IUBio Biosequences .. Software .. Molbio soft .. Network News .. FTP


Kimberle Mae Jacobs kmjake at leland.Stanford.EDU
Wed Jul 20 19:34:08 EST 1994

>: >  and  > =  becky norum <bnorum at chaos.dac.neu.edu>
>:  = Angeline Kantola (kantola at u.washington.edu) 

<*stuff was deleted - asked about why there remains a gender bias in
science today and why the number of women in science is not increasing
at the same rate it did in the 60's and early 70's*>

First of all you probably know, but in case you don't:  Science (the
journal) devoted an entire issue to this question a couple of years
ago.  They had a lot of very specific statistics, but one of the
general conclusions was that at lower levels (undergrad, beginning
grad student) the ratio was nearly 50-50 (women-men) for most
sciences.   But when you looked at higher level professionals, for
instance full professors, the ratio drops down to around 10% women.
So women are in fact 'getting in' to science, they are either just not
staying in or not advancing.  They suggested various reasons why this
might be so, but why the numbers are so staggering remains unclear.   In other
words, is it truly due to prejudice and the old boy network, or is it
mostly due to women quitting science because of family

>: >Any thoughts?   Does anyone here ever feel that in becoming a scientists
>: >she has had to sacrifice part of her femininity since we do not
>: >generally believe that 'feminine' characteristics are also scientific
>: >ones?
>: Becky--
>: I'm fighting very hard to avoid posting flame-quality sarcasm after reading 
>: the above paragraph...

I don't see any reason at all to flame this.  If you believe that
being in science does not affect you in any gender-related way, fine,
but I don't see it as such an off-the-wall question.  Perhaps I'm
reading it a little differently though.  I guess I read it as asking
whether any women felt they had to act more masculine and pretend to
be one of the boys in order to get along.  If you think this never
happens then you are a little naive.  Sexism is unfortunately alive
and well.
 As an undergraduate one is typically well-shielded from sexism.  I
observed only one incident of sexist behavior from a professor during
my four years.  But the older I get and the more I advance as a
scientist, the more it becomes/is made clear to me.  When I was an
undergraduate I thought the issue was dead and gone - I thought the
laws had made it clear and everyone accepted it.  Now that is
laughable.  I simply wasn't out in the real world.
 Perhaps the worst form of sexist behavior is subtle sexism.  I don't
go looking for it, in fact most of the time I ignore it when I do see
it.  But I think that subtle sexism (which doesn't have to come in the
form of sexual harrassment, but is simply treating someone different
based on their gender) is definitely one of the causes of there being
so few women at the top.

 I am in a lab once again (as I was when I started grad school) which
is filled with men.  I am the only women scientist, other than a tech.
Not only that but before me there have only been 2 other women ever in
a lab that has a 30 year history.  I am treated differently because I
am a woman.  *Sometimes* that means better treatment than a man would
get and sometimes it means worse.  None of it is anything I can't
handle.  But to say it doesn't exist is to close your eyes and simply
wish it weren't true.

>	I was afraid that people would misinterpret what I was trying to
>	ask and so they have...
>: How's this for a reply: I work in a lab peopled mostly by women; our PI is
>: a woman as well. I observe a tremendous variation of personality traits
>: among both the women *and* the men in the group. Some of both sexes are
>: soft-spoken and rarely assertive, some of both sexes are louder and more
>: assertive. No one group has a corner on what might be deemed traditionally
>: 'feminine characteristics'--friendliness, caring, collaborativeness (vs. 
>: competetiveness). Yes, some of the women (and rarely the men) talk about 
>: shopping, some of the men (and rarely the women) talk about sports. We all 
>: talk about politics, and of course science. 

