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men, women, the politics of baking

aloisia schmid a-schmi at uiuc.edu
Wed Dec 18 13:56:36 EST 1996

In article
<Pine.A41.3.95b.961217191733.17848G-100000 at dante31.u.washington.edu>,
Sarah Boomer <sarai at u.washington.edu> wrote:

> I just wanted to say that I have really been enjoying the discussion on
> the Oprah thread.  I identified so much with the whole baking for lab
> meeting thing.  I work in a lab with 60% women and, for the most part, the
> women all put more effort into the "little things:"  baking goodies for
> lab meeting, unpacking boxes that are shipped (a constant battle of
> responsibility in our lab), cleaning up those little spills or messes that
> "somebody" leaves.  I am open to flames on this one but I just feel like
> women, overall, are socialized to feel bad if they don't be polite by
> doing these little chores, being cheerful, fulfilling what just feel like
> obligations.  I work with many guys who you'd swear are blind to messes,
> who openly do only their experiments and little else in the way of
> helping the lab structure.

Dear Sarah and others,

      I am so glad we are having this discussion!  These are things I 
think a thousand times a day in my own personal stream of consciousness,
but never even really pay attention too, because it just seems like it's
part of life and I have to move on to more important stuff.  But if I
think it so often, maybe it IS important....

      I grew up in a bakery---my parents had a bakery when I was growing
up.  I know how to bake.  Boy do I know how to bake!  And frankly, I LIKE
doing it.  But when I came to a lab with cliqueishness and cattiness,
bringing food into the lab was met with ALOT of ridicule.  I started to
get alot of flack over being Betty Crocker.  I have always enjoyed the
idea of bringing food into the lab because it usually provides the
opportunity to form some friendly bonds with the people you work with.
Sort of like the European tradition.  Do you know that in Switzerland and
Germany, they actually take out times in the day to have coffee breaks
together and sit around a conference table and chat?  But I digress.  So
even though the men in the lab would never bake (remembering to buy soda
or chinese food is considered major!) that has never been the reason I
stopped doing it.  It was only when it was detracting from the perception
of my abilities as a scientist, that I stopped.  And it wasn't ONLY that. 
I guess I stopped caring about forming those friendly bonds with my
co-workers, which doesn't seem to be as common or universally possible as
I once thought it was.  

         The little spills and messes is another credibility problem.   I
was a lab technician before I went to graduate school;  it was fun because
the people were nice and I enjoyed coming to work every day.  But I have
noticed that people assume that once you are a post-doc, if you do things
like clean the coffee area or swab down the common areas or just do
anything cleaning oriented, i.e., menial and the domain of a lab
technician, there is some of the "once a lab technician, always a lab
tecnician" kind of judgment.  It's as though there is a rigid heirarchy in
this division of labor.  And I find it to be very strictly gender
divided.  Generally (I know quite a few exceptions) women in science seem
to want to be team players and to pitch in.  Most men (once again, not
all)  see that as a sign that they are failing, falling behind, and are
being forced to stoop to levels beneath them.  There is almost the same
subtle pressure about cooking or baking for parties.  I think most men
would think it wussy of them to prepare something.  Don't you?  Don't you
think they would be embarrassed to bring a cheesecake they themselves
baked to a pot-luck party?  

Sarah resumes: 
> Nevertheless, I was touched by Beth and others who seem so content with
> their decisions.  I am still in the mode where I feel like I am a terrible
> woman for being a leak in the pipeline.  Part of it comes from
> being told this by various colleagues or past professors (that I am too
> good to leave, that I am too good for the teaching positions I aspire to).
> I think as a woman I take all this more personally, too... again, because
> there is this element of being socialized to be nice.  I would like to
> have the strength to let it all slide off my back but it annoys me often
> that I am not PLEASING someone!  Isn't that ridiculous!

Yes, it is ridiculous, but boy it sums me up to a T!  The thing that I
have had to learn is to just stay away from not-nice people.  Just don't
care what people think or say.  Ignore them.  And find the nice people. (
Although, you know sarah, those faculty members think they ARE being nice
to you, they are complimenting you on how good you are and how highly they
value your abilities.  I bet not one of them thinks you are abandoning a
responsibiity.)  And remain calm and comfortable in relationships with
THEM.  Not everyone always likes everyone else. Not everyone will always
respect everyone else's decisions.  Not everyone will give everybody the
credit they deserve.  It's a shame that we are socialized to think fair
play is the way the world works, because it doesn't.   For me, seeing that
has been a slow lesson....

    What's intersting to me though, is that the socialization process
seems to make most women buy into it more than most men do.  And makes
unlearning it harder for women.

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