Mike the Mad Biologist

Men, Women, and Partying in Science

Throughout my career, I’ve perceived a double standard towards women in science regarding behavior at scientific meetings. For those of you who aren’t professional scientists, the after-hours parts of meetings are very important for one’s career and scientific opportunities. Like it or not, the ‘non-science’ parts of the social construct of Science matter a great deal. Being a successful scientist isn’t just about your research. But back to the double standrard.

If a male scientist goes to a meeting, and, after hours, goes crazy, he is viewed as a ‘works hard, plays hard’ type of guy. If he’s flirty, he’s seen as a charming rogue (at least when he’s somewhat successful). In fact, his ‘social stock’ might even rise.

I don’t think it works this way for women.

My perception has been that if a female scientist at a meeting parties hard and flirts, she is viewed as a ‘party girl.’ In other words, she is no longer viewed as a scientist with an interesting social life, but as ‘a good time’ (although perhaps not sexually).

Mind you, I think this double standard sucks. But if my perception is correct, I’m not sure what we (including male scientists) can do about it, other than not be assholes (which would be a good start).

Discuss.

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua
    May 14, 2009

    Not being assholes is a good start. Calling out other people for being assholes is even better, although someone more difficult to do in a politic manner.

  2. #2 m
    May 14, 2009

    I think you’re right. But I think there’s an additional lose-lose situation that sometimes applies, where if a woman doesn’t party as hard, she’s still not viewed any better. Then she’s a stick in the mud. She might get excluded from future socializing, where, as we all know, lot of good science gets started. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  3. #3 Eric Lund
    May 14, 2009

    It’s the same double standard that exists throughout the professional world. Men are expected to party hard and flirt with the ladies (at least the young and pretty ones). Women have to act serious after hours in order to be taken seriously during hours. Yes, it sucks–not just for women, but for the males among us who think that deliberately damaging the organ of the body on which we depend to make a living (which is what you are doing when you drink with intent to get drunk) is a silly idea. But as long as the power broker types act like this, there isn’t much we can do about it. And the power broker types act like this because the “party hard” ethos is firmly planted in our society.

  4. #4 Michael
    May 14, 2009

    I think you’re wrong. Guys who do that are viewed as ether playboys or fratboys depending on your social circle. It’s just as bad for a guy to get plastered as it is for a girl. They are the ones who are talked down about when they aren’t present by the people who can at least keep their head on strait.

  5. #5 ABM
    May 14, 2009

    “But I think there’s an additional lose-lose situation that sometimes applies, where if a woman doesn’t party as hard, she’s still not viewed any better. Then she’s a stick in the mud. She might get excluded from future socializing, where, as we all know, lot of good science gets started. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

    The paragraph in The Double Helix where James “I’m a dick” Watson dismisses Rosalind Franklin as being dull and not pretty because she spent all her time in the lab comes to mind.

    But hopefully these attitudes will not persist much beyond the current generation. Science is bogged down in so many ways by that population of overaged professors who refuse to retire, despite few of them being the kind of geniuses who one wishes would never retire. And far too many of them being the sort who condescend to and discriminate against women in the profession.

  6. #6 CVS
    May 14, 2009

    As a female scientist who has partied with many male scientists for years, I totally disagree. I’ve never felt any disdain, subtle or overt, from my male counterparts and higher-ups for partying with them, and I can guarantee that “party girl” isn’t the impression they have of me. I’m a hard worker and a good producer, the social interactions we have after hours only serves to give me more depth as a human being. You all take this so seriously, good grief. Plus, who cares what they think or say about me? Oh yeah, and stick and stones may break my bones…etc…

  7. #7 LtStorm
    May 14, 2009

    I guess this must change in the transition from grad student to full-on scientist. Or maybe it’s just because the department I work in only has a dozen faculty members and twice as many grad students/post-docs. There are cliques here, usually the bigger lab groups, but whenever we get together outside of work I haven’t really seen these stereotypes in play.

    Then again, we all know each other, so someone going a little wild at a party (such as last year’s Christmas party when one female grad student got drunk and fell over backwards in a chair, catapulting a glass of wine against a wall) results in people ribbing them about it, but I haven’t seen any variances between genders (similarly, there was a joking plot to slip a pic of one of the male grad students in drag at last year’s Halloween party into his prospectus defense presentation…).

    Well, I guess there are two female grad students that do get labeled “party girls,” but that’s mostly because both worked as bar tenders when they were undergrads, and it’s not intended to be pejorative, or question their prowess in the lab. So I don’t know, maybe I just haven’t seen enough of the social circles surrounding science to grok this.

    Also; I’ve never heard *any*one have anything good to say about James Watson. One of the (now retired) professors here who helps with a few classes noted once that she met him. This woman is about as polite and nice as you can get, and her description of him was, “He’s an utter asshole.”

  8. #8 adrian
    May 14, 2009

    I was at a meeting last week. Who do I remember meeting and wanting to work for/collaborate with/hire? The people I met during the social hours of course! This is true for MEN AND WOMEN, and I didn’t judge ANY of them negatively for having fun. It’s possible to be productive and fun!

    Unfortunately, many scientists are shy (or boring) and don’t like parties. THESE are the ones who judge others who do like to be sociable, probably resenting the fact that unlike with the no-brain non-achievers at high school, they can’t console themselves by thinking (“well at least I’m more intelligent than him/her”).

  9. #9 selfcontrolwouldhelp
    May 14, 2009

    Probably truth to the Mike’s assumption. Women have been subjegated for, like, ever. I am a man and see the world thru “man eyes.”

