Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Men Mustn't Cry? Down With The Dominant Paradigm!

In honor of the impending carnival! Previously on women: Women Crying? Bad.; Am I a Woman Scientist? on rage; Aetiology on academia.

Several readers point out that a man crying in public implies disaster or nuclear emotional meltdown on the part of the man, and is met with near-universal distress, and doubts of his sanity/ stability/ whatever. Absolutely.

[I'm sure all my readers are brilliant and already singing in the choir, but just in case, let me emphasize that stereotypes are not representative or desirable and that I quite like many men. (For those who doubt the harm of stereotypes, see also Isn't a Millennium of Affirmative Action for White Men Sufficient?, the NSF report, the NAS report, Why So Slow, Lifting a Ton of Feathers, Zuska, and, you know, reality.) ]

Men crying: what a perfect example. This is what the current scientific (and business, etc.) paradigm does: it asks people to become less than they are to conform to a system established by, and largely favoring, white males with full-time wives.* As Zuska says: "We have come to valorize the traits most highly identified with masculinity as also being most highly identified with and necessary for science." (This is well-documented and I will spare you seeing all the references yet again.)

What I interpret from my experience of science is that women are heavily penalized for crying because we are already stereotyped as being fundamentally more "emotional, subjective, [and] irrational" (Zuska), or, if you like the Stupid Former Presidents Of Ivies hypothesis, also as less able. We all work to be taken seriously, to be tough and assertive and, frankly, to display stereotypically masculine traits.

Crying reinforces one's sterotypical femininity and, therefore, associates one more strongly with the feminine category. Feminine traits are dismissed as unscientific, because the pardigm is polarized. That is: by displaying traits other than the stereotypically masculine emotionless-analytical-scientist, we as either women or men remove ourselves from the categorization of good scientists. There is no paradigm of lacy-skirt-wearing kick-ass female scientists. And there is no paradigm of male scientists who come home early to cook dinner.

I would speculate that if a man cries, it takes him even further from his assigned place in the stereotype, and this is (part of) why it is met with such a high degree of dismay. Besides the fact that men are so strongly socialized not to cry that doing so implies disaster in and of itself.

This kind of narrow paradigm harms everyone, and this is a beautiful example. As Mr. S points out, it's difficult to convince the dominant group that they should, say, award grants more equally. Because it'll be more fair, but it takes money away from the majority group; there is a moral incentive but a personal disincentive. On the other hand, masculine/feminine stereotyping affects everyone who doesn't fit neatly into a rigid mold.

Say you're a man and you don't have a stay-at-home spouse. Say you want to take a paternity leave, or you have to pick the kid up from daycare. Say you have emotions and occasionally tire of leaving them in your mailbox while you work. Tough luck! I'm going to take a wild guess and say that distressingly often, these men will be categorized as less-masculine, less-scientific, more-emotional-and-girly. Many younger men, including my generation, have been socialized to greater domestic responsibility in their lives. They are expected by their spouses to live in a brave new world of equal household chores, and penalized for it by a system whose administrators are 65-year-old bearded white men.

That is: Crying is very heavily disfavored because crying bins the cryer as a subjective irrational being, regardless of gender. But many family-oriented activities can also bin the doer as feminine. I have seen this frequently come out as 'Doesn't prioritize science, isn't serious about his/her work'.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I long for the day when one's scientific competence is judged on its own merits; when women and men both have strong role models whose lives are not eaten by science; when tenure will not depend on how many meetings you missed because the baby was sick.** No matter what your gender. And that day is not today.

Any other favorite harmful-to-men-too aspects of our beloved scientific paradigm, dear readers?

*My program has roughly 400 faculty. Two are African-American.
**I've been told that Snooty U is somewhere down in "Worst of the Worst" for these things, so pardon my extreme cynicism and anger. Maybe there are lots of places it's better! Yeah! Remind me to tell you about the 40% faculty turnover in Chemistry, my last 2 years at Beautiful Little College On A Hill.