Recap- Toxic Masculinity

We have to know one another and ourselves, even our shadows. Source. Photo by Nick Page. CC-BY 2.0.

We discussed toxic masculinity in our last discussion.

On the Infactorium blog this past week, Dr24hrs wrote a post called ‘Responsibilities of a third millenium man’. He addresses a lot of how the masculinity is changing and broadening. It’s also about broadening the definition of what is considered valuable. Right now, what are thought of as traditionally masculine values/characteristics remain valued and legitimized a lot more than others. It’s not quite a success if women can succeed, but only if they ‘act like men’.

In addition, there is also a documentary that explores masculinity:

It was pointed out at the end of our discussion that the term ‘toxic masculinity‘ might not be the best to convince men to change.

I’m somewhat sympathetic to that point– it’s important to avoid labeling people and assuming that is the end of the story. However, there is a real problem with how many men behave around and treat women. This is a world where when women win book prizes, sexist ideas about why come up in prominent publications. Donald Trump demeans women regularly (and yes, he may be an extreme case for the long-term and public nature it). It’s a world of Brock Turner and many other men getting off easily with criminal behavior. These are things that are toxic to wide parts of society, and largely result from the behavior of men that is toxic. It needs to be called out as such.

It’s also the case that toxic masculinity discourages inclusiveness:

The tropes do exist. I couldn’t help but think the (new-to-me term) misogynoir stereotype of the ‘strong black woman’ bears some similarities to what is stereotypical masculinity as well – though experienced very differently, obviously.

Emily’s thread at the end sums things up well and echoes The Infactorium post I linked above well (click through for the whole thing):

The fact is it’s still hard to discuss masculinity, especially among men. Broadening what is valued by men to be more inclusive is important too, and is also a challenging discussion to have. Yet it is worth studying, having the discussion, and even having a scholarly discipline dedicated to it. Almost everything else has an area of scholarship, it strikes me as a privileged position for masculinity not to be studied too. That doesn’t mean other areas that already exist like medicine and science need to double down to study men more since they have been the default study subjects forever and do need to focus more on other un-represented groups.

The toxicity of masculinity might come from outward behaviors, but it is also just toxic because the discussions can’t be had. They’re toxic. As the social work researcher Brene Brown has said, we’re a culture afraid of vulnerability and shame and that is in no small part because men have an outsize influence in our culture and see being vulnerable as weakness even though it isn’t.

Thanks to all who participated in #DiversityJC last month. And look forward to our next topic later this month.

Ian Street (@IHStreet)

Toxic Masculinity.

Masculinity can be more than one shade of gray. Credit: Josh Hallet, Flickr, CC2.0

This month in Diversity Journal Club (#DiversityJC on Friday, 16 September, 2pm ET), we’ll be discussion this New York Times Column about teaching men to be emotionally honest.

And take it from me (Ian). It is hard to be emotionally open with other men– with everyone, really. Even those we know well.

One example of toxic masculinity is that article about the “advice” on a website about approaching women wearing headphones (the actual answer: don’t).

Andrew Reiner poses this question and assignment to his class on masculinity:

But wouldn’t encouraging men to embrace the full range of their humanity benefit women? Why do we continue to limit the emotional lives of males when it serves no one? This question is the rhetorical blueprint I pose to students before they begin what I call the “Real Man” experiment.

In this assignment, students engage strangers to explore, firsthand, the socialized norms of masculinity and to determine whether these norms encourage a healthy, sustainable identity.

The models men have in the United States are stoic, strong, favor action over contemplation, and most importantly, show no vulnerability. They may or may not also be angry, a facade of strength.

The radio show Backstory aired an episode about The American Work Ethic over labor day weekend. This episode brings up something key to (US) masculinity: Hard work. Providing. And an idea that seems increasingly less true: that hard work will pay off and be rewarded. The recession in 2008 and the slow recovery, and economic insecurity that still exists for many has left men with few outlets to express their vulnerability– and anger and abuse can come out instead.

Brene Brown, a researcher on shame and vulnerability talks about how our culture- even women- often have a hard time hearing men being vulnerable and expressing emotion to their partners or loved ones. As she says, if a woman can sit with a man in true vulnerability, she’ll be showing you a woman that has done some real work (& yes, she has a reverse as well, where men really have to work at just listening to women and not trying to instantly fix everything).

Andrew Reiner notes that men commit suicide at 4 times the rate women do, are not as academically accomplished as women now, and as teenagers socially more unable to connect with others. That can also persist into adulthood.

Too many men are still walled off, isolated, and learn a form of masculinity where the only emotion acceptable is anger.

