Why casual sexism in science matters

Psychobiologist Dario Maestripieri returned from a neuroscience meeting in New Orleans and posted to Facebook that he was disappointed with the "unusually high concentrations of unattractive women. The super model types are completely absent. What is going on? Are unattractive women particularly attracted to neuroscience? Are beautiful women particularly uninterested in the brain?"

He added, "No offense to anyone."

Many people took offense, starting with the Drugmonkey blog, which reposted the remarks.

Janet Stemwedel on Adventures in Ethics and Science has a good post explaining why she is offended by this:

The thing is, that denial is also the denial of the actual lived experience of a hell of a lot of women in science (and in other fields -- I've been sexually harassed in both of the disciplines to which I've belonged).

I can't pretend to speak for everyone who calls out sexism like Maestripieri's, so I'll speak for myself. Here's what I want:

1. I want to shine a bright light on all the sexist behaviors, big or small, so the folks who have managed not to notice them so far start noticing them, and so that they stop assuming their colleagues who point them out and complain about them are making a big deal out of nothing.

2. I want the exposure of the sexist behaviors to push others in the community to take a stand on whether they're cool with these behaviors or would rather these behaviors stop. If you know about it and you don't think it's worth talking about, I want to know that about you -- it tells me something about you that might be useful for me to know as I choose my interactions.

3. I want the people whose sexist behaviors are being called out to feel deeply uncomfortable -- at least as uncomfortable as their colleagues (and students) who are women have felt in the presence of these behaviors.

4. I want people who voice their objections to sexist behaviors to have their exercise of free speech (in calling out the behaviors) be just as vigorously defended as the free speech rights of the people spouting sexist nonsense.

5. I want the sexist behavior to stop so scientists who happen to be women can concentrate on the business of doing science (rather than responding to sexist behavior, swallowing their rage, etc.)

I've got a daughter who, at four and a half, wants to be a scientist. Every time she says this, it makes me swell up with so much pride, I almost bust. If she grows up to be a scientist, I want her to be judged on the reproducibility of her results, the elegance of her experimental design, and the insight in her hypotheses, not on her ability to live up to someone's douchey standard of "super model" looks.


    1. But seriously, I work at a university, and there are a couple days during the fall sorority rush when the lunch room looks like a beauty pageant. I’m going out on a limb and guessing that not many of these appearance-prioritized young ladies go on to get their Ph.D, or if they do, they change their priorities.

      1.  I understand that you’re not appreciative of this guy’s comments, but your comment about “appearance-prioritized” women is actually a little offensive in the other direction! I don’t think you meant it that way, but it goes to show how ingrained in society our perceived image of “beauty” is. You suggest that appearance-prioritized young ladies are not interested in getting their Ph.D.s, or have to change their priorities to do so. However, I do prioritize my appearance – I’m thoughtful in how I dress, how my hair looks, I work out – and while I don’t have a Ph.D. I do have a Masters degree from Duke. It is totally possible for a woman to prioritize her appearance and to have a challenging career! My point is, our appearance – whether we prioritize it or not, are naturally pretty or not – should not come into play when we are assessed for our contributions to science.

        1. Funny, as in odd. Because you seem to imply that a masters degree from Duke is as good as a Ph.D. from lesser schools. I’m sure you didn’t mean that but see how easy it is to twist the seemingly innocent?

          Also, why do so many like Dario take entropy so goddamned seriously to the point that every crowd must perfectly reflect the world at large?

      2. Perhaps these women become invisible to you when they become seriously immersed in their studies, and don’t put on their best face/outfit/hairdo, like they would trying to deal with all the sorority…whatever it is…

        Many models and actresses also become invisible in public when they don’t have their “working face” on.

        1. This 100%. That sort of appearance takes a lot more work than most men realize. If I spend 2 hours on my hair and makeup and wear my nicest dress I’m going to look dramatically different from my everyday tshirt, jeans, ponytail, and no makeup. I imagine most women in neuroscience are too busy with their research to worry about how sexy they look to their colleagues.

    2. I think he might have been more comfortable at the AVN awards, since it doesn’t sound like he was interested in TALKING with his female colleagues — only looking at them and judging them on his scale.

  1. I just RT’d this link to three women-scientist friends, all of whom replied, approximately, “WTF?!? *HEAD ASPLODE*”. 

    1. Why should he be?  He’s a man, a scientist, who Knows Things.  Women obviously can’t be real scientists, therefore they need to look like supermodels.  While cooking dinner.  Barefoot.

        1. Bah! You cook dinner barefoot, you go to science conferences in sky high heels where you pretend to be sciency because everyone knows pretty girls aren’t smart!

  2. I know some male scientists.  They are not an physically attractive bunch, either.  So, do you only attend conferences to see sexually attractive people or do you go to, I don’t know, LEARN something.

    1. OK, so let’s go with your observation. Men who are scientists tend to be less attractive than men in general.

      Why is that?

    2. *facepalm* What you’ve said here is the exact thing that he is being criticised for!

      It’s not “sexist” to observe that a person or a group of people are unattractive,  He’s not judging these women by their looks, he’s judging their looks by their looks…

  3. Amen. 

    I have been a Liberal for years but until I had a girl I did not even have an inkling of what it meant to be a feminist. 

    Feminism=Equality for women.  Any attempts to subvert the phrase or change its meaning is just that.

    Until you have a horse in that race, or ARE a horse in that race, I don’t know if you can really start to understand.  I am only starting to understand myself, a couple of years in…

    1.  I like to think I’m capable of empathy without reproducing, actually. Some people are just assholes. Some assholes even have daughters.

      Don’t get me wrong, we’re all glad your daughter has made your life better and changed your views for the better. But please don’t speak to the attitudes of others by saying things like “until you have a horse in that race, or ARE a horse in that race, I don’t know if you can really start to understand.”

      1.  I’m sure you like to think all kinds of good things about yourself.  I wonder how many of them are true.  The man said, humbly, that he didn’t know whether it’s possible for someone outside a phenomenon to understand it as well as someone who experiences it directly.  That’s a pretty sensible observation.  To react to it with venom is not the act of someone whose empathy, or even intellect, appears to be that finely tuned.

        1. It’s actually a psychological pitfall. The notion that similar but distinct experiences cannot produce comparable levels of “understanding” is erroneous. Rational thought and understanding of a concept or subject has nothing to do with first-hand experience. You don’t have to have suffered the exact variety of pain or loss or hardship as somone else to empathize and understand what they are going through.

          Can it be complete and total understanding? No, I think not. But such total understanding is mythical anyways – language, culture, a thousand little things impede true understanding of each other’s experiences and feelings and thoughts. But the act of denegrating the empathy of others for petty reasons is in my mind akin to an angsty teenager crying out “You don’t understand! You haven’t suffered like I have!”. It’s a petty, irrational, exclusionist practice. It’s the preference of dramatic whinging and pity-mongering over real empathy and sympathy.

          1. Empathy and experience are different things. Some one can experience the same things you do and have no empathy for you.

            Similarly many people, and I think this is what the intent of the post was meant to say, can empathize with people who have an experience without having to go through it themselves.

            This doesn’t mean they know what it is like, but that they don’t have to go through it to care that you did. 

          2. The psychological pitfall here is the presumption of omniscience via one’s imagination.  “Oh, I can imagine what that might be like, so that’s a form of knowing what it’s like.”  No, actually, it’s not.  I can imagine all I want to, but by virtue of the fact that I’ve never had the experience, I do not know.  I can imagine what it’s like for a man to be kicked in the testicles, but I don’t know.  It’s very likely that there are aspects of the pain that’s involved that would surprise me, because, hello, I’ve never had it.  Is it so hard for people just to admit that they don’t know something? [ETA] In other words, yes, when most teenagers say, “You don’t understand! You haven’t suffered like I have!”, they’re probably wrong, if they’re just talking about the pains of adolescence. We do understand, not because we have great imaginations, but because we’ve been adolescents ourselves. If, however, an adolescent who is missing a leg said, “You don’t understand! You haven’t suffered like I have!” he’d be absolutely right. Unless, of course, you’re missing a leg.

          3. I like it, except if it were within the capacity of a person to have empathy enough combined with observational understanding opposed to experiential, to come close to such understanding that it could be labelled a distinction without a difference? 

            We’re often finding individual brains that surprise us, thing is, if the above were possible we’d never hear from these people, they would never need to be told. So where the hell could they be found if they exist?


