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The Charismatic Misogynist

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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If you skim the twitter hashtag #mencallmethings, it’s clear that there are plenty of blatant misogynists to go around. As a woman, it’s impossible to ignore this kind of clear and dangerous language. But, in my experience, these comments aren’t the norm. Only a small, vocal and problematic group of men belittle women so coarsely. Many more do so unintentionally, even charismatically, with a smile.

In a couple months, my network coblogger Janet and I are going to be moderating a session at Science Online about women in science blogging. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to say. I attended the session on this topic last year, which I posted about afterwards (I’ve included that post at the bottom of this post, as extra food for thought).

It seems like fate that now, while I’m tossing these issues around in my brain, Ed Rybicki‘s Womanspace is brought to my attention. As a blogger for Scientific American, I work for Nature Publishing. I am deeply disappointed that an article like this has been published by a company I am associated with in any way.

Rybicki doesn’t threaten rape or malign the general intelligence of women. But make no mistake – this article is misogynistic. As Pieter van Dokkum expressed in the comments section: “What this story highlights is the issue of unintentional, subconscious bias, which is something that our community has to come to grips with… the story places women and men in fundamentally different categories: women are well-organized and domestically-oriented whereas men are useless in everyday life but come up with theories about the universe.”

Emily, from The Biology Files, said it perfectly:

“After reducing women to a stereotyped shopping monolith, cheekily analogizing women’s behaviors as a parallel universe (can someone finally kill the astronomic analogies for men vs women, please? This book is almost 20 years old), and expressing fear over the empowerment of women, he now marginalizes women into superficiality, hazarding that given our newfound knowledge, we will exercise it to get rid of ugly men and select “better-looking” versions.”

I get what Ed was trying to do – he was trying to be funny. I might even be able to turn off my internal angry feminist for a moment and say that he didn’t mean to reinforce gender stereotypes, and instead was trying to tell a cute story about his wife. He wasn’t trying to be a complete jerk.

The thing is, a guy doesn’t have to be a complete jerk to be sexist. There are plenty of charismatic misogynists out there – guys who don’t notice how they say things that demean women, especially when they’re trying to be complimentary. They don’t even realize how their frivolous and yes, sometimes even funny, comments contribute to the derision of women in society and in STEM fields in particular.

A commenter here, for example, began a supportive comment on a post of mine with: “I think Christie is correct, and I’m not just saying that because according to her profile picture, she’s absolutely beautiful. [emphasis mine]“. I get it. He was trying to be flattering – but instead, he implied that my looks are the most important factor in whether or not something I write is correct. It’s hardly the first comment I’ve received like that.

I want to know is why on Earth a piece like Womanspace is being published by Nature in the first place. Therese is right: this article lacks any kind of scientific merit, and instead flippantly tosses around gender stereotypes in a poor attempt at humor. I stand beside Ylaine Gerardin and Tami Lieberman in saying it is disturbing that “the world’s leading scientific journal would choose to publish a piece – even a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ science fiction story – that promulgates such nonsensical Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus ideas” and that “Nature should be setting an example by not literally alienating women, but instead encouraging the dissolution of the last bastions of ‘manspace’”. It just adds insult to injury that this is published in a section called “Futures” – I sincerely hope this isn’t Nature‘s idea of looking ahead at the scientific community of the future.

On a side note, I encourage those of you going to Science Online 2012 to join Janet and I for our session. Clearly, there is still a lot to discuss.
Update: Nature has closed commenting reopened! on the article itself. But, you can tell Ed Rybicki or Henry Gee (the editor in charge of Futures) how you feel on twitter. Or, post on Futures’ wall on Facebook and share your opinions.

Some other responses to Womanspace (or just go see Jacquelyn’s awesome list here):


posted 1/25/2011
Observations | I’ve never been very good at hiding.

“I am not a pretty girl – that is not what I do.”
Ani DiFranco

A few weeks ago, I received a facebook message. It was from a male admirer of my blog (and his fiancée, coincidentally). In it, he said “You are GORGEOUS, and your tits look absolutely incredible.” I froze. I know it was meant as a compliment, but it made me really uncomfortable. It was a sentiment that was much more muted in other comments I’d gotten. You know, ones like “wow, you’re an amazing writer AND you’re hot?” or “who would have thought a pretty girl could be so good at science?”

