Visceral Reaction

**This post is not filled with eloquent writing, well argued points, subtleties etc.**

I have a very visceral reaction to this photograph, (no, not the who is Dr. Isis part, obviously).

I know this is supposed to be a joke. I can’t find it funny. People, is this what you want your colleagues (yes, predominantly men)  to imagine when you are giving a seminar… or when you are speaking up in faculty meeting?

‘Cause trust me, academia is no less like a locker room sometimes than, well, the locker room….

Perhaps you can joke about it. Perhaps you are not regularly a minority in a room …. straining every thing in you to be taken for your great ideas.  This just isn’t something I can joke about.

And yes, I’m totally prepared to be called a humorless stick-in-the-mud- but I DON’T CARE.

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34 thoughts on “Visceral Reaction

  1. Yeah, I see what you’re saying. I didn’t take up that fight, but I wasn’t totally comfortable when the post went up.

    Interesting post links generated by WordPress on this one…

  2. “People, is this what you want your colleagues (yes, predominantly men) to imagine when you are giving a seminar… or when you are speaking up in faculty meeting?”
    Wait if I’m the one giving a seminar, shouldn’t they be the ones in the imaginary underware, so as to make my public speaking experience less traumatic?
    I’m reasonably sure no one would ever think of me like that. Especially now.

    But anyway, all that fluff aside, your point is well taken. I think there’s a totally legitimate ick factor in that picture (although it was not my predominant reaction).

  3. Another stick here.
    I have absolutely no desire to picture the male audience in their skivvies either. NONE WHATSOEVER. EVER. EVER. ewwwwwww.

  4. I wasn’t upset about joking about Dr. Isis as a Victoria’s Secret model in a lab coat, but mostly because I thought (and it was confirmed) she would be cool with it. But I very much understand why others would have felt uncomfortable with the larger implications of how we treat female scientists.

    I was once at a conference where my male colleagues were discussing the breasts of a presenting graduate student (while not listening to her presentation), within my earshot. And that conversation wasn’t meant as a joke.

  5. I don’t think you’re a stick in the mud. I had both reactions, funny but really this isn’t cool especially when thinking about the broader implications. thank you for pointing it out.

  6. I had the same reactions and then I got angry with myself about it. I remember CE wrote earlier about how she did not meet with some types of chauvinism from colleagues scientists. I did.

    After years of:
    – suggestions that I sleep or I am sexually attracted to various colleagues simply because I was enthusiastic about their research. NB sometimes I did not even know the person that I was so enthusiastic about or could not identify if it was a man or a woman;
    – not welcome advances at conferences e.g. attempts of kissing, grabbing various body parts, groping etc. from people that I never met before. And when I clearly indicated how unwelcome such behavior is, hearing suggestions that I invited them to behave such way;
    – meeting one of the people mentioned above during a subsequent conference, and listening to his story, told during a conference dinner, in the presence of a dozen of people recognized in my field, the story about how he rejected my sexual advances previously. Fortunately, he was so drunk that he mentioned an international conference and everybody at the table knew that due to visa issues I could not leave US at that time. However, I am convinced that everybody just remembers that there was some problem with me, not that he was the problem.
    – being told many times how great I looked with the makeup during the talk (of course person did not pay attention to what I was talking about). Sure, that what scientists really care about – how great they looked when presenting some insignificant science;
    – being told by both my mentors (otherwise very OK people) that they do not see any problems like that (because you are men – Okham razor in action);
    – and I could go on and on

    After all these years I simply accepted that most of my male colleagues have simply very bad manners. So currently I am not enthusiastic at all when I am meeting with male scientists. I simply assume, until the person proves otherwise that I will have a questionable pleasure to deal with another rude, arrogant and primitive man (maybe this is just my field :)).