          4. You don’t have to have suffered the exact variety of pain or loss or hardship as somone else to empathize and understand what they are going through.

            You obviously don’t get the point. If you have no material involvement, your perception and decisions will always be different than those who do. It has nothing to do with empathy or lack of it. It’s why straight people routinely give terrible advice to LGBT people about how to liberate ourselves. Unless you actually suffer the consequences of the oppression, you will never truly comprehend the value of overthrowing it.

          5. You’re right Antinous. People who haven’t experienced any oppression, suffering, or powerlessness have no way to even conceive of what life is like faced with those obstacles. You also said those who have never suffered those consequences will never truly comprehend the value of overthrowing it. And yet we’re supposed to put our trust in our elected officials (most of whom have lived in privileged bubbles on some level in their communities). Even the most well-meaning people are only getting it second hand.

          6. Listen to country music before you’ve been in love.  Listen to country music after you’ve broken up with your ex.  Same stuff, but maybe now you get it.

        2. Unfortunately, he didn’t say that “he didn’t know whether it’s possible for someone outside a phenomenon to understand it *as well*.” He said, “I don’t know if you can really *start* to understand.” There’s a huge difference.

          I’m not claiming I know what it’s like to have spent a lifetime, from birth to death, as a Western woman. But I am claiming that I can certainly “start to understand,” and go far beyond that start.

          As far as venom or empathy goes, I actually took great care not to appear as an attacker; oh well, internet.

          From what I can tell, most of your other comments in this string are based on this one misreading of my original comment, so I guess consider this a reply to those, too.

          1. If that was how you write when you’re taking great care not to appear as an attacker, I’d hate to see you on the attack.  Also, really?  You’re pinning the whole thing on “start to”?  Even after he said he didn’t know?

    2. Your position reduces to absurdity. 

      Would your horserace pronouncemnt not apply to all experiences?  And if so, it would preclude having conversation about anything until all parties are sure that everybody else has had the experience they are about to discuss.  

      And perhaps people should be screened before being allowed to read a book.  For example, unless you’ve brewed wine you should not be allowed to read a book about brewing wine.  Of course, most of literature would be unavailable to most people. 

      1. What I said to the other guy who flipped out when someone dared to insinuate he might not know everything.

      2. Imagine the pain of cutting your hand off.

        The actual experience is likely far more horrifying.

        I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say in this instance that until you’ve cut your hand off you have no real understanding of the pain. The best you can manage is a momentary consideration of it.

        Likewise you’ll never completely understand the issues faced by people without your privileges.

        1. Understanding is not a binary thing. It isn’t ON or OFF. When you learn something new, you don’t magically know everything about it, and when you are uninformed on a subject, you might still possess some degree of knowledge and comprehension about the key concepts and emotions.

          One need not cut off their hand to understand the vast majority of important considerations of the act. It is going to hurt, immensely. There will be blood loss, risk of infection, risk of death from both. There will be shock, there will be all the social interactions of people panicking and screaming and rushing around and trying to get the wounded party medical attention. There will be paperwork and bills to pay and all manner of bureaucratic matters. There will be psychological trauma, physical rehabilitation, lingering effects of many varieties, some lasting for years or decades or lifetimes. Etc, etc, etc.

          What mythical level of understanding do you feel is important, here? What if instead of cutting off a hand, someone merely cut off a foot, or maybe just a finger? What if instead they fell off a building and broke 23 bones, or were in a car crash, or somehow suffered other major injuries distinct from limb loss? What if they were an EMT or a physician or a nurse at a hospital who treated many such wounds over their career, witnessing the pain and trauma of the victims firsthand? Is there a magical number of such experiences at which the healthcare specialist suddenly gains profound understanding? A certain number of patients, or a certain number of years on the job? What about the family and loved ones of the victim? Does a mother sitting in a hospital hallway waiting anxiously for news about the operation being conducted on her child have no understanding of the event? Does a significant other sitting by their bedside at night? Does a sibling who was there when the accident occured, but whom circumstances then force to be elsewhere, such as at work or school or where ever, while the victim receives treatment? What about some random stranger on the street who was a first responder and whose actions in some small way helped save the victim’s life? What about a fellow hospital patient who befriends the victim while they both heal?

          Which of these people do you exclude as unable to understand? Which of them do you not care to hear the opinions or contributions of? Which of them do you feel entitled to ignore, because they “just don’t understand” somehow? Empathy is not something to be thrown away just because it comes from someone you don’t like or from someone you disagree with or who disagrees with you.

          1. I wasn’t suggesting that understanding is binary. Indeed, I believe it to be a spectrum with complete ignorance at one end, and at the other full knowledge of a subject. Of course to attain that level you not only have to know the issues involved academically (to a greater or lesser extent depending on the subject) but also (and far more importantly) have actual experience.

            Your examples are kind of all over the place, but to summarise roughly: if you have a largely equivalent experience, eg cutting off a foot as opposed to a hand, then you understand for the most part. However, your experience is in some ways completely different. At the moment I have to walk with a crutch because of a knee injury. In some ways what I experience is parallel to that of a person with a broken elbow. But to suggest that I understand exactly is a falsity.

            Let’s try another thought experiment. Think about the last time you had to speak in public. You knew that you would be nervous. You knew that you would maybe forget some words or cues. You know that you may blush or perspire more. Until you get up there, though, you have no real idea of what any of that even truly means. You only know of it in an academic sense.

            I’m not suggesting that those I disagree with lack empathy. I’m merely suggesting that only walking a mile in someone else’s shoes gives you a real understanding of their issues. And even then it isn’t necessarily complete or exact.

            Sorry for the essay.

          2. How many question marks can you include in one comment? Do you know that there are other punctuation marks? Is this some sort of performance art piece?

    3. I love the honesty of your comment.  So many times, when I try to talk to men about sexism, they try to pretend they’re on an equal epistemological footing with me when it comes to being able to recognize it in action.  No, dear, with all the good will in the world, you’re just not.  It’s not that I’m “touchy” or “oversensitive”, much less “man-hating”..  It’s that I have skin in the game, so I’m exactly as sensitive as I need to be to function on a playing field that’s tilted uphill for me and downhill for you.  I love that you’re acknowledging both that fact, and that before now, it wasn’t so apparent to you.  I hope by the time your little girl gets bigger, it won’t be so apparent to her or to me, either.

    4. Alriiiight then.

      Back to the matter at hand (and in the post), not “the attitudes of others” or “mythical understanding” (versus the dictionary definition of the word, of course).

      If you are not a girl/woman then you will never fully understand what it is to suffer the ill effects of this discrimination, sexism.  You won’t.  If you are not a black person then you will not fully understand that type of racism.  If you don’t get your hand cut off then you will not fully understand what it “means” to get your hand cut off.  I had a similar medical experience and NO, you DO NOT understand–empathize maybe but not understand.  Frankly, if you don’t give birth to a baby (what an appropriate illustration) you will not fully understand what that really means.

      Full understanding and empathy are two different things.  Empathy is important, and can be gained and exercised, and it is good to do so.  Understanding is important too.  It can be sought after and gained.  Full understanding?  Difficult to get without direct experience.  Good to try to understand?  Of course.

      Having “a horse in the game” so to speak helps to bridge that gap and engender understanding.  It draws your attention to what is affecting them and not just yourself.  

      Here is some stupid stuff that I notice prior to her even hitting a real “glass ceiling”:  GOD, there is so much PINK in clothes!  I had no idea.  Not all clothes, but everything they sell for girls has pink (almost) even if it is only the stitching.  I never noticed that before.  The “No Girlz Here” kids signs.  The fact that I can’t go to BASS PRO SHOPS and buy my daughter a brass sheriff’s badge because her name isn’t Bobby, Johnny, Mark, or Paul.  These are the (obviously) tiny but many little things that I notice “now”.

      BEING a horse in that game, a game often stacked against you by players that don’t even realize that they already have an (unfair?) advantage, a real challenge.

      I am not saying that I am brilliant.  I am not saying that anybody else cannot empathize or try to understand.

      This is about sexism folks…

  4. “Dario Maestripieri is Professor in Comparative Human Development and Evolutionary Biology. His research interests focus on the biology of behavior from a comparative perspective. One area of research examines neuroendocrine, ecological and evolutionary aspects of social behavior in nonhuman primates. Another line of research examines evolutionary aspects of human mating and parenting. He was awarded the 2000 APA Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology and a Career Development Award from the National Institute of Mental Health. He is a Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science.”

