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How should I react to low-level sexism from a fellow grad student?
March 26, 2011 9:04 AM   Subscribe

One of the other graduate students in my lab occasionally makes comments that I feel are sexist - just barely so, but sexist nonetheless. How do I deal with this?

I (female) started graduate study in biochemistry in January. Another (male) student started last September. Since we're taking a class together, doing a smaller project together, and we're the newest students to the lab, we have to work with each other quite a lot. Over the past few months, he's made a bunch of just-barely-sexist-maybe? comments that maybe aren't really enough for me to feel justified in being annoyed - but I am annoyed nonetheless, and I don't know how to respond. I've tried sort-of disagreeing, but he just shrugs it off.

Some examples
- when someone mentioned that the lab next door goes rock climbing together often, he said "oh, you mean the guys do, right?" (I said, "why would you think that? the girls look like rock climbers too")
- when I mentioned wishing that being a girl guide had involved more building fires, camping, etc. and less sewing and afternoon tea, he said, "gee, don't be such a tomboy"
- when I told him the new undergrad we'd be supervising was a guy like he hoped [our lab has slightly more women than men, so he'd joked that the new student should be male], he said "well I wouldn't have minded a girl either, a guy would be more headstrong and less willing to listen" (I said, "well, some girls can be unwilling to listen also...")
- when we were out with a bunch of other students for st. patrick's day and I was having a conversation with another about whether sexism is still a problem nowadays, he jumped in and said "well, women are just too emotional!" and when I asked why, he said "[other lab member] told me she cried after lab meeting when someone criticized her work" (to which I responded "maybe that's because she's [other lab member], not because she's a woman")
- he mentioned that in his relationship, he feels like he gives a lot more than he takes - and then followed it up with "but that's true of all guys, really".

That last instance was today, and I finally burst out, "sometimes you can be so sexist!" to which he replied "oh, I didn't really mean that". Then, a few minutes later, he said, "so are you a feminist?". (I said, "I'm a humanist...and I'm not a misandrist. I guess you could say I am a feminist." Wishy washy, I know...)

I'm ashamed of myself for bursting out like that (we weren't the only people in the room, and another woman asked me the same question about being a feminist later). I'm sure I'm seen as the humourless, oversensitive feminist now - and I know I shouldn't be, but I am really bothered by the thought that now half my lab is mentally dismissing me with that label. I just got here!

And I'm probably overreacting, aren't I? I look back at what I've written and it doesn't really seem like such a big deal. But sometimes I feel like I spend half my life trying to prove I'm not incompetent or harpy-like or overemotional merely by virtue of being a woman and yet this still goes on. And I feel like every time I keep my mouth shut, I'm betraying myself and any hope of improvement. If I don't call this stuff out, how will things ever change?

I just don't really know what to do from here on out. Go back to trying to keep my mouth shut and swallowing my irritation? Am I overreacting? Is said irritation totally unfounded? Maybe I've lived such a sheltered life that I just don't have a proper baseline of what's sexism and what isn't. Have the ways I've tried to respond been misguided? I'd be grateful for any advice. You can also email me if you'd prefer at arasign@gmail.com.

Note, because I realized I might be misinterpreted - I like feminism. I would say that yes, I am a feminist (though I guess apparently not proud to be one, and don't imagine I'm not disappointed in myself for that). I don't think that feminists are humourless or oversensitive. I just feel that that is a common popular perception and I fear labouring under that label.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (63 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just tell him that he sounds like a sexist and then ignore him. The world is filled with troglodytes, you won't persuade him otherwise until he is ready, and no sense letting him harsh your mellow.

The reason I suggest you tell him he sounds like a sexist is because he needs to know that. It WILL come back to bite him and he at least needs to think about how he sounds.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:17 AM on March 26, 2011


I think the style of response you are currently using is just fine. Go right on mildly calling the guy on statements like you describe. Be funny and pleasant about it if you can. You don't want to escalate this into some war or get to the point where you can't work together. I think over time he might clue in a little. He did back down when you called him sexist, so I think there's a chance a light bulb might switch on in there.
posted by orange swan at 9:18 AM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Actually, this stuff seems pretty notably sexist to me.

My favorite way of dealing with low-level crap like that is to furrow my brow and say "What do you mean?" or "I don't get it." If the guy follows up with "Well, YOU know," you say "No, I don't. Can you explain?" This challenges the idea that everyone there has the same cultural gender references he does, and also makes him either back down from the statement or else baldly state "I think all women are like THIS." Keep it up, without fail, and he'll either drop it or else escalate to something actually actionable. (Hopefully, and probably, the former.)
posted by KathrynT at 9:19 AM on March 26, 2011 [70 favorites]


And I'm probably overreacting, aren't I?

Some will say yes, (most) others will say no. You have the right to feel however you feel.
Don't be ashamed of how you feel. If other people throughout history were ashamed of how they felt and kept quiet, then women would still not be allowed to vote and African-Americans would still be using separate bathrooms.

I'm thinking if that guy is pretty young, he may never take your retorts seriously. That may be something you need accept.

Now, with that said.
Since this is just a fellow classmate and I'm guessing he's still kinda young - If I were personally in this situation, I would probably laugh at the stuff he says and teasingly make fun of him and come back with male stereotypes. Like, "hey man, why don't you shut up and go fix my car"
Obviously, not everyone shares that same sense of humor and I'm doubt you do judging by your previous answers.

Next time he says something like this, you could just look at him and tell him that he's embarrassing himself with his comments and it makes him look like a dick.

There will be all kinds of people you'll have to deal with in life.
Here in the U.S., I constantly deal with ALL kinds of people (different races, different ages) making racist comments about Mexicans. None of these people realize that I'm half Mexican when they make these comments. It can be frustrating and can be disappointing. I usually just make the other person feel like an asshole without coming out and saying "you're an asshole." Like, "You realize not all Mexicans are like that, right? My family isn't." and then is usually met with an awkward silence as I walk away.

But usually when people say things I find offensive, I just kinda tease them back.
posted by KogeLiz at 9:20 AM on March 26, 2011


These comments are not "barely" sexist. They're explicitly sexist and you're not being oversensitive by finding them irritating and offensive. You were right to say something to him about it. And next time he asks, "Are you a feminist?" Say, "I just don't think it's helpful to make inaccurate generalizations about giant groups of people."

Is anyone else witnessing these comments? In particular, are any guys that you're on good terms with listening in, whom you could privately discus this issue with? As much as I hate that this is true, it would help if you had a guy on your side the next time something like this happens, to be there to call this person out so that you don't have to.

Ugh...I'd say more, but honestly this kind of thing makes me angry enough that it's hard for me to be diplomatic. If I were you, I'd have gone all out on him, but I understand that not everyone's interested in the consequences of being "that overemotional feminazi" in a group. :|
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:20 AM on March 26, 2011 [12 favorites]


I can't really tell you what is best to do, graduate programs can be a bit stifling or they can be truly accommodating. However, I want to say this.

