Belittling Accomplished Women

April 15, 2019 § 2 Comments

Earlier this month, the algorithm developed by Dr. Katie Bouman, who was a Harvard post-doc and is incoming Assistant Professor at California Institute of Technology, helped to verify a supermassive black hole inside a distant galaxy. The photograph of her when this image, the first of a black hole, was processed, went viral.

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Bouman acknowledged that the work was the result of a team effort, making it clear that this wasn’t only her accomplishment, on Facebook.

And then the belittling of Dr. Bouman began.  On-line trolls, who can’t seem to believe a woman could do this, attacked her.  It got so bad that even FoxNews noted this ridiculousness.

But perhaps even worse, the centre and left attempted to celebrate Dr. Bouman’s accomplishment, but did so in a belittling, embarrassing manner.  I saw tweets referring to her as ‘a little girl.’  Others commented on her looks.  But, perhaps the worst was from Occupy Democrats, a Facebook group.  Occupy Democrats were attempting to give Bouman credit, but, oy vey, did it fall short of the mark.

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This is a textbook example of how women are belittled.  First, she is DR. Katie Bouman. Second, she is a young woman, not a ‘young lady.’  I don’t think it’s necessary to get into the issues with the term ‘lady’ here.  She was indeed a grad student three years ago, but she was then a Harvard postdoc and now she is incoming Assistant Professor at Cal Tech.  She also did not single-handedly pull this off, something she was very quick to acknowledge, as noted above.  Finally, ‘Good job, Katie!’  Come on, man!  Good job, Dr. Bouman.

Thankfully, someone has addressed this, fixing up Occupy Democrats’ meme.

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But, you see, this is nothing new.  I have been teaching at the college and university level now for over two decades.  I am married to an academic.  I cannot tell you how often I have seen this kind of thing, the belittling of women.

Students oftentime cannot process that their female professors have PhDs, and thus either call them Ms., or, perhaps worse, by their first names (as in ‘Good Job, Katie!’).  Course evaluations include comments on the bodies of female professors.  But this gets magnified by male colleagues who just watch this happen and stay silent.  Studies show that female professors get lower evaluations from students than male colleagues.  Male colleagues also belittle their female colleagues, especially successful ones, most notably with patronizing language.  I’ve overhead colleagues debate which of their female colleagues they would want to see naked (it goes without saying I’ve heard this and worse about female students).

Ultimately, what the misogynist internet trolls and what Occupy Democrats did is infuriating.  And yet, oh so not surprising.  We need a better world.

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