    How does this guy post such an enormously idiotic thing? He’s down at University of Chicago. You guys want me to stop in and ask him?

    1. Have you seen how ridiculously sexist and stereotype-driven some claims in the (barely scientific) field of evolutionary psychology are? It actually makes sense for some of the ‘researchers’ to be sexist.

      1. Yep, much of evolutionary psychology resembles, very strongly, discredited social darwinist nonsense of earlier years, dressed up in new, but still invisible, duds.

        Here’s hoping a silver lining comes out of this douchebag’s tweets and people begin to take a more critical look at evolutionary psychology.

        1.  What I love about the field of evolutionary psychology is the abundance of empirical evidence for what people were like 200,000 years ago.

      2. I was going to say something similar. Up until the remark on the quote I thought he was going to defend the scientist by pointing out that its a vaguely appropriate thing for him to say given his speciality.

        I wondered this myself when I first read it, as its just too obvious – this is no under-the-radar sexism, it’s the kind of thing bros might whisper to other bros, not post publicly on Facebook as a Giant testament to your idiocy.

    2. I know him.  Don’t waste your time.

      As for complaining to the university: the guy gets grants, produces research, and is published often.  Strangers on the internet will be ignored.  He will not lose a tenure position over this.

      1. Why, you shock me.  Are you trying to say that research that tends to reinforce traditional gender stereotypes has an easier time finding funders?  How thoroughly… to be expected.  :(

  5. Funny thing is, my godson’s sister, who just entered a PhD program in neurobiology, was a supermodel before going to college (part of the wonders of being a homeschool prodigy). As an undergraduate, she and her boyfriend were profiled by their honors program for a campaign to attract new students. Stupidly, the school’s advert focused on his research projects and her past modeling career. 

          1. I prefer the single ‘l’ myself, but the Wikipedia page I linked uses two, so I went with that.

  6. Of course he did append “No offense” to the end of his remarks. . .  so it’s all totally cool!

      1. “No Offense” is such an annoying thing. You don’t get to control how some one reacts to what you say. It’s a dead giveaway that you know you’re saying something lousy too. Kind of like “I’m not racist, but…”

          1. More stupid.  There are a few formal occasions when “with all due respect” is a reasonable preface to a comment.  “No offense intended” is almost always stupid.

        1. “Ivanova, does anyone know what would happen if you opened a jumpgate within a jumpgate?”
          “Earth forces experimented with that in the Earth-Minbari war. They called it “The Bonehead Maneuver”.
          “No offense.”
          “None taken.”

  7. I might openly note the shortage of women at a conference, without regard for appearance.  I might openly note the presence of women at a conference, without regard for appearance.  I might openly note how a conference in one city attracts a different demographic than that same conference in another city (“You see a lot more film industry people when SIGGRAPH is in LA.”).  I might privately, in lowered voice to a trusted friend after a couple drinks, remark on how many attractive women there were at the conference.  If the thought crossed my mind that there were many unattractive women at a particular conference, I’d keep that thought to myself, lest others think me shallow.

  8. The Doctor has an interest in self study:
    Research Interests:

    Neuroendocrine, ecological and evolutionary aspects of social behavior in human and nonhuman primates.

  9. There are definitely more skilled ways of appreciating beautiful women than lamenting the lack of them, publicly. 

    Plus, ever start talking to someone and realize that at first they maybe didn’t turn your head, but the words they just spoke pumped up your attraction to them 10x?  It’s a wonderful thing!

  10. Perhaps we should pity poor Dario instead?  Forever attending  non-Oscar, non-runway show, non-VIP club events and always expecting “super model types” to be in abundance.  His life must be a constant misery.

    “Dario, why so sad, did something happen to you while you were at McDonalds?” 

    Dario sighs: “Not one super model type…”

    1. My mom’s a supermodel.  I work with supermodels.  I’m married to one, and we have six supermodel kids.  I am just getting so SICK of supermodels everywhere.  Where are all the FUGLY PEOPLE?!?!!?

  11. Supermodels are usually in their teens and maybe early twenties. They also represent a small percentage of women. So he’s asking why more teen girls and young women aren’t successful in a career that takes years and years of devotion, grad school, and a lot of focus on things that aren’t looking your prettiest for the men around? Hmmmmm… 

    1. You would think a scientist would, at the very least, know that supermodels represent a small percentage of women, that being one of those, you know, empirically demonstrable fact kind of things.

    2. Thanks for something insightful that required more than 3 seconds of thinking and a knee-jerk to formulate.

      At first, my thought was “Give the guy a break.  In any sufficiently large population, you expect to see a normal distribution of people and their physical attributes, even when it comes to something as subjective as physical attractiveness.  So if there are a thousand women at a conference, one or two should stand out as exceptionally gorgeous just by random luck.”

      Then you point out a perfectly reasonable explanation and made me think deeper.  Thank you for that.

      Of course my viewpoint may be a bit skewed, accounting for my rather lukewarm level of offense at the original quote.  I am exceptionally physically unattractive and have always been so.  If I want a gorgeous woman to remain close enough to me for me to judge her appearance critically, I’ll need to first hand over a stack of $100 bills.  Normally, though, women give me a once-over and move away.  Since over my entire life I’ve become accustomed to women being less than polite to me due to my looks (and that’s putting it mildly; some have delighted in being openly cruel) it didn’t really occur to me to have a strong reaction to the same situation with the gender roles reversed.  I’ve just come to accept as normal that people, male and (especially) female, will judge me harshly and unfairly because of my looks; thus, the quoted tweet didn’t really resonate.

      Live and learn, I suppose.  Thanks again.

      1. Are you saying that “gorgeous” women are prostitutes ? Because that “stack of $ 100.00 bills” comment is not sitting very well with me…

        1. No – he’s saying women are the same as men and many of them respond instinctively to the objective hierarchy of beauty. Obviously you are one of the few that have transcended this outdated innate instinct. But from your hard won seat of enlightenment are you really going to judge a man who can only get close to attractive women by paying them? Hate the game, not the playa

          1. Attraction is a very complex process. I can be intellectually attracted to how a person thinks, but find them physically repulsive. I can be physically attracted to a person I think is intellectually and morally appalling. There’s a ton of contradictions in the process of attraction, as well as the acceptance/rejection of a person we are attracted to, on grounds other than their physical appearance.

            I have no judgement towards a person that pays for sex work, except in how s/he treats the sex workers that s/he employs.

            P.s. Sex workers come in all sizes, shapes, ages, standards of “beauty”, colors, education levels, degrees of emotional, mental, physical health — like any other workers. So the comment about having to pay gorgeous women to get close to him is really weird. 

          2. I’m willing to bet that same stack of bills that the main reason he can’t get close to beautiful women has a lot more to do with his attitude than either his looks or his wallet.  For that matter, the same thing is true of a lot of women.  If you start out believing “no one attractive will ever be interested in me”, the likelihood that you’ll fulfill your own prophecy approaches 100%

          3. I’m responding to my own comment, because I don’t have the option to respond to benenglish’s, but I hope he sees this.

            But how would it help you if I were, unless you changed your attitude? You may not have meant them to, but almost every comment I’ve seen you make betrays two underlying beliefs:

            1. I am repulsive to women because because I am ugly.
            2. Women only care about men who are good-looking and/or rich.

            In other words, by all appearances, you don’t like yourself much, and you don’t like women much, either. In reality, it’s likely to be those beliefs and how you embody them that are repelling people, and unless you change them — find something positive about yourself and start fostering it and believing it can make you attractive — things won’t be much different. I bet it’s there, and I bet if and when you start seeing yourself in a better light, people will respond to that.

          4. I’m replying to your statement further down the thread, as you have previously done.

            To answer your question, it will help me if you’re right.  There’s more to this than simply (1) I’m ugly and (2) Women like handsome men with money.

            The older I get, the less important looks become.  I’ve reached an age where women my age are beginning to attach less importance to looks.  As we all get old and lose whatever physical attractiveness we once had, we all lower our standards.  That’s good for me.  The handsome young men who once bested me in any contest for the attention of a woman are now past middle age, developing their outsized paunches, and are on a more-equal-every-day footing with me.  That’s encouraging.