He is being sexist. You are not overreacting. You are justified in being offended by this and your feelings are important. Perhaps others can advise you better in what to do having had more experience in the matter, but I just wanted to chime in and let you know that you are not unreasonable and you are right to stand up for yourself.
posted by Saydur at 9:21 AM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Uh, from this young woman's perspective, your lab partner sounds really sexist! If someone had said to me any of the examples you brought up, I definitely would've wanted to make a big deal out of it. Sexism is often more insidious nowadays, so it's almost surprising to see such blatant examples of someone thinking in such tired old cliches about men and women- and expressing them out loud to boot. Your lab partner sounds like my eighty-year old grandfather, who would be equally incredulous that women might enjoy rock-climbing!

About how to deal with it... I think you're doing the right thing by calling him out on it. From your last example, it seems like while he is definitely sexist, he's not a misogynist per se- that is, his sexism is the result of never thinking too deeply about gender and society, and therefore accepting as the gospel truth all of the bullshit that society suggests is "normal" or "true" for men and women- rather than contempt for women based on bad personal experiences or his own insecurities or something like that. It seems like he might really benefit from you pointing out when his statements are just stereotypical generalizations rooted in sexist assumptions, and I don't think you should feel at all like you're overreacting. Part of believing that women shouldn't have to deal with this shit all the time is making sure that you yourself don't just "deal with it" and let it slide. Of course, there are times when you do sometimes have to keep your mouth shut or be extra careful about how you point things like this out- but if he is your lab partner and your equal, not a supervisor or instructor, I think you have every right to tell him when his statements are sexist.

And as an aside, I don't really see what the big deal about calling oneself a feminist is. Maybe there is a (lame, old) perception of feminists as being humorless, but is it really such a magical word that as soon as you say "Yes, I am a feminist", the magic spell comes along and takes away your sense of humor and the other qualities you know you have? I don't think so.
posted by Aubergine at 9:21 AM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


I just wanted to say that I don't think you are overreacting at all.

You said you are biochem, but this sounds similar to some of the stuff in the Women in Engineering thread.
posted by yaymukund at 9:23 AM on March 26, 2011


Seems to me like Dude is trying to get calibrated, somehow, has a hard time with it, and covers up his insecurity with silly quips. Instead of stamping him as "making sexist remarks," you'll help him more if you keep explaining why you have different opinions, and point out to him whenever he's crossed a line that bothers you personally.
posted by Namlit at 9:23 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think you're doing fine. Depending on where you are, it might be worth having a chitchat with other women in your department, NOT to rat on the guy but to see if this is an ongoing problem in the department or school. I had a friend who has a sister who was a physics grad student and she felt that the environment there and how much people continually and constantly referred to the gender norms and how she was outside of them got tiring and ultimately caused her to go to another program. Only when she was on her way out did Cornell really start to make an effort to actively not only work on recruiting but also retaining female scientists.

This guy sounds like he's a little fixated on this issue. This may go away or it may just be how he's going to be. However if that's how he's going to be, you can be how you're going to be which is like "What, this again?" You don't need to accomodate or be polite to direct sexist comments but if you want to find an approach that works that doesn't make you feel bad [like the outburst did, even though I think it was warrnted] you might want to adapt a more deadpan approach like KathrynT suggests.

The things this guy is saying are probably supposed to be jokey. You don't find them funny and you'd like him to maybe tone it down. These sort of comments are really in the category of stuff he should probably learn to tone down generally if he's going to work in the scientific world that includes women, so I'd treat him like a colleague with bad breath or body odor and help him get on the right track but don't suffer quietly.
posted by jessamyn at 9:27 AM on March 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


"Statements like that make it sound like you don't respect women, and that you don't respect me because I am a woman. That makes me uncomfortable working around you."

He can respond with, "I didn't mean it that way!" To which you can say, "But that's certainly how it sounds."

He can respond with, "Oh, don't be so thin skinned!" To which you can say, "It doesn't matter if I'm thin skinned or not--I don't want to work in an environment where I feel disrespected."

He can respond with, "Oh, so you're a feminist?" To which you can say, "Yep!" with all the pride and joy that statement deserves. Or you can say, "If you think it's feminist to say that women don't deserve to be disrespected, I'd certainly hope you're a feminist too."

And if he says anything else, you can just roll your eyes and say, "The short of it is, you're being an asshole, and that's your problem, not mine."

In the end, he's an asshole, and nothing will stop him being an asshole. It doesn't matter if he has stupid beliefs, or if he disagrees with you. What matters most of all is that you affirm your right to work in a non-hostile environment.

If these comments bother you, just think of how his attitude might be bleeding out into his interactions with undergraduates. Think of how many women who come into contact with him might feel unwanted or uncomfortable studying biochemistry, because of his attitude. Think of what he'll be like if he stays in academia, becomes a professor, and gets even more control over whom he works with and whom he doesn't -- who gets an education and who doesn't. That makes my skin crawl. This matters.
posted by meese at 9:28 AM on March 26, 2011 [61 favorites]


The guy sounds ignorant. Maybe it's who he is, maybe it's how he was raised. You are right in thinking he's sexist, but you may find that calling him on it constantly takes as much of a toll on you as the remarks he's making. What I mean is, I think you should consciously decide how much you want to engage this troll.
posted by zippy at 9:28 AM on March 26, 2011


I don't really see what the big deal about calling oneself a feminist is.

I used to feel that way; well, ok, I still do feel that way, but I am old and don't care what people think. I just think I can understand a little bit better why some people are uncomfortable with it.

is it really such a magical word that as soon as you say "Yes, I am a feminist", the magic spell comes along and takes away your sense of humor and the other qualities you know you have? I don't think so.

Obviously, no. But it also takes away some of the OP's ability to actually talk to this guy and maybe enlighten him. The minute she's all "HELLS YEA I AM A FEMINIST" he is going to shut down and completely discount everything she says.

I guess all I am saying is sometimes you gotta finesse it. Not that I could, mind you. I'd be like Narrative Priorities and bite his fool head off, personally.
posted by cabingirl at 9:29 AM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


In the those are definitely sexist comments camp.

I think you have several ways of dealing with this. You can document each and every time he says something sexist as well as in what context and escalate it to your advisor or other appropriate university staff.

Or you can flat out say, "Hey. We have an obligation to work with each other, and that's all this is. I would prefer not to have any conversations with you that are unrelated to our work or to the work of the group, and this includes any discussion of gender of sex." Which would hopefully stop him making any comments of that sort directly to you, but likely wouldn't do anything to address the larger issue.