Of course, if you point out to any of these people that their comments are sexist, they instantly defend themselves and say that’s not what they meant. They weren’t trying to imply women should be less good at science or writing, they just wanted to say that it’s cool that I’m pretty and nerdy. They think women in science are great.

shirtless blogger.jpg
Is this Brian Switek without the plaid?

But what they fail to realize is the fact that my looks are important enough to comment on is what makes their comments sexist.

Sure, maybe male bloggers get the occasional “you’re hot”. But can Ed Yong or Carl Zimmer say they’ve gotten comments about their packages? Has any fan approached them and heralded their tight abs or buttocks? I’m guessing the answer is no*. No one is amazed that a guy like Eric Johnson is good looking and a good writer, because no one thinks it strange that a good looking guy has other talents, too. Men can look however and do whatever – their intellectual pursuits and their physical appearance aren’t intrinsically linked. But for a woman, everything is linked to how she looks. Everything.

Sexism is a hard thing for me to talk about. My generation likes to think we’re past it. Our great-grandmothers and grandmothers fought to secure women equal pay and the right to vote, and our mothers continued to fight through the feminist movement in the 70s and 80s to ensure that we don’t feel as excluded or put down as they did. That was their fight, their struggle, their blood, sweat and tears. They suffered so I don’t have to.

Growing up I was a tomboy. I went to liberal private schools and was allowed to be as strong minded and bodied as I desired. In college, I had powerful female professors (with kids!) that served as my mentors and role models, and I never once felt like being a woman in science was frowned upon.

So why did I go the the session on women in science blogging? I wasn’t set on attending beforehand. But I was one of the many women who talked to Kate Clancy, and in my conversation with her and Anne and the rest of the women at that table, I realized that, more than ever, I needed to be in that room. I needed to hear the struggles of my fellow female bloggers, even if I haven’t experienced them, and I need to be a part of the conversation. Because even if I haven’t been attacked for my gender on my blog yet, I could, and probably will, be. The battle against inequality was not just my mother and my grandmother’s war; it’s my fight, too.

After all, if you look around at the current science blogosphere, you can’t help but think there’s something wrong. Despite the fact that over half of the attendees at Science Online were women, female bloggers make up a small portion of the high-profile blogging networks. As Jennifer Rohn noted last year, no major blogging network even comes close to a 50/50 male/female ratio. Perhaps it is in part the fault of female bloggers for being too meek, mannered and mild and not shamelessly self-promoting in every way they can – but I doubt it.

Why isn’t there a girl version of Ed Yong or Carl Zimmer? Why is there no woman in the elite list of the most well known science bloggers? The excuse that there aren’t enough high-quality female science writers just doesn’t cut it anymore. They’re out there, and they have been for years. Incredible women like Sheril Kirshenbaum have been standing up and taking the full brunt of the internet’s misogyny with the utmost grace. We have to be honest with ourselves as a community. The problem isn’t that the women aren’t there. It’s that they aren’t being taken as seriously.

Most women I know hate the idea that their gender is a factor in their professional life. A friend of mine and fellow graduate student, for example, recounts angrily how she found out she was referred to by one of the male professors her first year as “the pretty one.” She intentionally wears t-shirts, jeans, and little make up at work to downplay her femininity and be seen as just another graduate student. One of my blogging friends, similarly, has told me she blogs under a pseudonym simply because she wants to take her looks out of the equation.

I’m not so complacent. I shouldn’t have to hide the fact that I am a woman just to be seen as a brilliant scientist or a great writer. And I am young and bull-headed and perhaps just naive enough not to hide. You might notice my looks first, but I’ll be damned if you don’t hear my words, too.

I don’t have the same risk-aversion that other female scientists or science writers might because I haven’t been beaten down or held back. Nor am I timid. Trust me, no one has ever accused me of being too quiet. Call me ambitious, driven, or even a bitch – those words are all compliments in my book – but be certain that I will not allow my gender to prevent me from achieving success.

