Sciencewomen

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgA semi-coherent point-by-point reply to the nearly incoherent, yet overwhelmingly disturbing, musings of Greg Laden on the subject of women scientists in the field. SIWOTI alert.

If you don’t understand why many of us get so riled up by Greg Laden here’s a snippet that should help explain things:

“That is, indeed, what every scholar needs: A wife (or two) who knows how to type, edit, wield a caliper, and still have time to do the grocery shopping, have lunch ready at noon, and give birth to and raise the kids.”

The point-by-point takedown of the rest of Laden’s post is below the fold.

The question of diversity in science, and more specifically, success for women, is often discussed in relation to bench or lab oriented fields. If you read the blogs that cover this sort of topic, they are very often written by bench scientists, for bench scientists, and about bench scientists.

Umm, Greg. You read this blog. You comment here. Neither Alice nor I are exactly bench scientists. Neither is new scibling Kim or very many of the other geobloggers on our blogrolls. Or people like Karina at Ruminations of an Aspiring Ecologist.

…if you mention Mary Leakey, the average American or European knows that you are speaking of one of the main Africanists who have studied human origins. Many Americans are aware of Sara Hrdy because her book Mother Nature has been read so widely…So even if the field sciences are smaller by number than the lab sciences, [women] are very well represented in public consciousness.

Women in field sciences are well represented in the public consciousness? WTF? Most Americans know who Mary Leakey is? Right. Keep dreaming, Greg Laden. Most American’s don’t even know that only 3% of the world’s water is fresh, not salty. If you ask people to name a woman scientist, most give up, and those who don’t will almost invariably name Marie Curie.

All else being equal, most men in 20th century field sciences had the assistance of highly capable spouses … the proverbial woman behind the man, while most women did not.

This might be true, but if so, it is probably also true of a significant number of non-field scientists. I’ve heard plenty of stories about women who wrote their husband’s PhD dissertation or acted as a research assistant in their lab. Those stories transcend disciplines.

“That is, indeed, what every scholar needs: A wife (or two) who knows how to type, edit, wield a caliper, and still have time to do the grocery shopping, have lunch ready at noon, and give birth to and raise the kids.”

Puke. Puke. Puke. Puke. This right here is a great example of why Greg Laden so draws the ire of so many of us. The obvious translation of this is that women won’t succeed in science or academia because they can’t take advantage of traditional patriarchal privilege. (And to top it off there’s a very disturbing implication of polygamy or harems as well.)

But the women who are well known in this field come from a slightly different background. Either they powered ahead into the field of study along side their husband in a similar area (as with Mary Leakey and Jane Goodall)…

Who’s Jane Goodall’s husband? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? So, she “powered along side him – maybe she should have read the preceding paragraph and stayed home to do the typing, editing, and child-rearing. According to wikipedia, Goodall began her work in Gombe in 1960. Her first husband was a wildlife photographer who she married in 1964 and divorced in 1974. In 1975, she married the head of Tanzania’s national parks, but he died in 1980. I see no evidence that her husbands had anything substantive to do with her work. Common interests sure, but research in primatology, no.

or [the successful women] worked in a field setting for much of their career whereby they actually lived in-country, or both. Living in-country provides a significant career advantage for anyone.

Right, because being isolated from the circles of power, the old boys networks, the libraries, etc. is a big leg up in academia.

[these women] have probably benefited significantly from having inexpensive household and professional staff. …I have two reasons for mentioning all of this. One is simply to point out the nature of these field studies, and to note the fact that some of the successful women in these fields were successful in part because they had the equivalent (more or less) of a spouse,

Sure, those things help some but I bet those women were still doing a hell of a lot of work under conditions much harsher and more dangerous than the average American university professor. Not to mention that they were doing it in countries often not known for their forward thinking about the role of women.

And then Greg meanders off into a dismissal of Barbara Isaac’s career and how much that was helped because of her prominent husband. So, basically what I took away from this post was that Greg thinks the few prominent women in the field sciences have it easy because they’ve got servants and they’ve got husbands whose coat-tails they can ride on. They hardly even did their own work.

As a woman field scientist (who blogs about it, gasp!) let me set a few things straight. It’s damn hard physical work going out to field sites, lugging big packs, equipment, and samples around for days on end. Just because I’m built with a smaller frame than some of my male geology friends hasn’t made the rocks any lighter to carry out of the wildreness. In fact, as I discovered on one backpacking trip, spending money on ultralight camping gear to lighten my load, I simply ended up with more rocks in my pack, because I had the space.

And since deciding to become a mom, I’ve had to make all sorts of tough career decisions. Did I take those post-docs doing really cool work in the Arctic and the Canadian Rockies for 4 months at a time? No, because I was pregnant and those post-docs would have meant leaving my newborn behind with someone else or subjecting her (and me) to insane and unsafe working conditions. Now my decisions are on a less grand scale, but they mean things like refocusing my work on urban areas so that I can do field work during the workday rather than disappearing to the mountains for a week at a time.

Sure, there have been successful women field scientists in my field and in Greg Laden’s, but to imply that they’ve been successful because of their husbands and the cheap labor available in exotic field settings is incredibly dismissive of their real accomplishments and the real struggles of women trying to do research in the outdoors.