Or still yet, you can take the moderate route you've been taking and call him out on each and every sexist comment he makes while near you. Though I would suggest trying to be a little more firm in your statements by stating, "I don't find that to be an appropriate comment on [men/women/boys/girls, etc.]. I don't like to lock people into little identity boxes, and I think you're doing yourself a disservice when you do."
posted by zizzle at 9:29 AM on March 26, 2011


He is definitely sexist, but also, boring. Those comments that he makes are the same claptrap unoriginal stereotypes he's just puppeting from someone else. It's not like he has sat down and done some deep analysis of all the people he has known to come up with the conclusion that the women are more emotional than the men.

I work with someone like this and due to authority structure, it is completely impossible for me to call him on it. So I can't really do anything to reduce the number of stupid comments I hear, but you know, also, I just don't care --it's not worth my time to try to improve him. So I just don't respond, much as I wouldn't respond to other vapid comments (based on the Thumper practice of 'If you can't say something nice, don't say anything.'), except with the attitude that I don't understand why he's just said that 'wow, that project will never get done now if you've put sally in charge.'

And also ignore his wish to label you as a feminist, or anything else. His understanding of the world around him is obviously too superficial for him to make any accurate conclusions. I vote for the general response described to keep 'not understanding' where he's coming from....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 9:33 AM on March 26, 2011


I think all his comments are straightforwardly sexist, and you actually did call out the sexism every time.

If I were you, I would continue with the kinds of responses you usually gave — that is, calmly point out that things are more complex than "Women do this and men do that."

While you would be intellectually justified in using the word "sexist," I don't recommend continuing to make a scene about this. Most if not all people are sexist (against men and against women, as is the case with him — men are bad at listening to people, while women are too emotional, blah blah blah). We're constantly surrounded by opportunities to point this out. But we usually don't, because the social consequences would outweigh the moral victory of declaring something/someone to be sexist. The above comment about how if everyone stayed quiet, blacks would still use separate bathrooms and women wouldn't have the right to vote! might be morally uplifting, but your job in a biochemistry lab in the year 2011 isn't to transform society's gender (or racial) attitudes.

To be clear, I'm not saying bigotry should always be ignored anytime it's convenient. If you feel it's a serious enough problem to warrant reporting him, OK, that's up to you. I'm just saying I think your earlier responses were actually quite trenchant callouts and are a better idea than constantly calling him "sexist!" You know he's sexist; the point is now well-established. In fact, the calm explanations will probably convince more people than the "sexist!" charge. Alas, many people these days do not consider "sexist" to be such a serious charge. The last time I called someone's comment "sexist," this person simply responded, in a quite self-satisfied way: "Yes!" What then?
posted by John Cohen at 9:36 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I could pull it off, I'd caution him that slurring women will hurt his career. If he can't keep his mouth shut, he'll get a rep, and there are plenty of important women researchers, program directors at NIH, etc etc. How will he work successfully in a lab where the senior postdoc is a woman? The research world is very, very small--much smaller than it seems--and I hear enough research gossip to know that someone who is too dumb to turn off his laughably outdated, pettily insulting ideas in the lab is going to offend someone who will do him harm later. And it goes something like this: Jackass is applying for a job. All his references are male, but Dr. Important used to work with Sarah Postdoc and really trusts her judgment. Dr. Important calls up Sarah Postdoc and says, "I'm thinking of hiring either Jackass or Gallant...you used to work with Jackass, right?" And Sarah Postdoc says, "yes, his work is all right but he's disruptive in the lab because he can't seem to resist saying sexist things to women researchers". Dr. Important thinks "disruptive!" "sexual harassment!" and "potential trouble with HR!" and hires Gallant.

I--research support, not researcher--have occasionally mentioned things to young lab staff on the lines of "don't do X, it will damage your reputation as an academic".
posted by Frowner at 9:48 AM on March 26, 2011 [14 favorites]


your job in a biochemistry lab in the year 2011 isn't to transform society's gender (or racial) attitudes.

If the OP feels that this man's comments are making it harder for her to be comfortable working in that lab, then I would absolutely encourage her to do what she can to transform the dynamic of that lab. One of the most insidious and widespread effects of the way our society treats women is how we're discouraged from saying or doing anything that will call men out on bad behavior and make them feel uncomfortable.

This guy has already made HER feel uncomfortable. HE is the one who started this conversation by being a jerk. If the OP decides she doesn't have the energy to confront him about it, that's understandable and I would hardly blame her. But her consideration shouldn't be for what's going to make this situation as easy and comfortable for HIM as possible. He certainly hasn't extended that consideration to her.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:49 AM on March 26, 2011 [16 favorites]


And I feel like every time I keep my mouth shut, I'm betraying myself and any hope of improvement. If I don't call this stuff out, how will things ever change?

Sounds like you've got your answer, and I'd say follow this instinct. For inspiration, try watching the 1947 film Gentleman's Agreement. Although the issue in the film in antisemitism, it remains an amazing, if idealistic, portrait of the power of individuals when they decide not to remain silent around bigots.
posted by jardinier at 9:51 AM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


But sometimes I feel like I spend half my life trying to prove I'm not incompetent or harpy-like or overemotional merely by virtue of being a woman and yet this still goes on. And I feel like every time I keep my mouth shut, I'm betraying myself and any hope of improvement. If I don't call this stuff out, how will things ever change?

This jumped out and says this is about you, not him (though he's certainly being an ass). You're taking his comments personally, which is understandable yes, but you getting worked up over every dumbass comment said isn't really productive and more importantly, wears on you emotionally and mentally.

1. Learn to pick your battles and 2. how to battle and 3. realize you may never personally see the affects of your battles.

1. Again, getting worked up over dumb ass comment coming out of a certain person's mouth will just wear on you and probably won't help fix the situation, it'll just be bickering back and forth.

2. Calling someone sexist opens up a whole 'nother can of worms, IMO and usually just escalates things in the wrong direction. Right or wrong, feminism and sexism has develop a negative contation with a good part of the public and once those words come up, you fighting a lot of that unspoken baggage and history. You're automatically in a hole and the conversation has barely again.

By all means, continue calling him out, but I would focus on how stupid and inane his comments are as opposed to them being sexist. Something like "Wait, it's the 21st century, you're in grad school, the lab next door clearly has women in it, the guy said the lab goes rock climbing and you're still hung up on some guy vs girl thing? Oooookay then...." Some would argue that's too much of an attack, but I don't suffer fools gladly, so that's just my thing. Adjust for your taste.

3. Four months or 4 years from now, he may recall your various challenges and in context of other challenges from other men and women, may finally think "Huh, Anonymous had a point."

