Did you see the story of the respected surgeon who got in trouble for writing an editorial about the alleged benefits of semen exposure to women? His writing started out all science-like, and referred to an actual study, but concluded with an attempt at humor that went off the tracks. He closed his editorial with “So there’s a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have suspected, and now we know there’s a better gift for that day than chocolates.”
Apparently the study he was discussing is in dispute. But that’s not the real issue. Women saw his closing witticism as demeaning. The surgeon, who has a strong record as a mentor and advocate of women in a male-dominated profession, was asked to step down as editor in chief of the surgeon’s newspaper. He apologized for his editorial, but that didn’t help.
I have one question for the men reading about this situation and another one for the women. For the men, please answer the following question in your mind before you finish the rest of the post:
Men: Would you have known in advance that the Valentine witticism would be seen as demeaning to women?
Think about your answer before I help you out. I had to think about it for 15 minutes before I figured out the problem. It’s a context thing. The author is a respected male surgeon, in a male-dominated field, who wrote about women as if their evolutionary purpose on earth is to be sperm receptacles.
My question to women: Did I get that right?
Why the hell did it take me 15 minutes to figure out why the Valentine joke is demeaning to women? I have a hypothesis. I think some people compartmentalize thoughts and other people mix all new and existing thoughts together. For example, if you view the semen study as an interesting, albeit possibly wrong bit of science, all on its own, it seems harmless enough. But if you mix it with the writer’s position in the industry, and his gender, the ratio of male to female surgeons, and perhaps all of the feelings and images of sexism in your entire career, you get a very different result. And because the editorial indirectly suggests that some lesbians would be happier if they had more contact with semen, that’s all the matches and gasoline this situation needed. In its full context, the comment looks ugly and sexist.
I propose a little test to see if you compartmentalize thoughts or smoosh them all together. I’ll give you two statements and see how your mind treats them.
Statements: The dog might eat your mom’s cake if you leave it out. A dog also might eat his own turd.
When you read those two statements, do you automatically suppose I am comparing your mom’s cake to a dog turd? Or do you see it as a statement that the dog doesn’t care what it eats, be it a delicious cake or something awful?
If you automatically compartmentalize new thoughts, I think you interpret the two dog statements as an observation that dogs will eat anything. If you smoosh all of your incoming thoughts together, you probably see my statements as an insult to your mom’s cooking.
If you’re a compartmentalizer, as I imagine the surgeon is who wrote the article, you probably get in a lot of trouble for it. I know I do.