    This photo could not go well with such men and I understand this. However, in the same time I am fed up with adjusting my (already impeccable :)) behavior in constant fear that I will be misunderstood or even physically threaten simply because I am not only a scientist but also a woman. From this point of view, I could imagine such photo could serve as a good barometer of how well women are doing in science. The moment when I will not care or feel bad about it means that we achieved full equality.

  7. DrdrA- sorry you took offense.

    These seems to be yet another effect or consequence of different women having different experiences with regard to gender identification in the workplace. Maybe if I’d ever experienced sexism in the workplace, I wouldn’t have found it amusing.

    But then again, I am not an easily offended person. The worst part was that I accidentally posted it to Scientiae, of all places, the kingdom of women who definitely don’t want to see this kind of picture. For that, I am mortified.

  8. It’s a tricky issue drdrA… I completely respect the perspective you have, and the experiences DMB described, and the anger and disgust and rejection of this idea of objectification and its affect on intellectual synthesis.

    But at the same time, it seems to me like taking the same issue and giving it the finger from two different angles: one angle is stepping far outside that picture, rejecting it and saying “F You” to those who are just looking to see it in female scientists/leaders. The other angle is standing inside it, cartoonifying it a little bit, and saying “F You” to those who are just looking to see it.

    I don’t know which is more effective, because from what we all can see and many of us experience every day, neither one has gotten us all that far yet. So I think it has to be a matter of where we are each comfortable, and feel more powerful, fighting our fight.

  9. jc- I second that: NONE WHATSOEVER. EVER. EVER. ewwwwwww.

    phagenista- I bet this happens more often than not.

    DMB- I am SO sorry. I’ve not experienced anything remotely on this scale. And as for this:
    This photo could not go well with such men and I understand this. However, in the same time I am fed up with adjusting my (already impeccable 🙂 ) behavior in constant fear that I will be misunderstood or even physically threaten simply because I am not only a scientist but also a woman.

    I am not fearful because I know that I am in control, and will stand up for myself when necessary- even if it means I have to face down the powers that be. I simply don’t want to open any doors on this conversation in my professional life, I do not feel the need to point out that I am female- it’s obvious.

    CE- I know that you didn’t mean to offend anyone. I want you to realize that there will be a point in your academic career where the power balance with colleagues who are your equals (right now you are all post-docs w/very little power over anything)- is going to change. It will be easy for you to become marginalized- I know you probably think this will never happen to you (big personality, outspoken bla bla bla)- but I beg you to trust me on this because I know. Do not give your peers an opening to do this.

    Arlenna- I see your point and yes it is a matter of a different approach, sure. But in real life I can’t step inside the picture and tell my professional colleagues ‘F you’- nor do I want to. What I want to do – is when a colleague steps out of line is to be able to tell that person a. that they screwed up (no pun intended), b. how it made me feel when they said/or did what they did, and c. I’d like it never to happen again, and if it should- I will go up the line and make sure everyone knows. Finally, I also realize that I can send powerful messages (intended and unintended) with my body- and this is a tricky balance for me to walk in a professional setting, and I prefer not to go there.

  10. “People, is this what you want your colleagues (yes, predominantly men) to imagine when you are giving a seminar… or when you are speaking up in faculty meeting?”

    Yeah. Why the hell is a basic scientist wearing a stethiscope for anyway? (Jokes-don’t kill me)

  11. drdrA, I think our dear friend was posting this as bit of un-thinly veiled sarcasm in consideration of the content of my blog (to which she was the original linker).

    I think the point is that this is not how one wants to be imagined, and as you say, your body sends a particular message regardless of whether you intend it. That picture is absurd down to “Dr. Sexy” embroidered on the lab coat but, as DMB points out, the fact that it exists is incredibly telling. Isn’t it?

    Unlike CE, I’ve been marginalized by men in my field. But, I am trying to fight the good fight over at my joint. At the end of the day though, what else could I do when faced with something so very over the top absurd but laugh?

  12. Another divided reaction here. I can see the ironic intent – and once such a picture is found, posting it as Isis is clearly both funny and hard to resist if you have a not-so-worn-thin sense of humour.