Yeah, I think you are overreacting, but it's totally understandable why, he is being a complete ass. But there's no reason that has to bother personally and you don't personally have to prove something to him or change him. However, pointing out stupid comments or lines of thought is everyone's responsibility.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:01 AM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Personally, I'd stop reacting to everything he says. I'd ignore him completely. The more you react, the more likely he is to keep it up. Yes, his statement's are sexist enough but he's just some other grad student grunt. He's nobody. You're don't actually have to take up the cudgels to defend all women everywhere.
Rather than react emotionally, and point out his errors of logic, I'd treat him like a slightly daft pet, and when he starts, just laugh and say "there you go again". Make him into a joke. (Anecdata: I work in a male-dominated industry, and usually treated these types like kindergarteners. Worked well.)
posted by Ideefixe at 10:04 AM on March 26, 2011


I would call him out on it consistently from now on, using the same word(s) every time. This way you won't have to really think about how to respond to each transgression, and he'll get the message that he does this a lot, even if he doesn't consider his joking to be sexist when you do.

I know what I would do because I've done it before. I've called guys out for sexist comments in a condescending, sarcastic way because that's my style (developed in male-dominated work and social environments).

The word I would repeat, in your case, would be "sexist", since that's the recurring offense. Something like, "Really? It's sexist joke time again?" or "Woah, sexist much?" I might even start using it to taunt him for the rest of the day after a rude comment. "Hey Sexist, pass me that pencil, will ya?" This technique can be highly effective in changing the power dynamic. You're not defensive and humorless; you're snarky and bold.

Be unafraid to call a spade a spade, and do it in a way that isn't confrontational (as much as you can). You'll be amazed at how shining the light on the truth can have an effect on him and release the resentment in you too.

If he's a good guy who's naively stumbling into his sexism, this might lead to deeper conversation about what makes a comment sexist. This is a great opportunity for a teaching moment if it happens, but it also might not happen.

And one more thing: start holding your comments on gender issues around him. He's not the guy you want to vent to about what the girl guides should be doing or discuss gender balance in your office with.
posted by nadise at 10:08 AM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


I agree that these comments are sexist, but when I've worked in environments with people who were unrelentingly and unapologetically sexist, even after speaking to my supervisor and trying to defend my POV to them, I've found it best to just tell them "I am not interested in discussing this with you" or just ignoring them. I know you have to work with him almost constantly, so it might be worthwhile to tell him that you are not interested in his opinion/comments on anything that is not work related. It might seem harsh to him, but if you've already expressed your displeasure with his sexist comments, it might be your only route. You should also look into speaking to your HR department. Your school should be concerned with your plight, especially since many of them are extremely invested in getting more women into science fields. Good luck!
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:15 AM on March 26, 2011


I used to be a biochemistry graduate student too, and I've worked with plenty of thick-skinned thick-headed clods who didn't realize that their comments were sexist. They just thought they were bantering wittily.

I'm seeing a lot of advice here to earnestly school this guy, but I don't think it will get through to him. Based on my experience with scientists, especially young 'uns still in school, we are often socially inept, highly tone-deaf when it comes to interpreting behavioral cues, and think we're pretty damn smart and nobody can tell us anything. (We are smart and eventually we learn how to comport ourselves a little more graciously, but it takes a decade or so.)

My approach is to zing them right back. You're fighting the battle in their language - witty banter - and showing them that feminist does not equal humorless. If you're not naturally a "zingy" person, develop a stock repertoire of comebacks, even if you have to reuse them all the time, and fight back. (Like the "go fix my car" quip above.) That's about the only thing that will earn the respect of smart clods.

Maybe the social mores have changed since I was a smart clod surrounded by smart clods, but earnest "consciousness-raising" was the fastest way to get someone to dismiss you permanently as a crybaby. Prove that you can dish it out as well as take it, and you'll earn his respect enough to maybe eventually have a serious discussion about his attitude. But without his respect you won't get through his armor-plated skull. Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 10:20 AM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Laugh and say "You need to get out more, looks like you haven't actually met that many women."
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 10:23 AM on March 26, 2011 [16 favorites]


I don't know how much good it will do to explain the obvious when someone is disrespectful like this. IME these guys become trolls very quickly.

This sounds like a case for Ding Training.
posted by tel3path at 10:27 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love Jay Smooth's framing for calling people out: it's not who you are, it's what you did. While saying to someone, "You are sexist" implies that sexism is an enduring and unchangeable trait about them, saying the exact kinds of things you're saying, like "sometimes you can be so sexist," or alternately, "that thing you just said is sexist," is right on. It expresses your surprise that they did something that is not consistent with the good person you know they are and your confidence that they can do things differently.

I find that people in positions of privilege who are unknowingly acting on that privilege respond to even gentle call-outs in a very defensive way. Acknowledging this emotional reaction and thinking for a bit about where it comes from can be useful. What would it mean for him to consider that the world isn't the way he views it? For some people, it can be shattering, and hearing that is too much to bear. What if someone told you the sky is actually green, and all this time you've been thinking it's blue? You start thinking, what's wrong with me? Have I seemed like an idiot this whole time? No, you think, they must be wrong. I will proceed to point out all the other people who have told me that the sky is blue. If they told you, "to me, and to some other people I've met, the sky looks green," you might say to yourself, "Huh. The sky can be different colors to different people? I didn't know that." You might even start noticing that the sky can look a little green when the clouds and the sun are just right.

I often feel like it's my job to make people not [ ]ist. Knowing that it's not, and that everyone is somewhere on their own journey, is very liberating. Just give him something to chew on in a way that they can hear it, approach him with respect, and treat him as a potential ally, and that's the best you can do. To get him to hear what you have to say, you can either let them know that his words directly and personally made you feel like X, Y, and Z, or you can make it clear that a person whom he respects (you) has a different perspective on the issue.

Best of luck.
posted by quiet coyote at 10:27 AM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


People in this thread are emphasizing a non-confrontational approach, but that's not what I would do. Other commentators have talked about how to get him to respect you, but I think I would go for getting him to fear you. It is okay in this situation to be a bit confrontational. If he says something sexist, you can just come out and say, "I find what you just said to be sexist, and here's why:" and then explain it.

He might argue back if he is particularly sure of himself, try to say he didn't mean it. I would not engage further on this tack, I would just follow up by saying, "I would request that you avoid saying things that are disrespectful, disparaging, or stereotyping of women." And then walk away if you have to. If you seem completely sure of yourself, he will likely go on the defensive. If you really stand up for yourself, I think he is more likely to back down.

That doesn't mean that things will necessarily be peachy-keen between the two of you, though, so I guess although this is what I would do, YMMV.
posted by mai at 10:48 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


You ask if your life has been sheltered. Maybe you've been sheltered from sexism; maybe, maybe not. But the real problem is you've been sheltered ... from brawling in the social trenches! (Or, to put it in more delicately, to manage a variety of social situations. In the examples you mention, you're always on the defense. The best defense is often a good offense.)

