Earlier this year, Megan’s alumni magazine came with a cover story profile of danah boyd, a researcher whose work has influenced my thinking about social technologies and culture (especially youth culture). In the story, amidst her successes, are the painful references to a culture in the Computer Science department that was actively hostile toward her as a woman.
It is hard to be a successful woman. Actually, strike that. It is hard to be allowed to exist as a successful woman. I would fear the kind of success boyd has had, because there is a special kind of bullying reserved for women who gain a high profile.
Sadly, one letter to the editor in the magazine this month manifested the exact kind of bullying, ad hominem attack behavior that I would have feared if my face was on the cover.
You can read David Tell’s misogynistic, insulting letter here (it’s the last one), but I thought I would highlight the examples of how women are punished for making bold statements, becoming experts, and deigning to be photographed and profiled for their work.
How does one begin to be a complete ass when critiquing another person? Well, you could start by using a person as a punching bag.
Your profile of danah boyd supports my belief that success and fame are at least as much due to luck as to merit.
First, I would like to note that anyone with an Internet connection could get a rundown of boyd’s research experience, publications, and work experience in about 60 seconds. But, sure, a puff piece on an alum (and, really, I’ve worked in that world, and they’re just meant to be nice pieces — look what a neat person our alum turned out to be!) would totally be a definitive 1,000+ words from which to gauge a career.
But let’s move on to his third sentence.
It doesn’t help that boyd’s cover photo reminds me unsettlingly of Laura Dern in the HBO show Enlightened.
Ohhh, yes. She’s got the wrong “look.” In fact, according to him, she looks like an actress whose character is “a self-destructive executive, who, after the implosion of her professional life and a subsequent philosophical awakening in rehabilitation, tries to get her life back together.” She doesn’t just look like Laura Dern, she looks like Laura Dern in this context.
When going after successful women, it’s important to find an aspect of their appearance that you don’t like. God forbid you focus on relevant differences of opinion or *gasp* actual content knowledge. For women, appearance is always relevant and always an available trait with which to gauge professional or intellectual worth.
After asking “Does boyd even have kids, or are her ninety-minute interviews with teenagers the sole basis of her expertise?” Tell goes on to be even more insulting, demeaning, and — let’s say it together — bullying in his final paragraph.
I’m curious to see whether—and how—she brings the actual discipline of ethnography to the study of teenagers, or whether her research and conclusions aren’t actually a bunch of arbitrary probing and subjective opinionating. Perhaps she’s just a teenager wannabe, inexorably outgrowing that developmental stage in spite of all due effort not to.
This kills me. You know how to fill this curiosity? Oh, I dunno, maybe go to her website where she lists her massive number of publications for you to peruse at your leisure. You know how you gauge an ethnographer? You read them. You read their methods sections. It’s this crazy thing that exists in qualitative work in social sciences — you are provided with enough information to make decisions about whether you feel the methods make the work trustworthy.
No. His goal was not to understand her work, it was to excoriate her. It was to put her in her place. Why he felt compelled to do this with no effort to learn more about her work and why he felt that cruelty and insult were the best ways to go about it, I can’t say.
What I can say is that I can’t remember the last time a male academic or researcher had his identity critiqued by someone focusing on how he dressed or who he looked like.
I don’t need to say anything about this guy, but you can see his super awesome website here and draw your own conclusions.