Okay, so it’s been a bit of a difficult couple weeks for women in general, especially women who work, and most especially those who work in science.

First there was the hilariously pitiful “binders full of women” comment by Romney.  Srsly, dude, you’d never met a women you could think of hiring in all your time during the campaign, or during your extensive time at Bain Capital?  WTF?  The redeeming feature of this comment, of course, is the hilarious Binders Full of Women meme.  Watch out, though – if you’re anything like me, that site will prove to be a serious time suck.

Added bonus features related to the binders comment:

  • “Morning Joe” host mansplains to his female co-host that she doesn’t understand what women really care about when she brings up the binder comment.
  • Assholes who think the appropriate recourse for having an incompetent presidential candidate is to attack the person who exposed him with a straight-forward question.

Closer to home, however, is the crazy, totally inappropriate facebook comment by a professor of neuroscience about the recent Society for Neuroscience meeting: “My impression of the Conference of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans. There are thousands of people at the conference and an unusually high concentration of unattractive women. The super model types are completely absent. What is going on? Are unattractive women particularly attracted to neuroscience? Are beautiful women particularly uninterested in the brain? No offense to anyone..”  (h/t to Drugmonkey, and see another great post by Dr. Freeride.)

I have about a zillion things to say about this kind of comment, and I’ll probably have time to go through many of them if I keep writing on this blog for a while, since these types of things come up with some regularity.  However, I mainly wanted to talk about just one aspect of this issue today.  Basically, there is a chorus of people who say that this type of thing can’t keep women out of science because it doesn’t actually say “women can’t do science”.  On that, I call complete bullshit (and, of course, even if the guy had said “women can’t do science” there would still be people dismissing it as unimportant).  Here’s just one potential scenario for how this type of comment can create a chilly climate for women in science:

  • Women are constantly told that their appearance determines their worth in society.  Many of them feel insecure about at least some aspect of their appearance and therefore their relative worth.
  • If they have enough self-confidence and encouragement, they make it into some traditionally male-dominated field – in this case, academic neuroscience.
  • They are told that science is a meritocracy, so looks don’t matter. Trusting in this, they are working hard, putting forth their best effort to succeed.
  • Then, some d00d, like this guy, says “Oh wait, actually looks do matter.  Also, you don’t measure up to my definition of attractive.  In fact, if you are attractive enough, you probably don’t do science.”
  • Suddenly, all those insecurities about your physical appearance are brought to the forefront.  The meritocracy might be a reality for some people, but it becomes evident that as a woman, you are still being judged based on your appearance.

So, that’s it.  Do I want to be reminded of impossible beauty standards by a professional colleague when my work has nothing to do with those impossible beauty standards?  No.

Also, even though I said I just wanted to talk about one issue, there is actually another one, which is the “free speech” argument.  The d00d is perfectly free to post this kind of thing of facebook, but he is not free from the consequences, which have involved public shaming and hopefully (eventually) a formal, professional reprimand from either his school or his professional society.  Also, for those who think that this should be private because he posted it on FB, get real.  I will present to you some pearls of wisdom from Shaggy, who recently took our institution’s required privacy training course:

From my privacy training: “If you use social networking sites, keep your personal and professional pages separate. Remember that anything you post could potentially be disclosed worldwide instantaneously.”

Should include “especially if you’re a dick”.