Monday, 2 December 2013

The peacock problem - part 2

So now I am responding to this post which was a "hasty response" to my explanation of why I think Jamie needs to learn from his mistakes.

In response to @therationaliser who criticises my blog piece (here) with the intended view of saying it was my fault for creating a sexual atmosphere or perhaps setting a precedent for the wolf whistling of women.
I did not say it was the fault of Jamie, or did I imply it.  What I said was that he made mistakes that he should learn from instead of only writing about how out of order everyone else was.

Why didn’t I stop them at this point? I wasn’t on stage, this was an introductory voiceover that lasts a few minutes. And besides, I didn’t realise it would be a recurring problem- they quieted down and the show went on and when better to bring up the issue of sexist attitudes then went talking about Marie Curie.
Then perhaps a talk to them at the point you came onto the stage before you continued with the talk?  Still at this point I am not too concerned with the course of actions...

Additionally I find the implication that the sexual objectification of Nigella Lawson should be in some way expected or understood disgraceful. It was not a provocative picture, just a photo of a TV chef.
Again I made no such implication.  I merely said that this was how the boys chose to respond to the photo.  I clearly said in my post "This is not a justification for their behaviour", and also "how wrong the boys' behaviour was (and it was)".  I did not say it was excusable or to be expected, I was merely outlining how the event started off and at which point the issue should have been addressed.

On to the Bond section.
Bond is an iconic figure, when talking about the human obsession with gold I thought of Goldfinger. The film is rated a PG. Perhaps an image of king Midas would have been appropriate though something tells me that he would provide a less startling, recognisable figure as the dead and gilded figure of Jill which was on screen for a matter of seconds.
Recognisable by whom?  15 year old school children, or by those of us who grew up in the 60's?  I recognised the photo immediately as the image I saw as a child and thought "they only did that to show her in her knickers", but how many of those school children do you think have watched retro James Bond films?  However, I expect about 99% of them know the story of King Midas.  In fact only last week my 7 year old girl came home and showed me a story she wrote about a man who made everything he touches turn to chocolate, and then told me it was a funny version of the King Midas story she had just learned at school.

I’d like to take this opportunity to specifically point out that you have never seen me speak, you don’t know what images were used 
No I don't.  Was it this one, or this one, or maybe it was this one?  What do you think the director wanted you to see in this scene, gold or an almost naked woman?  Could it be possible that because as a child you were shown this naked woman, for no real reason other than sexual objectification, that you didn't even realise that the infamous scene you were about to show people was not only a sexual objectification of a woman, but in fact a woman stripped naked, murdered, and then fosilised with gold in order to actually turn her into nothing more than a monetarily valuable object?

and I find your whole piece not only insulting of me and what I do but disgraceful in the way you blame the women (or myself for having them there) as inviting this sort of action.
I wasn't insulting you.  I was criticising you in the hope that you would take it on board, learn from your mistakes, and move on to give better presentations.  Unfortunately if I disagree with how someone deals with inappropriate behaviour towards women people seem to automatically assume that it means I condone the behaviour.  This is not the case, and I made that clear in my post.

Yes, I made a quip about the wolf whistle of Jill. By now the retribution was guaranteed. That is why I said “it is interesting that you whistled again, I think this is something we’ll come back to later” or words to that effect, why not bring it up when it would make the most impact?
And here is my biggest point of criticism.  In my post I hypothesised that the students mistakenly thought you were joking.  It didn't even occur to me that at this point you actually were joking with them.  You don't bring it up later, you address it there and then so that the reprimand can be mentally associated with the act itself in order to cause a disincentive to repeat the act, and you should certainly never turn it into a joke.

Additionally if you quote me in your writing then quote me. Don’t paraphrase and put in quotation marks.
I made it clear that it was a paraphrase, I said "the speaker effectively went on to say".  I think this is a 100% clear indication that I was paraphrasing, especially as I then give three different examples, each becoming more explicit in what could be inferred from your actions.  If you would like me to change the quotes to [square brackets] or something then I will be happy to, but please don't claim I was misrepresenting you.  I was clearly hypothesising the inferences that could easily be made from your words and actions.

“I often find myself using her as an example of why women are not deficient in intelligence compared to men” I cannot tell you how insulting I find this phrase. Good grief listen to yourself. Disgraceful phrasing. It seems you work on the basis that your children have the assumption that women are intellectually deficient and need corrective examples.
Now this is a perfect example of quote mining.  My exact words were

Marie Curie.  I have told my children about her many times, and I often find myself using her as an example of why women are not deficient in intelligence compared to men (http://quranx.com/2.282?hl=two+women). 
You omitted the ", and" to change the meaning of what I said.  "I have told my children about her many times, AND I often find myself using her as an example" - which I then follow with a link providing the exact context in which I use her as an example.  Please be less hasty in future.

Now you have written your blog condemning me. I have to ask- do you think I did a disservice to women? Do you honestly think that people left the auditorium thinking wolf whistling was fine? I am a good speaker, I have delivered hundreds of science talks the organisers were please, the school teachers were pleased and the levels of presumption you reach in your blog about me and my work are staggering.
And here is the problem I am trying to get you to see.  You seem to be trying to look for fault everywhere but yourself.  You ignored the sexualisation of Nigella, not such a massive mistake, but then you showed school children a photo of a murdered naked woman...to explain the value of gold?  How do you think the girls in the audience felt when that photograph appeared on the screen?  I'd be happy to bet money that there were quite a few girls in that audience who cringed as soon as the photo appeared, and well before the unaddressed sole wolf-whistle escalated into a cacophony.  I'd also bet money that at the point the wolf whistles were occurring there were plenty of girls in that audience who felt further insult when you decided to make a joke about it.  Can you not see what you have written that you did?

