I read your blog about me. I am responding to your blog, not as a scientist, but as a woman. I am often profiled and harassed talking about science and/or feminism. This is the first time that a woman has attacked me — with such personal vitriol about my writing, my sexuality, and my body in public. I hope to use this opportunity, as a feminist leader, to extend respect and decency to you and your experiences.
After you wrote your blog — I reached out to almost twenty women scientists, to receive counsel and work towards understanding. One of the key pieces of advice that many of these women gave me was to set the science aside. We disagree. So be it. So, I am not here to debate the science. We have deeper work to do to find common ground.
First — as a branch of decency — I want to apologize for a tweet that I sent out on March 29th 2017, when you gave testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology. I tweeted out “Folks, Judith Curry is absolutely a climate denier. Climate contrarian. And irresponsible.” I am sorry — this must not have been fun to receive, and I see now how my communication furthered the wounding and divides in our culture. I still, emphatically, do not agree with your communication of science, and I do think it feeds real dangerous misinformation in our culture. You choice to misinform the public frankly scares me. But, I did not have to write a tweet that was so personal and aggressive. I will strive in the future to refrain from discourse that furthers this toxic, combative culture. I apologize.
When I read your blog, I was angered. Then I was hurt. Then I was exhausted. What I came away from reading your blog was the weight of sexism and misogyny that has damaged your career. And, how personal and sexual the cost is for feminine women — we cannot even fully present our gender in the world without being deemed inherently unworthy of intellectual pursuit.
In your blog you cite my prior writing — from a post in The Stranger, where I describe the waves of anger and visceral pain that I have encountered in this current cultural moment: I rage silently in my lipstick and heels, dressing as powerfully and sexually I can – as if to say, “try it on me motherfuckers”. I did write those words and they describe my process of how I arm myself to walk through the world. I do put on lipstick and heels to feel sexual, to feel embodied, to feel powerful, to feel feminine — to feel closer to myself and truer to my gender and identity in public. It is who I want to be in the world — and the more I strive towards my authentic self in the world, the stronger and healthier I am.
You responded to my writing with these words: “Is this category of female scientists particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment? Probably not. However, owing to their strident and often irrational behavior, they are very vulnerable to not being taken seriously by males in the scientific community and viewed as undesirable for faculty or other leadership positions.”
What I want to tell you is this: presenting as feminine in the world does not render you irrational. It renders you inherently vulnerable — because of the violence, derision, and commodification done to feminine presenting people. I have only been able to embody this aspect of my gender as I have grown older and more powerful.
You are right. I am less vulnerable now to sexual harassment. I have a Ph.D. and a huge platform. I am deeply networked with strong allies. I have a modicum of celebrity. I am exactly the kind of woman that can change the culture. I am not a victim. Indeed, the most awful of the assaults I have weathered have come not when I am wearing heels and makeup, but in dirty sandals and cargo shorts in the field.
My advocation comes from my concern for a generation of feminine scientists who face unwanted sexualization, violence, harassement, and dismissal. But, to be honest, I still run my mind over the kernels of memory that I have — the trauma of my younger years follows me and hurts. This, I understand, is fairly ubiquitous for those of us with a past of sexual violence. It just continues to hurt, but it doesn’t render us illogical or unfit for public leadership.
Your choice to interject over a conversation about misogyny and the #metoo movement and call me a hypocrite was a phenomenal public hijack with the intent to do real harm. Your dog whistle on twitter summoned hundreds of accounts to troll and harass me. Fundamentally, my conversation with Jacqueline Gill was deeply in line with many of the tenets that you even wrote about in your blog about me — and I even wonder if you listened to the podcast, or did you use the opportunity to poach for attention?
Frankly, it does not matter, and I stray down the road of anger easily regarding this. Here is what I want to tell you — disagreeing with you in a public way, and articulating that I consider your views to be contrarian, does not render me a hypocrite. Women can disagree with each other in public — even vehemently — and still be feminists. Our tent is big and strong enough for the both of us.
Here is my open door to you: Welcome to feminism. It’s messy here — and we all make mistakes as feminists. But feminism is fundamentally a robust, effective framework for looking at power, speech, and inclusion in society. And, it’s very helpful for understanding how we individually garner attention and power using sexuality, gender, and identity in the world. I truly believe that the intellectual work and leadership of women can change the world. In service to this goal, I hope we can build alliances and find common ground.
With decency and integrity,
Sarah E. Myhre, Ph.D.