    However, I can say that self-control in general is a quality that I wish were more desirable to everyone.

    A past scientist co-worker used to get so drunk that he serenaded women in bars after conferences and when meeting customers. This was not desirable behavior and no one condoned it. I don’t see how we could have seen him more negatively, even if he were a woman. In this case, gender-be-damned, it was just bad behavior by everyone’s eyes I think. Bad behavior should not be rewarded. But, it’s all subjective what’s bad behavior.

    At some point, I hope that scientific studies will be performed wherein the likely influencers and inducers of bad behavior (including unlawful acts) will be revealed.
    At that point, maybe accountability will be appropriately placed on media influences and the indivuals.

  10. #10 adrian
    May 14, 2009

    And I don’t want to lower the polite tone of the thread, but seriously Eric Lund:

    “Yes, it sucks–not just for women, but for the males among us who think that deliberately damaging the organ of the body on which we depend to make a living (which is what you are doing when you drink with intent to get drunk) is a silly idea.”

    That’s exactly the kind of comment I ascribe to the aforementioned shy/boring scientists (my previous comment). Chill out Eric, it’s just a few beers!!

  11. #11 Natasha
    May 14, 2009

    Ok I think this is a really annoying generalization you’re making that applies to any context not just science.

    There are different kinds of flirty and fun. There is sophisticated charming flirty, and there is wasted dancing on the table “buy me a beer” flirty – which is desperate.

    Think of the difference as a difference between how one carries oneself. Think Sophia Lauren vs. Marilyn Monroe. Sophistication, posture, and self control vs. gigly girliness. Girls have many different modes of flirtation and fun than men do, and the ditz can reflect on seriousness, but if a guy is being a ditz, it’s going to make him less appealing professionally as well. However, I do think that it’s simply less difficult to be a “bimbo” as a guy, because that type of character hasn’t been encouraged in the media. The cute helpless flirty girly girl has.

  12. #12 Anita
    May 14, 2009

    I am a young female scientist and b/c i like to party hearty I do have the reputation for being a “Lush”, I kid you not,every conference I have ever been to I get called that at least once, even though my male colleaues drink much more than I do. There is ABSOLUTELTY a double standard. But that being said I still think they take me seriously when I talk shop, but they do go out of their way to make fun of my drinking. Personally, I think it is the only way men, who are intimidated by powerful, assertive, intelligent women can deal with it. I think the best thing to do is to call them out on it, and whatever you do ladies, don’t flirt with them. Just be on of the guys.

  13. #13 Jeff
    May 14, 2009

    It is impossible for science, or any other human endeavor, to be completely free from prejudices based on gender (or many other aspects of ourselves). One thing that I do find very satisfying about a life in science, though, is that people are so commonly judged based on their abilities and accomplishments. It is easy to find examples of very successful scientists who vary greatly in their behaviors, whether gregarious or isolated, flirtatious or quiet, men or women, gay or straight. I think that few walks of life are as objective as science in its choice of who makes it to the top.

    I am very aware that woman often feel societal pressures to conform to certain behaviors. I applaud that so much has been done in recent decades to increase understanding of these and to eliminate many of them, and I’m proud to have been a frequent voice for this. On the other hand, there is much less awareness of the pressures that men feel and of the advantages that women have as a result of their gender. For example, much of getting ahead in science has to do with access to more senior people for ideas and mentoring, and it is very common for a female graduate student at a science meeting to be invited to socialize with senior male scientists, and much less so for a male graduate student. Although this scenario might be tainted by the supposition of less than noble motives, it nonetheless provides much greater access for young women. I’m not saying that this outweighs the negative factors that women face, but only that we should examine all of our biases and their effects.

  14. #14 Eric Lund
    May 14, 2009

    Chill out Eric, it’s just a few beers!!

    This is exactly the attitude I was complaining about in my post. There is a difference between having a little wine or beer with dinner and drinking with intent to get drunk.

    Some societies, such as the French and the Germans, have learned to cope with alcohol and make it a small part of social life. American and UK society, among others, have not–you start out with “just a few beers,” and before long you are collaborating with Jack Daniels, Jose Cuervo, et al. Enough important people subscribe to this philosophy that the rest of us have to go along with it. Given the choice, I’d rather socialize with people who are still capable of conversing intelligently at the end of the evening.

  15. #15 seksi
    May 15, 2009

    You did read the original “Moore’s Law” paper, of course, right? It has not that much to do with the limits of “what is possible” in given technology, but a lot to do with basic economics, so I am not at all surprised that he would be calculating “cost per word”!*

  16. #16 Luna_the_cat
    May 15, 2009

    CVS: “Plus, who cares what they think or say about me? Oh yeah, and stick and stones may break my bones…etc…

    Yeah, when what is being considered is whether or not you should be a participant in a really interesting project, or whether you or Jim in the next lab over should get first shot at grant money, then what they think and say about you means one hell of a lot. Are we to take it from your paragraph that you have never been in that situation? Hmm.

    Personally, I think the best way to change the situation of a double-standard — which I have, on occasion, perceived — is through sheer mass, on the one hand (the number of women in a lab/conferance/field), and conscious effort by that mass not to perpetuate stereotypes in their own judgements, either. When there are enough women comfortable with a range of behaviour in the field, it puts men and women on a much more equal footing that way.

  17. #17 ad
    May 26, 2009

    I have to comment on these tangential negative comments regarding James Watson. If you’ve read “Girl Interrupted” you will recall that the only person who stayed in touch with her during her incarceration in a mental institution was a family friend, and yes, it was James Watson. Such emotional effort and spiritual integrity should also be thrown on the balance.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.