Comments

  1. #1 Maureen
    March 17, 2009

    Thanks for sharing this. I cannot believe what this guy is saying. I’m a female field scientist. I was single when I decided to go to school in geology/soil science, single when I graduated with both undergrad and graduate degrees in said disciplines, and single when I began my career in my chosen field of study. I live alone, I don’t have a maid, and I’m away in the field for a good part of the year. I’m sure many women in the sciences are the exactly the same.

  2. #2 Courtney
    March 17, 2009

    All else being equal, most men in 20th century field sciences had the assistance of highly capable spouses … the proverbial woman behind the man, while most women did not.

    This might be true, but if so, it is probably also true of a significant number of non-field scientists. I’ve heard plenty of stories about women who wrote their husband’s PhD dissertation or acted as a research assistant in their lab. Those stories transcend disciplines.

    They not only transcend disciplines, but encompass the entire culture, too. Have you ever heard of the work-wife? That’s what they used to call your husband’s secretary. Just because what he’s saying is unpleasant doesn’t make it any less true.

    “That is, indeed, what every scholar needs: A wife (or two) who knows how to type, edit, wield a caliper, and still have time to do the grocery shopping, have lunch ready at noon, and give birth to and raise the kids.”

    Puke. Puke. Puke. Puke. This right here is a great example of why Greg Laden so draws the ire of so many of us. The obvious translation of this is that women won’t succeed in science or academia because they can’t take advantage of traditional patriarchal privilege. (And to top it off there’s a very disturbing implication of polygamy or harems as well.)

    I think the obvious translation is that everyone needs support and backup, which are traditionally associated with a wife. Or two – how about the work-wife, the at-home wife, and the maid, the nanny, and the cook? Wouldn’t having a maid, a nanny, a cook, a personal assistant, and a secretary make it easier to concentrate on your work? Or are you denying that male WASPs of an earlier generation had it easier in terms of support?

    What is wrong with saying that academia is infused with traditional patriarchal privilege? It’s certainly true.

  3. #3 Justin
    March 17, 2009

    I knew there was a reason I took Greg out of my RSS reader months ago. Now I know.

  4. #4 Danimal
    March 17, 2009

    Fixed “That is, indeed, what every scholar could use: A spouse (and/or an assistant or two) who knows how to type, edit, wield a caliper, and still have time to do the grocery shopping, have lunch ready at noon, and raise the kids.”

    There better. Gender neutral.

  5. #5 Isis the Scientist
    March 17, 2009

    This from ScienceBlog’s advocate for women and minorities. I have a tremendous respect for what you do, ScienceWoman. I work a lot of crazy hours doing a lot of crazy things, but I have never had to face taking Little Isis with me into the field for periods on end.

    The fact that Greg used an opportunity to highlight the accomplishments of a woman scientist to drivel on incoherently about the role their spouses played is both offensive and reflects that he just…doesn’t…get…it. This sentence especially:

    That is, indeed, what every scholar needs: A wife (or two) who knows how to type, edit, wield a caliper, and still have time to do the grocery shopping, have lunch ready at noon, and give birth to and raise the kids.

    I’m sure Greg will write this off as the internet failing to understand his brilliant prose, aimed at those with a higher than 12th grade education, perhaps even pointing us all to sites on reading comprehension. Still, perhaps if Greg is so horribly misunderstood he should stick to what he does best — posting 20-30 YouTube videos a day.

  6. #6 becca
    March 17, 2009

    Wow, I can get as anti-Greggie as anyone, but that is totally not how I read that post.
    I interpreted it much more along the lines of “It’s historically been rare for women to be given credit in any field of science. Anthropology is better than lots of areas that way, but even for these (comparably) famous women there have been some confounding male publicity agent husbands” (which goes to show how difficult it was for women). Also, “No scholar achieves what they do alone (and they often have a small army of minions led by an immensely competent Lieutenant General)”
    It is reasonable, maybe essential, to talk about what life circumstances and choices play into success for women scientists. It is not a just world. Just telling women “look, if you work your butts off you will be successful” isn’t always adaquete (because it’s sadly not always true).
    I don’t think Greg ever said anything to imply these women didn’t work their butts off. It’s necessary, but not sufficient for success in science.

    Last night, I was listening to the Nature podcast that was themed around the anniversary of Darwin’s death (yes, I’m behind in my podcasts). Historically, scholars are economically exceptionally privileged people. The fact that most successful men had women doing enormous amounts of work for them in the unpaid economy of the home is not a new revelation. I see the examples he presented as being illustrative of these phenomenons rather than an outrageous attempt at claiming anyone ‘having it easy’.

    Anyway, my take-home thought was to wonder which anthropological forces were at work in our own society that makes it so difficult for me to envision a parallel life. I could probably find “a husband (or two) who knows how to type, edit, wield a caliper, and still have time to do the grocery shopping, have lunch ready at noon, and raise the kids.” So why should I feel bad about selecting my partner(s) with a firm appreciation for what they bring to the relationship with respect to my career as well as an appreciation for who they are as individuals? And what’s so darn bad about polygamy anyway?

  7. #7 Peter
    March 17, 2009

    I think courtney has this one. My reading of his stuff leads me to believe that he has a tendency towards verbal shorthand that does not work too well outside his head. Print is very bad at delivering ulterior meaning that you can see easily when in direct conversation. I don’t think the received meaning that many get out of his words is the one that he delivered.

