DrDrA at BlueLabCoats has returned with an outstanding post, entitled, “I want you to hear me, I don’t care what you see…,” that she wrote out longhand during her recent travels:
In my absence I picked up a whiff of a lot of chatter about what women scientists wear to work… or talk/write about wearing …. going on in the blogosphere. . .
You see- the struggle I’m in daily in my own life and career is not about appearances, and it is not about symbolism or femininity- and it is not about who I am as a person, my likes and dislikes etc. It is a struggle to be heard and taken seriously for my ideas, plain and simple. . .it is about training the students in my group – who right now happen to be all women- to be the best possible scientists, and teaching them how the system works. It is about not having to repeat the same reasonable idea 20 or 30 times and have it laughed off by a group of colleagues for two or three YEARS, and then having a man mention it once and have it roundly applauded and implemented.
Funny that she should write this outstanding post right now – since I’ve been reading her, Zuska, and many of my other women scientist friends (and witnessing my supremely accomplished wife get blown off by fellow academics), I’ve been trying my own experiments (not really experiments but rather real-life observations to which I’ve become attuned after reading my colleagues.).
The last one was at a meeting last week where I noticed at our opening reception a group of women academics next to the bar separate from the other groups of mostly men with one or maybe two women. I gently interrupted to introduce myself then spoke with a few about where they were, what they did, why they were here, etc., intentionally listening for 75-80% of the conversation rather than being the typical male ass who would descend upon such a group and hold forth on his greatness. Indeed, these women smoked me in terms of stature and experience and I did in fact have a great deal to learn from them (as I did for the rest of the workshop).
Well, wouldn’t you know if, but along comes a gentleman obviously hoping to rescue these highly accomplished female academics from a man who was actually listening to them. After a few minutes of his blustering and chest-puffing, I turned back to the person with whom I was already having an engaging conversation and the gentleman took leave shortly thereafter.
I present this anecdote not for any self-aggrandizment – after all, what is such a big deal about listening more than speaking to anyone, any colleague, regardless of their gender or geographical ancestry? Instead, DrDrA’s sentiments caused me to recall what DrugMonkey said in one of his more notable posts, gentlemen, it doesn’t hurt a bit to be “that guy.”
“That Guy” is the one who always says “Hey, how come we don’t have any women on this seminar list? Can we do a little better? What about Professor Smith, she’s got some really interesting stuff”. I have a colleague who has a reputation for this sort of thing (I try to emulate him to the degree that I can manage it) which makes him “that guy”. The one where after awhile the GrayBearded types kinda roll their eyes in his direction, or even make the pre-emptive comments anticipating his observation.
One final note, motivated by Dr. Jekyll’s comment about overhearing “she’s a real ball-buster”. Generalizing to the “too aggressive” critique leveled at your female colleague who is trying to make it in this career, there is an approach to take. Even if you happen to agree that Dr. FemaleColleague does behave a little aggressively and non-collegially. (Yes, my XX readers, it sometimes is the case that that jerk colleague is a woman). You can acknowledge that even if she is less-than-pleasant, you “can certainly understand the discriminatory factors affecting women in science that made her have to act this way to get the resources she needed”. What could it possibly cost you to make that observation?
None of this talk is meant to say that only men can solve these problems. However, my continuing liberal arts studies of gender and race tell me that white men hold the power in academia (and elsewhere). Hence, why can’t those in power use that authority, those resources, etc., to support colleagues with equally great ideas and other strengths who are struggling in this business because of their race, gender, or both?
While much space has been devoted here to my moderating a session with PalMD on blogger pseudonymity at the upcoming ScienceOnline’09 conference, I’ve also been asked by Zuska and Alice Pawley to participate there in an endeavor I actually view as far, far more important: gender in science – online and offline and the potential for enlisting allies.
I’ve been blessed with very strong, intelligent, and accomplished role models in my life, many of whom are (or were) women: my Mom, my sister, my grandmothers, my wife. Their example helps me to strive to be “that guy.”
What about you, boys?