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Is there sexism?

SLForsburg forsburg at sc2.salk.edu
Thu Jul 21 10:28:25 EST 1994

In article <30kfq0$leg at nntp2.Stanford.EDU>, kmjake at leland.Stanford.EDU
(Kimberle Mae Jacobs) wrote:

>   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.

This is sad, but true. 

>  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.  

Sexism is always the last thing *I* think of to explain behaviour of
others.  I dont think of my gender as affecting my professionalism and why
should anyone else?  However, as Kimberle wrote, it becomes more apparent
the further we advance.  It doesnt change anything, one says, "oh, maybe
that's why this happened," and forgets 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.

yes, and it's the continual little things that get to be a pain.  The
xerox repairman comes in.  He sees two open offices, one with a man
inside, one with a woman.  He asks the woman if she is the secretary (in
this case, both of us are faculty).  Or the visitor who asks the man in
the lab to explain "what she's doing".  Or the interviewer who wants to
talk about schools and children;  I'll bet that didnt come up when she
interviewed the men, and I'm no more interested in that subject than any
other single professional.  When I was setting up my lab, a staff member
came in.  "Is this Dr Forsburg's lab?"  yes, I replied.  "Oh, do you work
for him?"  I simply smiled, and light dawned.  The staff member was
embarrassed, but he had made the immediate assumption that a young(ish)
woman was NOT the new assistant professor but the tech.  But I dont think
he will again.

These are minor things, and barely worth noticing, except that they
illustrate a point:  society, in and out of science,  still thinks that
scientists should be men.  It also thinks they should have grey hair, but
that's another issue for an ageism discussion ;-)  We will have to deal
with these issues until it is realised not only intellectually but
instinctively that science is done by all sorts of people, different in
gender, colour, and age, who are similar only in that they get a
tremendous satisfaction from the fun of discovery.  And I think the only
way to do that is by example and education.  

Of course, until we find a way of ridding the world of jerks, there will
always be some neanderthals around us.  But I remain hopeful.  By far the
majority of scientists, male and female, that I have dealt with in my
career have NOT been sexist and have been good colleagues.  We're talking
about a bright group of people.  We're getting there.  To those of you
thinking of grad school, in my opinion, it's definitely worth the trip.


forsburg at sc2.salk.edu
    formerly forsburg at molbiol.ox.ac.uk

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