Let Her Eat The Oppressor's Cake

Normally I think one should be a bit gentle with the young un's, as they are still not fully formed and their thinking has not developed much complexity. They haven't had a lot of experience; you have to give them time to grow into understanding.

But if they will go about writing screeds for rightwing publications, all bets are off.

Over at the Cornell American Online, Rachel Brenc, a first-year student in engineering - oops, I mean, freshman - has written a little piece that ought to be titled Why There's Nothing Wrong With White Male Domination Of Every Institution In Our Society As Long As I, Personally, Have Never Experienced Any Discrimination Of Which I Am Cognizant Because I'm Just Going To Quit Working As Soon As I Get Pregnant Even Though I Love My Engineering Classes And I Will Just Cross My Fingers And Trust God That My Husband Doesn't Leave Me Or Die Or Get Disabled Or Laid Off Because I Think There Is No Discrimination Against Women And Those Ladies Who Wrote That NSF Report Are Just Whiners, Not Hard Workers (Who Know Their Place, In the Kitchen With The Babies) Like Me

Then, after the title, she could just substitute all the text with this:

Most women, except me, suck. Those stupid ladies who wrote that NSF report are castrating bitches who hate men and they can't even handle producing an online report, I bet they aren't even real scientists, they are just whiners. Everybody knows that everybody hates women and that a competent woman scientist is an oxymoron and hah hah it's fun to make fun of women scientists hah hah hah. Except me. There's no discrimination, there isn't, la la la la la, I can't hear you, I'll read your report but I won't believe the data, la la la la la, you can't make me.

After the jump you'll find the text of the comment I left on her online article.

To set this up, you need to know that Rachel is ostensibly offering a critique of the NSF report Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling The Potential Of Women In Academic Science And Engineering, and I need to include this quote from the article:

...these women [the authors of the report] want to have their cake, eat it, declare a gender bias because the icing is pink, and file a report on it too.

Here's my comment to Rachel:

Perhaps Rosa Prigosen said it best when she said "This is an age of science...Science as a career for women is practically the same as it is for men. Although the supervision of scientific research is still largely in the hands of men, many of the actual experiments are done by women."

Of course, she said it in 1916.

Rachel, you think the struggle for women's access to science and engineering careers is something that took place - what? In the 1970s? Or last decade? And it's all over and done with? Because you, a data point of one, have no personal stories of discrimination, in all your infinite wisdom of 18 or 19 years you conclude that you know more than the esteemed panelists of the NSF report who spent months gathering, compiling, and analyzing data? It's great that you have not felt discriminated against so far - but you are very young. And studies show that discrimination against women increases as they move up the career ladder, so be forewarned.

If all it took was a panel's imbalanced gender composition to invalidate the conclusions of the report it issues, then we cannot trust the results of nearly everything that is put forth from the NSF, the NIH, the government, industry, the medical establishment, you name it. Because by and large, most panels are dominated by men. No new information in the report? That's what a compilation of data is - it compiles existing data. Welcome to report world. The report "strayed" from the topic of gender to deal with race? What, women are all of one race, so you don't need to talk about race to deal with gender???? I can only conclude that you are white, because a non-white woman could hardly be expected to make such a silly kind of statement.

The more things change...Rachel, I still have a copy of a freshman composition essay I wrote in response to an article in the student newspaper on sexual harassment on campus. That couldn't possibly be happening in 1980! I exclaimed. Discrimination is over! We burned our bras in the 1970s and all that. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Indeed, it's depressing as hell to think that over 20 years later, things have not changed more than they have. I would not have imagined back then that progress would be so staggeringly slow. But I think I am in a better position than you are to evaluate the difference between then and now.

It is frightening to admit that there might be something to all this. To admit that there might be something that is going to affect your career that is completely outside of your control and that has nothing whatsoever to do with how talented and accomplished you are, that does not respect how hard or how long you work. It sucks. It is much more comforting to pretend that such things do not exist. In that sense, your near-hysterical sense of denial is completely understandable.

What is really sad, however, is the hatred of women and consequent self-loathing it implies that comes across so strongly in your article. You say that the women who wrote the report must hate young women like you, but you are the one who makes remarks like "it was reported that the lone man on the committee stumbled out of each meeting covered with whip marks and had to sprint to an emergency estrogen removal station to keep his testosterone level in check". It would take a week to explain to you all the woman-hating packed into that one sentence: that women are a threat to men, that too-many women will emasculate a man, that women want to keep men pussy-whipped, that women want to control men, that women are, in general, evil. Or how about "Maybe if there were more men on the committee the incorporated technology would actually work". Is that what you are going to tell your interviewers come job search time? That, in general, you can't trust technology designed by women to function properly? Do you really believe such nonsense? Do you really hate yourself and other women so much?

You have exposed your own insecurities and self-loathing so pitilessly in this article, it makes me wince. You scoff at the reports focus on the difficulties for women of combining marriage, family, and a career that men don't face - but you clearly recognize those difficulties for yourself. We don't hear anything about your future hubby's needs to stay home with the kids. Only how you'll have to set aside your career once the kids come along, despite the fact that you do seem to love what you are doing right now very much ("excited about my two engineering math prelims").