    That said, it made me uncomfortable, sad and irritated too. I am a large-breasted woman, and am so sick of people looking at them (don’t even start me on conference badges with writing in relatively small fonts which gives an ‘excuse’), and knowing that some of them are thinking of this sort of image, just a little bit (having been asked several times by drunks at conferences if I wear lace underwear, what colour etc….). I am also overweight – and have psychological issues around food – and this sort of image makes me feel at some deep visceral level that if I do lose weight and become more ‘normal’, I will be seen as gender-first, not as scientist-first. Not healthy. I’m just tired of all the little, not-exactly-meanly-meant, not-even-thought-about comments and behaviours that make me feel like a failure as a woman for being where I am (a single childless academic), and at the same time an oddity as a scientist for being female in the first place. Yes, a person with robust self-esteem etc. would just shrug this off, but why should THAT be a criteria for entering science any more than gender? Why should I have to do the work of always ingoring, rising above, accepting that ‘boys will be boys’ (even if they are 45, fathers and professors)? After over two decades of small incidents, the cumulative mass has an effect however robust a psyche you entered with. I know, the flaws are mainly in me, and this WAS as I opened with kind of funny – but… ouch!

  13. supraprof- Your point is?

    JaneB- Why should I have to do the work of always ingoring, rising above, accepting that ‘boys will be boys’
    Excellent question. I ask myself this as well.

    Jesus- I don’t get it.

    Isis- That picture is absurd down to “Dr. Sexy” embroidered on the lab coat but, as DMB points out, the fact that it exists is incredibly telling. Isn’t it?
    Not to be dense, but the existence of such a picture is telling about what, exactly.

    antipodean- Believe it or not I wear a stethoscope from time to time myself.

  14. You’re not being dense, drdrA. I think that picture is telling in that women as scientists remain a male fuck fantasy. But, you can see from your other commenters that this is no secret. Then again, women in most professions are male fuck fantasies.

    I have talked to male colleagues who tell me that things for women are different than they used to be. Perhaps overtly in that women are more represented (but still underrepresented), but I think that we should not let ourselves be deluded into thinking that women are not objectified. The end result is that women like DMB are still harassed by male colleagues and that women like JaneB feel uncomfortable with themselves. The en face reality of that picture, a woman in her bra and panties and stethescope, ready to give an injection, is completely absurd. Do you practice veterinary medicine that way? I certainly have never treated an animal in anything but scrubs or overalls. I mean, even McDreamy gets to keep his clothes on, right? It’s absurd enough that it just seems silly to me.

    But the picture also makes a lot of women, here included, uncomfortable. And it should, but I have to appreciate Candid Engineer’s satire here. I write about liking shoes and I call my science hot. I think, judging from previous encounters I’ve had, some people are concerned that it is one beautiful shoe wearing-small step from enjoying carefully coiffed hair and calling your science hot, to doing your science in your bra and panties. Again, absurd, no?

    I have to laugh at the absurdity of the picture, but that doesn’t mean I find the reason it exists funny. The reason we’re uncomfortable is because women are still objectified in science. That’s not the messenger’s fault and I don’t think she’s perpetuating it. I choose to use this image, posted at my expense, as a chance to momentarily laugh at the ridiculous things men find sexy (I mean, where is that syringe going? And “Dr. Sexy?”) and then to remind me of how important it is to continue to support the advancement of women in science. I’m trying. I really am.

  15. You guys are all overthinking this one. The picture is taken off of Frederick’s of Hollywood, in their dress-up section. The *point* of that website is to be provide sexy paraphernalia, so it’s no surprise to me that this particular ‘scientist’ is being portrayed in this light. There are women dressed up as other professions as well on the website, but they are all in lingerie.

    I, for one, know that I’d like to be Dr. Sexy in the bedroom even if I *can’t* be Dr. Sexy in the workplace.