Clearly, we need to make a change in the science blogging community. I won’t stand up and say I have all the answers. I don’t know how to better encourage other female science bloggers other than to say I’ve got your back. I can’t assuage the fears of those who think if they put their name and face on a blog, they’ll lose credibility or get attacked, other than to lead by example. But maybe I don’t have to do more than that. Perhaps all it will take to tip the scales is a woman who is willing to say “bring it” and is still standing a year later.

Well, then. Bring it.

*I’d comment on whether or not the packages, abs or buttocks of the male bloggers are up to par, but I think I’ll let their wives be the judges instead.

UPDATE: Here is the video of the session:

Perils of Blogging as a Woman under a Real Name from Smartley-Dunn on Vimeo.

Christie Wilcox About the Author: Christie Wilcox is a science writer and blogger who moonlights as a PhD student in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Hawaii. Follow on Google+. Follow on Twitter @NerdyChristie.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. aimee w 9:15 pm 11/16/2011

    Oh, wow. Ed was one of my favourite lecturers when I was studying microbiology, and always treated me (a girl, undergrad student) pretty well.

    But this! I agree – there’s no ill intent here, but it’s the same attitude I see day in day out, from both men and women (women are just as bad) who should know better.

    If nothing else, as a scientist, he’s making the worst of mistakes here: he’s turning anecdotal information into an entire hypothesis. Even worse, it’s simply a means to defend rampant laziness on the part of the men involved.

    *Disclaimer: I’m female, and, according to their definition of shopping style, a ‘Hunter’. I’m _also_ able to Find Items in Shops.

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  2. 2. sharayurkiewicz 9:47 pm 11/16/2011

    Hi Christie,

    First off, thanks for drawing attention to this. I completely share your outrage about the Nature article, and I’m surprised no one’s said anything until now.

    I’m also really looking forward to this year’s women in science session. I checked out last year’s video; interesting stuff.

    I hope you don’t mind my asking this. You mentioned that you dislike when people mention your looks when evaluating your merit. But I noticed that one photo of you in particular (on the staff page of Nutrition Wonderland) is, I guess–for lack of a better word– somewhat provocative (attention-getting?). What I am wondering is, given your feelings about looks being a factor when blogging: why did you choose this picture in the first place? It certainly stands out compared to the rest of the staff. Why not just a simple head shot, like you do with your other pages?

    I don’t mean any disrespect, so please don’t take this the wrong way. I guess I am wondering why it bothers you so much when your looks are mentioned given how you choose to represent yourself in some places. It feels inconsistent to me.


    [CW: At the time, it was the only headshot I had. Photos used now were taken two years later - though I would disagree that it's at all "provocative."]

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  3. 3. charles_tow 10:19 pm 11/16/2011

    I have to say I agree with Shara. Christie, I don’t find you remotely attractive if that makes you feel any better.

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  4. 4. sharayurkiewicz 10:22 pm 11/16/2011

    No, no I didn’t mean to bring out snark or trolls :/ I think it would be interesting to discuss this issue in general at Scio12.

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  5. 5. rebeccainthewoods 10:52 pm 11/16/2011

    Shortly after I finished my undergraduate degree, I was working as a field assistant on some bird behavior research at a remote field station in Australia. All the PIs happened to be men, and they were in the habit of addressing the female grad students and assistants by cutesy nicknames (“Aww, are you all right, poppet?”), making jokes about requiring us to wear formal gowns to work, dumb stuff like that. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that yes, I was experiencing a form of sexism, because of how very charming and superficially “nice” these men were. It was definitely a wake up call that subtle, pervasive misogyny is still alive and well in STEM fields.

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  6. 6. all4kindness2all 10:57 pm 11/16/2011

    ok boys .. it’s NOT provocative for a woman to look attractive.

    Think it through … there are attractive men who write (I guessing, cause I don’t check that out), but how many of them get comments like “great article and by the way you are really cute too” or “wow fascinating post and you are also hot too!” I can’t see any male writer getting the comment, “You are right … and I’m not just saying that cause you are so gorgeous.”

    Why is a female writer’s beauty or lack of it any part of a comment about the content of what she writes?

    In our society we still think women asked to be raped by how they dress and or act. But the fact is most men do not think of raping women ever. No means no period. You have to be a more than bit twisted and immoral to actually rape. This issue is many steps down from rape but it is the same mentality that underlies it, because guys who would never rape under any circumstance, say things in the category of the first sentence of this paragraph.