            Second, I’m far from rich but I’m financially stable.  Believe it or not, on a couple of occasions in my life, pretty women in dire financial straits have thrown themselves at me simply because I had a steady income and wasn’t one missed paycheck from being homeless.  The observation of that sort of desperation was sobering.  Again, at my age (mid-50s), I’ve begun to achieve something closer to parity on the overall attractiveness scale that women seem to employ.

            Finally, my attitude is changing.  Since retirement, I’ve lost a great deal of weight.  Within the next year or so, if this progress continues without too many setbacks, I’ll be thinner and healthier than at any other time in my adult life.  With these changes comes an increase in confidence and a better attitude about just about everything, including my own desirability.

            As an aside, I’m not sure why you conclude that I don’t like women much.  In fact, I like them very much.  I’ve been consistently disappointed by them throughout my life; the disconnect between what they say they want (“I just want a nice guy who will treat me well out of sincere love”) and what they actually want (i.e., what they actually sleep with – “bad boys” or just your run-of-the-mill good looking, moneyed jerks who break their hearts without even a twinge of regret) grates on my nerves but I actively work to keep from allowing bitterness to creep into my outlook.

            The older I get the better life gets.  I accept I’ll never bang a supermodel but that’s not really the point.  As both I and potential partners age and see enough of life to appreciate the spiritual more than the physical, my chances of finding a lasting relationship improve.

            Or, as my dearly departed mother used to say, “Of course you don’t get laid.  You’re a nice guy.  Most women haven’t been crapped on by life enough to appreciate you.  Believe me, once you’re in the retirement home, you’ll have all the tail you want.  It’ll most likely be rolling your way in a procession of wheelchairs, but you’ll have your pick.”

            Mom, bless her soul and in case you couldn’t figure it out for yourself, had a wonderful, wicked, scathing sense of humor.  As I get old, though, I begin to realize that she was probably right.  :-)

        2. No, absolutely not.  I have no idea where that question came from.

          Further, I don’t get why that comment strikes you as weird.  No physically attractive woman who isn’t getting paid is going to voluntarily spend any time with me.  Her first look at me will tell her she can do better and she’ll move along.  (Frankly, I think that first look is misleading.  I have a brain and I spend more time making pros laugh than I spend expecting them to act like they enjoy my company.  But that’s another discussion.)  It’s that simple and there’s no nefarious intent on my part.

          Of course, that’s the case nowadays.  I’m retired and back when I was working for a very large organization it was routine for women, including some very attractive ones, to be forced to remain in my presence due to work responsibilities.  The overwhelming majority of those women eventually concluded that I’m a polite, smart, funny, slightly weird guy.  Then they put me firmly in the friend zone, a place from which I can never escape.

          Personally, I believe I would have had a happier life if I were a lot dumber, a jerk, and pretty.  At least those guys get laid without paying for it.

          1. What you are saying is complicated. I don’t know you(that I know of), I can’t see you, so I don’t know whether your self assessment is accurate.You reference women being”forced to remain in my presence due to work responsibilities” and “Her first look at me will tell her she can do better and move along”.

            There are many people who are described as average who have relationships and flirtations and active social lives.The issues that you describe may have more to do with your self-concept, or ability to read/respond to social cues than your physical appearance. Everyone believes that their life could have been happier except for X (dumb made up reason, misses the mark by a mile 99% of the time). If all that you want is to get laid, and can afford to pay for it, then what is the problem ? If you want a committed, intimate relationship with a woman who reciprocates your emotions/commitment, then a good place to start would be dating women who are your peers – intellectually, socially, agewise, geographically (ie in person, not online).A qualified therapist or group therapy could also help you to sort out these issues, if you want them sorted out.

          2. >>>The issues that you describe may have more to do with your self-concept

            I doubt it yet I still hold out hope.  Over the last year or so, I’ve lost a great deal of weight and I’m getting out more than I have in the last decade, deliberately putting myself in social and other situations that I find uncomfortable.  Perhaps things will improve.  Among the things that might improve is my attitude.  I certainly hope so.

      2. The fact that horrible things happen to people in one place doesn’t excuse bad behaviour elsewhere. See also the “How can you care about this while children are starving in Africa!?” argument.

        I’m sorry to hear you’ve been poorly treated, but that doesn’t make what he said acceptable. That just means what he’s doing also bad.

        1. I didn’t mean to imply that what he was doing wasn’t bad.  Nor was I attempting to solicit sympathy.  I was just trying to explain why I didn’t immediately snap to why people were upset at his boorish commentary.  It took me a while to figure it out and I was merely thanking blueelm for helping me understand.

      3. Another point to consider – which is routinely overlooked  – is that modelling is a JOB like any other.  Creating the “look” requires a significant amount of work and time, not to mention expert makeup and styling assistance.  Even the most beautiful women do not wake up in the morning looking like magazine covers.

        Any scientist who invested the time and effort needed to look like a supermodel every day would find herself without much time left over to actually do science.

        1. I have to respectfully disagree.  I’ve worked with a few women scientists who were drop dead gorgeous all the time, even with their hair uncombed and fish guts up to their elbows.  Obviously such people are rare, and I am absolutely sure they get very tired of people being distracted by their beauty when they are trying to get meaningful work done.  I know one ornithologist who used to tell every male co-worker on first introduction that she was gay and not interested, just to get the inevitable out of the way.

      4. Since over my entire life I’ve become accustomed to women being less than polite to me due to my looks (and that’s putting it mildly; some have delighted in being openly cruel) it didn’t really occur to me to have a strong reaction to the same situation with the gender roles reversed.  […]  Live and learn, I suppose.  Thanks again.

        Pro tip:  You’ll get more positive attention from the ladies if you’re a big ugly heavily scarred guy than if you’re just a big ugly guy.  So take up some potentially lethal hobbies, and you’ll either gain some sex appeal or you’ll get dead or maimed enough so that you won’t care any more.  I’m only partly kidding.

        Although I was appalled by the guy’s boorish commentary, I wasn’t at all surprised that any supermodels in the area were staying well out of his line of sight.

        1. Potentially lethal hobbies?  Hmmm.  I’ve heard that skydivers get attention from the ladies and I’ve lost a lot of weight since I retired.  That might be something to consider.  Thanks for the idea.

          Any other suggested hobbies?  I’m serious, here…

          1. Well, if you want potentially lethal and potentially scarring, fencing is traditional.  Although if it leads to actual scars, you’re doing it wrong.

          2. Except if you sport the traditional, and intentionally delivered duelling scar. Having the scar displays that you are proficient with a blade, and that you have the gonads to stand there while another person takes a swipe at your face, with the sword coming very close to your nose and eyes.  

            Here is an interesting WikiP entry: 


          3. The duelling scar is traditional, sure, but also much rarer than it used to be.  (Over the last few decades it’s become newly traditional to wear protective gear of some kind…)

          4. As a lady who participates in many hobbies, I have to say, we can spot the dudes who join specifically to meet ladies, and it never works for them, and they usually quit because they can’t hook up. Its one thing to participate in a hobby/activities because you like it and meet other like minded people of whatever gender, and its entirely another to participate in an hobby/activity simply to meet the ladies. The former is lovely and organic, the latter is forced and usually creepy. Sorry.

          5. A useful and sobering reply.  Thanks.  Photography and pistol shooting have been my lifelong hobbies.  Instead of looking for a different hobby where women are present, perhaps I should reexamine those two pursuits with an idea to finding some pocket(s) of feminine participation.  Needle in a haystack, here I come.

      5. Explanation? For him being an asshat and insulting the women who were attending the conference. He was saying that the women were unusually unattractive and there were no supermodels. But… sure… normal distribution of attractiveness was what he was talking about. Yeah, that was it.

        1. The fact that “normal distribution of attractiveness” was what first occurred to me is a measure of how poor are my instincts about the way people think and feel.  Yes, that is honestly the first thing I thought of…which might go a ways to explain why I’m no great success at interpersonal relationships.  I fully understand that my initial reaction, being so different from that of everyone else, says far more about me than about the person who authored the tweet in question.

  12. Nice paragraph in the Jezebel article:

    Free speech in the age of the internet means that everyone, including Professor Maestripieri, has every right to make statements about their preference for hot, big tittied lady neuroscientists like the kind on all those crime shows. Just as his colleagues, students, and the general public have a right to think he sounds like kind of a jerk. Free speech doesn’t mean freedom from rebuttal. [emphasis added]

    Apropos of a recent BB-comment-slugfest….

