Well, I don't know if that is what happens in a locker room. I've never been in one. But I do know one thing, I have heard this sort of talk in other places: at work, at a restaurant, at a conference... Just a few examples:
- Stepping down from the podium after I gave an excellent presentation for an NIH site visit, a colleague said to me: "You were so good Luz, you could have had any man in the room".
- At a restaurant with a group of colleagues, most of them male, the conversation got so crude that the only other woman there and I left without finishing our meals.
- Overhearing a comment by a male colleague referring to a female researcher: "Those legs would look better wrapped around a pole than in the lab".
- A male friend told me that a professor who I admired had asked him if: "he had tapped that", referring to me.
- A female student came to me crying because her supervisor had said that: "she was too pretty to be taken seriously as a scientist".
I don't know if these episodes are always intended as malicious assaults, but what are their effects? Can women in academic positions be taken seriously if we are talked about like that by our colleagues?
If anything good has come out of this sad episode in the presidential campaign, it is this: we are talking about it. We must talk about it.
I used to talk about these personal experiences only with my female students when they would come to me with complaints about their own encounters with "locker room talk". I would respond by saying: "it is not your fault, let me tell you what happened to me..." And the student would feel a little less alone and get courage for another day. But now I have decided to talk about this with male students too. I will let them know how this kind of language really hurts and how it sets back years of progress for both men and women.
Let's open the conversation. Have you experienced this kind of language in academia? Let's share our experiences and talk about how to stop it. What did you do about it? Leave your comments here.
Dr. Luz Claudio is a Tenured Professor of Preventive Medicine and the author of How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. She has mentored hundreds of students, many of whom are accomplished in a variety of professions.