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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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L'esprit d'escalier [20090211|23:28]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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[the weather today is |hugs please]

I'm going to cope with what upset me today by talking about something that upset me a few weeks ago, about which I'm more capable of being coherent. This makes complete sense. To me.

I had an argument with my friend Dave a few weeks ago that made me so angry I could hardly see straight. He was talking cynically about how impossible it is to change the general social impression of scientists as geeky, socially hopeless, introverted males, because once you get to the top of the academic ladder in science, especially in physics and physical chemistry, it is nearly all men. Despite all the progress being made, despite all the female postgrads and postdocs, it is still a man's world.

I tried to respond to him, and it went something like this, although I fear it wasn't nearly as coherent as I wanted it to be at the time, what with being choked up by rage.

I think it's exactly that sort of attitude that causes women to leave the academic ladder. I mean once you've heard the same insinuations – because few would dare claim that outright these days, they tend to be more subtle about it – about how women just aren't quite as good at spatial intuition/hardcore maths/programming countless times, from kindergarten through to college and beyond, you can get crushed by it. Maybe the antidote to these repeated onslaughts, those thousand tiny pinpricks, is for some people to make concerted efforts to counteract them. Maybe one of those efforts is the clear commitment that a few professors of both genders have to recruiting female colleagues at all levels of the academic hierarchy. And, incidentally, not judging them as lost causes or failures if they choose to step off and try another path to intellectual fulfillment. Maybe another is the women (and men) who spare the time to go into schools and tell children to give science a try. It's unlikely that one in twenty of them will end up in physics, but I would be thrilled if my example and my enthusiasm left them with a positive impression of science and an expanded view of the kind of people who choose to do it for a living. A large percentage of students, when they go in for their university interviews, cite a single event like an outreach day as the inspiration to do a science degree. Instead of bitching about the inefficacy of doing outreach work, I'd like to see others go and do some themselves, especially those who are charismatic and engaging (when they're not moaning cynically).

The rage dissipated in about five minutes and we hugged and made up before we left the pub. However, it rankles. There is a certain amount of altruistic spirit that goes into my outreach work, but I would be lying to myself if I didn't admit that a percentage of it comes from the years of pent-up frustration with the fatalistic attitudes about science and academic society that so many who choose it as a career path seem to have. I struggle to find ways to fight them, though I'm not big or important enough to do so on a grand scale. I have moments of hope. Today, I feel like I'm losing.
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From: tdj
2009-02-11 23:46 (UTC)
...because once you get to the top of the academic ladder in science, especially in physics and physical chemistry, it is nearly all men. Despite all the progress being made, despite all the female postgrads and postdocs, it is still a man's world.

Obviously men do not have a superior intuitive grasp of correlation vs. causation.

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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-12 13:23 (UTC)

See title of post.

This is exactly the sort of snappy response I wish I'd had at my disposal at the time.
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[User Picture]From: cataragon
2009-02-12 00:11 (UTC)
because few would dare claim that outright these days

See, that hasn't been my experience. Possibly in professional situations, no, but many many many men like to go on (and on) about in social situations.

Also, this was ten years ago, but I had a maths teacher who flat out said to our class when I was sixteen that he was only going to bother teaching to the boys, because they would need it, and the girls could listen if they wanted to, but they would probably all end up as hairdressers or something anyway, so we didn't have to.
And my physics teacher in high school didn't do anything to stop the boys in my class (about six of them, I was the only girl) telling me how I was going to suck at it because I was a girl (I didn't, I was top of the class). He did, however, encourage me a lot, which I suspect was his way of dealing with it.

Small country school at the end of the world, of course. But shades of the same stuff are still out there, everywhere.