  13. This instance is an excellent illustration of the reality of science as a social institution, as presented by Lewontin in his 1991 Massey Lectures. Typical primate behaviour, unfortunately. Hopefully, as Lyall Watson pointed out in Dark Nature, ‘fit’ memes will eradicate such ‘unfit’ genetic communications as this quasi-Lothario so regretfully thumbed out on his ‘truth machine’.

  14. His choice of words might not have been what you would like to see but he may have been the one to point out sexism first. Societies pressure of ‘pretty girls need not apply’ is the greater issue then one mans disappointment in finding a booty call at a conference. Have you ever noticed how science and engineering degrees are marketed to women? “Here get this difficult and expensive education and look at all the great jobs that you can get that are only tangentially related to the field. No, no, no, you don’t have to do all those nerdy things all day. If you have an engineering degree think how far you can go in Marketing!’

    1. Trust me, the point of his ASSinine comment was not to point out sexism. He said that because he saw nothing wrong with saying it — this is what this scientist really thinks. How much of a supportive mentor do you think this crud would be to his female students, or to his non-male colleagues ?

  15. It seems to me that what’s being demanded here is that anyone working in the sciences entirely forget that they have a sexual drive, or an interest in sex, or the idea that at a conference events of a casual social nature incidental to the conference itself might take place, like they do in virtually every other field or industry in the world with the possible exception of the devoutly religious. Maestripieri’s statement wasn’t especially tasteful, but stating that he didn’t find many of the women there attractive is a pretty fucking far cry from sexist. 

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be attractive, including sexually attractive. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be brilliant AND sexually attractive. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be brilliant, (even at the expense of being sexually attractive.) And, with the possible exception that it makes him look a little childish, there’s nothing wrong with Maestripieri whinging outside of the workplace that he doesn’t see enough hot women in his profession just because he hasn’t abandoned his sexual identity. That’s not, despite how much everyone seems to want it to be, a sexist statement. It’s just a matter of personal taste. 

    1. Actually being treated like this in conferences is a major problem for a lot of women in these professions. Attitudes like his, expecting that the women there are a buffet of sex opportunities, are precisely sexist and part of the problem. His inability to distinguish exposure to women in a professional capacity and a personal capacity is a part of a dynamic that damages women, and is directly a result of a sexist culture.

      1. Once again, I see this as an overreaction. If he’s obnoxiously hitting on or leering at women at the conference, then by all means, but at the same time, I’ve known more than one couple to hook up at conferences. Are we now arguing that such things should be forbidden, or that they’re all somehow sexist just because people have sex? Where do you draw the line between allowing people to still be human beings and protecting against actual sexual discrimination or hostile environments? I, myself, require a slightly greater offense than lamenting the lack of, “hotties” from outside the event, on one’s facebook page. Is this comment an “inability to distinguish,” or is the idea that we should have such an absolute and rigid distinction itself unnatural? 

        1. I like how you can’t seem to divorce being human from being a total jagbag. I don’t think anybody’s begrudging the fact that he has a very human interest in sex.

    2. “stating that he didn’t find many of the women there attractive”

      Actually not what he said. He said “unusually high concentration of unattractive women.” The negative spin added is part of the problem. Extrapolating that neuroscience only attracts the ugly chicks is the next step to sexism. See, he’s not just expressing personal preference in the context of his sexual identity. He’s explicitly linking female scientists, as scientists to their sexual attractiveness. That. Is. Sexism.

      To your larger point, is it OK to not think a room of people at a conference is an attractive room? Of course it is. Is it OK to assume that a particular field are unattractive based on that observation? I would say no.

    3.  He phrased it a little more elegantly than “Where are all the hot bitches?” but he’d be almost as much a dick for saying that right after walking into a bar. He only gets a little leeway because at least a bar is a social scene where physical appearance and mate selection is appropriate.

      I’m not asking for him to be castrated and live a life never again tainted by the thought of getting nasty. I’m asking for him not to be a tasteless sack of shit. *shrug*

      Making the effort to express the sentiment less offensively means you actually stopped to care about offending people. NOT making the pretty trivial effort to say it less offensively means you DON’T think of women as people.

      Which isn’t sexy. So if he’s looking for booty, he might want to stop and think about not offending the booty.

      1. I’d agree with you regarding the quality of the statement. I think the “bar” comparison is good as far as inferring the mentality probably at play here. From my viewpoint, the comment was in the worst taste, especially since those who are sensitive about how they look aren’t going to feel good about that. And I can see how it evokes, in some, impressions or even memories of more overt sexism and sexual harassment in their fields. I contend, however, that it’s not sexism or even gateway sexism, in itself. Just, as you point out, lacking in class. 

        1.  You have some pretty high standards for what constitutes “sexism”, dude.  Maybe because it doesn’t affect you very much?

    4. It seems to me that what’s being demanded here is that anyone working in the sciences entirely forget that they have a sexual drive, or an interest in sex

      I know right.  It’s not like there’s another way to express such sentiments without resorting to boorishness or vulgarity AND broadcasting it to everybody you know on Facebook…

    5. Or to put it another way, just because “it’s a matter of personal taste” doesn’t mean he’s exempt from considering the impact of his words on others. It’s the honest truth, sure – and it’s the honest truth that a lot of people think that his personal tastes reveal that his personality is pretty damned crude.

    6.  Yes, let’s just judge everyone on their appearance.  That was never a problem ever before, right? And further more, let’s judge whether or not individuals should engage in public life by their attractiveness.  Or just women, because it’s all about how our physical appearance makes dudes feel. 

    7. Shorter Vendor:

      Not being able to objectify women in any context, at any time=castration and evil menz hating.

      I wonder if the good Prof owns a mirror and, perhaps, makes an effort to live up to the standards that he imposes on half the world.

    8. His sexual identity includes dumping his wife and kids and immediately shacking up with a woman young enough to be his daughter, who now has a baby to show for it.  There’s no misunderstanding here about his motives.  The guy is a walking stereotype.

  16. How many male supermodels typically attend neuroscience conferences? 

    Was there also, perhaps, a shortage of entrepreneur-billionaires, star athletes, world-class opera singers, and famous comedians?

    The tendency of some guys to think about the world with appendages other than their head is disappointing. The existence of a culture that then allows such thoughts to be comfortably shared in public is shameful.

  17. Maybe the good Prof would feel a lot better if everyone, men and women, posted their physical profiles along their professional profiles.  Then he can pick and choose which conferences to go to based on that, and he can proudly show off his male supermodel body stats and his 13″ dick, right?

    Oh, yeah, NO.

    Why am I not surprised that this guy is an evolutionary psychologist (a field that I hold in less regard second only to homeopathy and crystal therapy?)?

  18. I disagree that it was outside his profession.  He was there representing himself in a professional capacity, and quite possibly getting paid something to do it.  If he were making these comments about a bar, I doubt people would care.

  19. I’d go so far as to say, most men are pretty hard to like.  After a lifetime of dealing with this crap, I have no patience for it.

    1.  Donaleen, I’d take it a step further.  A lot of people are full of lovingkindness and everyone is their friend.  To me, most people annoy the living shit out of me.  Call me unenlightened, but dammit, 99% of people just plain suck!

  20. Has anyone explored the possibility that this conference had an abundance of extremely unattractive women? Like, genuinely, cant-help-but-notice hideous? If it were a small enough conference it’s at least a possibility…

    No offence.

    1.  Not really the point, buddy.  Let’s suppose there were a lot of ugly men at the conference.  Do you think he would have made a similar comment about that?

    2. Perhaps the real issue is that the extremely bright and well schooled women who attended the conference were seen through the distorted lens of an extremely psychologically unattractive man ?

    3. And? I don’t quite see your point.

      (And he said there were thousands of attendants, but still…)

      Or were you being sarcastic?  I can’t say as you added “No offence” which is of course a close cousin to “I’m not a racist, but… ” in that it marks the sentence as exactly being offensive/racist. So I would assume you of course wrote it as to be offensive.

    4. I think this joke failed because you misspelled “offense.” That or three other people utterly whiffed on the sarcasm.

        1. It goes to my other comment about people just being extremely dense.  I mean, my god, sarcasm and irony aren’t THAT hard to spot.

