Reason #140 Why Sexist Bullshit in Academia is Not Okay

A couple of days ago I got an email from a postdoc at another Major Research University lamenting the poor behavior of the faculty in her department and wondering how to “reform academia” and fix our broken system. I wanted to reassure her that the system isn’t broken everywhere and that some of us really are interested in mentoring students and creating positive but rigorous professional environments. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t think that academia was broken, per se. Like any industry or government organization, there are parts where politics and other fuckedupedness prevail, but I have experienced some very supportive environments in my training. Not that everything has been perfect, but they’ve been good and have allowed me to be reasonably successful.

I get myself feeling all warm and fuzzy and hopeful again…just in time to be reminded of how many dudes are taking regular dumps in the sandbox. Damn it.

cereal eatingPier Giorgio Righetti is Professor of Chemistry at Politecnico Di Milano. For the last several years he’s been publishing frivolous papers in the Journal of Proteomics examining the proteomes of assorted random fluids. I’ll admit I thought we moved on from fishing for proteomes in random stuff in 2008, but apparently this guy is still really into it. Each of his papers is accompanied by a graphical abstract. Some of them are pretty innocuous. Consider this one from a paper investigating the proteome of champagne:

Graphical Abstract 1I suspect they are an attempt by the authors at being cheeky. But, of course, there is a not-so-fine line between cheeky and innocuous and damned offensive and this dude hopscotches back and forth over it like whoa…

Graphical Abstract 2From here.

Graphical Abstract 3From here.

Graphical Abstract 4From here.

One of the tweeps called bullshit upon him and this was his response…

righetti response

…amounting essentially to “Why can’t you ladies take a joke?” Center square on the bingo card, my friends. Center square.

Why is this a problem? Because Professor Righetti is continuing to publish his hilarious graphical abstracts (see this month’s issue)  and I suspect it is but a matter of time before we get more titties. He is also on the editorial board of several journals (Electrophoresis, J. Chromatography, J. Capillary Electrophoresis, BioTechniques, Proteomics, Journal of Proteomics, and Proteomics Clinical Applications, according to his faculty page), including the journal with his hilarious graphical abstracts. He’s essentially using his leadership to be a huge creeper.  Worse, the leadership of the journal is letting it happen. It is impossible to consider submitting a paper to that journal without thinking that the associate editor (and perhaps his affiliates) see me as nothing more than a holder of coconuts. Nothing more than an object.

Once upon a time, when I was but a wee trainee scientist, a more senior man in my field called me “sexy” during a professional interaction. He told me how great it is that I am young and smart and beautiful. It shocked me. “Sexy” really is the equivalent of “I have considered putting my penis inside of you” and I have never, ever been able to shake the knowledge of that. Even though it’s been years, I think of it every time I am in a meeting with him. I’ve never sat at a table with him since and not thought “I wonder if he’s thinking about me.”  Am I going to be spank material after we part ways? It disgusts me, although I have at least been able to stifle the disgust enough to participate in these meetings. I won’t ever, ever forget it though.

The editors of this journal have essentially done the same thing, allowing Professor Righetti to remind us ladies that we are a place to rest his old man member. I hate that I have to council women trainees about the men at meetings that are known more for playing grab ass than doing good science. I hate that I now have to point to the list of journals that are not only biased toward women, but openly treat them like sexual objects.

I would sincerely hope that the journal’s editor Juan Calvete would consider the message that these articles are sending to his hermanas in ciencia (incuyendo la Dra Isis) and retract the images.  Leave the science if it, indeed, be good science. But, there is no need for the sexualized images in any publication.

It’s not cheeky or funny. It’s an offensive reminder of just how little women are valued by many of their male counterparts.

man-boobs(For my next paper submission, from here)

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16 responses to “Reason #140 Why Sexist Bullshit in Academia is Not Okay

  1. This is why I love you and your blog. Now, I have some emails to write…

  2. http://t.co/Oa9XxqBGu3

    “Dear Colleague,

    Thanks for kindly letting me know that a graphical abstract published in Journal of Proteomics is getting unwelcome publicity. Although I, personally, do not think that the alluded images are sexist (as well as I would not consider it sexist if a man were represented), at least this was neither the intention of the authors nor of the editor, I cn agree that this knid of images may be inappropriate for illustrating a scientific paper, and consequently have asked our journal manager to remove them. If anyone has been offended, officially apologize for that, and I hope to give settle the case as soon as possible to devote to the lab, which is what should take me up most of the day.
    Best
    Juan

    Prof. Juan J. Calvete”
    [sic]

    RIGHT.
    Via @Drew_Lab

  3. Pingback: This doesn’t belong in science. At all. | DrugMonkey

  4. Man, this crap makes me angry. It’s been good seeing the backlash, though.

  5. Potnia Theron

    papers with images gone.

  6. Pingback: Your daily dose of sexism (again) and #ProteomicsSexism « The Lab and Field

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  8. Back when I was at the med school, a number of visiting docs giving presentations felt the need to toss in some titillating images “to keep the residents awake.” I was glad to see the practice dying out as we entered the 1990s, but I see there are probably a few dinosaurs holding on to the good-ol’-boy attitude. I’d have thought them extinct by now.

  9. Sadly his papers about nuts and bananas (no, seriously) lack the signature flair in the graphical abstracts.

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  14. Pingback: Le proteine illustrate dal prof. Righetti « Oggi Scienza

  15. when I was a grad student, there was a brand of biosafety hoods that would advertise on the back of science and nature. A woman in a bikini –and the words “fresh air”. When I said that I felt that to advertise in that way in a scientific journal was inappropriate–the old males all thought it was a “typical female response to nothing.” I was glad to see those ads disappear, but unfortunately, some men still just don’t get it.

  16. This is so funny! :D

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