22 February 2014

Attention seekers

Salon reports Congressman Michael Turner (R-Ohio) apparently thinks Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is more interested in attention than policy. The Senator continues to advocate for a policy change in how the military handles sexual assault cases. Her proposal was stripped from a larger bill without a vote months ago.  The Congressman says "I think at this point, it’s certainly not an issue of sexual assault, it’s just an issue of the senator wanting to promote her solution that has already lost. I think she’s getting a whole lot of attention for a debate that’s over."

Of course, you might see the Congressman's comments and then wonder what those 40-some-odd votes and government shutdown trying to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act were all about.  But that's just politics. 

What I'm really concerned about is something we see all too often - a woman stands up for principle and gets labeled as an "attention seeker" or worse as a justification to diminish their work or heap abuse upon her.  It happened to Adria Richards.  It happened to Caroline Criado-Perez. It happens to professional women constantly. It happens even more often when the discussion focuses on gender issues.  It rarely happens to men. 

Senator Gillibrand is not trying to up her Q score here. She's talking about policy and advocating a point of view, she's raising awareness, and she's taking the long approach to changing policy.  That's exactly what Senators do.  

But what I really want to know is this: what's wrong with publicizing your work?  What's wrong with taking credit for your ideas or accomplishments?  Congressman Turner does it all the time, as does every member of Congress. One of the most common jokes inside the beltway is "The most dangerous place in Washington DC is between [insert politician name here] and a TV camera."  It's just part of the job. 

One of the most common reasons I've heard women give for remaining anonymous or not sharing their work online is they don't want to be the next woman to be labeled this way.  But this inability to promote their work places them at a competitive disadvantage in the workplace.  This hurts professional women and everyone else - when good ideas aren't shared, we can't learn from them and we lose an opportunity to improve our own ideas. 

Next week I'll be at ScienceOnline facilitating a discussion about "Healthy Online Promotion" and I hope we can address this issue and discuss some ways to tackle it.  We have to stop framing this as "attention seeking" and start looking at it for what it is - the contribution of ideas to a larger discussion.

Follow the hashtag #scioSelfPR on Twitter to join in.

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