There is an online forum where a professional community of scientists have conversations about anything from the latest scientific discoveries to the social media reactions to the #shirtgate. Some heated exchanges have taken place recently on this particular forum.
This is not new. Such communities tend to be great for junior scientists to find support, especially in the face of discrimination and unconscious bias against minorities. In the world of English-speaking science, a minority often means anyone who is not senior, white and male, and most likely very naive about their unconscious biases because terribly inexperienced at peer diversity. (Diversity below one’s academic rank is not the same as diversity among peers — but I digress). You can imagine the sort of insensitive drivel(often excused as ‘just’ clumsy) that can come out of the ‘majority’.
So this particular exchange resulted in the expulsion from the forum of a (senior male) member whose comments had given rise to a wave of offended reactions by many female and gender-sensitive male members. As with any emotional reaction, outrage was accompanied by some strong judgements on the member who ended up expulsed.
I’m not here to discuss the merits of that reaction. I don’t even know the details of what happened. But what shocked me was ‘what happened next’.
Another member of the community stood up for him. She happens to be his daughter and she posted a lyrical tirade about how her father had supported her and her sisters who had all become scientists of a kind or another.
And this is possibly one of the most subtle and insidious ways in which the culture of bias is maintained.
Let me illustrate. The most horrible gender driven discrimination I have ever experienced was led by men, all fathers of daughters and very supportive of them but utterly incapable of imagining their daughter in my situation. Boom. There you have it. If their actions had ended up publicly scrutinized by the profession, they too would have been banned from a forum like the one I refer to earlier (at least).
But that’s not how it works. Men are just not the same to their daughters as they are to female colleagues in their professional environment. It’s simply a different reality. In the case of people harbouring biases, those biases are dehumanising. Racists don’t see people of other ethnicities as fellow humans. Biases create disconnect, it’s the ever-recurring us-vs-them. That’s how discrimination goes on unnoticed in a community with an overwhelming majority. If roles were reversed, everyone would see the discrimination because the ‘model’ of human is the victim in that reversed context, but rarely do we carry out the Gedankenexperiment of reversing roles.
So, sorry daughters. Your dads may have always been wonderful to you but that’s because they love you. They don’t love all the female colleagues they come across and therefore your argument, if a loving tribute, does not hold. As difficult as it may be to imagine, in the professional world, any daughter’s dad is just a man, another member of the male majority, as likely to be unconsciously biased as anyone else.
So when the glass ceiling hits you, look at the collective of senior males holding it down and ask yourself what their daughters would say about each one of them.