    On reading much of Laden’s stuff, I would guess that much of his writing is done where he is thinking he is having a conversation where you both know what he is talking about, and this is clearly not the case. The discussion wuth the general public about the word “theory” is probably a good analogy for this.

  8. #8 Dollar Bill
    March 17, 2009

    It is useful to understand where Laden is coming from. His entire worldview is refracted through the lens of his outrage that he has a PhD from Harvard, yet is a low-level administrative functionary at a third-rate college in nowheresville. If only he had had a proper helpmeet, he’d be a towering scholarly figure in a wood-paneled office expounding to enraptured students, rather than a flunky in a particle-board cubicle telling Johnny Drunkerson that if he doesn’t lay off the booze and raise his GPA above 2.0, he’s going to be kicked out of school.

  9. #9 BrianR
    March 17, 2009

    Great post. I’ve always got the impression that Laden says/writes stuff to drum up some buzz and get reaction … and then write about how it was satire or something like that. I’ve got no time for it.

  10. #10 Rob
    March 17, 2009

    I have to say I’m with becca on this one. Your interpretation is not at all what I got from Laden’s post.

  11. #11 ScienceWoman
    March 17, 2009

    @Courtney

    What is wrong with saying that academia is infused with traditional patriarchal privilege?

    There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s that Greg says that out of one side of his mouth while dismissing the accomplishments of women scientists out of the other. And I’ve never gotten the sense that Greg understands how what he writes can be considered offensive.

    A simple rewrite of Greg’s sentence, along the lines below would have conveyed the prevailing patriarchy without establishing it as a necessity and a good thing.

    “The unfortunate reality of 20th century science was that to be successful, most people needed a spouse to help with personal and professional tasks. Most men had this support, while most women did not.”

  12. #12 Kim
    March 17, 2009

    In fact, as I discovered on one backpacking trip, spending money on ultralight camping gear to lighten my load, I simply ended up with more rocks in my pack, because I had the space.

    Hey, you were on that backpacking trip too? I didn’t see you there!

  13. #13 Kate
    March 17, 2009

    I see Greg as well-intentioned and as someone who does make an effort to figure out how to be an ally to women. I don’t agree with the points he’s making (I commented in more detail over at his post), but I think that may be because he was confused and did not organize his thoughts when he wrote this. I think Greg and many other male scientists would like to see less sexism in science, but as people who don’t experience it directly they may have a harder time articulating it (because even if they try not to be, they are agents of oppression and it takes a lot to overcome that social conditioning).

    Again, I don’t condone sexist statements or behaviors, and I certainly hate the slimier people out there who pretend to care about sexism and racism but silently and intentionally perpetrate it. I have enthusiastically puked on the shoes of many. But Greg belongs in the category of those who are trying to figure this stuff out, and maybe he is using his blog to sort some thinking out. I know I use mine that way and try to solicit thinking from others by doing so.

  14. #14 MattK
    March 17, 2009

    I agree with Courtney and becca.

    @ Brian R. – funny that is what I get from posts like this.

  15. #15 DrugMonkey
    March 17, 2009

    SciWo @12:29, your reformulation of the issue just points to what a tragedy it is that Laden’s repeated stepping on his own…toes, distracts from what should be a really interesting conversation. The universality of the experiences and career development of women in science who had/did not have spouses working in the same or similar fields would be a great convo. and perhaps you post here can spark that.

    I am thinking of many of the senior women scientists in the drug abuse disciplines, how I came to know their work, when I realized they were married to “oh, THAT guy!” or met their non-scientist husbands at meetings….hmm. what are their reps amongst peers who knew them back when versus younguns who got to know them through a life’s work.

    perhaps we can rescue an interesting conversation from the defensive, offensive and self-aggrandizing post to which you are referring..

  16. #16 NotAgain
    March 17, 2009

    @DollarBill, that was LOL.

    Generally the process is,
    1. Greg says stupid-ass things.
    2. People get upset.
    3. Greg claims that people are misinterpreting him (their fault) or that they can’t handle criticism (their fault).
    4. Further shitstorm ensues.
    5. Repeat on next sensitive topic.

    If he is not, in fact, trying to outright insult people, then maybe he needs to consider investing in some proofreading or getting more feedback before making his next declarations about women, minorities, or anything else he isn’t directly a part of. I don’t know why the onus is always on everyone else to figure out what’s on in his head.

    I don’t know about you, but if I managed to recurringly offend large groups of people, I would start to sit back and wonder if maybe my communication skills (or even my attitudes) needed some reexamining.

  17. #17 1,000 toxic lakes
    March 17, 2009

    NotAgain, what is fascinating is how the structure is propagated in other discussions. any of this sound familiar?

    http://www.appscout.com/2009/03/rumor_cut_and_paste_coming_to.php

    I may think those homeskoolers are nutz but they have ol’ Greggie pegged, don’t they?

    (Cabal? didn’t he just accuse a whole ‘nother group of being a Cabal in sekrit league against him? get some meds, dude..)

  18. #18 Leslie M-B
    March 17, 2009

    How maddening!

