Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Overt and Subtle Forms of Gender Discrimination

The focus of my blog is not on the gender aspects of being a scientist, but as noted by other bloggers the fact of being a female scientist sometimes makes this inevitable. There have been some interesting discussions at various blogs regarding issues facing female scientists (see: Female Science Professor, PhysioProf at Feministe, and DrDrA at Blue Lab Coats).

I think the recent airing of horrible things that we have all witnessed is healthy because it takes stories that are hidden in dark closets and publicizes that this behavior is NOT okay. I have my own set of stories that happened to either me or friends: sexist jokes told on interviews, statements to the effect that a male student is driving his own research, but a female student must just be her advisor's puppet, etc. But these more direct things worry me less than some of the more subtle, subconscious things. Let me demonstrate:

You are going to arrange a high profile symposium or workshop, you need to invite 20 people right now - make your list as quickly as possible (i.e., just like most of us do because we've got too much to do and so little time to get it done!).

Mine almost always ends up with all men. Unlike other fields, my field is not all male. In fact, there are a fair number of highly respected women and they are never represented in my instantaneous list in the proportions they exist in nature! I find this disturbing because it suggests that somewhere along the way I equated "distinguished" with "male". How can I get mad at men for ignoring prominent women when I do it myself? It's not just me. I have other female friends who have recently recognized that they do the same thing. I figure, as with most things, the first step is to recognize that you have a problem. Now, (after chanting, 'Hi, my name is River and I have a problem perceiving scientific gravitas in women") I make two lists: the original brain storm list and a "re-mix", where I use something other than my brain (i.e. Web of Science, journal table of contents, friends) to identify "silver back females" that I overlooked in my first pass. Like I said, it's the subtle things that scare me more.....

5 comments:

BikeMonkey said...

Tag!

Rosie Redfield said...

You might want to read Virginia Valian's "Why So Slow: the Advancement of Women", for the data showing just how gender biased we all are.

Or you might not - it's pretty depressing

River Tam said...

Thanks for the reading suggestion. I'll definitely go check it out. I think many women don't realize that we do these things too. The fact that we do, I think, requires a different discussion than the one you currently see discussed re: gender issues...so I really look forward to reading Valian, even it may cause me to start drinking heavily!

historiann said...

Good post. It's sad but true that even women and men of good will--and even those who identify as feminists--will undervalue and overlook women's accomplishments in academia. But, as you suggest, upon further reflection, people can overcome their own prejudices.

Mary Hatcher-Skeers had an interesting commentary last week on women in science that fits in with the other discussions you site. I've linked to it on my blog, but it's also still on the front page at insidehighered.com.

Historiann.com

River Tam said...

Mary Hatcher-Skeers had an interesting commentary last week on women in science that fits in with the other discussions you site. I've linked to it on my blog, but it's also still on the front page at insidehighered.com.

I just read the piece and you're right, it is very interesting indeed. Thanks so much for pointing it out. I loved the advice on how to handle having your ideas restated. I haven't run into it too much, but when it does happen I'm often speechless.