    Perhaps the issue really lies in our culture’s propensity to encourage women to wear fancy lingerie? Perhaps the issue here is in Frederick’s of Hollywood?

  16. CE is the issue is, whether you’re aware of it or not when you get up to give a talk, there is a percentage of individuals picturing you as Dr.Sexy instead of listening to your science, its the idea that women are sex objects etc. And Yes this is our cultures propensity to push the idea that a woman must be sexy from the pressure to a yummy mommy (how I hate that term) to or being told that the only reason one objects to the picture is that they are not pretty.

    On another note, I love how this discussion is going. As I read the comments and get all the different view points, I know that each of these woman (although they may disagree with my opinions) are my champions and advocates. You all rock.

  17. > Then again, women in most professions are male fuck fantasies.

    And men in most professions are female fuck fantasies. End of story.

  18. “support the advancement of women in science. I’m trying. I really am.”

    By continually, in every post or comment, mentioning your bras, panties, nakedness, sexiness, goddess-like qualities, incredible hotness, incredibly hot, impossible to run or function in a normal, healthy way shoes, and calling other women scientists and students, adorable little chickens….

    yeah I know, it’s all so fucking ironic – all about owning the negative stereotypes or whatever. It’s never ever about anyone’s ego.

    I find it to be more of the same.

    WHEN do we actually get to move BEYOND all this crap?

  19. Isabel! You delicious thing!

    It’s never ever about anyone’s ego.

    That’s where you’re wrong! It is entirely about my ego and I do not attempt to hide that at all! My blog serves two purposes — the first is feministy and the second is as an outlet for me to talk about how great I am. You seriously should get one. I bet everyone would totes read it!

  20. Sex and science. I mean that’s just making a complicated thing even more complicated, no matter which way you look at it.

    Part of me wants to dismiss this as marmishness and defend Isis’ schtick, and yet I can’t help but ponder the fact that there is no male equivalent to it. No fella blogging on science, aftershave and shirts*. Unless there is some advantage to be derived from objectifying oneself in this manner that is sufficient to counter what seem to be some pretty clear disadvantages, why do it?

    * Alright, not only is “Science, Aftershave and Shirts” a stellar name for a niche market magazine, I do actually have a lot to say on the issue of the sordid state of shirt quality in the USA. e.g. it would be nice to get a shirt that was long enough in the arms, but designed to fit a chest of < three metres circumference. Also, no man can be taken seriously with buttons on his collar, or in plaid for that matter. Or beige. I’m finished.

  21. “I can’t help but ponder the fact that there is no male equivalent to it. ”

    This is a GREAT point.

    And the equivalence of sexiness and artificiality (high heels, victoria’s secret, etc) is something I wish we could move beyond already.

    Is combining woman scientists with “hotness” in some kind of bid to attract more young girls to the field a positive step, or just raising the bar higher?

    And Isis, I made that comment ironically.

    Somehow I have trouble seeing a grown woman who acts like a little girl who wants to be a princess as a role model for those same young girls…..

  22. DSKS- I love your point- and although I love your idea of the Science, Aftershave and Shirts..I think the equivalent schtick on the male side would be Science, jockey shorts (or boxers??), and muscle shirts? What say you. 😉

  23. DSKS- He He He. I didn’t think they could come with cuffs at all…I thought the point was to display one’s muscles- below the neck and… above the wrist…

  24. As far as the equivalent schtick on the male side, it really wouldn’t be a fashion or even a physical thing, his objectified attractiveness would come from his power or wealth or status. So it would be like a male scienctist blogging about those things, right? At least according to Gene Expression.

  25. I guess a more harmless comparison would be to guys blogging about baseball; I can think of several male science bloggers who do this. So it’s women shooting the breeze about their feminine type purchases, like panties and shoes. Something I’ve never had the desire to discuss with anyone! But if it works as a bonding thing for women, and attracts younger women to science as people claim here, I guess it’s easy enough to ignore, especially if one finds the whole goddess thing annoying. 😉

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