In the umpteenth example of the Onion-ification of reality—the collapse between real life and parody–Jezebel gives us this item on a University of Chicago neuroscientist who was attending a professional conference. He posted on Facebook that female neuroscientists weren’t attractive enough to sleep with.
I doubt that his female colleagues were heartbroken not to get the old “what’s your sign?” come-on from him at the conference happy hour, and at least now they know where the man stands, and can ensure that he never gets laid intra-profession again.
This story reminds me of the ancient koan: If a person says something boneheaded, sexist, rude, or otherwise ill-advised and Facebook isn’t there to hear it, does it still make a sound?
To rephrase the question: Do the same number of men today as decades ago think and talk like jerks—or even misogynists–about women but Facebook, which is ruthlessly meticulous in its recording of every thoughtless and bitter moment, now enshrines their musings for all to see?
By this argument, the Jerk: Non-Jerk ratio is stable, or even improved. It’s just that we’re catching every example of jerk-dom because of social media. Sexist feelings or comments aren’t any more prevalent or resurgent. They’re just more regrettably visible.
Or, maybe the Non-Jerk: Jerk Ratio is actually closing on us. Before, it might have been, say, 5:1—five non-jerks per one jerk. Now maybe it’s moving closer to a 1:1 scenario, who knows.
By this argument there is a resurgent misogyny afoot today, and social media merely reveals it. Or, if not full-blown misogyny, then a higher rate of sad comments like this—superficial, objectifying and petty. You can think whatever you like about sexiness and your colleagues. We all have our private judgments. Just keep it to yourself. It’s not a huge courtesy to ask. Women at the top of their professions want to be appraised for something other than their fuckability or their utility in your sex life. If they wanted otherwise, they would have become lap dancers, not neuroscientists.
I can’t decide which scenario is more accurate. Social media is a confounding variable in trying to trace how women are faring in their everyday lives with men. It’s created an apples and oranges assessment conundrum.
My deepest concern is that social media feeds the beast and has become an agent in its own right. Not only does it record ill-advised moments, it also encourages them to happen. Its toxic brew of anonymous intimacy invites this neuroscientist to publicly declare his colleagues too ugly to have sex with; or the otherwise quite funny comedian Louis C.K. to ramble on Twitter about Sarah Palin’s “fat tits,” or to encourage Andrew Goldman at the New York Times to tweet his at best rude comments about an actress wishing she could sleep her way to the top.
Social media may be both the medium and the message, or the glucose-rich stuff by which the Kingdom of Jerk thrives.It feels so intimate and private, after all, to talk to the phone, the wall, and the Twitter account. It’s just you and me. Except it isn’t. And once the thoughtless, dismissive comment is out in the social media mix, it’s one of a thousand points of blight that slowly lower our standards for what’s decent, respectful, and possible to say.