Mockery, pity, kid gloves and when the gloves come off

May 17 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Ah, Civility. Always there to lean on when we don't like what is being said, but would rather blame it on how it is being said. After the initial discussion died down around Tuesday's post, along came a commenter to tsk tsk about what he perceived were personal attacks directed at Dr. Jones.

So I ask, are Dr. Jones's statements not personal attacks themselves? These were open comments on a listserv directed at a young female scientist, followed up with other "helpful suggestions" to women that reinforced the idea that they should put everything on hold in order to concentrate on science. This is direct and unambiguous bullying by a senior scientist, aimed at influencing the choices of junior scientists. Apparently that is bad, but the individual should not be held accountable.

So here is my question for the day: At what point is it okay to stand up against bullying? Where is the line between silently or quietly disagreeing with a person's point of view and making a loud statement that their viewpoint should not be tolerated by anyone under any circumstances?

If influencing people's family decisions with the threat of career stagnation isn't enough, then what is the trigger? How egregious does a statement have to be in order for us to respond? If these statements was made by a man, could me call him sexist? Or should we just consider their point of view and go on our merry way?

Micheal McCarthy suggests that by strongly disagreeing and even using sarcasm in a response, we limit the voices that will join the discussion. I would counter with, by quietly and respectfully responding we let the bullies have their say and crush voices of their targets. By passing the buck on standing up to these people, we let them ply their trade down the road. I call bullshit on that.

If a white male can't stand up and say that direct sexism (regardless of the source) is not okay, then who does?

14 responses so far

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Yeah, and it isn't like you really went to town on this person...

  • Mac says:

    I agree that Clara B. Jones' post on ecolog have a bullying tone and that her attitudes do far more harm than good for women in the field, heck I love my job but she makes me want to quit and crawl under a rock. Thanks for saying it like it is. If people put ranting, bullying bullshit out on a public forum it's ok to call them on it and I appreciate you doing it. Respect doesn't mean not disagreeing and accepting bullshit in silence and you were perfectly reasonable in how your framed your critique.

  • gerty-z says:

    OK, I just read through all the comments over at your other post. First, fighting back against someone that is being a bully does not transform you into a bully. The "bully" is the one with power picking on the more vulnerable. If the little guy decides to punch the bully in the nose, that is standing up for yourself. Not bullying. Second, none of the comments even approached disrespect. This seems like one of those times when the "call for civility" is actually advancing the cause of the bully. We need to have everyone, including the hetero white male, speak up, loudly and forcefully, when someone is doing something that propagates bullshit cultural standards.

  • Lab Rockstar says:

    "To exercise power costs effort and demands courage. That is why so many fail to assert rights to which they are perfectly entitled - because a right is a kind of power but they are too lazy or too cowardly to exercise it. The virtues which cloak these faults are called patience and forbearance." -Nietzsche

  • zygote says:

    Standing up for the rights of others, especially when I'm a member of the "privileged" group, seems to hold a certain kind of power. A kind of misplaced authority because I don't have a "reason" to complain but am complaining anyway. I think it's great that you're standing up for women's rights. I think you're doing a good thing.

  • In my comment, perhaps I should have been clearer. Vigorously defending rights is fine, and it is fine to stand up against bullying. I thought I said that. Such a defence of rights can involve parody of ideas, and most of proflikesubsance's post is a parody of ideas. But parodying and mocking people is not fine. There is a difference, and I hope people will see that in this discussion.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    So bullies are cool, we just have to talk to them about their ideas and tell them they (the ideas, never the people) are bad... without hurting anyone's feelings. I'm sure the will rapidly usher in a world of change.

  • Jones is just as much of an asshole as Kern, and they both should be mocked for being such assholes.

  • drugmonkey says:

    You dudes are meaniepantses. You should get that checked out.

  • The one situation when responding to the bullying directly might not be appropriate is when the original target does so successfully. Even then, once they've had their go if there's any doubt left about whose behavior was appropriate and whose was not, I think it's best to have a go at it (in that "I agree with X", make it quick kind of way).

    For anyone who missed the Ecolog-L discussion, this wasn't an isolated comment. It was a part of, and encouraged, an avalanche of posters exhibiting the same attitude, including at least one email from somebody I recognized as being at the top of their sub-field. The only good thing was that a lot of people outed themselves as supporting the status quo of male-with-stay-at-home-spouse-ecology. There were definitely some good responses as well, but bullying the bullies was my last concern there.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    My point is that the response needs to be LOUDER than the bullies if there is hope for traction, especially in light of the fact that the bullies own the privilege. Even when the target does a good job of response, make no mistake that others are watching to see how it goes. If they appear to be an island, then nothing gained.

    The Joneses, Kerns and Poos of the world need to be told that they can sacrifice their own lives on the alter of careerism, but that it is not a de facto requirement of success to be imposed on all those junior to them. And loudly.

  • "If they appear to be an island, then nothing gained. "

    This is really the point I didn't get before. It's not just about defending somebody, it's about making the science better but pushing back against this destructive definition of success.

  • BBBShrewHarpy says:

    I really think I must have missed some of the links because I don't see any bullying by Dr. Jones.

  • Mercury says:

    Sorry, I normally like this blog and all but you're kinda out of your element on this one. You don't like her and her child-abandoning science-careerist (or whatever it is that got all y'alls panties in a bunch) ways, that much is obvious. But really what is the point? You're seriously thinking you're sticking up against "bullying"?! A woman speaking up her opinion and giving advice that you don't like (which the listener may or may not take) is a bully? Perhaps y'all could've tweeted this and let it go because prolonging the argument doesn't make sense to me.

    And since everyone is all about bullying, what about the 'women can't do science at all' type of bullying, which is alive and well instead of harping on and on about some comment you find on the internet that you don't like.

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