Musings from outside the mainstream.
A question I have is this, can women handle criticism? Well, of course many can. But can we talk about those who can’t? Can we acknowledge a pattern, any pattern, if it’s critical of women? I ask because it sure seems the reverse is acceptable. We can criticize men. We can generalize about men, even if it doesn’t hold true to all men.
In our public discourse we can say that men don’t listen, aren’t empathetic and aren’t nurturing or place individual rewards over team acknowledgment and fair compensation. We can say that they’re prone to being pompous to the point of creating a term called mansplaining that is now acceptable to use when referring to men.
And, as a man, I’m not going to deny that men don’t display these traits or deny that they affect relationship and the work environment.
So, I’m curious, where can we talk about women using generalizations that fit? About the only thing I’ve heard close to acknowledged and acceptable is in referring to a woman as bridezilla. Because, well, I don’t think it needs explanation. But women will admit that it’s accurate from time to time.
So when Nobel prize winning scientist Sir Tim Hunt —a knight and everything!— stated off the cuff his “trouble with girls,” it’s so outrageous that he’s resigned or been booted from various official posts and continues to receive criticism for his non-apology.
One pundit refers to his comment as “oppression.” So what did he say?
1) Female scientists fall in love with male scientists,
2) male scientists fall in love with female scientists,
3) women cry when criticized,
and this combination of problems led to the conclusion that
4) perhaps we would be better served with gender segregated laboratories.
To suggest this is oppression is ridiculous. Hunt didn’t say women weren’t fit for the workplace or didn’t belong in science and he did not blame either gender for inter-office romance, though he did say women were “distractingly sexy.” And while Hunt claims the gist of his comments were taken out of context and failed to include the qualifier he used quickly after, “now seriously,” I tend to think people say things they feel. It may have burbled up at an unguarded moment but I don’t dismiss it.
Indeed, Deborah Blum, who was there relays that Hunt “said that while he meant to be ironic, he did think it was hard to collaborate with women because they are too emotional.” Blum, like others thinks his apology is weak. Yet he’s not apologizing it away, which suggests he feels there’s some truth to it. And this is oppression?
That word gets thrown about so much, it’s lost it’s meaning. Can people disagree or must we be in lockstep agreement? Which leads me back to my original question. Can women handle criticism? Apparently not.
Let’s talk more about the culture of criticism though. Men are conditioned since birth through witness in the home to a constant barrage of criticism on the domestic front for not picking up the correct item at the store to not being sensitive or available for emotional processing. Then, as women demanded and gained entrance into the workforce, feminism dissected the work environment and criticized many of the male-centric practices there. In short, men are used to receiving criticism.
But, if you offer similar commentary to a woman on the domestic front, you are an overbearing bore at best, or speaking of gender archetypes in the workforce you are a sexist oppressor at worst. Hunt made a self-depreciating joke referencing his own real life (falling in love with a co-worker) and somehow none of the initial reporting included the complete quote, which included; “Science needs women, and you should do science, despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.” If that’s a sexist statement, it’s sexist to men, for falling for a co-worker.
Going to go back to a term that men regularly are labeled, not nurturing, it’s ironic that female scientists who have worked with Hunt have gone on record saying “He was a very enthusiastic and inspirational teacher. I’ve no indications from my experience or from colleagues that he’s in the slightest way sexist.” Another stated “He was an inspiring and supportive mentor.”
In short, Hunt helped them nurture their career and “Not once did I feel that he treated me differently because I was a woman.”
Still, the Guardian’s Anne Perkins suggested that his comments were “the educated man’s version of the argument that says rape victims who wear short skirts or drink too much have only themselves to blame.” It’s this kind of excessive over-reaction to even the slightest criticism, that keeps many issues from getting talked about openly and fairly.
So, what if the truth in Hunt’s statement is that men are uncomfortable with emotion in the workplace? If women can say that sexualized innuendo doesn’t belong in the modern workplace, can men say that emotional responses to critical academic and intellectual feedback don’t belong as well?
Nobody suggested or provided any evidence that Hunt wants to exclude women from science or the workforce, but many seem to fear that simple acknowledgement of emotion and interoffice romance would set the clock back 50 years. And you’ve come all this way?
Maybe, just maybe, we can start talking about the modern work environment from both sides.