From the beaches of California to the lakes of the Ozarks, the scenes of Americans ignoring social distancing guidelines over Memorial Day weekend were hard to miss. They also stood in stark contrast to the recommendation of most public health officials, including those of Dr. Deborah Birx, the nation’s top woman physician and the coordinator of President Trump’s White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Which begs the question, what is the real reason Americans are blowing off the advice of Dr. Birx?
It’s not for her lack of getting her message out. Over the past several weeks, the well-respected physician and diplomat has been telling Americans about the importance of wearing face masks and exercising social distancing on an almost daily basis. On Friday, ahead of the holiday weekend, Birx was direct in her advice to the American public. “You can go out, you can be outside, you can play golf, you can play tennis with marked balls, you can go to the beaches, if you stay six feet apart,” Birx said, trying to walk a tightrope of encouragement and caution….
Yet perhaps beyond politics there is even a more troubling reason why Americans are ignoring Dr. Birx. Could it also be that she is a woman? There is a long history of women being devalued in science, and their contributions routinely diminished. In fact, numerous studies have shown how gender discrimination affects women scientists in academic institutions. A recent study has shown that male scientists are more likely to be recognized and promoted than female scientists as the result of subtle gender biases. And a 2017 report from the Academy of Management Journal confirms what many women know all too well — when female leaders, even high ranking ones, express constructive solutions in the workplace, their voices are often ignored.
As science moves from the labs and the academy to the center of pandemic-focused public life, it’s not surprising to see some of those same trends manifest themselves on a broader scale. And despite a clear case that women are more effective leaders than men, particularly in crises, the curious case of Dr. Birx being increasingly ignored is reason for worry.
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