For example, in many a blue collar male dominated workplace, there's always some that will pass the time insulting various groups, and each other. Sometimes it's all in fun; sometimes it's not. And there's a full spectrum between don't-really-mean-it and actually-believe-all-that-garbage. When well done, it can be very clever and entertaining.

Here's how it works:
- [rock climbing example] "oh, you mean the guys do, right?"
You say: "So, did you go rock climbing this morning?"
Him: [no]
You: [various flourishes on the theme]

-"well, women are just too emotional!"
You say: "Yeah, they just jump in blurt things out!" [actually, they say that's a guy trait, but he probably doesn't know that]

- scientific approach
Get the other students to help in graphing his sexist remarks as a function of time. On a large board. Keep it up for a whole semester.

- stronger option:
[female department head is present] "So, where's all your sexist remarks, now, __? Are you going to call dh a crybaby like you did to ___ ? etc."

A good offense can take many forms. (e.g., Ideefixe's approach is a form of offense; on preview, this is the approach QG suggests.) There are infinite variations. Tone is important; it's usually more effective to maintain a friendly tone.
posted by coffeefilter at 10:55 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ick. You're definitely NOT overreacting. You've gotten a lot of good advice here re: how to respond but I just wanted to say that this guy obviously has a pattern of making overtly (in my opinion) sexist comments and I would have a similar reaction to yours if I were in your position. Ick.
posted by sucre at 11:03 AM on March 26, 2011


Wow, that's a lot to have to deal with. Add me to the list of people who think those comments are definitely, unambiguously sexist.

I've had to deal with a fair bit of this sort of thing in the past and one thing I've found is that people really are capable of change. I'm a lot more optimistic about this than I used to be -- there are many examples of people I know who started out with rather neanderthalish attitudes about various issues and who are now much much improved. But you must call them out. Don't call him a "sexist", explain how what he said was sexist. It's ok if he thinks you're a bit humorless or whatever; if you were going to be good friends, this probably won't prevent it. It'll just be one of those inside jokes between the two of you, the way my old friends now jump a bit when they realize they've said something politically incorrect in front of me. And now I can say, oh no, don't worry, and laugh, because really, no one is completely without prejudice all the time.
posted by peacheater at 11:13 AM on March 26, 2011


I'm with quiet coyote that only he can decide to change his asshole beliefs, but you can probably get him to stop behaving like an asshole around you.

My practice for this is basically Ding Traning, but instead of "ding", I say "not okay, dude" and avoid the goofy explanation. Don't waste your energy perfectly harnessing teachable moments or trying to start a dialogue. If he wants dialogue, he'll ask, and he'll ask in a civil way or get another "not okay, dude."
posted by momus_window at 11:23 AM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


if you're really finding it hard to work around him, this is what HR departments and sexual harassment liaisons are for. This guy sounds like a grade A tool and he would make me uncomfortable if I had to work with him. If he can't change his behavior with gentle prodding from you, document or record his remarks and take them, anonymously, to whoever deals with sexual harassment at your university, and they will give him a talking-to about how this is not okay in any modern work environment. That's not your job and not worth your time to convince him of that, and that's what HR people are hired to do.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:45 AM on March 26, 2011


Yeah, the dude is sexist. His comments are better than what we had to put up with back in the dark ages when I was young, but 'better' is merely an improvement, not an absence of sexism.

His turning the tables on you with that "are you some kind of feminist?" stuff is merely a way to put the onus on you for any conflict, because you're way too sensitive and ready to take offense at his smallest, most casual comment...... Trust this old marcher for ERA: 'feminism' is not a perjorative!

Ditto quiet coyote and peacheater.
posted by easily confused at 12:04 PM on March 26, 2011


Oh, and here's a method I used years ago, when I was one of the first two women in my union local (the other one had all of two days' seniority on me!), and had some of the worst troglodytes trying to chase me off 'their' turf with dirty jokes --- you might be too much of a lady for this, but I wasn't!

Match 'em, dirty joke for dirty joke. They tell one, hit 'em with a worse one. Took me about three weeks to have the whole bunch back down. (They eventually elected me Sgt. At Arms: said I was the toughest one there....)
posted by easily confused at 12:22 PM on March 26, 2011


How about humor? When he starts with the girls-should-wear-pink and boys-are-big-and-strong, kid him about being old fashioned. Just say, "Okay, grampa" or, "What was it like growing up in the '50s?"
posted by wryly at 12:32 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd almost think he's hitting on you in the most inept way possible. You're paying attention to him, right? He is getting you engaged in conversation! You respond to his overtures!

The fact that this attention is entirely negative is beside the point to a certain type of clueless person.

I'd rebut him the first time he says something each day, and then pointedly ignore his attempts to goad you for the rest of that day. It's like with a dog or a child - if you give them attention for doing bad things, they're being rewarded.
posted by winna at 12:35 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd caution him that slurring women will hurt his career. If he can't keep his mouth shut, he'll get a rep...

This is true if his career path keeps him a student in academia, where a majority of students are women.

However, in the world of industry, teaching, and well, jobs, women are very much still discriminated against. Lower starting pay, poorer benefit packages, lack of network connection that alerts women to "back office promotion" opportunities, less respect for women's attempts to bargain, less respect for women's needs to take time off to collect sick kids from school (the words used to describe women who expect flexible schedules are...appalling, though when fathers take the same time off it's considered honorable).

This guy needs to be set straight now because his habits have an impact on all the women (and men) he supervises in the future. His current attitude fits right in with where industry is currently stuck. Most importantly, I agree with others above that simply calling him out is not going to solve the problem. For a number of reasons. First, he's likely to feel defensive. Second, you're not trained in this area of either sociology or psychology. Third, his bullshit is distracting you from a job that you love. I wish the answer were a solid "take it to your lab leader" or "take it to the department head." But. Some departments are still sexist at their cores, and you may get nowhere. No metafilter member can give you insight on that.

And trust me, there are plenty of Biochem industry jobs. Or...there will be when somebody unfucks this economy.
posted by bilabial at 12:48 PM on March 26, 2011


Just nthing that those things are absolutely sexist, no question about it. You aren't overreacting. Guy sounds like a real jerk.
posted by elpea at 1:09 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a scientist, when dealing with other scientists --the best thing is to be clear. "No. I am not oversensitive. You are an asshole. Stop being an asshole."
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 1:28 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Stand up for what you believe in. Fuck anyone who can't deal with it. Don't sweat a damn thing you said.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:41 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I probably wouldn't have called him out on every single one of his stupid cracks, often stony silence in response can say a lot. However, he kept doing it over and over again and it was the right thing to do to call him out. (Don't buy it if he tries the "but it doesn't bother other women that I say these things to!" Neither that woman nor you are representative of everyone and you have the right to your feelings.)
posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:02 PM on March 26, 2011