If I want to use Nigella Lawson in a talk I will. I’m not going to put a man up there for fear that some people might find her attractive and grunt their masculinity at them. If I talk about obsession for gold then yes I could use old bearded Midas but you make it sound like I showed the audience pornography rather than a still from a PG film.
I don't care that it wasn't pornography, nor do I care what certification it was given by the film board back in 1964.  I find it a very poor choice for the objectification reasons I outlined above.

After seeing my show I’ve been invited to present this show Qutar after a delegation from there saw it- they didn’t seem to have issues with the content so I’m very sorry that my presentation didn’t  meet your seemingly harsher standard.
Let go of the emotion, read the words, learn from the experience, improve.

Women should not be disrespected. What the boys were doing was a vocal demonstration of degradation and I called them on it. I’m sorry you take issue with the way I did it but I am pleased with what I did. The way I did it made an impact and frankly I’m pleased the way I handled it.
You think you handled it well?  Let's see


  1. Nigella is objectified: Nothing said.
  2. A stripped naked murder victim is objectified: You made a joke about it.
  3. Marie Curie was objectified. You made a big fuss.
What is the message here?  I will certainly give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you reprimanded them for all of their actions rather than turning it into a long rant about why Marie Curie doesn't deserve it because she had a difficult life and was ultra clever (which is how your blog came across).


If you think I set out to create this atmosphere you are wrong. If you think I didn’t admonish the boys you are wrong. If you plan to review any of my shows in future- please attend first.
I didn't say that you did.  I tried to put across what I think you did wrong and why.  I think you handled it poorly and simply need to learn from those mistakes.  Stop trying to convince people you handled it really well and try looking at how you could have handled it better.  Don't trivialise sexism by joking that it's wrong if she's dead, and don't show mostly naked objectified murder victims as an example of how people like gold from a scene of a film that was made over 30 years before they were born.

You critisise me for not speaking sooner. What if the speaker felt so intimidated by the boys they couldn't speak up? What if they had done it directly to a female presenter- would it be there fault? Their responsibility to stop it?
Personally I think that anyone who cannot verbally reprimand 15 year olds for bad behaviour should not be standing in front of them in the first place.  For the rare occasions where this requirement is waived due to the speciality of the speaker (e.g. a survivor of sexual violence) I would expect them to have the sense to mention their frailty to the staff before hand and agree on some kind of indication which would be given to request a teacher to step in and take control.  If this doesn't happen due to inexperience then I would expect it to occur to someone as the experience is gained over time.  Although I suspect the description you gave is nothing like how you are, if it is then please do take my advice regarding a special indication to staff for help.

Fundamentally: No women no matter what they wear, or how they present themselves deserves harrased. EVER. I don't even care that the women weren't there. And if you think I encouraged them then then you really don't know me.
I don't know you and whether Nigella and Heather were there or not is irrelevant.  Please read through this blog post carefully, not in haste.  Try to see what I am trying to tell you.

4 comments:

  1. I am far from interested in a never ending back and forth.

    I assume you feel I have done women a disservice in my presentation. I disagree.

    Let me set out a final few points:

    - were the boys in the audience left in any doubt the whistling was wrong? No.
    - was it a poor choice of image? Was I inviting/ Implying/ creating the situation? Saying I was to blame by image choice is tantamount to saying the women were to blame and therefore deserved it. And I hope you are intelligent enough for this debate to be a moot point.
    - the timing was inappropriate? As I'd be talking about sexism later in the talk then why not wait until I could make the very maximum impact. What I did and when I did it made an impression

    You make blow by blow criticisms of my presentation, style and content of the talk (a talk that I really must stress you didn't see) and hope that I will learn from you how I could have dealt with it better. I guess it will be forever the loss to the people in the room that they had me instead of you.

    Now enough. I'll continue to champion diversity through science in my way and you can do it in yours.

    I was so delighted by the wonderful and supportive response I've had and you have detracted on that. Shame on you for trying to draw me down. I'm proud of what I did and the way I did it.

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  2. Quite unbelievable really that I could write two blog posts with such a lot of information and you can still get to the end and either think I am accusing you of being responsible for the situation, or you feel you must misrepresent what I am saying in order to deflect from what is actually valid criticism.

    I hope you change your image for "old bearded Midas" or something more recognisable and appropriate, take something good from my criticism at least.

    If you want to do a service in the cause against the sexual objectification of women, don't use an image of a woman who has been stripped naked on a bed and murdered....to show the value of gold.

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  3. You're effectively saying the woman is too sexual not to be objectified.
    Removed the sexulised women and solve the problem.

    Remember the problem didn't start with the the Bond picture. Was clearly Nigella's fault for being to sexy too.

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  4. You are still reading what you want to read rather than what I am actually writing. I am not saying the woman is too sexual not to be objectified, I am not saying that the Bond photo caused the problem.

    So far I have shown these blogs to two 15 year old boys. I was disappointed that they both thought it was okay to sexualise the women in the photos, but at least both of them understood what I am actually criticising you for without me saying a single word to them.

    Perhaps you are too close to the issue to see it objectively?

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