And honestly, I don't know exactly how much those attitudes influenced my decision to take a degree in the arts. My last year in high school I dropped all sciences and math, except statistics, despite loving Physics. I also loved the arts, but I suspect a certain part of it was just that it was easier - no fighting - it wasn't extraordinary for me to be, or want to be, good at literature and history and art history. I didn't have to deal with all that shit.
I convinced myself I would be bad at things, like first year Computer Science, when I was at university, and never took them as fillers or anything. I haven't done any sciences, unless you count Geography, since the year I was sixteen.
I don't think, looking back, that that is a coincidence.


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[User Picture]From: leezechka
2009-02-12 00:52 (UTC)
Wow, that is one teacher who should not be allowed to be near children...
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[User Picture]From: cataragon
2009-02-12 02:05 (UTC)
Interestingly enough, for more than one reason - he resigned under some scandal regarding his relationships with favoured female pupils of about 14.
A shining example of misogyny at work (ugh).
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[User Picture]From: sanat
2009-02-12 08:01 (UTC)
:peeks at profile: Oh, you're a Kiwi, cool! Not so cool about that prof--what a douche. My partner and I were thinking of spending a year in NZ to see if we'd want to resettle there, and I'd hate to run into such academic douchebaggery (or heaven forbid if my hypothetical daughter were to).
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[User Picture]From: cataragon
2009-02-12 08:13 (UTC)
I would like to, on behalf of my country, point out that this man was an exception, rather than the rule - it was twelve years ago, and he was part of the last straggling of a generation who thought that kind of thing was okay. Also: my high school was very tiny and very rural.

:-)

New Zealand as a place to live has pluses and minuses - it really depends, like everywhere else, on what kind of lifestyle you want to live. Right now, though, I'm terribly biased, because I'm preparing to leave to live overseas, so everything seems wonderful!
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[User Picture]From: sanat
2009-02-12 09:01 (UTC)
:) I figured he was mostly a relic, considering the number of progressive gestures NZ has taken in the last few years (decriminalized prostitution FTW!). My boy and I toured from Auckland to Chch last April and found it familiar enough in Western amenities but different enough to be refreshing.

Plus I'm a huge bird geek and kept pet chickens and ducks as a child, so when I learn of opportunities to breed endangered ducks in captivity, it seems like y'all are trying to lure me out there ;) But I suppose with the current economy I should probably work a better paying job for some time first. :dreamy sigh:
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[User Picture]From: cataragon
2009-02-12 09:50 (UTC)
Heh, I grew up on Great Barrier Island, which is one of the last places Brown Teal Ducks live. They are completely fearless, come inside houses all the time, poo everywhere, and you can't chase them because of the risk of them just dropping dead unexpectedly. But they are quite cute.
To my eternal shame, as a child I used to encourage my pet eel to eat the ducklings.
Now, that horrifies me.

NZ is, in women's issues, often pretty good. We have a good gender ratio in government, and are terribly proud of that whole first country to give the vote to women thing.

And you know, right now, the exchange rate is very very good if you were bringing US money here.... ;-P
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[User Picture]From: sanat
2009-02-13 02:58 (UTC)
Seriously, they drop dead unexpectedly? What, do they all have a congenital heart defect? I did know that native NZ birds had a serious problem with not fearing predation, hence the rarity of the kakapo and such.

Wow, I read about someone having a pet eel in Jeffrey Masson's book "Slipping Into Paradise: Why I live In New Zealand". There were a lot of fun anecdotes in that book, when he wasn't talking about the "enslavement" of radiata pines or bothering Sir Edmund Hillary at home.

I've been keeping track of the exchange rate since we started talking life abroad, and while we do still need to save up for a few months, I ordered some manuka honey just last week to take advantage. ;)
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[User Picture]From: leidan
2009-02-12 00:15 (UTC)

If it matters to you...

I think you are doing the "right thing" or at least a good attempt at it.

Science (and sepecially the physical sciences) is in desperate need of all the good people it can get and about half of them will be women. I find it amazing the people think that women can not do the physical sciences while thinking it is perfectly appropriate for them to be in the biological sciences. In a lot of ways the methods are identical across the disciplines, just focussed on different problems.