    I wrote my dissertation on women natural scientists working in museums between 1875 and 1960 or so. Since they were naturalists, they all were in one way or another field scientists. And those who were most successful (in terms of number of publications or status within their institutions and the field) in the first half of the 20th century were totally unencumbered by male spouses (either because they never married, were widowed, or were in relationships with women). Regardless, women who succeeded in these positions were savvy about networking with both men and women. But on the home front, they didn’t have much to tie them down, so they had more time for scientific pursuits.

    Of course, women who had some other kind of income (an inheritance, for example) received an additional boost in their careers because they could spend more time in the field.

  19. #19 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    Becca, I don’t think you’re looking at Greg’s post properly. Try reading it again and keep an eye out for alternate meanings.

  20. #20 soil mama
    March 17, 2009

    I’m with Courtney and Becca on this one too. I read the original post and I think some of what he intended to say got lost in translation as he wrote it.

    From what I have seen, careers in science are much easier for single people(men or women). For those of us who are married, having a spouse (man or wife) who is supportive (in the house, lab and/or field) makes a huge difference in our productivity. There are people making great achievements without much help, but we have to remember that no achievement is a singular act. we have help from students, collaborators, support staff, child care providers, family and many others. Think of how much more work you could get done if you had someone to cook and clean for you! Yes, traditionally women have stayed at home and supported their husbands, but I have seen more and more stay at home dads who are supporting their scientist wives. For most of us, we have to find a “happy” medium since we rely on 2 incomes and can’t afford help around the house.

    My husband works, but has been amazingly supportive of my research. He has helped in the lab and field. he has arranged his work schedule around my needs and taken time off work to enable to go to the field 38 weeks pregnant and attend conferences while breastfeeding. If I were a man, I would not have needed as much additional support since men don’t get pregnant or breastfeed. I could not have had a child and continued my research if it were not for the help of my husband.

    Although I agree much more with the re-writes of key sentences in your comments, I do see what Greg was trying to say (in reference to scientists needing a wife), and I think it is true for the most part.

    As for whether or not the average american can name a scientist, I think that’s a whole other issue. I bet most people wouldn’t be able to name a single living scientist, man or woman.

  21. #22 Neal
    March 17, 2009

    People can’t name a single paleoanthropologist, male or female. They don’t know any of the Leakey family. Among anthropologists, Margaret Mead’s name might have some traction, in part because her research became intertwined with the sexual revolution. Mead could be a woman who is more recognized than her male colleagues despite comparable contributions to the field. Such women might not be common, but they do exist.

  22. #23 MattK
    March 17, 2009

    Becca, I don’t think you’re looking at Greg’s post properly. Try reading it again and keep an eye out for alternate meanings.

    I know you can’t see me, but I’m rolling my eyes a lot at this. Since we all seem to be getting into the translation and interpretation business, I’ll take a stab at it:

    “Try reading it again and this time make up alternate meanings”

    Good advice; this formula has been amazingly successful so far (if you define success by how obtuse one can be while manufacturing dramatic emissions of moral indignation)

    Yes, how will we know what people are trying to say if we don’t put words in their mouths?

  23. #24 Tsu Dho Nimh
    March 17, 2009

    Perhaps I am not reading looking closely enough for subtext. What part of his baldly accurate statement about the need for support on the domestic front is so offensive?

    The lack of inexpensive domestic help and scarcity of extended families puts a serious crimp in the ability of anyone to get as involved in their research as they might.

    We all need “wives”.

  24. #25 KittysBitch
    March 17, 2009

    “Becca, I don’t think you’re looking at Greg’s post properly. Try reading it again and keep an eye out for alternate meanings.”

    Yeah Becca.
    The problem with your view is that you didn’t seem to go in looking specifically for things that can, in some sense, be translated into sexism.
    What were you thinking just reading Greg’s post and accepting his meanings and points?

    If I may be so bold, perhaps we should get Becca a refresher in Witch Hunt 101.

  25. #26 NotHarvard
    March 17, 2009

    oh puh-leeeeze. Laden intentionally tries to bait the much more popular bloggers like SciWoman, Isis, Zuska, etcetera in a pathetic attempt to increase his traffic. Don’t fall for his shenanigans! Let him go back to backslapping Pharyngula if he wants traffic…

  26. #27 becca
    March 17, 2009

    “Becca, I don’t think you’re looking at Greg’s post properly. Try reading it again and keep an eye out for alternate meanings.”
    My reading comprehension has never been up to explicating out of the writing most of the layers of Greg Laden’s meaning. It serves a purpose to remain this way. The smarter the audience that misses his meanings, the cleverer he can feel about putting extra ones in there. Meanwhile, maybe the rest of us can have an interesting conversation?

    I think I’ll just sum up with this:
    Reading Greg Laden’s blog is probably a really good idea for a lot of people, but only for a certain (unknown) percentage of people who actually do it. And, among those who do manage to read his blog, I would guess that the effectiveness of blog reading varies from pretty good to dismal because readers are doing it for the wrong reasons, in some cases for just plain bad reasons, and/or they really don’t know what they are doing.
    (thanks 1,000 toxic lakes!)