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  7. 7. nthmost 11:02 pm 11/16/2011

    What I don’t get is why Finding Items in Shops counts as “gathering” in the first place. The way he described it sounds exactly what “hunting” is: going off in search of a given hard-to-find item, and then bringing it back.

    So not only is he retrofitting the categorical space to fit his gender bias, i.e. “women are good this; therefore this must be gathering”. He’s also failing to notice that the two behaviors he’s describing — the foraging and the finding-of-specific-thing — are totally different from one another.

    In effect he’s saying, “Boy, women are good at gathering. And look how much better than us they are at hunting too!”

    Only it’s not real hunting, of course, because it has to do with shopping, which women are good at, therefore it’s gathering.


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  8. 8. sharayurkiewicz 11:06 pm 11/16/2011

    The way I see “provocative” is emphasizing secondary sexual characteristics. IMO, for women, this would be cleavage/spaghetti straps and I suppose the equivalent for a male would be an open shirt.

    I don’t think “attractive”=”provocative”. I think a head shot can be attractive only. Start exposing below the neck and you can get provocative, depending on how it’s done. Obviously, our perceptions may differ, and perhaps I’m conservative.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to pick on the picture, and I don’t really care what photos people choose to put up. I only mentioned it because you made an entire post about how much you hate getting positive attention about your looks.

    I also don’t think the rape analogy is accurate, on many levels.

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  9. 9. nthmost 11:09 pm 11/16/2011


    “Why is a female writer’s beauty or lack of it any part of a comment about the content of what she writes?”

    Because! How can men be expected to ignore what women so brazenly flaunt? They just don’t have that sort of control over their base urges. They are COMPELLED to comment!


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  10. 10. aimee w 11:51 pm 11/16/2011

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think the picture that a women uses as her avatar should have any bearing on matters whatsoever, unless she specifically talks about her appearance.

    It’s exactly like saying that a women who chooses to wear short skirts to work, say, shouldn’t have her _work_ taken seriously. We need to be able to separate how someone chooses to present themselves, which is an extension of their sense of identity, and the work (of whatever sort that they) and its merits alone.

    As a separate note, I’m mystified by why things like thin straps and cleavage are provocative – with (approximately) one breast per person on earth, I simply don’t understand why showing that one has them should be such a big deal!

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  11. 11. rebeccainthewoods 12:08 am 11/17/2011

    Wow… my previous comment was written before I actually read the article in question, and now that I have, just… wow. To me, “humor” based on enforcing gender roles is painfully unfunny. The keynote at an environmental education conference I attended a few weeks ago used similar humor and it really bothered me, and I couldn’t figure out why so few of the other women there seemed to have even registered the sexism in what they’d heard.

    I also remembered while reading through the comments that I have, in fact, received a comment on my looks at my own blog (yes, only one – my blog has a fairly small audience and I am lucky in that I have wonderful, respectful readers). It was complimentary, saying I was “cute,” but it made me uncomfortable and I immediately deleted it – my coworkers and boss read my blog and I’d like to keep it professional, thankyouverymuch. At the time I didn’t make any connection between the incident and the larger problem of misogyny toward women bloggers, but it would seem that even my little natural history blog is not immune. Argh.

    Twitter: http://!/rebeccanotbecky

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  12. 12. sharayurkiewicz 12:22 am 11/17/2011

    I don’t understand the argument that one breast per person on earth makes them less provocative. There’s one testicle per person on earth as well. I simply disagree that cleavage isn’t provocative.

    I think public image is linked to professionalism. I personally find short skirts provocative, and perhaps you don’t. But just because you draw the line further down than I do doesn’t mean the line doesn’t exist at all. Is there really no way a woman can present herself that you begin to question her professionalism? (Note: this applies to males as well.)

    Does it affect how I view her work? Well, it depends on the job. I can’t see myself taking someone’s work in mathematics less seriously based on what they wear, for example.

    However, I can take someone’s post about sexism, feminism, appearance, etc. within the context of how they choose to present themselves. It’s a more personal topic and is more bound up with a person’s sense of identity, which in turn is reflected by what public image they have created for themselves.

    Btw, this is more hypothetical at this point, and not directed at you, Christie.

