Over the weekend @phylogenomics must have been catching up on some blog archives, because he linked to my old Clara B. Jones post from over a year ago. Regular readers may recall that this was a follow-up to Jones' comments on EcoLog in response to a question about taking a child into the field during field season. It quickly spiraled into a numerated diatribe on Dr. Jones' wolrdview - that women shouldn't try and mix family and science, but abandon family and concentrate on work. The final stanza sums it up well:
As a final *opinion *to listserv readers; I consider it, possibly,
irresponsible for major professors, mentors, parents, etc. NOT to advise female graduate students of the disadvantages associated with certain personal choices (marriage, motherhood) IF they desire competitive research careers.
Other Jones highlights include the unsolicited advice for female scientists to freeze their eggs until post-tenure and pointing out that female grad student applicants really don't bring anything novel to the table. If you really want a good feel, you can even check out the tumblr that popped up in the wake of some of Dr. Jones' more recent comments.
So why am I bringing this all up again? Because of the twitter conversation that followed the post. In particular, @hspter felt that my criticisms were unwarranted and suggesting that I should focus on the sexism inherent in science over attacking a woman who has sacrificed for her career. She's just keeping it real.
In a way, I see where @hspter is coming from. If I'm interpreting her argument correctly (and hopefully she will clarify if I'm not), her sentiment is that Dr. Jone's is just telling the next generation of female scientists what they need to prepare for. She's outlining challenges and reporting the way she went about overcoming them. Rather have it blunt than blind. I can understand that and I'm not about to sit here and tell you I know any better. The data are clear that women have an uphill climb in science, compared to their male colleagues. Everyone has a story of women who can juggle it all and there are examples in our community as well. But the trends are clear and it's something that we need to fix.
Where I don't see eye-to-eye with @hspter is in the notion that comments like Jones' are totally fine and important to expose women to. Whereas I am all for addressing realities, I would argue that Dr. Jones' comments are a form of passing sexism down to the next generation. I'm not alone in that interpretation of Jones' comments and the ensuing discussion.
One can argue that it's best for young scientists to be faced with this kind of thing early on so they know what they are in for - get out now, while they still have a chance. But to me that's just propagating the problem. If we bow to the bigoted voices in the community and drive the people we most want to retain away at the early stages, there is no chance to make progress. I called out Jones' comments because I don't think that saying things like "most female applicants are inferior" reflects reality, nor is it the message that should be heard from senior people in the community. Not everyone agrees with me, which is fine. I think it's worth exploring both the message and the subtext, which is why I'm bringing it back up. I think anyone in the scientific community who makes bigoted statements needs to be called out, regardless of their target. If the community lets it slide, then people get the message that it is acceptable. The road to change starts at the level of the community and attitudes that are commonplace there. It is critical for voices for equality to be loudest in bigger arenas.