Emily Graslie of The Brain Scoop talks about creepy, sexist, internet comments, what it’s like to be a woman in STEM related internet content creation, and what we can (begin) to do about it.
Emily Graslie of The Brain Scoop talks about creepy, sexist, internet comments, what it’s like to be a woman in STEM related internet content creation, and what we can (begin) to do about it.
This post may need a bit of an explanation. I am supposed to give a brief talk to and about a partcular institution. I think the institution is often shooting itself in the foot. So I would like to talk about an aspect of institutional excellence at least to divert attention from inflicting wounds. The connection I mention below seemed to me to be possibly worth exploring. It occurred to me yesterday, so these are very preliminary reflections. I’m also reacting a bit to an earlier post on the topic of referring to one’s work.
I’ve been thinking off and on about these two themes for some time. It occurred to me last night that in fact they may be very closely connected. A little more cautiously, two institutions that have recently seemed to be very similar even though they are very different in kind might seem so similar because of how these themes might be invoked in describing them. (Just so you know, I’ve been wondering for some time why two places I’ve recently seen a lot of – Somerville College, Oxford, and MD Anderson, Houston, often ranked as the US’s number one cancer treatment and research institution, have seem so similar in some way related to excellence. That is, related in a way that is more than simply both being excellent.)
So let’s consider this conjecture: with some excellent places, the accusatory assumption that someone who mentions her work is being self-promoting is absent, or nearly absent. Further, that absence can nuture excellence while it is itself a more intelligent reaction to excellence.
What could possibly cause any association between excellence and a lack of accusations of self-promotion? Here is one connection: it is pretty unthinking to assume someone mentioning her work is being self-promoting. The assumption is a mark of a failure in excellence. Why? For a lot of reasons:
1. People who think one’s motivation is self-promotion quite probably are not aware of some other very significant motivations. In particular, there can be a genuine joy in creating something and bringing something to a conclusion, whether it is a paper, a painting, a recital, a tennis match, or so on.
2. The hypothesis of self-promotion usually has a large gap; namely, there isn’t an answer given to the question of whom the accused is supposed to be trying to impress. Too often the accuser assumes they are among those whom the accused is trying to impress. Except in some special cases where the accuser has special power or resources, that may well be false.
3. The accusation is a way of dismissing someone’s work without incurring any burden of proof. That is less than honest trickery (At the same time, we might reflect that there are different reasons one might want to dismiss someone’s work. The quality of the work might really threaten one’s own sense of self-worth. Or one might be trying to derail some candidacy, etc. and there are no doubt more reasons.)
I think and hope I’ve said enough to give some sense of a line of thought.
I expect there are objections, and I’d love to hear of any you think of. You can also be positive!
There is a great deal, in fact, that remains to be said. For example, aren’t there some brilliant people who have made huge advances while still being nasty and accusatory about others’ supposed self-promoting narcissism? (talk about projection, one might say.) If you are thinking about this, please notice that the ideas get quite qualified as this post progresses.
So please add or subtract from these reflections.
Michel Smith spent some time in a talk at Rice Universty talking about the crude values the boys in his Australian childhood took to be required. The behavior is far from universal, but it got a good airing in discussions of the country’s PM.
Thanks to Brian Leiter for the link to this video:
A really beautiful video project based on a spoken-word poem about bullying:
Makes for grim reading. From the courageous and awesome feminist philosopher Amy Masson.
On the night of my election I received a death threat which told me to ‘DIE BITCH DIE’ with a side note suggesting that this vitriol was deserved because of my feminist beliefs.
In this post we’ll look at the little that is known about what to do about mobbing. But first we’ll do a bit of recapping:
Mobbing is group bullying, and in mobbing-prone institutions it can reach 30%, with the male to female ratio being 47 to 53. (The previous sentenc has been revised in light of comments 1 and 2.) It is typically very harmful to its victims. The victim may be expelled from a group’s community of who deserves basic respect. Approximately 12% commit suicide; other people develop heart conditions, ptsd, and other serious illnesses.