  27. #28 Ashley Wagner
    March 17, 2009

    I seriously don’t know how the posters above can see a sentence like this… “That is, indeed, what every scholar needs: A wife (or two) who knows how to type, edit, wield a caliper, and still have time to do the grocery shopping, have lunch ready at noon, and give birth to and raise the kids.” …as not being sexist. Yes, it could be gender neutral and be an a-okay statement. The point is that it isn’t. It is specifically pointed towards a woman being behind the scholar, doing the groceries and making lunch.

    Greg’s blog is the only blog in my ScienceBlogs Select feed that I ignore 99% of the time.

  28. #29 John
    March 17, 2009

    Probably because we see that sentence as indicating the unfair advantages men had as opposed to, I don’t know, celebrating it like a lot of you seem to think he’s doing?

  29. #30 KittysBitch
    March 17, 2009

    Ashley
    “I seriously don’t know how the posters above can see a sentence like this… “That is, indeed, what every scholar needs: A wife (or two) who knows how to type, edit, wield a caliper, and still have time to do the grocery shopping, have lunch ready at noon, and give birth to and raise the kids.” …as not being sexist.”

    Is this your first experience with a quote-mine?
    In context it is a valid statement.
    He refers to the need for an assistant (or two), which had historically been filled for male scientists by a wife.
    He then goes on to point out similar occurances where the husband plays that role for female scientists.

    “Greg’s blog is the only blog in my ScienceBlogs Select feed that I ignore 99% of the time.”

    I suppose this post was part of the 99% you didn’t read.
    Good thing Sciencewoman was her to quotemine the other 1% or you may not have met your quota.

  30. #31 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2009

    Thanks everyone for the helpful and spirited critiques. I’ve revised the blog post accordingly.

    (here)

    The key points are the same, but I’ve added some guiding phrases to help point out what was apparently deeply hidden cynicism. I’ve also pulled my punches on the “Jane Goodall as a scientist people recognize the name of bit.” I still think it is true, and we are all justifiably proud of Jane, but I’ve not got the time to defend that position, and it really is off the subject.

  31. #32 jt
    March 17, 2009

    @Ashley

    You can read that sentence as not being sexist Because Greg clearly lays out the context — it’s his summary of the situation for 20th Century, NOT how he thinks people should pursue careers. He did that in the preceding graph:

    1) “It is interesting to survey the primary African Palaeoanthropologists of the latter part of the 20th century…”
    2) Greg proceeds to name several male 20th century scientists who explicitly mention that their wives had that role.
    3) He then sums up the situation with the quote that ScienceWoman puked on.

    He’s pointing out that male privilege was an enabler for many folks in field work in Paleoanthropology. It’s difficult for me to read that as sexist, unless you read it as Sciencewoman does, as a necessary requirement for success–

    “The obvious translation of this is that women won’t succeed in science or academia because they can’t take advantage of traditional patriarchal privilege”

    This seems an odd way to read it, considering he goes on to praise a woman who succeeded without (for the most part) that privilege. Even disregarding his praise for Isaac, pointing out that male privilege is present does not imply that it is required.
    –jt

  32. #33 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    My reading comprehension has never been up to explicating out of the writing most of the layers of Greg Laden’s meaning.

    I think we’ve already established that nobody cares what Greg means. The point is what he writes — and if you’re not offended by it, you’re not reading it correctly.

  33. #34 Ashley Wagner
    March 17, 2009

    Kitty- Actually, this particular post of his didn’t make its way to the SS rss feed, so the first I had seen of it was posted on this blog. I also read his entire entry before reading Sciencewoman’s, and would rather that you not be rude about my “quota.” I just generally find his posts to not be in my field of interest, and the tone with which he writes doesn’t appeal to me.

    I can’t even compare his posting now with what I read earlier because it has been significantly revised. Apparently Laden has a problem using sarcasm to get his point across the way he means it. The way I read that earlier (and yes, I repeat: I did read his post. It was not first read in Sciencewoman’s “quotemine”) still sounded sexist and rude- from the way it was stated to the entire tone of the first half of his blog entry.

    jt & Kitty- Whether the sentence was meant to be sexist or not, if he wishes to avoid responses like this a little proofreading and maybe a bit of “reading again and keeping an eye out for alternate meanings” by him would be in order before posting.

  34. #35 jt
    March 17, 2009

    @Ashley

    I don’t care about Greg’s intended meaning. My point was that the sentence was not sexist on its face, it was a summary of a sexist situation.

    For example
    If I say “Many men in the Early 20th century thought that women shouldn’t vote”, you could then respond that

    “jt said that ‘…women shouldn’t vote’. That’s sexist”.

    Without context you’d be right, but assuming the author provides it, the burden’s on the reader to put the quote in the correct context.

    All that being said, the problem may be your threshold for sarcasm– I believe D.C. Session’s “read again and keep an eye out for alternate meaning” had a tongue at least en-route to the cheek.

    –jt

  35. #36 Stephanie Z
    March 17, 2009

    Ashley, you can indeed compare them, at least for now.

  36. #37 ScienceWoman
    March 17, 2009

    jt@ 3:19. But Greg didn’t say that “many men in the early 20th century” needed a wife to succeed. He explicitly said that it is what “every scholar needs.” Emphasis on the present tense.