The Note to Self podcast had an episode with Lead parent, and Dad, Andrew Moravcsik, husband of Anna Marie Slaughter (who wrote the ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have it All’), about how we think about parenting, and integrating our work and home lives, having men being caretakers, a role still not traditional in the US. He points out how being lead ‘dad’, and how it has to be legitimized. He points out how some of the language and treatment of men as caretakers is akin to bias against women in the workplace (basically that there’s a perception that men can’t handle the school schedules, PTA meetings, etc- though they just haven’t been given opportunity to do so).

Similarly, men’s feelings, besides outrage, need to be able to come into the light and be legitimate (especially to other men).

If you want an example of what opening up, vulnerability, men talking about very real things with each other might look like, listen to this short Story Corps story: Guardians of The Gate where two Golden Gate Bridge workers talk about their job & pivot to talking about a really hard aspect of their job, encountering people intending to jump– it goes to my core and makes me cry every time I listen to it. These two have been colleagues and friends for 25 years.

So that’s what we’ll talk about this month in #DiversityJC on September 16 at 2pm ET.

How can we detoxify this form of masculinity Reiner writes about?

Who are men we might hold up as role models for men to emulate?

How do we legitimize and allow men to express themselves more often & to whom?

And what do you wish men knew about how their emotional distance and isolation translates to biases and abuse of women (& anyone else for that matter).

See you on the 16th.

Ian Street (@IHStreet)

Doctor_PMS (@Doctor_PMS)

Emily S Klein (@DrEmilySKlein)

Don’t take out your headphones.

Credit: Takumi Yoshida, FlickrCC2.0

This week saw ‘The Modern Man’, a website apparently dedicated to giving (horrible) tips to men about meeting women out in the world.

The post that got a lot of attention on Twitter was one with tips to talk to a woman with earbuds or headphones firmly in place. You can read about one reaction from The Guardian here.

I don’t understand people- men in this case- that don’t take headphones as universal symbol of ‘don’t bother me’. Similar to people with nose-in-computer at the library of coffee shop. Presumably, most people aren’t like me and have times when they are more open to talking to strangers.

I get it. I’m a single guy. It’s not a ton of fun sometimes, but forcing conversation on someone that is sending a signal of ‘don’t interrupt’ with earbuds in does not endear you to that person.

If I get interrupted, it takes me a long time to refocus. And that is probably the least of it. Women get approached all the time, get catcalled, and otherwise get a lot of unwanted attention all the time. Just listen in on Twitter sometime, it gets talked about there a lot.

So what’s the alternative? Like many things in life, there aren’t shortcuts. Be someone worth getting to know. Pursue your interests. Meet people that share them. Things will grow from that. The more seeds you plant, the better.

Sleazily dehumanizing and treating women like objects is unacceptable.

Meeting people tends to happen spontaneously and organically. The Atlantic’s James Hamblin recently learned how to meet strangers in New York City, none of which involved interrupting people with earbuds. Hamblin’s a little forced, but then, he was doing a video on a deadline with a somewhat artificial set up. Meet-cutes, instant connections, etc. might happen, but the instant it’s forced, something has gone wrong (and clearly, Hamblin was not making any new best friends– and its’ impossible for me to tell whether he’s playing a character or is genuinely being himself).

If you’re not looking for long-term relationships/love to spring and just want to be part of a lots of short flings, there are communities dedicated to that. Look there, not everywhere. And not to people in earbuds or who are at work. If you want to know how ridiculous a workplace where everyone hooks up with everyone else is, there’s a podcast you should listen to.

Yes, the world is connection starved. It isn’t helped by a culture of masculinity that dictates that connecting is a bad thing. That showing vulnerability is not OK drives that disconnectedness. And so we get blog posts recommending men interrupt women that are obviously signaling they don’t want to be interrupted just then.

There are better times, places, and manners to connect. Learn those. Practice those. The world will be better for it.

In our topic post this month, DiversityJC will discuss models of masculinity and just how they don’t serve us well as the ‘headphones’ article illustrates. Look for that post next week.

Ian Street (@IHStreet).





#DiversityJC Global.

Doctor_PMS, Emily, and I have been talking about how the DiversityJC can better engage the scientific community. We believe our topics are important for all of us, and we need to hear from as much of the community as we can.

See, all three of us are on the East Coast of the United States and we have the live discussions when it works for us – on Eastern time, 2pm, the 3rd Friday of the month. But. While that may cover most of the US, Canada, Mexico, Central, and South America in day-time time zones… it excludes a lot of the world from participating.

That’s not fully engaging the scientific community. That’s only engaging part of the scientific community.

We’re also a bit language limited; to English. Again – that’s only part of the scientific community.

Image credit:  Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Given that we focus on diversity and inclusion, we aren’t very diverse. We’re pretty biased in the people we reach – and therefore the discussions we have. Especially on our topics here, we need to make sure more of us can participate. We’re pretty sure these issues are global, not just US-centered, but that requires global conversations.