One question the earlier post looked at is why people someone works with might in effect attack her when she is at a physically and psychologically very low point, such as receiving quite dangerous treatment for cancer. It is not uncommon for cancer patients to experience this even though an expert on cancer and society tells me that – apart from lung cancer – this is no sigma attached to having cancer. The literature on mobbing suggests one is looking at the situation the wrong way around. Mobbers, like robbers, look for opportunities, such as when one is careless or less able to defend oneself.
Another thing mobbers do is to write letters to colleagues and friends without telling one anything. These may be the product of their own fantasies and they are often libelous. And I have been sent one from someone who was sent it by a mobber. I’m changing the names and indications of the situation in order to protect identities. You may need to know that Frost, described in the letter, has affiliations with the departments of both the writer and the recipient.
Anyway, here goes:
Dear Professor Adams,
Congratulations on your impressive new grant and the project it enables. As with all children, the likelihood of success depends very much on the qualities of their parents.
Thus we are totally dismayed to see that the notorious Professor Barbara Frost is listed as a co-PI. Her self-promotion and pursuit of more stipends are now legendary. She has failed dismally in every office that she has held – just ask around. Her record of “Do it my way or else” has created innumerable problems. She has shown an inability to complete anything – look at her publication record. Her wooing of members of the senior administration when she held various faculty leadership positions and seeking promotion to full professor was both absurd and successful.
It has amused us to reflect on which exams in your department she might be able to pass – given that she is apparently is a member of your department. Your project will have a major credibility problem so long as she has any position of power or influence. We will be interested to see what transpires and what credibility it will acquire.
Some interested colleges.
Just about every sentence is false, but that does not diminish the effect the letter has on its recipients or on the subject of the letter. Suppose you lived in an atmosphere where such a thing was no surprise; we might even expect it would badly affect your health.
So why do people do these things, and what can be done to stop it? The news here is not good, going by Mobbing: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions, the most recent book on the subject.
According to the authors of the above book, there are two major factors in the causes of mobbing: narcissism, even pathological narcissism, on the part of at least some of the mobbers and an administration that places protecting themselves and the institution above protecting employees. I think that in addition to narcissism, other psychological elements can play quite a role. Some people do not, for example, understand how harmful their behavior is. There may also be other elements: some people really cannot understand that one might do something simply from the joy of creating something; for such people, one must be acting to promote oneself, even if, as the actual facts reveal, the victim must be terrible at promoting herself since the mobbers obviously do not know what she accomplished.
What should the victim do?
The authors seem to think that psychotherapy is something a victim should seek, but they warn against dealing with any therapist who is largely ignorant of mobbing. They think that an inexperienced therapist might well start to blame the victim. In addition, they think victims should seek redress and that the therapist should know this, and know how it is to be done. For example, they think that most internal human resources people will be hopeless at dealing with the situation, since they will in the end seek to benefit the institution, not the victim.
Families may also need to be more supportive than they are inclined to be. It can be very hard to think a beloved partner couldn’t do something, just as parents unfortunately may blame a bullied child for not being more popular.
What should an institution do?
Institutions can do a lot to create a workplace that values respect and the recognition of dignity, but it is hard to see how to get that started where it is absent except by legal action, which can be very, very expensive. Even lawyers who will take a case on contingency may well require advance payment to cover basic costs in case of a complete loss. The sum can easily be more than academics normally envisage handing over to someone.
If you are fortunate enough to be in a position where you can do something positive about mobbing, the book is a great resource. It also carries a lot of information for victims, but the problem is hardly easy to resolve. The literature on how to deal with the pathological narcissist in the workplace has a constant refrain: there is nothing you can do and you need to stay away from the person as much as possible. Consider leaving your job. Remember, your health may well be seriously at stake.
The topic of academic mobbing really deserves more than one post. This post is mostly about what mobbing is. The material also answers a very puzzling question asked in a post about cancer patients; hence, the word in parentheses.