  21. One day I hope science gets to the point where we can download a person’s mind into another body.  That way we can mandatorily switch males and females for a day or week or whatever is deemed reasonable.  That way men get to experience the world through a woman’s perspective and feelings, and women get to deal with it through the testosterone fueled blindness of a man’s.

      1. Well in my version your mental framework would adapt to the new environment.  So while I suspect a good number of guys would check out their new female bodies I’d hope the slightly lower libido would keep some of that in check.  (That’s just been my experience, YMMV.)

        Besides if the guys spent all their time doing nothing but pleasuring themselves in their new female bodies at least it might make them better lovers when they switched back.

        1. So while I suspect a good number of guys would check out their new female bodies I’d hope the slightly lower libido would keep some of that in check.

          Sounds like mythology to me, man.  Some guys have very low libidos.  Some women have very high libidos.  Even Mark Twain wrote a bunch in Letters From Earth about how women have such great passions that no one man could ever hope to satisfy a single woman.  That’s not to say I think that Twain was right to say that of all women, but merely to point out that different people seem to have different experiences with this, and the upshot is that libido doesn’t seem to correlate too well with gender.

          1. different people seem to have different experiences with this

            Ironically that’s why I put this statement in the original comment:

            That’s just been my experience, YMMV.

            So within my small group of married friends all of the husbands express a higher drive than their wives, but that doesn’t represent all women or men.  Hence the part about how your mileage will vary.

      2. And us women would probably spend the whole time playing with our borrowed penis.

        Don’t worry, we’ll return it almost in the same condition as when we got it.

    1. I don’t know if the essence of being a man or woman is tied into hormones and naughty bits.

      Really you’d need to do a complete brain and body swap.  But then I don’t think you’d really achieve what you’re after.

  22. Goddamn, even before reading his credentials I knew we were dealing with an evolutionary psychologist here.

    So yeah, I get why he made this statement.

    Just like when attending a Evolutionary psychologist conference, I’d ask where all the actual scientists are…

  23. My PhD daughter was at the New Orleans neuroscience conference, and she’s very attractive. But she’s had more than her share of condescension and grief from (usually) well-intentioned douches who seem to think of and treat women in science as oddities. 

    1. No thought goes into it. It doesn’t require planning or preparation. It simply bubbles up from the cesspit at his core.

    2. In that it was casually made by the speaker, as though there were nothing exception or unusual about the statement.

  24. Not to give him a pass, but his online bio. says he was born in Italy, where things like sexism, objectification of women, etc. are way more entrenched, intense, and so on — at least to me (and so many others). Subjective opinions about different cultures aside, one might argue that he himself is a victim of this entrenched sexism, i.e., it’s turned him into a raging asshole who objectifies others. Cf. Hegel’s master-slave dialectic: even the so-called “master” suffers in an unequal, unfair, oppressive relationship, largely through being forced to be a dick to others, and then internalizing this until it’s second-nature. So national and cultural issues would seem to be at play here as well.

      1. Haha, right, just as I imagine Berlusconi saying it. I keep thinking of all the slow-mo scenes of women dancing in Videocracy

    1. And he’s working as faculty at a major American university, where presumably he’s expected to teach and mentor women, treat female colleagues with appropriate respect, etc… except maybe not because sexist and discriminatory behavior by men (American and otherwise) in universities goes on all the time with little or no penalty for most of those who engage in it.  There is basically no professional penalty for failing to conform to non-sexist norms of behavior, while there are plenty of professional penalties for just walking around as female.

    2. Yeah, sexism is a cultural issue.  The only people arguing otherwise are…evolutionary psychologists, some of whom insist it’s purely biological.

      1. Not what I said. Many intelligent people exhibit a range of despicable behaviors, and are often indiscreet with these, as Maestripieri has done.

        Let me put it another way, Since he’s an Italian male whom I’m assuming is heterosexual, I’d be interested in knowing what his experience with things like Italian machismo, sexism, patriarchy, etc. have been, and to what degree his experiences were particularly affected by having grown up in Italy. This is not an essentialist argument or inquiry; rather, one that would seek to understand his behavior in terms of his history, attitudes, beliefs, and so on. That’s all I’m saying.

      2. Like how people from countries with capital punishment or gun control don’t have a brain?

        Culture is hugely significant when it comes to behaviour and morals.

        Doesn’t excuse it, but it helps to understand it.

        1. Yes, culture is part of the make-up of how people interact socially, and their belief systems. BUT — being born in Italy (and moving away when he was a child) or being raised in Italy (then moving to the US) does not give him some get out of jail free card. He was educated in universities in the US, and works within an academic field that has plenty of women — so his current context should inform his attitudes and behavior as much, if not more than an experience as a 4 year old.

          This sort of reasoning is a red herring. Like my neighbor — sexist 80’s yuppie lawyer — who would drop by to tell us things like how what to do to the house we were working on,  — even when what he was explaining AT us did not make sense, or follow the correct steps of the process and in the telling of this, he was dismissing our many years of experience and judgement. He would frequently talk right over me when I was talking — and when I brought this to his attention — I was told that this was because of his “Mediterranean blood “(asshole was born in the Canadian prairies to French Canadian parents, schooled in Canada his entire life).

          1. Sorry I didn’t mean to imply that I thought this chap could excuse, or even necessarily explain HIS behaviour due to where he was born, I just wanted to reinforce that culture and upbringing does help to define your moral outlook – which you appeared to be disputing, but (I now realise) probably weren’t.

          2. Haha — that seems like the logical solution. At that time the only functioning spigot was in the basement and a hose had to be run out a basement window that had security bars on it that had to be unlocked first = pretty hard to do in a hurry as the asshole approached.

            But one time the asshole mysteriously fell backwards off the front steps while pestering me, which I think was a brief manifestation of Carrie type powers.

        2. If you’re a university professor in the field of psychology and you’re still acting out childhood imperatives in the most basic social interactions, you should have your degree revoked.

        1. No, seriously, I would want to understand how that man’s culture, religion, gender, and his experience of these in his family, communities, social networks, etc. influenced his hypothetical sexism.

          I’m not condoning his behavior, only saying it’s perhaps more understandable viewed against those things.

  25. Substitute “people” for “women” in is comments, and it could have been an interesting question. Phrased differently, do attractive people tend to have opportunities that are significantly better than neuroscience, leading to few people in the area?

    Even if it had just been an observation about women, it could have been an interesting discussion. Do attractive women disproportionately avoid neuroscience?

    If either were true, the reasons why would likely be fascinating. Maybe even useful.

    1. It’s not mysterious. Fields that feature a large number of attractive people recruit people for that very reason in the first place. Hollywood or the fashion industry employ people specifically because they look good on camera, are willing to undergo cosmetic procedures or alter their appearance on-demand and work out almost daily. In order to fit these standards, one needs to be either extremely gifted by nature or to invest an inordinate amount of time and effort on his/her appearance, which most professionals in other fields wouldn’t do.

      And the men in neuroscience are probably no more special in terms of appearance than the women. However standards of beauty are less stringent for men in terms of variety of features, age, weight range, ‘wear-and-tear’, etc…

    2. Better, or different? Because if the question is different then the answer is there’s a lot of research on that. Long story short (and if  I can i’ll come back and try to post links to cite) it seems that ugly people get treated worse in general, and pretty people get a unique set of expectations placed on them and are discouraged from doing certain things because they’re attractive and attractive people are expected to be better at some things and encouraged to behave certain ways. Hence you hear comments like “well you don’t need to go to grad school, you’re pretty!”

    3. If women are avoiding neuroscience, or dropping out of the neuroscience field in droves, take a good look at the faculty that is teaching and administering the program to see if perhaps there is some deeply and systematically entrenched negative, offensive and abusive behaviors in the way that male faculty/academics treat female students/academics.

      1. Agreed. I was wondering if might just be a direct response of women, particularly those invested in their appearance, deciding that the culture was too toxic to hang around in.

        You know, the sort of idea that ‘the common denominator with your problem well, it may very well be you!’

        1. Or even one of attractive women in neuroscience avoiding some conferences because if it isn’t critical it isn’t worth dealing with being bothered or dealing with the toxic environment.

    4. This question is a dead end because “attractive” can only be defined in a theoretical scientific way (symmetry, height, weight, etc.) In real life it doesn’t work that way. Don’t believe me? Google absolutely anything with the word “porn” after it and see that there are people wildly aroused by whatever you choose.