To do something about this, we’d like to expand the DiversityJC to reach other people in different time zones and different parts of the world: we need volunteers to host a DiversityJC discussion on Twitter at a convenient local time and language for participants in your part of the world. This will broaden the discussion about diversity in STEM fields and build the community of people discussing diversity and inclusion topics.

Are you or someone you know interested in diversity and inclusion, and active on social media? Interested in moderating DiversityJC conversations in your community?

We want to make it easy to help. We’ll still write up the topic towards the beginning of each month and send out the newsletter to let everyone know what that topic is (and we’re always open to suggestions/ideas/guest posters, just get in touch with us). We also try to have suggested questions for each discussion in the introductory post.

Your job would be to tweet out our topics when it’s convenient and in the language you’ll use for conversation, and get the conversation started. After, we’d ask you to put together a Storify or description post of your discussion and send it onto us. We’ll post it here on the blog/include it in the newsletter.

If you’re willing to be one of our global facilitators get in touch on Twitter (@IHStreet, @DrEmilySKlein, @Doctor_PMS), email us (, or leave a note in the comments here. Be a part of expanding the discussions about making academia a better, more inclusive community for all.

Ian Street
Emily S Klein

Re-cap: Why do women leave STEM?

Why do women leave STEM? We asked this question for our Diversity JC discussion on April 22nd.

First, by framing the discussion using this question, we (mostly me– Ian), didn’t really think about the fact that many people who leave the traditional STEM path don’t necessarily go that far– often ending up in STEM-adjacent careers, and still considering themselves a part of STEM. Perhaps we should call it the expanded STEM universe (ESTEMU).

Yet the fact remains that there are real barriers for women in STEM – even the ESTEMU. It’s true in almost all professional careers to one degree or another; as we’ve pointed out before (for example the discussion here), this is a cultural problem broader than just STEM.

However, DiversityJC is squarely focused on STEM, and this discussion was on how, perhaps in particular to STEM fields, more women than average leave the traditional academic path of Ph.D. to postdoc to the Tenure Track (compared to other career paths). Though as Melanie pointed out, a key point is that this trend isn’t unique to just the tenure track, and as Needhi elaborated, it was also along more than just gender lines:

The point is, the culture in STEM fields remains narrow, almost always defining success by tenure, grants, and publications (and little else despite all the other things academics do), and the stereotypical scientist is still white and male (until people actually meet some scientists and realize we’re actually not any one thing, other than perhaps universally curious! Check #thisiswhatascientistlookslike). Fitting in to this culture can be very challenging when you don’t reflect conventional expectations or value something outside conventional goals. This especially impacts women – and minorities. There is evidence for hope, particularly in the life sciences where women are half of Ph.D.s and almost half of postdocs now. However, these trends have yet to translate into professorships or other leadership positions, and women are less likely to be tenured and more likely to be in adjunct level positions where they are paid less, and therefore incur more debt, than men – trends that are not changing (these are all, of course, in addition to the cultural problems present at the Ph.D. and postdoc levels, and beyond).

Despite its central place in the traditional definition of success we argue here, the tenure track is becoming less and less likely for the majority of scholars regardless of gender. This is certainly a contributing factor for some women leaving STEM. In addition to fewer positions, smaller pools of money also mean that even for those part of a major discovery early in their careers – CRISPR, say– where success may be more likely, it is still far from assured. Even if you’re a scientist who also contributes to op-eds to the New York Times and writes a book about your time in science, funding is still hard to come by:

Increasingly, successful scientists are also successful at getting money. Yet being “able to compete” often still means those central goals of tenure and publishing – areas where women also experience bias (like this crazy example). The poor economics of academia on top of implicit biases (etc) are a hard combination to deal with throughout ones career.

In addition, like attaining tenure, acquiring money only rewards certain types of success – and negates others, like working for social justice, engaging in outreach, or caring for family members. This tied in with the majority of our conversation: the definition of success in science is too narrow to be inclusive of other life goals and commitments, and in consequence excludes people, including women, from STEM.

What can be done? We must address the disparity in pay and reasons why the greater numbers of women in college aren’t translating to higher paid positions, as well as sexism, harassment, and assault. Support networks are also important and some in our discussion reported having good networks that include more than just their immediate advisors. Even a Twitter network can be a supportive place. Developing, engaging in, and sustaining these networks, across gender lines, can be hugely helpful moving forward.

In addition, from a broad perspective, our discussion collectively revealed a deeper truth: the present values of STEM aren’t broad or inclusive enough, and this does drive women, and minorities, from the field. Our discussion made clear there is a need for an expanded definition of what we value in STEM as a field, and what it means to succeed there. We need to do better at understanding and valuing the intersection of science and humanity – whether that is via interdisciplinary research, outreach and education, or social justice work. We also need to note that it’s not work-life balance, but it rather that scientists have lives. As part of this, it is critical we acknowledge that the previous narrative of the workaholic scientist is outdated – not only because we have lives, but also because it likely meant that scientist had a wife at home to support him.