But you seem to be perfectly happy with your pink icing. Enjoy your cake, if it seems good to you. If all you want is cake, eat cake. Just don't bitch at women who'd rather have something more nutritious.

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Can we start placing bets on exactly how long it will be before the little twit changes majors?

Well, that's the blood pressure raised for the day. She sounds so naive, and in some sort of denial. I agree with her over one thing: I have never been told that I can't do something because I am female.
The nature of the comments on that article by some male names is also terrifying. Rather than engaging in honest debate they resort to name calling. Pathetic.

I read the article and commments. I also read what the newspaper was about. On the home page, there were articles insulting Native Americans, Catholics, and Women. From the web site -

The Cornell American is an independent journal of conservative principle at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. It is published by Cornell American Inc., a non-profit corporation under New York State law and section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It is registered under The Cornell Literary Society with the Student Activities Office of Cornell University.

Founded in January 1992, its mission is to "raise a traditional American perspective, so as to balance debate on campus and to further conservative ideals." The opinions presented in the Cornell American are solely those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the advertisers or persons listed as staff.

Americans have had enough of these conservative values as they showed at the last election. The entire website reminds me of the neo-nazi groups pushing their agenda. another good reason to send my kids somewhere they can get a good education instead of this !@#$!@#!@!!

By SuzyQueue (not verified) on 17 Nov 2006 #permalink

Below is my comment to Rachel (the article is so inflammatory I wonder if "she" is actually a he). I also wonder if she/he/whatever got paid for the article.

Dear Rachel,

For a dose of reality for what it is like to be a real live female scientist with a PhD who was in the top tier of her field, but was dumb enough to think that a "mythical" maternal wall couldn't stop her from having kids while also continuing to be outstanding in her chosen career path, read http://radio.weblogs.com/0151290/

That scientist is me, and just because you (a female only in the first semester of a science degree for chrissakes) haven't experienced gender discrimination doesn't mean it isn't epidemic for those a little further along in their life's experiences.

Frankly, after living what I've lived through, and seeing what my female friends who are still in the field have to live through, I feel like crawling through cyberspace and smacking some sense into you for writing such an idiotic article based on your "extensive" experience gleaned from your half-of-a-semester-as-a-female-scientist, you daft little twit.

I have some sympathy for Rachel: she may honestly be in a state of denial about gender bias. I refused to acknowledge the sexism I experienced until well into college, and didn't fully register the extent of it until I was almost thirty. Denial serves a protective function: a smart, ambitious girl must ignore the naysayers who tell her that she can't do science (or math, or whatever) because she's female. But I ignored them so hard, I convinced myself they didn't exist -- an amazing feat, given that I grew up in a conservative, rural area where sexism had a significant impact on my life.

The sad thing is that while pretending the barriers don't exist, a young woman can't develop strategies to deal with them. She ends up blindsided later in her career when the bias is made undeniably explicit. I'll never forget the time one of my graduate professors told me he didn't want his female students to date, because women couldn't do quality work while distracted by men. Or the first time a male student told me that he wouldn't take my class, because he couldn't respect a young female professor.

For some portion of the population, absoutely nothing I can do professionally will ever prove my intellectual worth. That is a very painful realization for any woman, and I'm sorry to wish it on Rachel, but the sooner she figures it out, the sooner she can start to deal with reality. And she will snap out of it -- eventually.

Sadly, I'm a science grad @ Cornell and you can actually see (and unfortunately hear) this type of creatures on campus. On the two years I've been on this campus I've had to deal with both the gender, ethnicity, and "cuteness" bias. And, yea there's nothing worse than after dealing with all this cr_p to prove yourself as a worthy intelligent researcher actually have to hear this crazy little eternally subjugated undergrads.

Zuska, long time lurker here to say I remember her type when I was in college in the 80s and later in the late 90's when I went back to school studying science. As a woman who works in the business world as a project manager on systems projects I still see so much that stinks for women. A lot of it takes the form of having my input ignored by technical men until some male manager expresses the same opinion. The battle is exhausting. Also, nothing like going from being in your 20s & 30s and having men look at your breasts when you talk to being in your 40s and 50s and being shunted to the sidelines or just plain laid off.
As for young women who say they have never been told they can't do something because they are female, well isn't that nice? The fact is discrimination is often much more subtle these days, in my experience. (Though not always - Absinthe is a good example of how not subtle it can be.) Also, again, it happens more as you move up the career ladder. Most newly hired women from college that I work with have never seen blatent discrimination. Then one day they will be sitting around with some of us women managers in a conference room discussing initiatives in our company when one will ask why one of us isn't going to try to run one of those projects. A response of "So and So will never hire a woman" shocks them. Floors them. Then you see in their eyes the fear, then the denial. It won't happen to them. We older women must be too cranky, too stupid, too pain in the ass to work with. That's it.
In some ways I can't blame them. After all they have 40 more years to work and deal with this crap. But it's a cowardly path to take, and it leaves them more vulnerable in the long run. And it just makes things worse.