      This goes to Sekino’s comment since the cited fields recruit people who are “movie” or “fashion” attractive, but in many cases, not attractive across those industries (i.e. attractive actresses really are not model-like and vice versa).

      1. Actually, one can define “attractive” by consensus opinion of some population, and measure it by asking a sample of people to make ratings.

        1. Yeah, you can take any set of data and find an average.  At that point you should probably start asking questions about the variance. A high variance in this case would suggest a weak consensus.

      2. Porn and attractiveness can have little do with one another though.

        You could, for example, have a fetish for ugly people.  But by definition you’d need to have a basis of attractive, an awareness of it and probably even an appreciation of it to be able to identify with, and ultimate get off on, the opposite.

  26. Those poor women at that conference. I’d not be happy at being called unattractive, even though it’s not supposed to matter in a research context. Why go there, really?

  27. So, now that women are working in the field sexism matters. Well, it does. And now that we are looking at stereotypes, let’s look at the one’s that don’t matter. Scientists, as we all know, are skinny, cowardly little dweebs with thick glasses, astigmatism and lacking to absent social skills. They wear their pants way to high up and button the top button of their short sleeved white collared shirts. If they do have a girlfriend they are only marginally aware of her and certainly do not engage in any intimate activity. Their tools are carried in a pocket protector and their workspace is a blackboard. Not a man at all, really. OK, you can go back to sleep now

    1. Actually, that stereotype does matter and also constitutes sexism.  You point this out yourself: “not a man at all, really”.  This stereotype is an example of shaming men for not displaying socially acceptable forms of masculinity.  It’s not very different from the “women scientists are ugly frumps” stereotype that’s being discussed in the OP.

      1. Well, this stereotype only applies if these scientists are not of the well-to-do nerd variety. If they are well-off, women consider them to be very masculine, as long as they hold on to the job and the cash.

        Also, I’ve noticed that many women, including certain close family members will turn into crazy, vengeful beasts at even the hint of any sort of thing they perceive to be sexism, yet repeat some pretty insulting shit about men in general all the time.

        Also, there’s this tendency to make the statement that a man or a boy should have his penis cut off for minor infractions, perceived or real, and to find news stories of men losing their penises, either by terrible accident, or as a crime victim, very, very funny. WTF is up with this?

        (Drum Roll…barrage of comments telling me I probably have a tiny penis, am short, overweight, pimply, hate women, am weak, have no life, and yet am still some big, bad, raping, marauding oppressor who should have his pecker lopped off.)

        Moderator – I’m not trying to troll here, but it _is_ pretty negative – I will understand if it vanishes. I’m just not feeling moved to do it my self ;) >

        1. Dude… what is wrong with the women in your family? And why aren’t you calling them out on their sexism, why are you telling us anecdotes about your family? The plural of anecdotes is not fact.

          If you’re trying to say that people suck, people say terrible things about other people and they shouldn’t; you failed.

          1. Well, nothing much is wrong with the women in my fam and you’re right about the other stuff too. 

            I had a hissy combined with a temporary lobotomy. 

          2. No worries. Hope you get your life back to where you want it to be. And don’t hang out with such angry stereotypes, anger breds anger, find some happy people, let their happy rub off on you. (There’s no way to say that without it sounding dirty, but I didn’t mean it “that” way.) :)

        2. Well, this stereotype only applies if these scientists are not of the well-to-do nerd variety. If they are well-off, women consider them to be very masculine, as long as they hold on to the job and the cash.

          I didn’t say anything about whether women found them masculine.  The stereotype mentioned by Kevin is in my experience more often promulgated by manly men trying to assert their positions in some kind of imaginary male pecking order. 

          Also, how many well-to-do scientists do you know of?  Most don’t actually make very much money. Then again, I don’t think it’s actually very rare for real women (as opposed to the imaginary women who only care about abs and benjamins) to be attracted to intelligent, respectful men.

          The rest of the stuff in your post is not consistent with any experiences of mine.  There also seems to be a little bit of editorializing involved; phrases like “vengeful beasts” and “penis cut off” suggest a certain amount of hyperbole.

          1. Well, you’re right about the hyperbole and editorializing. I started writing with the best intent and it appears I became a vengeful beast. You’re right about most scientists not exactly being wealthy of course, in my tizzy I was really thinking about certain types engineers that were common before they became an endangered species. 

            And also, the dude who wrote that asinine F-Book post doesn’t exactly look like a prize either. 

            As for the pecker removal, I’ve heard it enough times to for it to stick in my head, but you’re right, it’s not that common. About the manly man thing, yeah, yer right. 

            Finally, I think your post is an intelligent, well-written response to a post that was neither :) 

          1. Yeah, I do get the issue, but your reading and interpretation of what I wrote is valid. It was a bit of a temper tantrum cured by a shower. 

            Glad you liked the pic – I couldn’t believe it existed.

          2.   I like you.  Everybody messes up at some point, but only really excellent people cop to it fully.

        3. Sounds like your social circle is due for an upgrade. What are you running? Friends & Family 95?

          1. Well, interesting you should say that. 

            I _have_ been stewing in my own juices the last year or so. I moved to the east coast, then was forced to move back a while later because of a disaster, lost many assets (and almost my mind for about two seconds.) In the meantime, many in my social network here had moved on – literally, elsewhere and the ones who are still here, well, we’re still friends, but my too-slow economic recovery means I can’t really hang out with them as much as before. They’re not being dicks or anything, it’s just what can happen between friends of different economic status, especially if they were on an equal footing b4.So, yeah, about the upgrade, you’re right ;)

          2. *internet hugs* My life is very suddenly and abruptly in shambles right now after looking better than ever. Hope it gets better. Reading your posts and total owning of your venting made me really happy tonight. I, too, am guilty of some pretty emotional posts.

    1. Yeah, he only called most of his female colleagues at a professional conference “unattractive.” Nope, no sexism there. If any of them feel awkward in future dealings with him, it’s obviously THEIR fault for being so easily offended!

      Nope, no sexism here!

    2. More importantly, pointing out that there are lots of ugly women as if you’ve been ripped off somehow, because ladiez are supposed to be hotttt, while ignoring that you yourself closely resemble what happens when a beagle mates with a ferret (with jowls) says something about what you think women’s and men’s roles are.

  28. Interesting.  Calling this guy out on his behavior, publicly, including his name and really going after him… There’s a term for that.  I believe psychobiologists call it “moralistic aggression”.  Those who study it seem to think that it’s a good way to enforce a social contract, to reduce the inappropriate behaviors that we’ve all agreed are inappropriate.  People like, well, the author of this interesting article in wired from June:  


    1. He’s so subtle and self-deprecating:
      “… some wives who have been cheated on by their husbands have paid exorbitant sums of money to put their cheating husband’s name on billboards displayed in busy urban areas. This lowers the husband’s reputation and aims to ensure that no other women will pair up with him in the future.”

  29. Once upon a time, I was a woman in science – physics at MIT to be exact. I know exactly why this idiot didn’t find any attractive women at the conference. While at MIT, I quickly learned never to do anything to make myself attractive. I’m not gorgeous, but with nice clothes and makeup, I am fairly pretty. A pretty girl at MIT in the 80s? Fair game. I got ogled, followed, pawed, fondled, and, worst of all, talked down to.

    So I developed a simple strategy: don’t be attractive. Dress in baggy, shapeless clothes. Don’t bother with my hair. Never, ever wear makeup. And while I wasn’t exactly left alone, I at least got some breathing room.

    Women in science that I have spoken to often feel that, to be taken seriously, they must make themselves as unattractive as possible. A friend of mine who is now a quite successful chemical engineer actually had breast reduction surgery.

    So to Mastrepieri, I say, the reason there were no attractive women at your conference is that sexist jerks like you persist in looking for them.

  30. “There are thousands of people at the conference and unusually high concentrations of unattractive men. The chiselled, action-hero types are completely absent. What is going on?”

    ^ – Would anyone ever say this? Doubtful. This is why his query, while probably intended to be genuine scientific curiosity, is easily identified as a fallacy of utter misogyny. We live in a society where men are people, and women are people, but women are ALSO ALWAYS the sexual class. Men can get away with being sexless beings, where their attractiveness to the other gender is so unimportant as to be not even worth a modicum of cognition. Women, on the other hand, will always be under the microscope of, “Hot or Not?”

    Until that fallacy can be addressed, there can be no true equality.

