Monday, July 26, 2010

Monday morning rant: women in science

"A New View of Why Women Shun Science Careers"

A "new view", huh? What bullshit.

Better writers than I have talked about this crap before, so I'll just vent for a moment.

This article could easily have stopped in its first paragraph, where it asks a trite journalistic rhetorical question: Golly gee, Tom-the-dude-science-journalist asks, "Why are women so underrepresented in the fields of science and technology? Do they simply have less innate ability in these areas... or are they held back by ingrained sexism?"

The answer is b. The end. Now let's move on and try to actually do something about... wait, what? You still want to talk about this? Ok, fine.

First off, Tom-the-dude who wrote this article: women don't "shun" science. We're gently but forcibly pushed away from having an interest in it. It takes years of work to dampen our enthusiasm, but it works very well.

My parents are not scientists, but are very interested in science and the natural world. It was their enthusiastic support that convinced me I could follow my interests and go into science in the first place. Growing up, their birthday gifts to were things like entomology books, star maps, and microscopes.

One year for Christmas, however, my uncle sent me a barbie doll.

I didn't think much of it at the time. I wrinkled my nose, sent him a nice thank you card, and shoved her in a drawer somewhere, buried underneath my plastic dinosaur models, never to be seen again until years later when she got trucked off to Goodwill.

Now, in his defense, he lived far away and hadn't gotten to know his niece very well. But. But. Of all of my relatives, he's the one that actually has a real, live, science-related job. He's also interested in the natural world, hiking, hunting, photography. He has a huge science fiction book collection. He's introverted, slightly socially awkward, with a sharp and sarcastic sense of humor.

In other words, we're very much alike. Like, scary alike. He could have been a mentor-from-afar to a young, budding scientist. And yet, when it came time to pick out a gift, the first thing that came to mind, a gift that society told him was default, was a fucking barbie doll.

I'll tell you why this female isn't going to follow up her undergrad in biology and chemistry with a career in STEM-something-or-other, and it's not because I'm "not fired up" about science (fuck you, ignorant and condescending commenter), it's not because I lack some innate ability (fuck you, Lawrence Summers), and it's not because I think I wouldn't be able to care for people or some shit if I went into research (fuck you, article author). I mean, even if this were a valid line of inquiry, do they really think women are too stupid to understand that science research helps people? Is that a cognitive leap that only men can make, or what?

I'm science faculty at a university right now. It's a sausage fest. Even though women outnumbered men in my undergrad science classes, and were roughly equal in the few post grad classes in toxicology I took, the faculty is dominated by dudes. Dudes who get paid more just because they're dudes. Dudes whose opinions, publications, and thoughts get preferential treatment because they're dudes.

You don't have to be smacked on the ass and told to get coffee to feel the sting of sexism. The tiny but constant ego-eroding reminders that you're slightly less of a person for being female, that your opinions are just a teeny bit less important (and require you to do research and provide citations whereas your male colleagues get taken at their word), that it's a teeny bit more important you look good at work (even though there's no official dress code), every well-meaning compliment ("you look nice today! You should wear makeup more often!"), and every time your boss needs a babysitter and automatically only asks the women in the office. This is the death of a thousand cuts.

I'm leaving my job in a week (unrelated to the content of this rant - I'm moving - this job is a pretty good one overall). This would be a good time for me to go back and get a masters degree, but I won't. I have plenty of other areas of interest outside of STEM that I could turn into a fulfilling career. The thought of dealing with this shit in academia for another however-many-years, and then dealing with it in a STEM job after that... let's just say I'm not 'fired up' about it.

1 comment:

Retrieverman said...

I suck at math.

I mean really, really suck at math.

In my immediate family on my dad's side, there are three girls and me.

The three girls are all math whizzes.

One is a studying to be a chemical engineer.

One is in banking.

And one wants to be a math teacher.

And I can't add my way out of a paper bag. I am pretty much left brain dominant, although you may not have noticed.