Monday, April 12, 2010

An Unpopular Opinion

I do not feel discriminated against as a woman in Natural Sciences.

There. I said it. After a few days of reading blogs by other women in science, I'm somewhat overwhelmed and confused by the majority voice. It is angry, and it is injusticed. Men don't listen to us, the system only benefits men, men have it so easy in science, if only we had the same opportunities they do it would all be equal and that would make us happy. Not only does my personal experience not support the idea that we have it much harder, it also doesn't lead me to believe that if we did have equal opportunity (which I'm not sure we don't these days) that everything would be 50:50, much less make everyone happy. I think it's possible that women choose not to make it 50:50. Maybe I'm naive because I haven't started looking for a job. Maybe all this prejudice is post-PhD and once I experience it I'll take this all back in the next couple of years. Or maybe I won't...

Is it possible that we do choose not to go into/stay in academia more than men? Because, get this... women are different from men. WHAT? Yes, inherently different. Not just in a vaginas and penes (yes, that is the plural for penis) kind of way, but in a whole lotta other ways. I hope that if you're a biologist, you're not too species-centric to admit that the brains and behaviors of different sexes within the same species are different, and often in a predictable way, and that maybe humans are included on that list of species. If we agree on sex-specific behavior, why is it so hard to believe that women might want to stay home more than men? That women might want to cook dinner and have a few babies and keep her house tidy more than men? I KNOW, it's ridiculous and this kind of thinking is what brave women before me have fought so hard against. I get that, and I'm thankful we have opportunity beyond what we used to have. I really am. However... having the opportunity to do something doesn't necessitate that everyone will jump on board. You can open a door for me as many times as you want; if I like the room I'm in, why leave? The statistic I keep thinking about is that graduate school attendance is up in women (in some fields, equal to that of men) but that is certainly not being reflected at the faculty level. Now Faculty World is something I have not yet entered (and I'm not planning on it), so again, maybe there is a failure to take women in science seriously that negatively affects their hiring process. I do think there are some complaints from the Angry Mama Scientist camp that sound like outright prejudice (i.e., seem to have no rational basis and are simply unacceptable).

But there are some complaints that plausibly have a rational basis, especially in a competitive economy. Such as: the "liability" of a woman getting pregnant. Now before all the readers I don't have send me hate mail... when I interviewed for graduate school, I was five months pregnant and single. From my understanding, when it came down to Decision Day for the program, one of my interviewers called a professor I had as an undergraduate, with whom he happened to be fishing buddies. He asked my professor if I was "worth it" (read: worth the money and time they had to invest in me, since I clearly had a lot on my plate). Luckily, my professor said "yes" and I got in, but his response is really moot in this context. When I found out about this, I had the feminist knee-jerk response of outrage. How dare he even consider my pregnancy as a liability! How dare he think that because I'm about to have a baby, I'm not as smart or capable or worth investing in! Of all people, I am the one they should give a chance! Right? Are you nodding your head? But then I considered it from their point of view... they have to play the odds. Between my stipend, tuition, and insurance, I'm costing them a lot of money. If I was in their position, wouldn't I bet against the pregnant single (teenage, I forgot that part) mom? EVERY TIME. And as it turns out, I have made it this far.. but it was quite sketchy for awhile. Truth be told, I couldn't be in the lab as much as the rest of my cohort because daycare was only open 8-5. I couldn't study at home because my infant banged on the keyboard or screamed and I was the only one there to deal with it. I couldn't stay awake in class because my kid decided to stay up all night. The reality of the situation is there's some student out there who probably would have been more successful than me, probably given the university more return on their investment (they are a business, after all), probably published more than me... and they went somewhere else, or decided not to go to graduate school, or put it off... because I got in instead.

That doesn't seem fair. To them. So I think there's rational and irrational biases against women, and more against women with children, and I've experienced some of them but I'm not mad about most of them. The ones I am mad about are for a later post. I really just wanted to establish that this is not an angry mama scientist blog. I'd like to think I've joined the ranks of what I consider reasonable mama scientist blogs, which include the author of Motherhood, The Elephant in the Laboratory, whose archives encouraged me to write this at all.

My other crazy confession: all I want to do is stay home and write, have another baby, garden, sew, and have some goats and chickens. Turns out, I don't even want to be in academia, I want to be domesticated. There will be more on that too, I'm sure.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there. I followed the link to your blog from Dr Isis's latest entry.

    I have a lot of respect for women in academia, I do think for most it's an uphill struggle, and I think it's even harder for women who also have children. In my opinion child-rearing should be a communal societal "burden" - i.e., I think there should be adequate support for parents in terms of career options, childcare, leave, etc. Because ultimately it benefits society too, to keep bright minds at work instead of having to be stay-at-home parents simply because the system doesn't provide other options (rather than because they wish to).

    Also: I don't think your domesticated confession is "crazy" at all :) Feminism doesn't mean every woman should be pushing her way to the top in a male-dominated profession; it means freedom of choice for every woman - be it becoming Professor, Domestic Goddess, or both :)