  37. #38 S. Rivlin
    March 17, 2009

    I’m with Becca’s original response. Greg’s post, in many respects, has a historical facet that is absolutely true. It is also a bit toung-in-cheek attempt (“That is, indeed, what every scholar needs: A wife (or two) who knows how to type, edit, wield a caliper, and still have time to do the grocery shopping, have lunch ready at noon, and give birth to and raise the kids.”) for which many women comenters shouted “bloody murder” and consequently lost their ability to see the rest of Greg’s post straight. Rather than celebrating how far women in science have already gone, one can sense throughout this thread the continuous whinning about the injustices of the past. At the end, the deeds, not the cries, will advance women in science to equality. The excellence of their research, not their moaning and complaining about how used to be.

  38. #39 Propter Doc
    March 17, 2009

    If it is possible to move beyond the attacks on Greg, there is a genuinely important issue in all of this. That’s about field work, and the additional pressures it puts on scientists, particularly those with family commitments. Perhaps instead of arguing about semantics and who said what and who meant what, a decent and frank discussion about the difficulties of field work would be a more productive use of time?

  39. #40 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    Sol:

    I’m with Becca’s original response.

    Becca, do you need any more proof that you were wrong?

  40. #41 Kate
    March 17, 2009

    SW 12:29 and DrugMonkey, very nice and important points. So let’s do exactly that. I’m trying to get things started.

    Oh and Leslie M-B now I need to read your dissertation. Fantastic!

  41. #42 S. Rivlin
    March 17, 2009

    DC,

    If you just knew how many scientists before you had said that only to eat their words.

  42. #43 jt
    March 17, 2009

    @ScienceWoman
    But he did — see my previous post

    From Greg’s original…
    “It is interesting to survey the primary African Palaeoanthropologists of the latter part of the 20th century…”

    And after that proceeded with the “…You get the picture. What every scholar needs….” quote.

    To me it was clear that the present tense, “needs”, was him painting the picture (which he had JUST referred to) of the patriarchy’s influence on 20th century Palaeoanthropologists. Almost any other reading results in a non-sequitur

    You have either
    1) 20th century male Palaeoanthropologists having the support of their wives was a privilege
    2) All scholars (past and present) need a wife or two to clean and have kids…
    3) Many women who succeeded in the 20th century had some sort leg-up which allowed the access to some of that privilege

    or

    1) 20th century male Palaeoanthropologists having the support of their wives was a privilege (including “What every scholar needs” quote as an illustration of this)
    2) Many women who succeeded in the 20th century had some sort leg-up which allowed the access to some of that privilege

    To me the second reading is the only one that occurred to me (or that is coherent), unless you’re looking for a random dig at women. Further he doesn’t say that women can’t succeed without some privilege, just that the privilege had a real impact.

    –jt

  43. #44 Comrade PhysioProf
    March 17, 2009

    If you just knew how many scientists before you had said that only to eat their words.

    FUCKLINGTON! What the fuck’s up, holmes?

  44. #45 anon
    March 17, 2009

    I think you address some great points Sciencewomen, on science in the field and the choices we have to make. I too am a field scientist. I nearly screwed up my entire career because when I enrolled for my PhD I deliberately chose a topic that had a very low fieldwork component because I was breastfeeding (first one and then the next). This also meant sacrificing the area I was most interested in working in. And of course, sacrificing some very exciting opportunities for field work as you point out SW. Nor I did not realise at the time that it would have a major effect on how others perceived my capabilities and research direction (being fairly naive at the time), so I have had to work incredibly hard to address those issues as my children got older (now school age). I also note that many colleagues still make assumptions about my availability to carry out field work in remote and exciting locations, which pisses me off no end. And of course, the boys that were able to take advantage of the exciting opportunities get extra brownie points for their previous experience in the field. It all gets rather cyclical, and can be very difficult to change.

    Yes, I am a scientist with a supportive partner, but quite honestly, being part of a functioning family with children is enormously hard work, and being a successful scientist on top is a phenomenal achievement. I do not believe the barriers to success can be overstated for women with families who are field scientists.

    Any woman with children who succeeds as a field scientist is exceptional in my book.

  45. #46 anon
    March 17, 2009

    I should add to my comment above (as it sounds a bit odd), that I do not regard myself as being a successful field scientist(yet), but I am powerfully inspired by those that are.

  46. #47 phagenista
    March 17, 2009

    Call me crazy… but I think the goal of revising the stereotyped role of a scientist should be that we don’t make it someone who requires a full-time support staff person (sadly abbreviated as “wife”). There are unpartnered, childfree scientists, there are single parent scientists… there are scientists partnered with people of equally or more ambitious careers who cannot be counted upon to come on every field trip, proofread every grant, act as secretary and nanny for us most of the time. The single-income family with two parents is already a rarefied kind… most two-parent households need two incomes. While it still seems to be true that most women earn less in less “prestigious” fields than most men, I think the goal of science should be to assume that all scientists have children and all of us lack a spouse. That would help us define a work culture that gave us more time at home, be it with a lover, a family, or just some good non-science books. That would help us value people who did time-consuming service to their communities, people who were equally accomplished at a hobby as their scientific career, and would stop in its tracks a culture that requires the time and attention of two people for the income and success of one.

    I have no idea how we would incentivize the system to achieve this… but I think acknowledging that female scientists would like a wife, too, is treating a symptom. If we’re going to change anything, let’s change the underlying cause.

