What’s a guy to do?

| October 17, 2017 | 0 Comments

I’ve been wondering lately: what should a man do?

Just generally.

But also in specific situations. For example, what should a man do when another man is behaving badly?

What should a man do when another man is behaving badly towards women?

I enjoy using the word should to think about these situations. I find it useful. Typically, we approach discrimination and prejudice with prohibitions. We focus on what not to do. But this only moves us towards a lowest common denominator–the minimum acceptable standard of behavior one must meet in order to avoid discriminating.

But what if we evaluated our responses to prejudice in terms of moral duty and an obligation to act, rather than avoid certain actions? It’s a higher standard, but one we may need.

I don’t have all the answers, but I want us to ask the right questions, because they will lead us down the right path of inquiry. I want us to ask: What ethical responsibilities come with being a man in certain (read: sexist) situations?


Here’s a situation.

You’re a guy. Let’s assume for the sake of this thought experiment that you are also cis, white, straight, able-bodied, well-off and relatively educated. You work in a lab. One of your colleagues happens to be the only female. You also work with an older man who’s responsible for training you and most of your colleagues on the lab equipment.

Today, this technician comes by to train everyone on a certain machine. After explaining the procedure, he has everyone practice. But he has your female colleague run through the procedure a few more times than everyone else, saying, “Girls always break this.” Your colleague goes quiet and won’t meet anyone’s eyes. You know this isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened.

What would you do?

What should you do? What is the right thing to do?


A different perspective:

You work in a lab. You have one close colleague. Both of you get training on the equipment from time to time from an older colleague–one who has repeatedly singled you out as the only female in the lab. “Girls break things more,” he says, and makes you repeat a new technique a few extra times.

You’re anxious not to break anything and prove him right, but now every time you use that machine, you’re consumed with worry and it impacts your ability to focus on the job. At times, you have questions about the technique, but if you go ask the technician, you know you’ll be judged or even waved off.

You know that your male coworker knows this is happening, but he hasn’t said anything. You don’t know if he’ll take you seriously if you bring the issue up–he hasn’t reacted, so you can only guess at his position. You’re worried that if you raise it with him, he may dismiss the issue. He might say it’s all in your head. You don’t want to be thought of as the one who causes drama, who can’t deal with being the only female in the lab.


There might be people who don’t see this situation as a big deal, who don’t feel there’s any need for intervention, whether it’s saying something in the moment, or checking in with their coworker later. If someone didn’t have a problem with this situation, they wouldn’t feel a personal ethical obligation to do anything. (Although professionally, they would still be obligated to act. An unequal work environment means bad science, not to mention institutional liabilities.)

But if this situation pricks at you, morally, it’s a good time to revisit the question from earlier: What should a man do?

In this sort of situation, doing nothing will only lead people to assume that you are unconcerned. What a person should do will depend on the specific situation, but I think we’re better off assuming that you should do something. With the “I should do something” mindset, you can ask friends, trusted mentors, HR professionals, and the like to find out what that something might be.
featured photo credit: spaceyjessie Red vs Blue via photopin (license)

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Category: featured, Reflections, Science and Technology, The (Sex)es

Huey Wu

About the Author ()

Huey Wu is a Senior studying Comparative Literature. When not writing in a journal, writing for class, or working as a writing tutor, they enjoy volleyball, puzzles, and gentle company.

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