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  13. 13. Janet D. Stemwedel 12:38 am 11/17/2011

    I can take someone’s post about sexism, feminism, appearance, etc. within the context of how they choose to present themselves. It’s a more personal topic and is more bound up with a person’s sense of identity, which in turn is reflected by what public image they have created for themselves.

    But of course, one of the joys (actually not joyful at all) of being a woman in this society is that your appearance is judged ALL THE TIME, that you will be faulted for dressing too attractively (since obviously you must be doing it to court the male gaze) or for dressing too unattractively (which means you must be one of those feminists who is bitter that she can’t get a man). There is no recognized option that you have chosen clothing because it is comfortable or aesthetically pleasing to yourself. And heaven forbid that you should express your desire to be treated like a full human being if you are wearing [whatever it is you are wearing for which you are being taken to task]!

    We can’t win for losing here.

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  14. 14. ejwillingham 12:56 am 11/17/2011

    “I can take someone’s post about sexism, feminism, appearance, etc. within the context of how they choose to present themselves. It’s a more personal topic and is more bound up with a person’s sense of identity, which in turn is reflected by what public image they have created for themselves.”
    Really? What if my husband presents himself in an image as, you know, a man? Does he not get to be feminist? If a woman posts a picture of herself completely nude, is she supposed to check in her feminist cred at the door? Is it somehow requisite for a feminist to have a specific demeanor or way of presenting herself to “qualify” as a feminist? Someone here needs a primer on feminism.

    “Is there really no way a woman can present herself that you begin to question her professionalism?”
    What, exactly, is “provocative”? Some people find feet provocative. “Provocative” is in the eye of the beholder. If your limbic brain or Puritan mores or obsession with spaghetti straps can’t get you past an image to the person and their words, then that’s not the person’s problem, it’s yours. And it doesn’t make Christie somehow less than a feminist or lacking in feminist cred just because she doesn’t present herself demurely enough to satisfy some subjective ideal of what is not provocative. Feminism /= to “professionalism,” which is a dry, patriarchal construct that frankly has very little place in any discussion of feminism.

    “Christie, I don’t find you remotely attractive if that makes you feel any better.”
    I can only imagine that it’s an immense relief to her.

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  15. 15. sharayurkiewicz 1:09 am 11/17/2011

    This is all very interesting. I don’t find Christie less feminist at all. (Though at this point I’m not quite sure what “feminist” even refers to.)

    I consider myself a feminist too. I don’t believe all women need to agree on all issues. I also think they can present themselves however they want, though I will probably interpret what they are saying differently based on their tone. (E.g., I found the last comment inflammatory and thus less credible.)

    I hope we can agree to disagree.

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  16. 16. nthmost 1:41 am 11/17/2011

    “…you will be faulted for dressing too attractively (since obviously you must be doing it to court the male gaze) or for dressing too unattractively (which means you must be one of those feminists who is bitter that she can’t get a man).”


    Besides that, the concept of certain body parts being “provocative” is totally cultural. Women in many cultures routinely walk around topless, breastfeeding as needed when they have children. Breasts are just not provocative in these places.

    Meanwhile, in many places around the United States, a woman going to work without a certain upper-body undergarment can be considered “unprofessional”.

    The argument that women should understand what “professionalism” looks like and present themselves accordingly is all well and good when women know they’ll only need to show themselves to a select community.

    But the internet is global. Both women and men are now exposed to every possible potential arbitrary prejudice regarding their appearance, but it’s women that routinely suffer belittlement for their intellect when their online presentation either does or doesn’t match up with the audience’s judgements of what a woman should be.

    So how about we dispense with all of the nitpicking about what kinds of clothing are “too provocative” and just make things simple: people shouldn’t be judged on their appearances.

    Is this a hard problem? Yes.

    But it’s certainly easier than getting the whole world to agree on aesthetic standards, and certainly a damn sight better than blaming women for somehow “deserving” their pejorative and belittling attacks.

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  17. 17. sharayurkiewicz 1:46 am 11/17/2011

    To clarify, I would not think it appropriate to bring up a blogger’s looks unless she does so first. This specific post was about the blogger’s looks, so that is why I made the original comment. I would not consider a photo fair game otherwise, at all.

