gender discrimination against Leah because your situation as a couple perfectly mirrors the aggregate data, and also because of my own observations of you both as a couple. The fact that you think a statement like that throws you into a bad light (instead of a neutral light) is your own take on the situation. Instead of you (and your Dad I guess, because he pointed it out to you) primarily reading the article as “Yeah, that’s an accurate description of what poor Leah is going through right now”, you primarily read it as a slur upon yourself that would throw you into a bad light in any future job search. And hence we have Zuska’s post on why she finds attitudes like yours offensive. I wouldn’t have chosen quite the wording she did, but I think she sums up pretty well why many feminists find attitudes like yours somewhat obnoxious.
    I just re-read my comment above, and I don’t see where I have misquoted you. I have set out the facts behind the story in my comment as plainly as I can. You seem intent on calling me a liar and an egregious misrepresentor of facts (and your claims that I am a liar get more strident the further down the comment thread one reads).
    I can’t stop you from calling me a liar…it is your right to free speech that allows you to do that. But painting me a liar by using totally contradictory statements doesn’t do a whole lot for your own credibility.
    In any case, I stand by the facts presented in my post, and I stand by my description of how well I know both of you. If my interpretation of your emails is something you don’t agree with, well too bad; I still think my interpretation is pretty close to the mark….in your second email to me and in all your comments here you seem completely freaked out by how bad you think my posting made you look in the whole gender-discrimination-in-the-sciences-schema.
    The question I guess people may now be asking (if they aren’t completely sick of this whole discussion) is why you are so anxious to paint me as a liar about pretty much everything. You obviously feel that you have something to gain from that. That needs analysis.

  64. absinthe
    June 15, 2007 at 9:34 am

    Jason, I just made my last post before your last one.
    I see you have clarified your contradictory comment.
    It is true that you and Leah did not ask me to remove the entire post. I am sorry that I unintentionally “misrepresented” that in my comment above (but recall that I never said any such thing in my posting on my blog…there I characterized your complaints about the posting and discussed my ultimate decision that the best course of action was to remove it). Does my small slip-up in my comment in this thread take away from my credibility…make me a liar about pretty much everything, as you are so anxious to have everyone believe?
    I’ll leave it to the masses to decide. It really pisses me off when people throw accusations of lying and misrepresentation about fast and loose in an attempt to discredit someone else for what they think is some gain to their own credibility in a discussion. If ever there was a person out there who takes pains to get the facts and statistics as straight as she can, it’s Absinthe.

  65. Cats are Snakes
    June 15, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Perhaps I was not clear in my radical left stance. I would give every man a boot to the curb.
    Yup, I’m one of those Bitches.

  66. Cats are Snakes
    June 15, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    In a more reasoned (and much less reactionary) statement, I would mention that I am always willing to “pay the costs” of my actions. Can I fix our two potential doctors’ problems? No. But when I found myself with a (now ex-) husband who supported my feminist ideas in principle, I had to decide whether I was willing to let it stand. I determined that – in my case – someone who supported me in principle was essentially saying, “I support you as long as it isn’t a hardship for me.”
    In my case (which I stress is the only one that was relevant to me), I determined that such a form of support was not support I was interested in keeping. Ergo, BOOT!
    I am also willing to stand up for my principles in employment situations. Thus, when I find my employer to be doing something unethical, I resign. This has happened more than once – to the extreme surprise of those employers.
    My doctorate is not in the field of science; I was a criminal defense attorney, also a male-dominated field. Plenty of people laugh aloud at the thought of an attorney with ethics, but those people have not had the opportunity to work with the mentors I have had. As lawyers, we have been trained to challenge, even if we must challenge the authority that gives us our degrees, our status, our jobs, our whatever. That willingness to challenge even our own makes the profession unique. It can also make us look predatory and antagonistic. However, I can fight in court with someone all morning and go out to lunch with them anyway.
    Not that the above signifies. For Mr. and Ms. Doctor-in-potentia, their perception is really the only one relevant here.

  67. June 15, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    Icebergs.
    Huh? Oh, no worries. It’s just a word, slipped in edgewise …

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