Specifically on the question of whether you have to be less
feminine/more masculine:  I think men feel better if you try to be
buddy-buddy.  In other words - say to them 'treat me like one of the
guys'.  I know that has at times made the people I work with feel a
lot more comfortable.  They don't want to think about the fact that I
am a woman.  So they try to ignore it.  But then that's probably why
most of the sexist behavior that occurs is subtle behavior - they
can't really completely forget about gender.  If I painted my nails
and wore skirts and only talked about shopping when not discussing
science, then they would probably be even more uncomfortable and that
subtle sexism would change to overt sexism.  That's just my opinion,
of course!  I think if you do such things you are looked upon as out
of place in this environment.  People will think of you as a woman
first and a scientist second (of course not everyone sees this as
something bad).

 It is easier to fit in if you are not stereotypically feminine, but
then again, arrogant, muscle-bound, males who talk only about sports
and their latest sexual encounter aren't particularly welcome either.
Obviously there is a huge range in between these stereotypes.  The
more accomplished you are in your field, and the better you are at
getting along with people in general, the less you have to give up.
So you could look like a blonde bimbo, but if you are a top-notch
molecular biologist, chances are you will be able to get a good job.
At the same time, the first thing people will think when they see you
is wow what a bimbo, instead of hey there's the person who did that
great research.

>	I am not in any way trying to say that certain characteristics
>belong exclusively to one gender or the other; my argument is based upon the
>hypothesis that traditionally, science represented a male ideal, i.e.
>aggressiveness, competitiveness, self-confidence that women were
>systematically excluded from because the stereotypes that women were
>supposed to represent were the opposite of these: docility, etc.  You
>can fill those in.  

I still think that women who are really competitive and aggressive are
looked at as bitches while men with the same qualities are respected.
Do you have to be aggressive and competitive to suceed in science?
I'm still trying to figure that out.  I haven't yet been able to give
up my lack of self-confidence and more docile nature, although being a
postdoc makes me consider being a bitch nearly every day. 
In this last sentence I am attempting to reclaim the word bitch.  (For
those of you not familar with this nettage - it means to take a bad
word and make it a good one).  I think bitches have power.  So if I
can have power, I don't really care if people call me words that they
think are nasty names.

>	I believe that although these gender ideals are less evident
>today than they were 40 years ago, in many ways they persist and have an
>effect upon how ppl define themselves.  (Check out the commercials any
>Saturday morning for children's toys and see how many dolls are
>advertised with little boys and how many race cars are advertised by
>little girls.)  

Yes!  It is amazing and an eye opening experience.  And closely
examine your own behavior around male and female children - out of
habit we give boys trucks and girls dolls.  My 3 year old nephew has
a workbench with hammers and screwdrivers, while his female cousin of
the same age has something that looks similar to the workbench in size and in
attachable toys, but is a kitchen with spoons and mixing bowls instead.

>:On a somewhat related note, I have noticed and interesting trend when I
>:post questions to any scientific group on the net.  If I sign a
>:"feminine" version of my name (e.g.Chrissy, Christine), the responses I
>:get are primarily short, rude, and condescending.  If I sign "Chris,"
>:leaving my gender open to question, I get much more detailed and helpful
>:responses.  That's just been *my* experience, though.  Anyone else?  

This is exactly what I mean by subtle sexism.  They don't come right
out and say that you are stupid because you are a woman, but they do
treat you differently because of that.

>Gender discrimation in science is there; however covertly.  And most of
>the times it acts in ways that cannot be prosecuted; but are there.  How
>many of us want to constantly fight to be accepted as what we are.  If
>you don't have to, Angie, that's great.  If you never have had to,
>better yet.  I believe that the biological sciences have the most gender

Yes, that's what the Science article said.  I think math and physics
were much worse than neuroscience.

"Dark as the night is the desert of the soul"  Mae Moore
"How can I light myself steady in this dark thin stone"    Chrystos
"My heart's sole realities are the world's trivialities"   Meat Puppets
love, pain, doubt, fear, faith, me . . .  walls I must climb  Michael McDermott

More information about the Womenbio mailing list

Send comments to us at biosci-help [At] net.bio.net