Addition: in the light of comments 3,4 and 5, let me suggest it is important that readers add up in their minds what’s going on in mobbing. It can end your chances of advancement and wreck your health. In addition, as the comments below indicate, you can end up isolated from the community. Perhaps worse, mobbers may feel free of any constraints of humanity in dealing with you. What are we to say of people who do this? Evil? Very ill? Lacking in an important kind of reflective self-awareness? Probably many different kinds of things, but one element (that Naomi Zack pointed out to me with regard to a specific case) is an unblinking determination to preserve or enhance a current distribution of power.
In the next post on mobbing, i’ll look at what we know about what can be done.
What is academic mobbing? You can think of mobbing as group bullying, but in the work place it can take on its peculiar characteristics. It also goes far beyond typical school bullying. For example, it can encompass obstructing any promotion chances you have, spreading rumors about the quality of your work and the ethics of your motivations. Perhaps you did fund raising that brought in several hundred thousand dollars; mobbers may well tell your dean that actually the fundraising was done by someone else, and you are simply making empty boasts when you claim you did it. Perhaps you work in a fairly cutting edge areas; they will tell people not in a position to judge (e.g., the upper administration, the board of regents) that you are selling out in a way that harms the university.
Of course, letter writing is a great pastime, and mobbers may write to your professional friends with their own made up accusations. You will not be told, of course, that this has happened. Thus those targeted in this way are often denied procedural fairness and natural justice (see link immediately below). Mobbers charges are often based on little more than fantasy, but they are not about to ask the victim for confirmation.
Why in the world would anyone do that? The profiles of the victims are interesting, and indicate that those at high risk are most likely to be:
* Change agents
* High achievers
* Enthusiastic (eg those who volunteer)
* Those with integrity
* Those with ethical standards
* Promoters of human rights, dignity and respect
It is a good guess that those targeted for the first two reasons are very threatening, particularly since faculty are quite notorious for not liking change or challenge. It is far easier to believe the work is fraudulent in some way than to believe it is better than yours. If you are very surprised at that, then it is quite possible you are just very far from the type of person who would mob. As far as I can see, part of what explains the latter characteristics causing scorn is that mobbers, like most of us, use themselves as models for understanding others; as a consequence, they cannot believe that people are motivated by anything other than self-interest, because that is their principal motive. You may think you are lobbying the board of regents at some personal risk because you think a great injustice has been done; they cannot believe that, and so they assume you actually have an entirely different agenda that has to do with self-promotion.
Denise Dellarosa Cummins raised the topic of mobbing in a discussion on a post a couple of weeks ago, and she mentioned three articles:
Since you or someone you know may be mobbed, it is well worth your while to look it. Mobbing is not just an inconvenience; approximately 12% of mobbed adults commit suicide. Many get heart trouble, ptsd and other very serious health problems. Around 30% of people in a mobbing-prone organization will get mobbed, and universities are mostly mobbing prone.
Now, onto the puzzling question.
I found a question raised in here, important and puzzling. It raises the question of why anyone would want to cause great and unnecessary stress to a cancer patient undergoing pretty dire treatment. Given people do sometimes cause great stress to cancer patients, it is important.
What is so puzzling is the news that anyone would. Suppose you have an obnoxious neighbor whose even more obnoxious pet armadillo has been burrowing in your yard. Your neighbor is bad but you frankly hate the animal, because it is messy, dirty, destructive and very, very smelly. So you think you will petition the community board to get permission to relocate the thing. But suppose you find the person is receiving life-threatening treatment for cancer, with perhaps an attendant brain fog. Surely that would change your plans. You can wait on their pet armadillo.
Now there may be many different reasons why some people would go ahead. But mobbers have a distinctive kind of reason. Mobbers strike when one gets sick, a lot of research confirms. Thus a mobber would see the neighbor as vulnerable and so affording an opportunity for action. Asking why a mobber would do something that causes great and unnecessary distress to a cancer patient is like asking why the buglers stole your briefcase the one time you forgot to lock your car. These are people waiting for the opportunity.
