There is no food in this post and there are no pictures of food. There will be very soon! I promise! I wrote it up, I just need to put the pictures in!
Within a week I will have that post published!
Edit #1: I felt so much better after finishing this post that I put the pictures in and published it.
Edit #2: I published the incomplete version of my rant earlier, which I have now completed.
I’m writing this to blow off some steam.
I’m a woman. I’m a scientist, or at least a scientist-in-training. I hear a lot about retaining women in the STEM fields, and how we can interest girls in science, and how inclusive and respectful everybody needs to be, all of the time, forever. I’ve also had the good fortune to have always been a part of communities that have many high-achieving and successful women. Being a female and being a scientist at the same time is not a big deal here in Pseudomona Land. Making a fuss would be like making a fuss about being a female and being able to form complete sentences – condescending and insulting. So sometimes I get tired of it. (Then I feel guilty, and then I get tired of it again. Does that make me a bad feminist?) But something happened today to spark some more thinking about how women are perceived, which made me remember that the work that I sometimes consider irrelevant to me is, in fact, quite relevant to many women. And I remembered that if it weren’t for people working on including women in STEM fields historically, I wouldn’t be in a position where being a female scientist isn’t unusual.
Today a colleague and good friend (male) said something about a female researcher that raised my eyebrows. He said that she was like a little girl and it was not said in a complimentary way. (Although I don’t know how comparing a grown woman to a little girl could ever be considered complimentary.) Now, to give some background, this woman is an Academy Member, runs a productive research laboratory at a prestigious university, and is highly respected in her field. She’s kind of a big deal. I look up to her. The other woman in the lab and I were surprised. When pressed, he said that she had the mannerisms of a little girl and threw tantrums.
I haven’t interacted with her much (OK, just once), but when we talked and when I watched her lecture, she struck me as very animated woman who spoke with excitement and passion about her research. I didn’t see a little girl; I saw an excited, eloquent woman who loved what she did and wanted to share what she found with her audience. I would like to be like that one day. But a childish tantrum thrower? I don’t want to be like that at all! Perhaps she was one of those researchers who publish awesome things and give sparkly presentations, but are actually complete asshats. I wanted to know more. So I asked him about it.
When pressed more, the little girl mannerisms were actually her rather bubbly enthusiasm. This reminded me that he said after meeting another fantastic female scientist that she struck him as a “teenaged girl”, also seemingly due to the excitement she felt about her work. I’ve never heard him describe enthusiastic male scientists the same way. The temper tantrums wound up being based on one incident where the woman went up to a student speaker, “arms waving”, after a talk because the speaker apparently said something patently ridiculous. (Not everybody is a microbiologist here, so I’ll make an imperfect analogy that should resonate with more people. Imagine that you study reproduction in birds and you listened to a talk where the speaker claimed that chickens are the only birds that lay eggs. It was on par with that.) He claimed that act was a tantrum. I wasn’t there, of course, so maybe it was worse than his description. I asked him what he would call it if a man did that. He said a man would never do such a thing. What?
I reiterate, what? A man has never accosted a speaker at a talk? It became clear at this point that either we inhabited completely separate worlds, his description of her behavior was sorely lacking, or that there was something inherently different about a woman correcting a speaker from a man correcting a speaker.
I didn’t pursue this further because we had things to do in lab and because it’s not worth picking a fight over, but it’s followed me the rest of the day. And it’s bothered me the rest of the day. I’ve been trying to work out why.
I am not upset at my friend. I am not accusing him of sexism or anti-feminism or misogyny or anything unpleasant at all. There is no basis for any sort of accusation in any of my prior experiences with him. My friend is a very, very good person. But I am confused. And I am worried. I want to know: Where did this idea that excitement in a woman equates to childishness come from? Is it common? Is it just him? I mostly like what I do. I often get excited about what I like. Does this result in the impression that I’m a teeny bopper going starry-eyed over the Biebster? What about the confrontation? In a woman it’s a tantrum. In a man it’s . . . nonexistent? I’ve been working very hard on getting up the confidence to even voice my ideas in a professional public setting (let alone defend them). If I one day manage to keep up a passionate defense, if I correct things I know to be incorrect, will I be seen as a tantrum throwing child?
In my first semester as a teaching assistant, I talked to a successful female professor in a different field (my mother-in-law . . . I really do live in a bubble) about the problems another friend (female) and I were running into. She observed that often, a woman in power is seen as either weak or a bitch. If she’s “nice” (lenient, understanding, supportive), she’s weak. If she’s “strict”, she’s a bitch. Is there also a perception out there that if she’s enthusiastic, she’s a child? If she’s passionate, she’s a tantrum-thrower?
I hope not.
I live a nice life. I’ve been free to pursue the career and studies that I wanted. I’ve grown up around and am close to women who have become successful in whatever it was they wanted to do. I think it gives me the freedom to worry about things like this. How is what I do perceived by others? How are things perceived differently because I’m female? Why is it perceived differently? If I weren’t so darn lucky, I’d be too busy hiding and being irritated to hang out and think about this stuff.
So I guess the summary is that an offhand comment by a friend made me think about inequality in gender perceptions. Thinking about inequality in gender perceptions makes me irritated. Thinking about inequality makes me realize how privileged I am. Thinking about how my privilege sometimes makes me a dismissive snot makes me even more irritated. This is what I have been bothered about all day.