My best guess is that he epitomizes Neal Stephenson's famous quote in Snowcrash:
'It was, of course, nothing more than sexism, the especially virulent type espoused by male techies who sincerely believe that they are too smart to be sexists.'
I doubt he realizes how he sounds, and if confronted in a group would probably have a negative reaction, and one likely couched in "humor". I'm not sure what the best way to move forward is here, but keep the above quote in mind. I seriously doubt he sees himself as sexist, and trying to change that worldview is the challenge.
posted by jasonhong at 3:13 PM on March 26, 2011


These are definitely sexist comments. I certainly don't think you are overreacting. Here's the thing I would think about: how can you respond in a way that works well for you? From your comments about feeling bad if you don't say anything, it sounds like not responding to what he says makes you feel guilty that you aren't changing the world for the better and then you stew over that. (I'm exactly the same way, and I'm a scientist who hears sexist comments all the time, so I've thought about this a lot.) Then your guilt and frustration build up, and you snap at him, and then it turns into an argument about you, and are you a feminist, and feminists are a bunch of shrill harpies who want to cut off all men's dicks amirite? To avoid this, my priority is to have a way to respond to sexist (or racist or whatever) comments that makes me feel like I'm calling out the problem, but in a way that doesn't seem overly dramatic and then I can just move on and not worry about it. Because I know that if I get into a big fight with the jerk, that will upset me and I'll stew over it; I also know that if I don't say anything, I'll feel guilty and stew over it.

So my strategy is similar to what was suggested above about calling out the behavior without making a big deal about it. I say "Wow, that was a sexist comment." I use a casual, slightly surprised tone, and I don't say anything else. If the person starts to argue, or asks why it seemed sexist, then I explain but in a simple and casual way.

Example: some people were talking about how a certain bar they go to has too many "cougars" ("old" women who pick up men). I said, "You know, 'cougar' is a sexist term." They were surprised, and asked why I thought that. I said, "It's an insult that is used only for women, that's pretty much the definition of sexist." They didn't agree, and went on and on about how it wasn't sexist, and I didn't say anything. I'd called them on it, and that was it.

I also think it can help to be confrontational in an over-the-top way that makes a joke out of it.

Q: Are you a feminist?
A: Yes. Why do you ask, are you a misogynist asshole?

Q: Are you a feminist?
A: No, feminism is for wimps. I'm a feminazi. We believe that all men should be killed, except for a select few kept in concentration camps for breeding purposes.

Sexist commenter: Women are too emotional!
You: Did you know that there's a simple genetic test that can predict which people are the most emotional and violent? People who have the genetic marker are 10 times more likely to commit murder and other crimes, and to end up in prison! Can you believe that? Do you know what the genetic marker for being emotional and violent is?
Sexist commenter: No, what?
You: The Y chromosome. It's so awesome that now pregnant women can avoid having these children predisposed to emotional outbursts and violence.
posted by medusa at 3:48 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It also doesn't have to be your job. Me, I find all this stuff tiring, boring, and annoying. I probably would've resorted to eyerolling and transparent sarcasm by now:

-- "yeah, only the guys," *eyeroll* *walk away*

Also, I have this kind of doofus voice (it approaches Goofy or Scooby Doo), and in that voice, "oh o-kay," sounds like "I think you're a total idiot," as if I was humoring someone too dumb to even bother explaining something to. Which is basically what's going on here. So I'd probably say that and then go back to whatever I was doing.

All the people who can stay in the conversation, well, you have a lot more patience than I do. I can be pretty introverted and have low tolerance for unsatisfying chit-chat to begin with, so something that annoying would push me over into "this is definitely not worth my time." I'm not saying I'm right, but depending on what other positive qualities he has, I might totally write-off the guy as a potential conversation partner. (It'd all depend; all I know about this guy is that he's sexist and holds favors against his girlfriend.)
posted by salvia at 5:00 PM on March 26, 2011


Yes, he's being sexist. No, you're not being overly sensitive.

Just remember - it's his problem, he is the tool. Don't let him make you feel bad. It will, I guarantee you, come back to bite him somehow. You can talk to him about it, but he sounds like he won't listen and/or likes the attention. Take the attention away from him by ignoring his comments/changing the subject.

The way you described being asked if you were a feminist is just hilarious beyond words for some reason.
posted by mleigh at 5:07 PM on March 26, 2011


He sounds like a social nincompoop, perhaps with the added impediment of a poor sense of humor. You're obviously worried about what he thinks, even given that. Maybe explain that he can't make remarks stereotyping women in a professional setting. Real low-key and non-confrontational. Just like you're explaining it to a Martian or something. Or ask another, more senior person to do so. Some people need to be told that, they process it, and re-emerge a little more civilized. Win-win.

The fact that he shrugs off your rejoinders rather than engaging further or getting defensive makes me think you might have one of these guys. Was he actually curious about whether you're a feminist? He may have never seen a feminist (or known he had) in real life. Given what I know about science programs at some undergraduate institutions, it's possible he's never been confronted with many women and may not know how to behave in mixed company.

Of course he could also be a jerk and trying to assert himself in some strange way. Then some of the recommendations above would be good. But I'd start with the Martian approach. Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity and all that.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:29 PM on March 26, 2011


I don't think you're overreacting, it seems like he's shown a clear pattern of sexist behavior.

My guess would be that he's a clod, who knows next to nothing about women, and who thinks this kind of thing is funny. He may be really smart, but socially he sounds like an oaf. Him being smart in some areas probably also means he thinks he's figured things out socially, or if he knows he hasn't then he works hard hiding it. This probably leads him to spouting the stupid, cliched, and inane generalizations that he's heard from others. Also I think for some people (clods) its easier to reduce the complex world of social interaction down to simple and predictable rules rather than admitting that the world of human/human interaction is often, if not always, complex, confusing and difficult to predict.

My gut reacting would to be sarcasm and eye rolling as I get the feeling that being all earnest about it will just feed into his stereotypes around feminists. I would treat him like he's dumb and only barley worth responding to when he does this kind of thing.

Also I think you need to keep in mind that there is absolutely nothing wrong with expecting to be able to be treated with respect and not put up with this kind of crap. Feminism may have a lot of baggage for some people but at its core it shouldn't be a dirty word it should be about being equal and not putting up with inane generalizations like this.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:32 PM on March 26, 2011


The guy's opinions are sexist. And the reason he is talking out loud about it is because he is a new graduate student who has a lot of growing up to do. And he may never grow up- but that's not your job to take care of anyway.

To me, the conversations that you have mentioned have a strong vibe of "did too - did not"...a very undergrad and immature thing to do. Is this battle worth fighting like this? Probably not. For one, (forgive me for modifying this J.C.) "your job in a biochemistry lab in the year 2011 isn't to transform other students' gender (or racial) attitudes". Secondly, you are in a professional setting- there is no place for fighting personal opinions. If his opinions turn into actions that are sexist, then by all means pounce on him (figuratively, of course). For instance, lets say you have a female summer trainee that both of you are training. If he specifically says something sexist to her or implies that she cannot do something pertaining to lab work because she is a woman or demoralizes her in any way because of her gender, then talk to him or your supervisor as need be. But do so in a professional manner.