  47. #48 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    I think the goal of science should be to assume that all scientists have children and all of us lack a spouse.

    Huh? The goal of science is discovery. Everything else is a cost. Now, those costs might be necessary to accomplishing the goal, and IMHO should be.

    The problem everyone is dancing around is that up until now, those costs have not been necessary [1], and “science” has gotten along pretty well. Either the sources of funding have gotten bargains, or they’ve been able to afford more science — YMMV.

    Which gets to my favorite ignored question: granting that the things you describe are indeed socially desirable and all that, how do we get there without the invocation of magic [2]?

    It might also be desirable to avoid really nasty means such as hit squads going around and doing in senior scientists to make for high demand; I suspect that there are other constraints that various parties might want to introduce. These seem likely to make a hard task even harder.

    [1] Bear in mind that, for all we’re dissing the 20th century, the 18th and 19th make the 20th seem idyllic. Within living memory, you pretty well had to be independently wealthy with lots of servants to be able to afford the practice of science at all — much less to make a decent living at it and afford luxuries like this “life” thing we sometimes hear about.
    [2] Magic (per John Campbell) is “product without process.”

  48. #49 Anonymous
    March 17, 2009

    “FUCKLINGTON! What the fuck’s up, holmes?”

    Who’s Comrade PhysioProf and what this comment has to do with the topic discussed here?

  49. #50 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    Who’s Comrade PhysioProf and what this comment has to do with the topic discussed here?

    I believe CPP is referring to the established consensus that S. Rivlin is a waste of oxygen and his posts are a waste of electrons.

  50. #51 Comrade PhysioProf
    March 17, 2009

    The problem everyone is dancing around is that up until now, those costs have not been necessary [1], and “science” has gotten along pretty well.

    WRONG! Up until very recently, the overwhelmingly vast majority of those costs have been externalized by the scientific enterprise as the unpaid labor of women.

  51. #52 DrugMonkey
    March 17, 2009

    The problem everyone is dancing around is that up until now, those costs have not been necessary [1], and “science” has gotten along pretty well.

    say what? are you familiar with the concept of “opportunity cost”? If you have a system where some highly capable individuals are explicitly or de facto ruled out of participating, you have a cost.

  52. #53 Comrade PhysioProf
    March 17, 2009

    Who’s Comrade PhysioProf…?

    Who’s Comrade PhysioProf!?!?!?!? Surely you jest!

  53. #54 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    Up until very recently, the overwhelmingly vast majority of those costs have been externalized by the scientific enterprise as the unpaid labor of women.

    Precisely — they weren’t necessary, in the “you have to do this to get what you want” sense.

    Cost externalization is always a good deal for those who can manage it. Bad macroeconomics, certainly, but a sweet deal none the less.

    For those who object to the arrangement, the logical next question is, “what steps can I take to change this bad macroeconomic situation?” or “What steps can I take to remove this reward for socially undesirable behavior?”

    Bueller?

  54. #55 peter
    March 17, 2009

    D. C. Sessions –“if you’re not offended by it, you’re not reading it correctly.”

    that’s pretty impressive. how does it feel to have such certainty?

  55. #56 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    say what? are you familiar with the concept of “opportunity cost”? If you have a system where some highly capable individuals are explicitly or de facto ruled out of participating, you have a cost.

    That’s a social cost, but it’s not a cost to any individual employer. It’s not even prima facie clear that it’s actually a marginal cost to employers as a group.

    You could hypothesize that barriers to participation in a field deny that field of people who might otherwise become superstars (a far-from-proven speculation). Even if so, however, you would still need to establish that the marginal value of those potential superstars would outweigh the savings gained from the barriers. After all, quantity has a quality all its own.

    Otherwise, if the supply exceeds the demand then the buyer is paying too much.

    Now, I would personally more than welcome having someone actually do an economic analysis of that sort. In my own field, I’ve seen far too many good teams axed thanks to management who seem to think that the only measurable output of a professional is a warm chair seat — which can be accomplished for a lot less outlay by doing a 1:1 export of jobs to somewhere with a lower pay scale.

    However, I’ve not seen any serious work supporting that conclusion and engineering results are much easier to quantify economically than science per se.

  56. #57 Anonymous
    March 17, 2009

    D. C. Sessions: “I believe CPP is referring to the established consensus that S. Rivlin is a waste of oxygen and his posts are a waste of electrons.”

    Hence, I’ll repeat; what Comerade PhysioProf’s comment has to do with the topic discussed here? Seems to me that both you and s/he have an ax to grind with said S. Rivlin, which make you both trolls.

  57. #58 D. C. Sessions
    March 17, 2009

    Hence, I’ll repeat; what Comerade PhysioProf’s comment has to do with the topic discussed here?

    Nothing whatever, so far as I can tell. He just shows up whenever Sol posts and says something about Sol.

    Seems to me that both you and s/he have an ax to grind with said S. Rivlin, which make you both trolls.

    Me? You asked, I answered.

    Then again, I don’t pretend to understand what CPP does on St. Patrick’s Day with “the motherfucking Jamison” and all.

  58. #59 Venusian
    March 17, 2009

    As I a guy who has read Greg’s blog, I can’t believe someone has driven over him. I can’t believe the man’s mouth. Or opinions. What a pain in the ass.