(I owe the views about the undesirability of armadillos as pets to a recent “This American Life.” I do not recommend listening to that episode. In fact, the armadillo, Otis, comes off well; the humans not so much.)
Our posts on accepting women’s bodies of all shapes and sizes will sometimes inspire the fat police to appear to denounce any acceptance of being overweight. So I’m very happy to say that the idea that being overweight is unhealthy now has a huge question mark against it. Though we’ve heard this before, the idea is getting new attention from an August finding that even with diabetes II, being overweight can be a protection. From the NY Times:
In study after study, overweight and moderately obese patients with certain chronic diseases often live longer and fare better than normal-weight patients with the same ailments. The accumulation of evidence is inspiring some experts to re-examine long-held assumptions about the association between body fat and disease…
…. there were hints everywhere. One study found that heavier dialysis patients had a lower chance of dying than those whose were of normal weight or underweight. Overweight patients with coronary disease fared better than those who were thinner in another study; mild to severe obesity posed no additional mortality risks.
In 2007, a study of 11,000 Canadians over more than a decade found that those who were overweight had the lowest chance of dying from any cause.
To date, scientists have documented these findings in patients with heart failure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, high blood pressure — and now diabetes.
There are many possible explanations. One is that being overweight is often not studied independently of fitness:
The link between obesity and health derives in part from research like the Framingham Heart Study, which has followed thousands of men and women since the 1940s. But Paul McAuley, a professor of health education at Winston-Salem State University, has noted that Framingham and other longitudinal studies often fail to take into account physical activity and fitness.
Research that does tease apart weight and fitness — like a series of studies conducted by Steven Blair at the Cooper Institute in Dallas — shows that being fat and fit is better, healthwise, than being thin and unfit. Regular aerobic exercise may not lead to weight loss, but it does reduce fat in the liver, where it may do the most metabolic damage, according to a recent study at the University of Sydney.
The bottom line? This may be it:
In 2005, an epidemiologist, Katherine Flegal, analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that the biggest risks of death were associated with being at either end of the spectrum — underweight or severely obese. The lowest mortality risks were among those in the overweight category (B.M.I.s of 25 to 30), while moderate obesity (30 to 35) offered no more risk than being in the normal-weight category.
The article is interesting in another respect, as a comment on what happens to opinions that go against very established beliefs. An early article ran up against the critical review, “This cannot be true.” And as they say, it will take some time before you can expect an internist/general practitioner to accept it. It goes against the “paradigm”.
This moving series of writings is definitely worth your while:
CATCALLED is a two-week long writing project by women living in New York on their experiences with being objectified and sexually harassed on city streets. Each daily log was kept by one of our 11 participants over the course of two weeks in August 2012. In the entries the women reflect on vulnerability, power, objectification, and safety in their urban environments.
Among the lessons, according to this Yahoo! Shine article, is to “stop staring and start learning”:
When she was in high school, Lizzie Velasquez was dubbed “The World’s Ugliest Woman” in an 8-second-long YouTube video. Born with a medical condition so rare that just two other people in the world are thought to have it, Velasquez has no adipose tissue and cannot create muscle, store energy, or gain weight. She has zero percent body fat and weighs just 60 pounds.
In the comments on YouTube, viewers called her “it” and “monster” and encouraged her to kill herself. Instead, Velasquez set four goals: To become a motivational speaker, to publish a book, to graduate college, and to build a family and a career for herself.
The “World’s Ugliest Woman” YouTube clip has been removed, but was viewed more than 4,000,000 times before it was taken down.
At just 23, Lizzie appears to have already accomplished two of her four goals: she is a motivational speaker with more than 200 presentations to her credit, and is author of two books, including a newly released book, Be Beautiful, Be You. As a senior majoring in Communications at Texas State, she is also well on her way to accomplishing the third goal.
Videos, interviews, information about how to book her for a speaking engagement, and a link to Lizzie’s YouTube channel are all available on her website.