I’m privileged. I know I am. I have been my whole life. I’m a white woman who grew up in middle class suburbia. I went to good public schools through high school, and I went to very good public colleges and universities for my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate. I grew up in the South, which I know many associate with racism, but I went to school with plenty of minorities. My one and only “disadvantage” is that I am female, in particular a female engineer and scientist. I do not consider being female a disadvantage, but females tend to get discriminated against as if we are less then males somehow.
This morning much of my Twitter timeline was filled with fellow scientists and then many other people getting very mad at Scientific American over its treatment of one of its bloggers, Dr. Danielle N. Lee. I encourage anyone who reads this post first to go read Isis the Scientist’s blog post about what happened to Dr. Lee, which includes Dr. Lee’s original post. The original post was on Scientific American but now is no longer there, which you can read about in Isis the Scientist’s follow up post. The extremely short version of all this is that an editor a scientific blogging website asked Dr. Lee to write some articles for free and Dr. Lee said no, the editor called her a whore. [Seriously, go read Isis’s blog posts.] My first thought upon reading about all this was, so you think calling a woman a whore is the way to persuade her to do what you want? Really? Does that work for you normally?
Somewhere is the incredulous, anger, and sympathy and respect for Dr. Lee upon learning all the details of these events, I thought how lucky I am. I spent the better part of my childhood in Texas, which has more than its share of racist, sexist pigs, yet I can’t actually remember a time I truly had to deal with one on a personal basis. Last year, I wrote about how lonely it can be to be a female engineer, both in school and in the workplace. I’ve been surrounded by men in the classroom and workplace, since pretty much my freshman year of college. Truthfully though, with one glaring exception, all the men I’ve studied or worked with have for the most part treated me as an equal. Maybe they didn’t, and I was just too oblivious to notice.
The one glaring exception was at the company where I had my first full time job after finishing my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. My manager, a senior engineer, would occasionally make some remarks that made 26-year-old me rather uncomfortable, but I didn’t think were truly sexual harassment, and it has been so long ago, I don’t even remember what they were. Then shortly before my birthday, the other female engineer in the office and the female secretary happen to be in the copy room with him when upon the female engineer exclaiming “oh, it’s [GGE]’s birthday next week,” he said, “does that mean we get to spank her?” I was not in the room at the time, but this was a tiny office of about nine people. There are no secrets in an office that small, and I was good friends with the secretary. I heard about this comment pretty quick. To say this comment made me uncomfortable would be putting it mildly. I went to one of the other senior engineers, who happen to have previously been my manager, and I told him what was going on. I told him I didn’t want to make a big deal out of any of it, but I really wanted the comments to stop both for my and every other female’s sake. He assured me he understand, thanked me for coming to him, and promised to take care of it. Within a week or so, a human resources person from the company’s corporate office was in the office, and everyone was taking mandatory sexual harassment training. My former manager had my back. He took care of it, or really he made sure the company took care of it. Whether this engineering company that was definitely dominated by men took care of it because they seriously won’t take this kind of behavior, or if they were more motivated by fear of a sexual harassment lawsuit, I don’t know. What mattered was, they took me seriously, and they reacted exactly the way they should have.
So to return to Dr. Lee, I was thinking how lucky I have been to only have had one bad experience in my personal and professional life. Scientific American seems to not have her back, and the one time I had a problem, my company had my back. Then I stopped to think, why am I lucky to have only had to deal with one sexist idiot in my career? Why should a woman have to be lucky to not be called a whore? Why should I consider myself lucky for be treated like an equal in school and work? Why should I consider myself lucky for people respecting the career decisions I have made and for whom I would and wouldn’t work? Perhaps that is why I am a feminist because I am confident in the notion that I AM AN EQUAL. I have respect for myself. Calling me names will not induce me to do what you want. I will respect you if you respect me. Isn’t that what we learned in Kindergarten? Treat others the way you want to be treated? As for Scientific American, I cannot understand why they took down her post. I cannot understand why they are not supporting her. Their explanation makes no sense, especially to a regular reader of their blogs. They failed Dr. Lee, and they failed their readers by not supporting her. Their silence on her being called a very ugly name is deafening. People and companies who do not stand up against racism and sexism only allow it to continue. Until Scientific American apologizes publicly to Dr. Lee, I will be boycotting them. I am sure not going to go anywhere near the blog website whose editor called Dr. Lee a whore. I wish I could do more. I wish racism and sexism would end, but until they do, I intend to stand up for myself and anyone else who face them.