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Topic Meme: Day 10 - Sauntering Vaguely Downward [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Topic Meme: Day 10 [20131223|21:20]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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jixel asked: How about commenting on the challenges of being a (pretty) woman scientist?

I wouldn’t say it’s actually a challenge to be a pretty woman scientist. It seems to be more of a challenge for other people to get their heads round.

Facetiousness aside, being considered pretty (by a certain set of people applying a certain set of standards, ymmv) has had complicated consequences with regard to my self-esteem and my behaviour. This is relevant because of the significant component of social interaction that comprises the practice of science - a thing that a lot of scientists won’t admit to, because they are far too logical and rational and therefore superior to apply the culturally reinforced biases that permeate society to their professional lives. [insert eyeroll here]

In many circumstances, I have found it as helpful to be pretty as it probably is for any attractive person in any line of work. A lot of people treat you in a particular way when you fit certain standard definitions of beauty. I’m relatively slim (less so than before I had the baby), wear my hair long, wear makeup, spend a certain amount of money on my attire, dress with care, have symmetrical features and smile a good deal (even when I don’t feel like it - hi, social conditioning!). This, I believe, tends to lead others to place me squarely in the “comfortably non-threatening feminine person” zone...

unless I start talking about science, or photography, or any technical subject about which I have a certain amount of knowledge. I’ve noticed that my tone of voice changes, as well as my demeanour. I’m more assertive, more likely to argue a point and I’ve honed a style of retort that does not come at all naturally to me in other circumstances. I’m a lot more thick-skinned in professional life than I am in my personal one. I’ve found it necessary not only to project an “I don’t care what you think” attitude, but to actually believe it. That’s has been hard graft. It is one of the reasons I opted out of tenure-track academic work. I can’t distance myself emotionally from my work. I would find it crushing if my evaluation were strongly dependent on the reviews of my peers and not just my ability to deliver good documents and data to strict deadlines. So I’ve chosen/fallen into a line of work in which other people’s opinions of my output (other than my immediate bosses) have little to no impact on its worth. It lets me get away with staying in the “comfortably non-threatening feminine person” zone as well as minimising the angst of agonising over dismissive put-downs.

Perhaps, then, my initial statement wasn’t correct. It is challenging to be a (pretty) woman scientist. If you’re going to excel, it requires the acquisition and development of the ability to project complete confidence in your aptitude, as well as actually possessing said aptitude in spades (see: my female boss). It requires the ability to overcome the perceived weakness attached to “comfortably non-threatening feminine person”. It requires the investment of time and energy attached to maintaining one’s “prettiness”, including healthy eating, exercise and a socially acceptable appearance. And, of course, it requires the depth of study and breadth of technical knowledge required to maintain one's status as a research scientist.

This entry was originally posted at http://nanila.dreamwidth.org/905726.html. The titration count is at comment count unavailable.0 pKa.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: pax_athena
2013-12-23 22:29 (UTC)
Can I please hug this post?

It requires the ability to overcome the perceived weakness attached to “comfortably non-threatening feminine person”.
-- Oh yes. I suppose this is the story of my life for the next few years.
I like being friendly. I like to smile. I like nice, polite conversations even with people who have different opinions. I like skirts. And I need to spend an incredibly amount of angst and time on trying to find out how far I can go with these things I can go to not be shelved under "cute, female, and therefore to be ignored" - and at the same time not to lose who I am (because I've also seen women in science become incredibly bitter and hard over this and I know myself enough to see that I can easily slip into the same direction; I'm not judging them, they seem comfortable with who they are, but I would not be).

Argh, sorry for a "me, me, me" comment. But your post really resonates.

[insert eyeroll here]
-- ahaha, yes. This also reminds me that while I was women's representative at my former institution, guys would question why such a role was needed at all. Really? Really?!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2013-12-24 13:21 (UTC)
Only if I can hug this comment! I feel the same way you do about being "feminine". It's what comes naturally to me. I'm comfortable with it, I feel confident about it and it's frustrating to have it interpreted as a display of weakness.
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[User Picture]From: cosmiccircus
2013-12-24 02:15 (UTC)
I would think that it's very challenging for you! You're very attractive, and to get people who don't know you to focus on what you're saying seems like it would be frustratingly hard sometimes.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2013-12-24 13:19 (UTC)
It's gotten less frustrating as I've gotten older. Possibly this is because I now look more my age, possibly because my confidence is much greater than when I was in my twenties. Possibly a bit of both. My hair is now pretty thoroughly shot through with grey and I do not plan to dye it, so it will be interesting to see how things evolve in future.
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[User Picture]From: cosmiccircus
2013-12-24 17:19 (UTC)
On a separate note, I saw this today and it reminded me of you... http://boingboing.net/2013/12/24/bad-science-stock-art-tee.html
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[User Picture]From: dangermouse72
2013-12-24 10:50 (UTC)
"ymmv"?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2013-12-24 12:53 (UTC)
"Your mileage may vary".
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[User Picture]From: dangermouse72
2013-12-29 09:30 (UTC)
Doh! Of course. I don't know if that's an American thing but, while I have heard of that phrase, I don't hear it very often.
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[User Picture]From: jixel
2013-12-25 12:00 (UTC)
Thanks

Had wondered how much looks might affect people taking you seriously or not. I suppose it has as much to do with regional or cultural stereotypes at that. Interesting how you noted it having advantages too. I suppose everyone likes being around non-threatening symmetrical et al types lol

My little one really loves math and science. Always asking why people aren't visiting other planets, and asking me if i would walk on the moon with her.

Took her to amnh this week and she got to see and touch real meteorites (one 15.5 ton one too!) and to her first planetarium show

I told her even though she hasn't had a chance to visit other planets yet, pieces of them have come to visit us!
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2013-12-26 11:39 (UTC)
Fantastic. I hope she retains her appreciation for science and space, whether she decides to carry on studying them or not. :)
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[User Picture]From: jixel
2013-12-25 12:02 (UTC)
Lol oh i just noticed you posted this with the icon i had made for you. Nice touch
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2013-12-26 11:39 (UTC)
:D Glad you thought so!
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