Keep on plugging on. I, for one, appreciate it.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-23 18:32 (UTC)
Science (and sepecially the physical sciences) is in desperate need of all the good people it can get and about half of them will be women.

Magnificently quotable, sir. If you don't mind, I'll use it in future.

Another outreach day this Friday! Very exciting. :-)
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[User Picture]From: cataragon
2009-02-12 00:16 (UTC)
And what I meant to say with that comment, and totally failed to, was: that stuff is still out there, but it's good to be fighting it, keep doing it, it's worthwhile.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-12 20:50 (UTC)

Thank you.

I've got to do it tomorrow. I'm hoping it's uplifting for me as much as for them. :-/
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[User Picture]From: leezechka
2009-02-12 00:51 (UTC)
I hope that in the next decade or so a whole lot of women push their way up there. Maybe the higher ranks are still male dominated mostly because of what happened in education 30-40 years ago (obvious sexism). At some point those people will die off. You see it in medicine, older doctors are almost all male, younger are much more likely to be female.

I did have a female friend who was pushed very hard by her parents INTO science (both are heads of university science departments). She decided to have babies and be a big ole hippy instead.

My schools always felt like they were trying to make me do ungodly amounts of math and science (which I genuinely hate doing and am genuinely bad at), while keeping history and art away from me, and those were all I had any interest and talent in.

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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-12 20:49 (UTC)
Eee! That's fantastic. Thank you so much. Your comment cheered me up.
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[User Picture]From: returntosender
2009-02-12 07:48 (UTC)
I take heart from the fact that in my science and maths based line of work it's about 50/50. In fact, in the U.K. there are more female Optoms and Dispensing opticians than men. I suspect at the moment women are concentrating on the applied sciences and in the future the ratio in the top bracket of academia will change. Because it has to.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-12 20:47 (UTC)
The thing that gets me is having to put up with people in the upper echelons consistently shooting down or ignoring the ones in the lower. And it's really depressing when the women are more judgemental and quicker to stomp on people than the men, which just makes me want to resign from the human race.
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[User Picture]From: returntosender
2009-02-12 23:26 (UTC)
I think that it's connected to a feeling of "I had to work damn hard for this, I'm not handing it to you on a plate". Which is totally rubbish, in terms of not only encouraging academic ambition, but also improving work/life balance for everyone.

There's also something about academia that makes it worse for some reason!
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[User Picture]From: sanat
2009-02-12 08:07 (UTC)
:hugs: You've described glimpses of wonder on some faces of the kids you've done outreach with, so you've already done more than sit around whinging (and don't think of this post as whinging, either, it's venting, major diff). The future will vindicate you and your work, I'm positive.
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[User Picture]From: senusert
2009-02-12 13:50 (UTC)

How late it was, how late....

I would have told him it was all bollocks. Or, in more polite language, that any scientific findings regarding male vs. female neuroscience come with highly specific conclusions that are based within the context of the field. Outside of that field, the conclusions are meaningless.

The best student in my year is a girl. All the female lecturers I've had (Michelle Doherty, Fay Dowker) have been amazing in their knowledge of the subject. I think he should make some observations before he comes to any conclusion.

I do find it shaming that physical sciences don't have a 50/50 split, given there is nothing but cultural stereotyping enforcing the asymmetry. Despite really enjoying science, having no desires for anything more than a quite life, and a desire for intellectual fulfillment in my future career, it's exactly this kind of assfuckery which dissuades me from pursuing science as a career.
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[User Picture]From: foreverdirt
2009-02-12 15:59 (UTC)
I would have been speechless -- not just with rage, but with hurt.

One foot in front of the other, eh? Sometimes it helps.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2009-02-12 20:44 (UTC)
Yeah. I've been kind of depressed lately. The daily to-do lists, strictly limited to Five Things or Less, have been the only thing keeping me going.
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