Gee, I *really* should be cleaning up my apartment, but it seems today everybody wants to get upset about Tommaso's post about a talk by Lisa Randall. The scandal being that it does not only mention her work, but also her looks:
"Lisa Randall is notoriously not only an esteemed and well-known theorist, but also a quite attractive woman - a powerful mix, capable of turning to jello the knees of most men. Today she wore a nice black and white dress which left her shoulders and arms exposed, a necklace of mother-of-pearl, and a wide-band silver bracelet with colored stones. Her hair was collected in a pony tail. She looked nice and fit - for some reason it made me think she probably works out on a regular basis"
Despite the actually very interesting topic of her talk that could have been discussed, this is almost immediately followed by comments from Sean Carroll ("you contribute to an atmosphere in which women are outsiders to be gawked at ...") and JoAnne Hewett ("Got sex on your mind while writing this post, do you?") , and Clifford's post Still So Far To Go, who is embarrassed on behalf of everybody who can not only think about women's clothes but actually writes about it
"It’s so completely awful to do this sort of thing [...] From his comments in response to people pointing out the inappropriateness of it, it turns out that he really does not get it at all. Not a bit. It is really sad. It is so embarrassing too [...] since it is damaging to the cause of women in the field."
Which, needless to say, asks for Lubos' reply who fills us in with his analysis of Prof. Randall:
"[L]et me start by saying that I know Lisa Randall much more than these two guys [...] She is attractive and she is an exceptional athlete. [...] Does she enjoy to be admired for diferent things than being the most cited particle physicist between 1999 and 2004? [D]oes Lisa or other special women in science like to ignite interest and emotions in general? I think that I know enough to figure out the answer and the answer is Yes. You won't learn any details from me but I just find the general answer important."
In fact, I am not really interested to learn the details about why Lubos thinks Lisa likes to 'ignite emotions'. But anyhow, so Tommaso, who is now officially the sexist among the MALE physics bloggers, clarifies his writing in a second post "Am I a sexist?"
"If I venture in a description of a person I meet - be it a woman, a man, whatever - it is because this is my diary, and I want to keep a record of my ideas, my feelings, my thoughts."
Which would make for a nice discussion on the issue of privacy in the public domain. But I currently don't have the time to get into this.
Instead let me add my two cents. First, I find it very interesting that the mentioning of Lisa's necklace causes much more attention that the rest of Tommaso's post, which is actually quite good and worth reading. Those of you who usually don't comment on good readings but only on things you are offended by might think about whether this is a good behaviour to express appreciation. Second, I don't know Lisa Randall personally, but I recalled that she wrote a recent article in Discover magazine that I want to quote some paragraphs from and let her speak for herself:
"As soon as I arrived in Venice it was clear things would be a little unusual. Although I think of myself as a physicist when I’m at a conference, that is not necessarily what others see at first. On the ferry into Venice, I met the man in charge of the science department at the Vatican. He assumed I was on vacation and not particularly interesting until I told him I was the first speaker, after which we had animated exchanges about science and belief and evidence. He wasn’t the only one who didn’t think I was a scientist at first. As the conference was about to begin, the technical person ignored me but was very helpful to the person sitting next to me in the front row, even though I was about to go on stage! In fact virtually no one seemed to realize I was a scientist, including the media there. More disappointing, it didn’t even occur to anyone to ask.
Happily, after my talk about cosmology the situation completely reversed. People now knew who I was; they felt they had learned something and were eager to discuss my talk. For the few days I was there I had a marvelous time. I’m not complaining—I’m observing and questioning. Do preconceived assumptions and superficial first impressions matter?
[...] In Genoa, people knew who I was. But the fact that I was seen as different was brought home to me by the headlines and the interviews that concentrated on my being a woman doing science—still rare everywhere but extremely rare at the upper levels of science in Italy. Italian Vanity Fair published an interview with me that shows a refreshing open-mindedness to science in popular culture. But it was pretty funny when the publicity people hesitantly translated the title of the article for me: “The Beauty Is a Geek” (actually they said “genius” to be nice, but really it said “geek”). As they had anticipated, I was a little startled and a tad disturbed. Though flattering on one level, these comments are unsettling on another. I just don’t think of myself this way. Then I realized it’s precisely the point that is critical to get across. Why do we create totally separate categories—the beautiful woman and the geek man? It’s hard to believe that the expectation that these are incompatible qualities doesn’t make science less attractive for women (and many men).
The headlines were particularly jarring to me because I, like many other women doing science, try not to focus on being female. You just want to be a scientist like the others. But if this involves suppressing your personality, as these categories suggest, you might find that many women (not to mention some men) will be put off."