U. Chicago Researcher Makes Sexist Comments: The Science World Explodes

Dario Maestripieri is a Professor at University of Chicago who studies “neuroendocrine, ecological and evolutionary aspects of social behavior in human and nonhuman primates” and was apparently well respected in his field until recently.

Returning from a scientific meeting for neuroscientists, Maestripieri had the following to say on his personal Facebook page:

“My impression of the Conference of the Society for Neuroscience in New Orleans. There are thousands of people at the conference and an unusually high concentration 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? No offense to anyone..”

Granted, it’s a boneheaded thing to say and normally, had it been restricted to the hotel bar, would have gone completely unnoticed. However, a reader took a screenshot, sent it to friends who sent it to other friends and the fires began.

Females scientists of all stripes have taken to the blogs in protest.

Now, there is no doubt that sexism exists in science, though, I would venture, the situation is quickly improving as the number of female scientists quickly increases. My department, for example, is mostly women and this is quickly becoming the case in departments everywhere. In fact, as of 2009, more women are earning PhD’s than men. I can’t speak for the lab sciences, but public health, statistics and math are quickly becoming majority female. I think this is a good thing.

Of course, numbers can be deceiving particularly when the power structure is still held by men. We can more very capable female researchers, but if none of them get positions of power, it’s for nothing.

All that said, the very hostile reaction to Maetripieri is quite interesting. What, on the surface, is merely the thick headed musings of a lone guy, has brought out deeper issues of how women feel they are treated in science, speculation as to what men think of female scientists and the future role of women in the world of research.

Honestly, I don’t find Maestripieri’s comments to be offensive at all but I’ve lived in the world outside academia, where people say things that are far, far worse. This is pretty tame. However, in the context of science, where crass sexism is very real, and the costs of marginalization huge, even small comments like these create huge waves.

What happens to Maestripieri is unknown. People are hurling racial slurs at him (like that’s constructive), calling for his funding to be cut and, worse yet, calling for him to resign his post. Likely this whole thing will blow over, but this is the kind of thing that kills careers in science.

What do you think?

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

6 responses to “U. Chicago Researcher Makes Sexist Comments: The Science World Explodes”

  1. Matthew Saint-Germain says :

    One is reminded of Larry Summers and the STEM comments…

  2. teacherpatti says :

    He’s an idiot. And he’s ugly. I wouldn’t fuck him with someone else’s pussy. But, I’m not going to announce that at a conference. Why don’t you announce it at a conference? Because it points to your deeper issues with women. This statement tells me that this guy wants us to exist to look pretty to please him. Oh I know, I know…men are so *visual* and they like to *look at women*. Well guess what? Women are visual too and we like to look at nice looking men. But can you ever imagine a female scientist bemoaning that there aren’t any hot men in science? Of course not, mainly because we are not socialized to expect men to look hot for our own enjoyment. We can laugh off this statement and say it’s mild (I guess he could have called us cunts or said we should get back in the kitchen and give blow jobs on demand) but it still points at the larger issue of how many men are raised to believe that women need to come in pretty packages in order to be heard.

  3. Alicia says :

    I think it’s too bad that a Facebook comment, along the lines of a more academic blonde joke, got taken too seriously.

    Social media is a tough place to navigate. On the one hand, it’s a place for you to speak your mind, whether (you think) you’re being ridiculous and funny, or going on political rants, but, on the other hand, once you offend someone, it’s off with your head. And, of course, this is especially true when you’re among the more famous of social media users….. Should we really have to filter our opinions and jokes and political leanings from our Facebooks and blogs so as not to offend anyone? If people don’t like his perhaps tasteless humor, they can always de-friend him. Or maybe find a witty way to remind him that most academic men are old, chubby, wrinkly men without any sense of style, as well. Except for Kenneth Rothman.

  4. stumpwater says :

    Regardless of whether his remarks were sexist — and I tend to think they were not, since, as a couple of commenters have pointed out, that knife cuts both ways (maybe the remarks could be called phenotypist or some other more gender-neutral word, since presumably, if he were gay, he might have said the same thing about the men at the conference) — anyone who does not have better sense than to call a large number of his colleagues ugly on the Internet probably deserves to be taken down a few notches. Seriously. There should be some kind of Darwin Award-like designation for people who crash and burn due to stupid things they post on FB.

    I’m very aware that sexism is still a huge problem in the workplace, and that in spite of greater numbers of women in science, men still run the show and, consciously or not, give preferential treatment to men (I definitely see this in the Earth sciences). That is sexist, and should be taken very seriously. But this guy’s regrettable facebook post is a different matter altogether. He seems very shallow and unpleasant to be around, and now, thanks to his own handiwork, the world has been informed of it.

  5. Pete Larson says :

    It has to be pointed out that one of this guy’s research interests is the effect of appearance on social success/failure. On the surface, it’s a stupid comment. We could assume that this is the kind of thing he thinks about often.

    Maybe the guy’s an ass, I don’t know having never met him. I do know that he didn’t think his post through very well. Whether this crime is deserving of the intense punishment he seems to be receiving, is something else entirely.

    To me, though, it’s pretty sad that our professional lives could be endangered by saying things that people in the “real world” say nearly every day.

    I’ve only seen one person come to his defense in any substantive way. I would assume that many people are afraid to.

  6. mikey2ct says :

    Regardless of whether we are talking academia or business or whatever, society has to come tu grips with this issue. However, not until men are faced with an overwhelming majority of women in every area of endeavor will things truly change.
    I believe there is a genetic aspect that is built into men . On one hand, there is the dumb blond attitude toward a given beauty while a gifted scholar with a less perfect body is not respected either.

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