    I don’t even think this is really a debate about feminism anymore.

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  18. 18. ejwillingham 2:05 am 11/17/2011

    “I found the last comment inflammatory and thus less credible”
    That’s ironic, because I found your comments quite inflammatory and thus…uninformed.

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  19. 19. 2:26 am 11/17/2011

    I can explain it, the men who say/write these things are assholes. Unfortunately the world is filled with them. And its not all bad, in fact sometimes it’s necessary to be an asshole and most men aren’t assholes all the time, just sometimes. One of those times can be when they feel the tension of being attracted to a woman. It’s a reality we all have to deal with and more power to you for standing up to it. And outside the world of science I think few people would consider your photo especially provocative.

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  20. 20. Lotharloo 9:18 am 11/17/2011

    I get it. He was trying to be flattering – but instead, he implied that my looks are the most important factor in whether or not something I write is correct. It’s hardly the first comment I’ve received like that.

    When a random dude “compliments” a woman on her looks and on her blog, that is exactly what he implies or (implicitly) believes. There are many other things as irrelevant to the contents of a blog as looks but you don’t see people make comments such as “I think Christie is correct, and I’m not just saying that because she has a last name that starts with W so by alphabetical listing she’ll never end up a lead author.” People don’t make those comments because they are obviously irrelevant. Given the number of comments on the looks, the only conclusion we can draw is that for those men looks are relevant but only if you are female.

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  21. 21. dhdonaghe 9:23 am 11/17/2011

    You should read my new blog post, The Young Woman In The Short Skirt.

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  22. 22. Lotharloo 9:26 am 11/17/2011

    At this point I must digress, and mention, for those who are not aware, the profound differences in strategy between Men Going Shopping and Women Going Shopping. In any general shopping situation, men hunt: that is, they go into a complex environment with a few clear objectives, achieve those, and leave. Women, on the other hand, gather: such that any mission to buy just bread and milk could turn into an extended foraging expedition that also snares a to-die-for pair of discounted shoes; a useful new mop; three sorts of new cook-in sauces; and possibly a selection of frozen fish.

    What pisses me off about statements such as above is that people who write them imply such differences are inherent and evolutionary significant: men used to hunt and women used to gather and hence the difference in shopping.

    They ignore that it is often women who take care of the housework, finances, and supplies in the house with little participation from men. And that a “foraging” approach to shopping is the most economically feasible way to shopping. If you came to the shopping mall for knickers it would be pretty stupid of you to not to buy a package of toilet paper that you’ll eventually need for half price. But a man who never helps his partner in everyday works, will never notice such a deal because he doesn’t need to worry about that. It is she who needs to work mentally to remember and notice all these little deals, save some money here and there and keep the house always supplied and all of this will leave him enough free time to ponder silly things about the universe. He can afford to have a “hunter’s” approach to shopping because he has it easy.

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  23. 23. Cogitari 11:33 am 11/17/2011

    I think there may be two distinctly different types of people being described in this article: a person who considers OK to belittle another because they are a different gender, race, religion, etc. and one who is simply not very good at communicating.

    For example, if after you have given a speech, a man comes up and dryly states “you looked real cute up there”, is essentially saying that you had nothing to contribute but your looks and falls into the former category. But another who enthusiastically states “You were beautiful up there” may be trying to say that he thought that you did an excellent job of communicating your ideas and falls into the latter. The difference is whether the person was trying to discourage or encourage you in what you were trying to accomplish. I think a person who compliments your communication skills and adds a compliment on your appearance falls into the latter case: he is trying to be positive about two things which he thinks you are trying to achieve.

    I am not sure how best to deal with either type, but I think that the approaches to dealing with them should be very different.

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  24. 24. rebeccainthewoods 1:04 pm 11/17/2011

    @Cogitari You may have a point. “Cute” (the adjective once thrown at me on my own blog) has a different connotation from “beautiful” – “cute” sort of implies something small and helpless.

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  25. 25. all4kindness2all 9:06 am 11/18/2011

    Not being able to make a comment directly on the offending article “Womanspace” directly, I posting it here.

    I came upon the article “womanspace” from here, because my daughter, Christie Wilcox writes for Scientific American.