If I don't call this stuff out, how will things ever change?

How does calling out on it like this change anything? Did it change his opinions? No. Did you end up getting labeled as a feminist? Absolutely. This is a classic cycle you will encounter more than once in your graduate student life. You want to be regarded as a fair and balanced person, not a feminist (and its never meant in a good way when stamped like that). If you don't retort that doesn't mean you agree with him. An alternative way to respond is by silence and a stare. The other way to respond is to remove yourself from the situation. (I am suggesting these as this guy is your colleague. If you were supervising him, then your response would be different.)

Go back to trying to keep my mouth shut and swallowing my irritation?

As someone on the green once said, " the fly on the wall doesn't have to know" (about your irritation). Chances are that many other people (both men and women) will also be irritated. The sooner you acquire the art of being able to keep your mouth shut when you are dying to give someone a piece of your mind, you will realise more ways to accomplish what you want (in the long term), with finesse, grace and the wit of a female scientist.

Finally, be professional yourself! If you have to resort to offensive language to argue with a colleague in a professional environment, you have already lost the argument.
posted by xm at 9:08 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if he's trying to get a rise out of you. I've dealt with two kinds of sexist comments in my working life. Your guy might actually believe this stuff, but he may also be using it either because he thinks it's funny or as a stick to prod you with. When it's the latter, you can just snort or something and ignore it, and he'll soon stop. If you're on friendly enough terms you can inform him that saying this stuff makes him sound like an idiot, especially in a world where half the grad students in the sciences are women &nash; sooner or later he'll trot something like that out in front of a woman who has actual power over his career and then he'll be sorry.
posted by zadcat at 11:01 PM on March 26, 2011


I think xm and John Cohen are right. I have seen people bring up abortion and the IP conflict in a workplace environment and it is always very risky. Be pragmatic and focus on your career. When you're at the bar with your friends, you can defend your opinions. Only act if you have a rejoinder or action that defends your internal voice while increasing his respect for you.

I remember once having a conversation at work after which I sent the guy some satirical video about his political philosophy. I thought it was funny, but a couple months later he mentioned that he didn't know why it made him so mad. I said "oh, I'm really sorry, I didn't realize you'd take it so seriously. I was just joking around." He said it was irrational of him to get so mad, and then I said: "No, it's my fault. I should know better than to talk about politics at work." He disagreed with that; he thought it was okay, but I stand by my lesson: There's no point in putting in 40 hours a week and then sabotaging yourself with emotive comments.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:44 AM on March 27, 2011


I don't think this falls into the same category as if the OP were raising the issue of abortion or Israel/Palestine or whatever other politics in the lab. You're right, esprit, that would indeed be unprofessional.

A closer parallel would be if this guy were repeatedly making ignorant or joke-y comments about I/P when he knows perfectly well that the other two students in the room are a Jew and Muslim. Whether they agree with him or not, it's still a dumb move that shows he doesn't understand what's appropriate and hasn't learned how to edit himself.

"Not making blatantly sexist comments to a female co-worker" isn't a contentious political opinion on which reasonable people may disagree. It's basic courtesy and a requirement of professional conduct in the 21st century.

He's the one being unprofessional here. It's totally possible to confront him while remaining professional yourself. What "professional" means in this case is going to depend on the culture and formality of the lab, but there are a lot of good suggestions above that you could adapt.

I'd also suggest recruiting, if possible. Even if there's just one other student who's annoyed by his comments and starts saying so, it can really change the culture of the room. Don't gang up on him, just take turns responding to his comments. This will be particularly effective if you take different approaches and if the other student is male.

Good on you for calling him out and keeping your cool. It's a really hard thing to do.
posted by hippugeek at 8:03 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


It doesn't matter if "he's the one being unprofessional" and I don't think that her viewpoint is so uncontentious that "reasonable people may not disagree." Just last week, a woman told me that she asked her lab supervisor to hire more guys (thinking that they are more logical and so she will get along with them better.) Sexist? Obviously. But, unreasonable or irrational?

Honestly, who cares if you're right? Your goal at work is to be successful at what you do. No one is paying you for the humanities lesson. If it were something really ugly he said, then you can go to his HR or else his manager and you say that his comments are making it hard for you to focus on your job and what would they suggest?

Many of the comments in this thread are tantamount to letting him pick a fight with you, and that is not going to be good for your career. (You're already being labeled "a feminist", and that's a trap. You are reacting to his comments because of your values— not because of your "identity as a feminist.") Ask yourself "what would my manager want me to do?"

The only rejoinder I could come up with was something like "How would you feel if someone said to you that men are worse with children, so the woman should always get custody of children? Wouldn't you rather live in a world where we try to understand every individual, to live beyond generalizations?" But don't do this unless you really think that he will respect you more for it.

Also, he already told you that he thinks women are too emotional. Obviously, bursting out is going to play into his dismissing you. If you can't stay cool, you need to take a walk.

Being right is not the most important thing. The most important thing is doing great work while getting along with people.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 9:25 AM on March 27, 2011


Wow, some of the advice on here, especially some of the most favourited is really quite over the top in my opinion. Sometimes I'm amazed at how the 'enlightened' can be so backward, jumping to conclusions, so eager to judge and then condemn.
As someone of an ethnic minority who has dealt with casual racism from friends and colleagues I have learned to deal with this sort of thing in my own way which works well for me. I remain friends with these people, I call them out on racist stuff, when they send me ignorant emails (chain rubbish) I call them out on those, in a 'humoured disbelief of their ignorance' type way whilst still being open and friendly to communication. They've been very receptive to what I've said and I feel like they've grown by having a friend who can challenge the ignorant views they may get from others elsewhere.
How does a racist become a racist, is he born that way, what about a sexist? Once prejudiced, always prejudiced?
I don't think you've done anything wrong, keep doing what you're doing. Unless you're in danger then there's no need to jump on a soapbox and start going way over the top about someones pitiful ignorance.
posted by razzman at 10:04 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


esprit:
It's not about this guy and what he's going to think of the OP. Who cares? Let him think whatever he wants. It's about getting him to stop expressing his sexist thoughts in the workplace, because doing so creates a work environment that is disrespectful to the OP and all the other women working there.

And yes, actually, I do think your friend who asked that men be hired because they would be more logical was being irrational and unreasonable.
posted by hippugeek at 10:13 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


"It's about getting him to stop expressing his sexist thoughts in the workplace, because doing so creates a work environment that is disrespectful to the OP and all the other women working there."

