We Need to Start Believing Each Other

Straight up.

I woke up this morning and this was on my mind. Flipped through more of the commentary on the latest feminism-in-STEM debate – Dr. Matt Taylor’s decision to wear a colourful shirt covered in scantily-clad women during the video livestream of the ESA’s Rosetta mission.

I had to expend pretty much zero effort to find examples.

And in answer to one commenter’s opinion that Kim Kardashian is doing more to harm women’s causes than one scientist wearing an inappropriate shirt: the Kim Kardashians of this world exist, in part, due to insidious, ever-present, and super-subtle discrimination that make women like her believe that using their sexuality is a good way to get ahead. (And are they wrong?) It’s death by a thousand cuts.

Here’s the thing. I’ve read a lot of comments from people who say “this isn’t really news” and “here go the feminists again” and “why is this even being mentioned in the context of of such a great scientific accomplishment?” And you know what, I get it. I get that the worldview of these particular commenters is not such that they are aware of why this is problematic. Subtle discrimination doesn’t affect them. It’s invisible, unless you’re part of the minority of women who work in STEM, and then every single time something like this comes up, you say “Yes. THIS. THIS speaks to my experience. This is real.”

And we’ve got to start believing each other. I am so tired of explaining to people who don’t get it, and don’t want to get it, why this is a problem. Please just believe us when we tell you it is. So fine, the immediate effect on a young woman, say, who sees offensive imagery in her workplace, is not necessarily huge or measurable. It’s not affecting her health, or her life, directly in ways you can see. But it’s just another instance of people not believing each other’s experience matters, and that can have widespread and incredibly deleterious effects.

The reason that it matters what someone is wearing during a video stream of a major scientific event is by the nature of its magnitude. That many more eyes are on it. That many more people will see it as “no big deal”. As the norm. And it shouldn’t be, not in 2014.

And we’ve all seen how that can be horribly immediate on people’s lives in the past couple weeks. A major radio personality can, for years, abuse women, and even after so much has come out, people are still not believing it. They’re not believing the victims.

Who believed Rehtaeh Parsons?

Let’s believe each other. Most people, by and large, have no reason to lie about their experience. Why should they? So let’s believe the young boy who is being bullied about his sexual orientation. Let’s believe the people of colour who say they are passed over in the workplace. Let’s believe the women who keep telling us that there are still real issues today in the workforce holding them back.

Once we start listening, really listening and believing each, then make we can start to make some changes. And those of us who spend so much energy trying to educate the world can just get on with the work we want to do.