Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's Chilly in the Atheist Universe

No, Elevatorgate isn't completely over.  It's made an appearance in the Scientific American blog.  It kind of makes me not feel so bad about not going into the sciences in college after reading this article about sexism in the sciences.  The definition of a chilly climate:

All these sorts of things seem tiny and insignificant by themselves, but they add up, and this produces a cumulative “chilling” effect that makes women feel unwelcome, like they don’t belong. That’s a “chilly climate.” The effect is subtle; sometimes we’re not even consciously aware of it. We just have that nagging feeling of being “less than,” unable to put our finger on why we feel that way.

The "sorts of things" are slights and come-ons and sexist talk and things like Elevator Guy's clumsy approach. 

This passage really resonates for me:

Sandler told me she first encountered the chilly climate for women as a feminist activist in the 1970s, sitting in a policy meeting in which she noticed that the few token women in the room were constantly being interrupted by the men. She decided to perform her own little social experiment, carefully keeping count of the number of times both men and women in the meeting were interrupted.

The results: women were interrupted (invariably by men) at least three times more often than the men. Sandler shared her results with her male colleagues, who were predictably defensive, claiming she must have miscounted or been biased in some way because of course they would never do such a thing. But the next day, when the meeting resumed, the men were far more careful not to interrupt when the women were speaking. Their awareness of the problem altered the way they treated the women in the meeting, even though they denied the problem existed.

And this exact thing has happened to me in meetings at work... even though women were the bosses, but men were the bullies.  During meetings there the guy I had to work closely with would actually hold his newspaper up and make a show of reading it while women talked.  My female boss at the time never called him on this behavior.  One of my other male colleagues took me aside and told me that word was I was not a "team player."  Every time I tried to get my "partner" to collaborate with me on anything he would literally shut up and not give me an answer.  He never said yes or no to my proposals.  He just refused to talk to me whenever I brought up my own idea.  He never proposed anything himself so I don't get how he could spread rumors about me not being a "team player"  considering that he had no idea what it means himself.

My career suffered very badly from this.  In fact I'm in Indiana and not D.C. because of it.  My boss had to consolidate divisions and lay off managers, and she chose a man in every case.  She also managed to get rid of all the non-Christians, all in one fell swoop.  It wasn't worth it to me to file a discrimiation case because if I won I have to work for that bitch and be around those asshole men who were elevated to higher responsibilities despite having poorer records of accomplishments.  In every measure that was counted in that job, my numbers were WAY above the man who got the position I felt should have gone to me.  While I was being innovative and working my buns off to meet or exceed departmental goals, he would be holding court with the other men and a few sycophantic women, sowing insubordination amongst the managers.  In a twist of irony, he didn't want the job.  It was too much like work, and he eventually quit.  So my boss wound up having to promote someone she didn't like because she had (illegally, imho) not advertised the new position when because she wanted her pets to be shoo-ins.  She fired her about a year later.  I have no idea who reports to her now.  I got tired of keeping up with the gossip.
So... women are in the minority in the sciences, and the sciences are the driving force behind atheist movements.  It would make sense that the same behaviors that women find demeaning and belittling at work in the sciences would be evident at atheist conferences.

At the monthly meet-up in DC I was often the only female and I didn't get that feeling at all.  The conversation was always stimulating and people came from a variety of fields.  Perhaps you get a different crowd when the gathering is a Metro stop away than when it's an international plane fare away.  On the other hand, I left my twenties far behind me, so I don't get hit on a lot anymore (which is a huge relief!).

I considered going to TAM (The Amazing Meeting) because I love Las Vegas and Randi's books were a huge part of my deconversion, but reading about how Elevatorgate permeated the meeting I'm kind of relieved not to have gone.  I'd rather talk about skepticism. But I may go next year. According to the blog, behavior changes as the sex ratio approaches 50/50 and it's getting close! That's cause for optimism.

I had to *lol* at this line, that I think sums it up:
"Feel free to quote The Social Network: 'You’re going to go through life thinking girls don’t like you cuz you’re a nerd, when really it’s because you’re an asshole.'"


Infidel753 said...

I'd be curious to know the age range of the people who engaged in such behavior. People who are middle-aged and older today were raised in a different world. I can't imagine younger people I know doing things like you described, nor (in the case of females) putting up with it.

It's like with tolerance toward gays -- one of the best predictors of attitudes is age, perhaps even better than religious affiliation.

LadyAtheist said...

All of us middle-aged or older, baby boomers mainly. Some of us would speak up about other things but we just tolerated sexism. (I resisted but I didn't speak up)

Hierarchical structures are intimidating so I'm not sure even young people would rock the boat, and they generally aren't management so they'd be the subordinates in these situations.

Good point, though.

Bud said...

Many of my favorite scientists - and bloggers - are women. I think future generations will overcome the prejudices of their predecessors, but it's still going to take work, and a continued effort to speak out.

LadyAtheist said...

Yeah, the people in power today are "old school" even though they came of age during the civil rights & women's rights movements. I worry that the workplace culture of engineering & sciences is indoctrinating younger men to be incivil toward women, but we can hope things will go in the right direction, at least in atheist circles, where a lot of scientists hang out.

Robert the Skeptic said...

My father-in-law, retired Agriculture Professor at Oregon State U. tells me of the time the department wanted to hire a professor. The best qualified was a woman (who I won't name). He faced stiff opposition for her nomination but pressed, showing her the be the best candidate for the job. She was eventually hired, but it was no slam-dunk.

LadyAtheist said...

Getting tenure probably wasn't a picnic, either

Anonymous said...

"things like Elevator Guy's clumsy approach"

This is wrong on so many levels. If you don't want to feel "less than" and don't want to "sexualized", then stop treating every offer of coffee as a come-on and a threat of rape. You want men to treat you as an equal but also want them to cross the street if they see you coming so you won't fear being raped. Sorry, but you're being manipulated by people like Rebecca Watson who want to create divisions, not unity. What you write about interrupting and bullying and "chilly climate" toward women as decision makers is absolutely correct and I'm totally with you on that, but Elevator Guy isn't part of that, he's just a tool for Rebecca Watson's agenda and, sadly, a lot of people have been snookered and are now charging their allies with being misogynists and "gender traitors".

LadyAtheist said...

I haven't been influenced by anybody but myself. I am female and I have a wealth of life experiences to draw on. I don't need Rebecca Watson or anybody else to tell me what to think.

I also don't need you to tell me what you think I think.

You know what I think? You don't have any idea at all what it's like to feel vulnerable so you don't think anybody else should ever feel vulnerable either.

There's a difference between being treated as an equal in terms of being a human being entitled to equal rights under the law, and having my ideas taken seriously, and expecting men to have at least a little understanding of how life is different for women than it is for men.

When you fear being raped, let me know how you want to be treated under those circumstances. If you've never felt that fear then stfu.

LadyAtheist said...

Here's an interesting news item that I heard on this morning's local news:,0,2755993.story

The news anchors who reported it on the channel I saw were a man and a woman. The woman read the story and then the man said "Did he even rob her?"


When a man follows a woman and then attacks her, what are the odds that he's after her purse?

Men, when a man follows you he's after your wallet. When a man follows a woman he may be after her wallet or something far more valuable.

Men and women are equal, but we're not the same.