This. The guy is making it difficult to do "The most important thing" which "is doing great work while getting along with people." Leaving this unchallenged creates an atmosphere in which everyone has to get along with the most unprofessional person there. No use letting the aggressor set the rules.
posted by tel3path at 10:27 AM on March 27, 2011


It's not about this guy and what he's going to think of the OP. Who cares? Let him think whatever he wants.

Most people who are outgoing and social get along with 90% of their colleagues. The people who tend to get promoted are those who get along with 100% of their colleagues. Just one "enemy" can pull your career down. To me, it's not worth it.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:49 AM on March 27, 2011



Some examples
- when someone mentioned that the lab next door goes rock climbing together often, he said "oh, you mean the guys do, right?" (I said, "why would you think that? the girls look like rock climbers too")
- when I mentioned wishing that being a girl guide had involved more building fires, camping, etc. and less sewing and afternoon tea, he said, "gee, don't be such a tomboy"
- when I told him the new undergrad we'd be supervising was a guy like he hoped [our lab has slightly more women than men, so he'd joked that the new student should be male], he said "well I wouldn't have minded a girl either, a guy would be more headstrong and less willing to listen" (I said, "well, some girls can be unwilling to listen also...")
- when we were out with a bunch of other students for st. patrick's day and I was having a conversation with another about whether sexism is still a problem nowadays, he jumped in and said "well, women are just too emotional!" and when I asked why, he said "[other lab member] told me she cried after lab meeting when someone criticized her work" (to which I responded "maybe that's because she's [other lab member], not because she's a woman")
- he mentioned that in his relationship, he feels like he gives a lot more than he takes - and then followed it up with "but that's true of all guys, really".



I am not sure how many of the people responding are actually working in labs but to me, OP, what do describe is a very childish attitude of this guy which I personally don't think is worth fighting for. You may want to look at the background of people who are advising you that you are doing the right thing....but there will be lots of sexism based battles you will be fighting and this one, may not be worth it AT ALL.

Also, re-reading the section above, you are initiating some of these conversations-
- when I mentioned wishing that being a girl guide....
- when I told him the new undergrad we'd be supervising was a guy like he hoped....
- when we were out with a bunch of other students for st. patrick's day and I was having a conversation with another about whether sexism....

I am not sure why, if you get as annoyed as you describe here, do you feel the need to instigate the topic at all. You say you are working on a project with this guy....why are you not focusing on your work instead of having these futile conversations? Are you trying to be polite? likable? sociable? You may want to think about what you want from your coworkers (who at this point are just more like buddies than peer scientists) and set some ground rules for YOURSELF first. If this "The guy is making it difficult to do "The most important thing" which "is doing great work while getting along with people." Leaving this unchallenged creates an atmosphere in which everyone has to get along with the most unprofessional person there" seems a problem, you are part of it. Focus on your work instead of talking about sexism with sexist people. It's like throwing petrol in the fire and expecting it to extinguish. Talk about work at work with coworkers. If they digress, instead of thinking hard about a witty comeback, bring the focus back to the project. And finish the project so you will have to spend less time with the guy.

There is a lot of sexism in science and if you are up-to-date with some journals and websites, you will know what I am talking about. There are also a lot of women graduate students at the same stage of career as you are. But are you going to stick around for the long haul? It is when you reach somewhere that you are more in a position to bring about real change. Talking aloud about sexism three months into graduate school is hardly going to achieve anything. Its good to be aware of what's going on around you but perhaps a bit too premature to start picking fights. Remember, all of us start saying lots of stupid things and making lots of stupid mistakes but you won't survive if you cannot learn to listen, introspect and know thyself before you begin to go out and change the world.

Do you understand what I am saying here? You say you are annoyed by this guy's comments, which are his opinions....what's next? political parties and science funding? or immigration? Out of more than half of your examples above, you are bringing up the topic. If you do so, know that there are people out there who have a different opinion, which they are entitled to discuss as much as you do in a student setting. It's almost like starting a game and when you think you are losing, you get upset. Also, remember that you are in Biochemistry, not Physics or Engineering. You are not the sole woman around. In fact, there are lots and lots of women in life sciences but very few are around at, say, the Professor level. Why is that? Ever thought about it? Have you ever thought about their professionalism, how they act, think and talk at meetings with their peers and students? What's the difference??

If you love drama and labels that will come back to haunt you in years to come, by all means, go ahead with some of the responses given above. If you plan to stick around, for your PhD and a post-PhD career, think hard about what you say before you say it.
posted by xm at 11:33 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


[folks, please direct answers to the OP and otherwise take side discussions to MeMail. Calling out other commenters is really really not the way to move this thread forward and answer the OPs question. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:36 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with the others upthread about continuing to call him out when he says this nonsense. HOW you call him out depends on a ton of factors: who's present, your dynamic, your level of humor, etc. I find that, generally, a light-hearted (eye-rolling, sarcastic...) response serves to identify the inappropriate behavior without reinforcing negative stereotypes about a woman's "fragile sensitivity". I liked your responses to this guy so far, and I'm sorry that you have to put up with this, but I have seen people alter their behavior, and even beliefs, with consistent call-outs. It's nonsensical to paint half the population with one brush and it should be treated as nonsense.
posted by Jezebella at 2:03 PM on March 27, 2011


Gosh, that does sound very exhausting! And I don't think you are overreacting, that would get my blood boiling. This type of sexism that is just ingrained in culture or less overt to me is just as damaging. As others have mentioned I have learned over time where to pick my battles. This guy sounds like he could be teachable but its hard to tell if the in your face strategy or a more calm approach would be better. If it doesn't go well, at least you planted the seed. I think those that are telling you it isn't your job or business don't understand how difficult it is especially in the close working quarters you have described. Good luck.
posted by heatherly at 9:25 AM on March 28, 2011


I would probably respond along the lines of "Is it that you think a woman is incapable or that the men in her life shouldn't be LETTING her do this? Or do you just think it's charming to come across like a sexist prick?" But that probably wouldn't be the most diplomatic way of dealing with it....
posted by Clytie at 10:32 AM on March 28, 2011


I **love** the idea of visually tracking his dumb comments, per coffeefilter. A former boss who was constantly running late always sent us the most ridiculous Blackberry email during his commute with his late excuse of the day. After a couple of years of it we collected the emails and mapped all of the excuses out in timeline software to illustrate, mostly for our sheer entertainment, the increasing frequency and wildly creative excuses he used instead of just telling us he was going to be running late like a normal boss would.

Anyway, if you keep a visible, obvious point system on his dumb comments, combined with (per wryly) your own low key rebuttals asking him what it was like growing up in the 50's or similar such comments, he'll at least become aware of the frequency of the comments. And since he is either trolling or just incredibly obtuse, let it be known that the comments are boring, lame and altogether uncool.
posted by 8dot3 at 12:39 PM on March 28, 2011


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