      1. I take no offence to copypasta of my own material. 

        Also, I usually prefer Granville Island, but I’ll take a pint of Creemore Springs if that’s what they have on tap. 

    1. I actually want to know the answer to your question… (though I’m not sure about “chiselled, action-hero types”).

    2. I’ve been to a few conferences like this as a guest. None of the men were especially attractive and they seemed to practice commando-style grooming – not judging them, just observation. The relatively few women there, however, while neither more, nor less attractive than the men, were well-groomed, and spent more than ten seconds to dress appropriately – and I’m sure the same held for the conference this dude attended. 

      It appears this guy is a dick who attended a penis-party – and NOT the fun kind.

        1. No, I don’t think they were any less attractive, although perhaps that might change when they open their mouths or post crap on Facebook like the subject of this blog post did.  

  31. By the way, I think we’re seeing here the kind of thinking that goes into the forming of hypotheses in Evolutionary Psychology.

  32. I agree with many of the above comments.  Both men and women scientists are capable of taking care of themselves and looking good all the while still producing cutting edge science.  Personally I don’t give a crap about how you look, or what you do in your personal life – read their work….  If it stands up to peer review and is high quality – that’s what matters – period! It is very crappy when people, based on outward appearances, and/or decisions people make in their personal lives,  make assumptions about how that stuff affects their ability to be a scientist.  Stop criticizing others and take a look at yourself…    

  33. Or:

    Ladies, while discussing the underlying pathogenic mechanisms of central and peripheral nervous systems to your fellow peers, you really need to consider the important things— how fuckable are you to the creeper in the lab across the hall? Get some makeup on and give him something to look at. We think it’s cute that you’ve succeeded in a field we’ve dominated for decades, but what are you really here for, anyway? Thanks for the boner-killer. No offense. 

    1. The gross thing is that there are cads who actually talk like this without having any insight as to how genuinely awful they sound and wonder why the woman in that lab across the hall seems to go out of her way to minimize contact with them.

  34. I have been to a lot conferences (academic and otherwise), and I can assure you that a significant number of males attending these junkets (particularly of the attached variety) are away from home and hoping to get laid. The view expressed above barely scratches the surface of what a good number of these sorts of males think about when they are away from home and hoping to cut loose. 

    After leaving academia, I ran a company based in Asia that held several conferences a year and saw males who in their professional life spouted diversity, feminism and human rights (i.e., all the right views) would casually and without thinking anything of it sexually harass my (Asian) female staff (many men who wouldn’t dare say something sexual to a non-Aisan woman are quite open in their harassment of Asian women). It was not uncommon, for instance, for males working in NGOs focussed on human rights issues to try and pressure my employees to visit them in their hotel rooms after hours. It was so stressful for some staff that I found an organisation to conduct training on how to deal with these unwanted advances (which often occurred in full public view and left many of my staff feeling vulnerable and unsure about how to respond). I felt sickened by some of the things my staff raised with me, and equally so by the response by some of these guys when confronted, including that that I was “a prude”, “overreacting” (it’s all just a bit of fun) or a traitor to my sex. But I saw what some of my female staff when through after these advances, and I felt nothing but revulsion for the men who do these sorts of things. We all need to stand up to them, and also support men who are not like that (there are many and women can usually tell in an instant who they are).

    Just to round off a small rant: my ex-wife was a neuroscientist. Even through the lens of my marriage breakup and divorce, I can say without fear of contradiction that Maestripieri would have described her as “hot”. She left science for a number of reasons, but one was that professors (by name only) constantly hit on her at academic conferences (seminars, workshops, staff room, etc) when she was a PhD candidate (and then later as a post-doc). It was remorseless. And when I say “hit up”, I don’t mean in a Cary Grant/Eva Marie Saint kind of way. I mean in a “you want to come to my room later even though we’re both wearing wedding rings” kind of way.

    Douchepieri’s views are the tip of the iceberg.

    1. What you describe sounds very much like techy trade shows. I have my theories about why these guys act like this. Most involve some sort of either clueless, perhaps disability-based deficiency of Perspective of Self and Others,  or a deliberate deficiency of Perspective of Self and Others.

      The clueless are embarrassing, annoying and often are fired (or worse) without understanding why. It is the ones who know exactly what they are doing, and callously continue doing it that scare me. The clueless really respond to education (and therapy if needed.) The callous ones with intellectual insight (sans empathy) into their behavior and MO respond very poorly, if at all to any sort of redirection — they give me the willies. 

      My much, much, younger sister is about to graduate from an engineering school that, among engineers, is as esteemed as MIT (I’m biassed maybe) and the sort of sexist shit I’ve seen personally and the examples in this thread really hit home, at least vicariously. She matriculated to the school right after high-school and has already experienced and seen first hand a lot of this shit.

      1. I think there also is a certain degree of “putting them in their place” in action with that kind of harassment. It’s a good way to tell someone that their only purpose is as a fuckable object and that nothing else they do will ever be of any consequence.

  35. In the 80s and 90s I experienced heavily male-dominated academia first hand.

    My simple observation: it really doesn’t take a whole lot of sexist jerks, or relatively good men who indulge in a little casual sexism (and of course there are many more of these than there are outright sexist jerks), to maintain an environment where women are made to feel unwelcome and systematically forced to work harder for the same achievements as their male colleagues.

    Even as a straight white male, I was glad to see more and more women speaking up and breaking down barriers even though it meant the world was not going to be quite as easy for me as it would have been had I been born just a few years earlier.   

      1.  There’s ogling and there’s ogling. Ogle if you must but keep your thoughts to yourself or at least don’t tweet them.

  36. Of couse, another explanation is that if they had what it took to be supermodels, they would have done that instead. It’s probably easier than neuroscience.

  37. Presumably, if you could copy someone’s current brainstate, by storing that for two people, and then (somehow… magically?) swapping them so that their brainstate matched your current one and vice versa, then the experience would be of “you” being the other person and vice versa.

  38. Gonna play devil’s advocate here, partially because for me there is a cognitive dissonance on this argument: he did not make any implication regarding the quality of anyone’s work nor the content of anyone’s character. His judgments were purely superficial and made in a personal context. Does that make them right? Not really, they can still be insulting. Does that make them sexist? I don’t think so. It’s an easy line to cross, but if we are calling him out, we should call him out on the right thing.

    The other thing to keep in mind is often times when accusations of sexism are made, we forget that we are fighting the sum of our evolution to this point. That doesn’t excuse the infraction, but I think it’s silly to try and deny that this old model exists because it allowed our species to successfully and efficiently perpetuate itself. We now are choosing to hold ourselves to higher, more fair standards, but we can’t forget that this is ingrained in us biologically and culturally for a reason.

    Should we fight sexism? Yes. Women should have the same opportunities and encouragement to pursue the life and career of their choosing. Should he have to turn off his sexuality because he is at a conference? Asking him to do so seems to me to be the inverse problem. Thought experiment: If this were a gay woman who made this comment, would we be just as outraged? If this were a straight woman making the same comment about men, would we be similarly upset?

    1. …we forget that we are fighting the sum of our evolution to this point.

      We’re also fighting it when I don’t murder you for getting on my nerves.  That’s a pathetic excuse, particularly for a university professor.

      Should he have to turn off his sexuality because he is at a conference?

      Should I have to turn off making cracks about your ass when we work in the same office with you?  Yes. When you’re in a work setting, you need to shut the fuck up about what your dick wants.

      If this were a gay woman who made this comment, would we be just as outraged? If this were a straight woman making the same comment about men, would we be similarly upset?

      If you were in an office full of gay men, how would you like to hear about what dogs the straight guys (you) are?

  39. The outrage over this is stupid. Single people of both sexes will complain about the lack of attractive people in their everyday lives all the time. I agree sexual harassment is bad but this isn’t even close to than. People want to be surrounded by smart people but they also want to be surrounded by attractive people. How is one good and the other one bad? His argument may be stupid but the outrage is just political correctness and people being oversensitive about it. 
    I am very saddened that lately we’ve been conditioning people to be outraged about stuff that never meant to be offensive and that doesn’t suggest a person expressing it lacks respect for you. When my female friends talk about the lack of ripped males (or even hung males) in their vicinity I don’t take offence, nor do I post about it on the internet. Should I? 

    Honestly, I think some people have just too much time on their hands and it’s fashionable to be outraged on the internet. 

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