09/24/2012 06:18 pm ET Updated Nov 23, 2012

Large Group Dynamics and Sexism

On September 21st an article was published in Inside Higher Ed detailing a recent study showing that sexism exists in scientific industries. The studied described how scientific professionals, regardless of their own gender, often displayed a bias towards men. Many readers were outraged that sexism could exist even in the logical world of science and academia. I think anytime there is any sort of large clique, community, institution or subculture, there is deeply woven sexism.

I usually notice sexism in comic book culture and in stand-up comedy, because those are the two communities I associate with. I know that anytime a girl comic mentions that there might be sexism in either of those subcultures, boys get ridiculously defensive and adopt reverse-affirmative action. So, just for a disclaimer before you vehemently proclaim, "I'm not sexist!" just know if you aren't sexist, then I'm not talking about you, so calm the hell down.

Large group dynamics reinforce sexism, as well as homophobia and racism and any type of prejudice. Social Identity Theory holds that any time there are groups (especially larger ones), people will tend to identify with and assume the characteristics of their own party (in this case, gender) while projecting negative characteristics onto others. This is pessimistic, but the theory basically explains why larger numbers of people in a group correlates with the development of prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination.

I guess the question now is "how do we fix it?" Option one would be to excommunicate all sexist men, but that's just a slippery slope toward Social Darwinism. (And that is wrong, according to this piece of paper about ethics I taped to my forehead.) Option two would be that if groups enforce prejudice, everyone should be alone forever, and that obviously won't work, trust me.

Gordon Allport's contact hypothesis says that intergroup conflict can be lessened by more communication between the two groups. (That contact doesn't mean hitting on or slut shaming or being aggressive, it just means getting to know the other group. Weird, right?)

If you're a woman, a good way to combat sexism is to support and promote other women in general. For example, if you're into "geek culture," tell everybody about The Hunger Games or Buffy. I was in a comic book shop a few weeks ago and a fellow patron (probably in a failed attempt to appear flirty) teased me about getting "girly" titles. I just shrugged and said, "yeah," because there's nothing wrong with that. Yes, I like girly things. Surprise, I am a woman. You know, like the things you see on the television, but in the flesh.

I like seeing women supporting other women in their communities. I hate when girls feel like they're competing with other women, because that's just not the case. Everyone is competing with everyone and simultaneously, no one is competing with anyone, because the Internet has made the world big enough that there's room for everyone.

If you're a man, a good way to combat sexism is to not use tired clichés about women. I've seen male comedians stand up to other comics for sexual harassment and it's awesome. I promise you, it's super cool and makes you seem all the more mature and strong for fighting inequality from a position of power with nothing to gain. It's really inspiring to see men take steps to combat sexism. When women tell someone, "hey, don't be so condescending and sexist," the response is usually, "oh calm down, sweetheart, you're overreacting." But when men take a stance, other men usually feel guilty.

I do think it sounds like there's sexism in scientific industries, but at this point, in any community, there is sexism. But on the bright side, in any community there's also strong, intelligent, women with a plethora of integrity that both genders may admire.