    My initial reaction to the article was “creepy and selfish and stupid.” But, as I tend to be open-minded, even when initially biased from having read my daughters point of view,

    I followed the responses and posts. Then, before I carefully reread the article, I looked up the definition of “knickers” to be sure I was justified in my “creepy” response. I was (see Why was it creepy? Because the author finds humor in the plot of two “elderly men” shopping for girls’ underpants and reveals the “creepiness” as part of the story line by indicating the lady who offered them help was wary (probably because they were in the women’s underwear section, not the girl’s) and that her “wariness seemed to become mild alarm, until we hastened to reassure her that this was in fact a commission for the mother of said child.”

    The plot is creepy, selfish, and stupid. His friend’s wife is busy cooking dinner and the two guys, who are otherwise “unemployed” (in other words “not helping in any way”) are sent on an errand to help her out by buying something her daughter needed. They then fail and have the gall to blame that failure on “womanspace” which they then revel in as a new discovery. Moreover, they set out to ‘scientifically’ prove it. How? “We simply put the idea up in as many forums as we could access; we blogged on it; we talked to everyone we knew (well, male, obviously) who could be relied on to observe such phenomena — and slowly, the observations came in.”

    What happens in this story is that two men selfishly went off doing their “fun” stuff first, ignoring the time or oblivious to it, so that when they finally ended up at the store, they couldn’t get to the correct department in time. Why selfish and stupid? Because if you arrive at a store near closing and you don’t know where to find something, if it matters to you that you buy it, you ask a clerk help, so that you don’t find the store closed before you can succeed in your errand – which you were doing, by the way, to help the person who is cooking dinner for you. It’s not rocket science.

    The idea that this author made some great discovery, which was rightfully scorned by his friend’s wife, about something called “womanspace” based on the assumption that men are “hunters” and women are “gatherers” and that, even though the wife is “astrophysics-qualified,” women are not reliable as observers so only men were used to prove the theory.

    I will tell you what I learned about this author. He lets his wife cook and shop for him on the pretension of “inability.” He cares so little for the needs of his friend’s daughter that he makes sure the errand, which he obviously doesn’t really want to do, is only pursued after he has made the effort “fun” for himself. He can’t take personal responsibility for failure at a mundane task that any one with half a brain could accomplish, so he invents “womanspace” to justify his selfishness and supposed inability. In my opinion, it seems like this author was being passive-aggressive by failing to buy underpants for his friend’s daughter, so that he would not get stuck with a task like that again – one that I suspect he didn’t think he should get saddled with, even though he and his friend were doing nothing while his friend’s wife was too busy cooking dinner for them and therefore didn’t have the time.

    I have looked carefully over this story, which was based in an actual event in the author’s life, at details chosen which create the visuals of the setting, at the idea being proposed, and all I see is a selfish man who acts on his pleasures first and justifies his incompetent failure by blaming women. Were this actually science-fiction, perhaps it would not be so disgusting and pathetic.

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  26. 26. EricMJohnson 2:33 pm 11/20/2011

    @ 19 I can explain it, the men who say/write these things are assholes. Unfortunately the world is filled with them. And its not all bad, in fact sometimes it’s necessary to be an asshole and most men aren’t assholes all the time, just sometimes. One of those times can be when they feel the tension of being attracted to a woman.

    I disagree. The men who say/write these things are not usually expressing conscious sexism. What they’re doing is far worse. They are lazily expressing institutionalized sexism that has gone unexamined because of their privilege. They have not bothered to consider the effect it has on women and our society in general. Individual beliefs don’t stay confined to the person who has them; they can affect how a society functions. But men often disregard or diminish any criticism of sexist views because it means giving up some of the social power that we’ve been taught comes along with being a man. “It’s just a joke,” “You’re being overly emotional,” “You must hate men,” are three of the most common reactions. Sexual objectification then gets placed on top of this and perverts men’s thinking all the more.

    What few men are willing to consider is how much this hurts other men. By saying nothing, by living an unexamined life, by refusing to interrogate our own unearned privilege in society, we are ensuring that our brothers, sons, and nephews will inherit a distorted worldview. We should treat it like a communicable virus and take steps to marginalize its expression when we see it in others and remain vigilant so that we don’t become carriers ourselves. There’s no excuse.

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