  59. #60 Courtney
    March 17, 2009

    Courtney said: “What is wrong with saying that academia is infused with traditional patriarchal privilege?

    There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s that Greg says that out of one side of his mouth while dismissing the accomplishments of women scientists out of the other. And I’ve never gotten the sense that Greg understands how what he writes can be considered offensive.

    Well….I suppose you could take what he said the wrong way. I didn’t get the impression from your quotes that he was dismissive of women scientists, but perhaps one needed to read the arguably lengthy and rambling original post more carefully.

    I think that Ashley here gets your annoyance:

    “I seriously don’t know how the posters above can see a sentence like this… “That is, indeed, what every scholar needs: A wife (or two) who knows how to type, edit, wield a caliper, and still have time to do the grocery shopping, have lunch ready at noon, and give birth to and raise the kids.” …as not being sexist. Yes, it could be gender neutral and be an a-okay statement. The point is that it isn’t. It is specifically pointed towards a woman being behind the scholar, doing the groceries and making lunch.”

    Duh! That is the point – he’s saying that this help-meet role has specifically been filled by women in the past (and sometimes the present!) Calling out the sexism is not, in and of itself, sexist.

    Perhaps you should read “The Creative Class”…Dr. Florida makes a good point that we’ve outsourced and/or technologized a lot of the traditional domestic roles: food growth, food preparation, house cleaning, clothing creation and care, social arrangements, etc. If you’ve ever used a dry cleaner, run through a fast-food joint, used a lawn service, use a food-delivery service, gone to the grocery store, used a PDA, used a social networking site, used a printer, used a copymachine, used a dishwasher or a washing machine — then you’ve outsourced what used to be traditional female roles.

    Your life is notably better in that you’ve more free time to concentrate on your work because of it. But don’t say that it doesn’t exist, even now. Or that women scientists don’t take advantage of it in order to further their careers.

    Perhaps it’s because I live with a professional critic that it would certainly take more than his confused discourse to tick me off. ;)

    As a science educator, I’m always challenged to integrate women into science precisely because of all those uncredited authors.

  60. #61 jeff
    March 18, 2009

    The problem is that Greg thinks he’s the worlds greatest expert on everything. So when he is right about something, it’s too much effort to confirm that. At this point, the only reasonable response to Greg is to discount everything he says and ignore him.

  61. #62 Anonymous
    March 18, 2009

    My husband is a field scientist too, and I would just like to say that he, like you, was limited in post-docs because he didn’t want to be away from his child for months on end. So many of the issues that frustrate and limit female scientists (and I am a female scientist) also frustrate and limit our male counterparts. I just wish that we could get past the gender issues and create a work-life balance that would benefit everyone.

  62. #63 kt
    March 18, 2009

    I am going to echo phagenista and Anon at 1:22 pm. Science in the past was done by men, women who had the support of a male scientist because of their exceptional talent, and single women, who didn’t have to sacrifice science for the family. Now that men take a greater role in family life and we think that women shouldn’t have to sacrifice family for the social role of mother, how can we create a situation in which science and life can coincide?

    I read an interesting article elsewhere recently that argued that British women wrote more great novels in the 1800s than American women because even less-wealthy British women had servants to cook and clean. American women of similar family income, in our culture, often did the cooking and cleaning themselves (yay pioneer spirit!). This prevented them from having time to write.

  63. #64 Anonymous
    March 18, 2009

    D.C. Sessions wrote: “Me? You asked, I answered.”

    I don’t think so. You have eleborated about an “established consensus that S. Rivlin is a waste of oxygen and his posts are a waste of electrons” meaning that you are part of that established concensus. You either play the tool bearer for that CPP, or you too coward to speak for yourself, which is typical for many in science today.

  64. #65 Ivory
    March 18, 2009

    One thing I read about a year ago compared heterosexual marries couples where one partner was a doctor and one was a lawyer. If the doctor was a woman, she would consistently say her work schedule was more flexible than her spouse. If the lawyer was a woman, she would say that her work schedule was more flexible. I think that this underscores that women have a harder time setting boundaries (for a variety of reasons) and are more willing to arrange their work around their family (or are forced to do that for practical reasons – nursing, pregnancy etc.) This can only hurt you in the academy – whatever your gender might be.

  65. #66 GirlPostdoc
    March 18, 2009

    Whatever gender you impose on the person who has to know how to type, edit, wield a caliper, grocery shop, have lunch ready, and raise kids, I think you have missed the problem with this statement.

    It superimposes a ridiculous expectation outside of the work-life balance that so many of us have been blogging about. If I recall Sciencewoman had a recent post on this very issue.

    Perhaps it would help to reframe the discussion around WHY we feel it necessary to impose such an enormous burden on any ONE person.

  66. #67 GirlPostdoc
    March 18, 2009

    BTW I too am a field and bench scientist. Imagine that all in one woman.

  67. #68 Karina
    April 1, 2009

    Um, wow. I am soooooooooo behind on blog reading. I finally noticed that you linked to me in this post (as did Greg in his). I don’t think I have anything to say that hasn’t already been said by the multitude of comments. Thanks for increasing my blog’s traffic though. :-)

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