Finally, as we mentioned and connected to these points, when women do leave STEM graduate schools, postdocs, or professorships, it seems they often don’t go too far– at least not right away. Once a scientist, always a scientist. We need to recognize that leaving the traditional academic track does not actually mean leaving STEM. Especially with fewer tenured jobs and available grants, it’s time we realize there is more we can do with a PhD in the ESTEMU– and beyond.

Join us on May 20, 2pm ET for our discussion. and subscribe to the DiversityJC newsletter to keep up with all of the Diversity JC topics! 

Ian Street (@IHStreet)

Doctor_PMS (@Doctor_PMS)

Emily Klein (@DrEmilySKlein)



Why do women leave STEM?

Reminder that you can be kept up to date and get #DiversityJC content delivered to you by subscribing to our newsletter that comes out 1-2x each month.

The #DiversityJC discussion will happen on Friday, April 22, from 2-3pm ET.

Last month, we talked about being being an ally.

This month we’re going to discuss a topic that follows on that and discuss why women leave their chosen career paths – in STEM or otherwise, as this is observed and studied beyond science.

Spoiler alert: it may well not be the reason you think. Compensation is a big factor, as it is for men.

Related to unfair compensation is of course, culture. A new study found that our common ideas about science, women, and men may mean we “perceive women as incompatible” with science. The exception to this was when the survey takers were at a women’s college where the bias disappeared. Think Progress has a write up of the study.

More evidence? Sure. Paige Jarreau recently wrote about how even facts can’t convince people about gender bias, citing a 2015 study that explored comments on Discover Magazine and the New York Times articles on studies demonstrating gender bias. While a majority of comments in the study were positive, those that were negative were really negative, and these, especially from men, simply denied the facts presented or justified the system as was (i.e. women aren’t “built” for science…).

Also recent and related, research has found women are penalized for promoting diversity. For men, it’s of no benefit, but does no harm either. This is yet another example that could well contribute to women leaving STEM. Even if allies exist, they may not be sufficient in a system with a lot of in-built biases as this story about Dr. Nettie Stevens, a 19th-20th century Geneticist shows. Stevens had at least one supportive ally in Thomas Hunt Morgan– a rock star of genetics as we might say today, but nowhere else.

This month on #DiversityJC, we’ll look collectively to this recent research and discuss findings, and ask – why do women leave STEM careers?

If you were a woman in STEM but left the traditional academic career path, what is your story for why/how you left?

How do you feel about it now?

If you are/were a woman in STEM, do the above studies and stories resonate with your experiences?

If you are/were a man working in STEM – do you see evidence, as well? What have you witnessed – and what of the experiences of your friends, colleagues, and significant others?

If facts aren’t sufficient, what else might work to promote inclusion in STEM?

Join us for the discussion on April 22, 2-3pm ET!





B.o.B says the Earth is flat…

By now you may be aware that hip-hop artist/rapper (I honestly don’t know if those are one and the same thing) had a long series of tweets about how the Earth is flat, citing “flat Earther” sources.

Neil Tyson, as he often does, stepped in to tell B.o.B that he was wrong about this particular issue.

And let me back up Tyson on this point: B.o.B is wrong. The Earth is round. So are the other planets (perhaps easier to confirm with another planet. Have B.o.B track the Galilean moons as they disappear and re-appear periodically as they orbit Jupiter…indicative of spherical nature of the planet itself– and planets generally).

However, I’d like to ask why B.o.B might feel that way, what makes him so suspicious of science (at least this science)?

In his tweets and his “Flatline” track he released today, there is a strong bent of conspiratorial thinking as well as invoking the idea that scientific knowledge is just another authority hiding the truth of the world.

I don’t know B.o.B.’s biography or his thoughts, but can imagine he faced a lot of bias, rationally learned not to trust authority, and did not feel welcome in the world of academia, seeing it as just another part of a racist/flawed society. So even if he were in school, hearing about science may have made him tune out the knowledge because he saw it as a questionable source.

This post may be reading too much into B.o.B.’s flat Earth beliefs, but may be indicative of why STEM has a diversity problem. It may be seen by those that might have entered it as just another institution where they are not welcome (as well as the fact that there aren’t many URM astronomers out there, Dr. Tyson aside). Admittedly B.o.B. has taken it a step further to also stating that no real knowledge can come from such an institution. Though, perhaps he is demonstrating some curiosity about the world and has incomplete information.

It’s sad that STEM seems to have failed– this is partly why inclusiveness and diversity matter. And though I’m sure B.o.B. has plenty to write about in his songs, it also seems like he’s limiting himself too. Unable to see the deep and wide universe from his flat Earth. He also may be unaware of times when science really can and does challenge authority. He might be interested in those stories.

Ian Street (@IHStreet).