I know this is usually exclusively a fieldwork, linguistics and language blog, but occasionally I feel the need to vent a little about racism and sexism too. This one’s about sexism in academia.
US readers may not have seen a story in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald. Original story is here, and the Prime Miniature’s* reaction is here. The story in a nutshell is that a stripper was hired as entertainment at the official dinner of a government-sponsored workshop on climate change (the Australia New Zealand Climate Change Forum). Who knows what the relevant person was thinking. Maybe that it would be a men-only gathering? Or the women there wouldn’t mind watching a female stripper? or maybe they were a few stamps short of a toaster and didn’t think at all. Anyway, many at the conference found the entertainment in poor taste, and there was a walkout which involved many scientists of what Sir Humphrey Appleby once called “the contradictory gender”. The Prime Minister feels that this is an overreaction.

Typical. A highly sexist performance (no male strippers involved…), a performance that is designed to objectify women and reinforce their perceived status as sex objects, the women present object to being excluded, demeaned, and having to watch some of their colleagues drool and froth at the mouth, but actually calling attention to how inappropriate it is simply provokes the reaction that women over-react and are unstable. But honestly, what were they supposed to do? Sit quietly out of the way? Not be there in the first place?

This reminds me, incidentally, of something I meant to post back in May and never did. It was about the workshop I went to on computational phylogeny in Banff at BIRS. Female participation at the workshops running at the same time as ours was about 10% (the computational linguistics workshop was at 2/7, but we would have been 3/8 if everyone had been able to come). Every morning at breakfast (until the last one, when I got sick of it and took my food back to my room) one or other of the (male) fluid dynamics specialists** gave me their dirty breakfast dishes to wash up for them! And when I protested, they couldn’t see what the problem was. Never mind that it had never occurred to them to ask a male colleague to clean up after them. And Larry Summers thinks that women don’t get tenure because of intelligence distributions?

Ok, back to linguistics now.
*Say “minister” and “miniature” in Aboriginal English and you’ll find they’re homophonous.

**[male [[fluid dynamics] specialist]], not [[[male fluid] dynamics] specialist], although perhaps the alternative bracketing is also appropriate, given the story.


3 responses to “Typical…

  1. Aren’t they’re only homophonous for people who can’t pronounce ‘s’… which is a very small minority of Aboriginal English speakers?

  2. Thank you for posting on this. I was incensed when I heard the story on ABC Radio National news. Anthony Albanese has been taking up the Opposition’s criticism of this event. I haven’t been able to find in print/online the soundbites which are being played on ABC RN news. In effect, he’s been saying that because women were present (and good on science for including women) it’s not ok to present strippers as entertainment at professional/industry events.

    No Albanese, it’s wrong to present strippers at professional events, regardless of whether women are present/dominant/in the minority or not. Not only is it offensive to women whether or not they are present, it’s also offensive to men that in a professional context they should be belittled by titilation as entertainment.

  3. Can’t pronounce or don’t pronounce in casual speech? Most of the speakers I’ve worked with pronounced s sometimees, but seldom except when there was another standard English speaker, and then sometimes the One Arm Point ladies would hypercorrect (and say things like churs for church).

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