I tried to access the article again and I can no longer get to it. Any Google search also finds non-functioning web pages - some message about suspended account as if they didn't pay their bill. I did find several articles on how the Cornell student association was suspending their funding after the original application noted that the society that backs the 'newspaper' listed their activities as poetry reading.

By SuzyQueue (not verified) on 18 Nov 2006 #permalink

I noticed some months ago that the "suspended page" message comes up pretty frequently for the Cornell American, but every now and then it starts working again. Perhaps their server is just lousy.

What also might be going on is that the author might be fronting so as not to seem like an extremist infront of guys in her major. Lots of younger women live in mortal fear f being called a femiazi. But its bette that she get a good hard smackdown now.

Last week I had a discussion with some female grad students who thought my refering to Larry Summers as a sexist was going too far (he was wrong and stupid, but just misinformed they thought). The word sexist sounded too extreme to them.

Damn am I dreading proffessorship, my plan was to stay in the postdoc pool long enough that the older baby boomer-assholes would be retired or dead, but if the next generation is stll spouting this crap I might need a new strategy.

By Carpenter (not verified) on 18 Nov 2006 #permalink

Frightening. Truly frightening. But I've noticed a trend, particularly in my younger graduate students in the lab, where the women sometimes say that 'gender issues are pretty much resolved'. However - after a year or two, in the lab with a female professor (in the south no less) - they soon see things a bit differently. But the younger ones are incredibly blind - with such reluctance to see clearly. I talk about this stuff with my students (both male and female), so they get exposed to it - but I can see some of them going through the system in other laboratories and not paying attention until they're trying to manuever departmental politics in their first faculty meeting...

Remember, though, that she is a first-year and very incoherent in her reasoning. Cornell is one of those places that has a nice diversity of viewpoints and the vestiges of the old-boy network. If she comes out of the engineering school still believing what she said in this article, she wasn't paying enough attention.

Carpenter sommented

...my plan was to stay in the postdoc pool long enough that the older baby boomer-assholes would be retired or dead,...

My experience is that the worst non-understanding or denial of women's issues in science and technology come from the men who are my age, so I'm competition, and from men in managerial positions who have no daughters or no career minded spouse/partner. The only exception I have found to this is one manager who has only daughters and a working spouse employed in health care. He has commented a couple of times that he doesn't understand why his daughters pursued non-technical degrees. One conversation with him and I knew why.

I doubt that in my lifetime that there will be a decent environment for women in SMET and I'm not that old - although I get the impression that I am at least twice as old as some of the folks who post here.

So, when did the climate change in other fields (medicine, law) and how long did it take for women to fill their ranks?

By SuzyQueue (not verified) on 19 Nov 2006 #permalink

The Cornell American is back online - and looking over the article and its comments again, I'm struck by how similar this whole argument seems to be like the movie Mona Lisa Smile... just insert Rachel Brenc for a modern-day Betty Warren (Kirsten Dunst's character).

Hahahahaha... hahaha... hahaha.. wooo... good one.

As a very young law student I will make this comment - while in the first year of law school, there isn't necessarily a palpable gender bias (unless you look at a couple of more insiduous things - the class is 68% female, and 90% of the classroom commentary is done by males; and 90% of the external student representation - including the student council, the moot teams, the heads of student clubs etc. are male) but one, two, three years out of law school the landscape of representation changes dramatically. A mere three years out of law school and over 50% of the females are non-practicing. Is it because we're lazy? We can't cut it? We're not smart enough? Determined enough? No. It's because it is actually structually impossible to have any kind of responsibility for anything, even a dog, and maintain a full-time position in a 'traditional' legal occupation. Does law need to be structured this way? No. But the structure maintains.

I am in the fortunate position of being very young. This means that I can graduate, sublimate 7 years of life into working 80 hour weeks, make partner - so that they cannot fire me - and still be at an age where I can have children. I am one of the very few that do not need to disrupt the status quo in order to "have my cake and eat it too". Does this mean that I pretend that there is no gender bias? I can't see it because because it does not have as great of impact on me as it could?

Someone posted a comment here that I think Katrina's comment is in reply to - but the comment seems to have vanished and I have no idea why. I was reading the comment in my email inbox and it just disappeared. If the person who wrote it is reading this, would you mind reposting?

From what I can remember, the commenter asked about why things are so much better for women in medicine and law than for women in science and engineering - what is different about medicine and law that has opened up those professions to women while science and engineering remain so resistant. The percentage of women attending law and medical schools nears or exceeds 50% while we know how dismal the percentages are in science and engineering at the graduate level.

As we see from Katrina's post, percentages don't tell all the story, and getting 50% representation of women in science and engineering would only be part of the struggle as well. Structural changes are necessary. But there are differences, and there are historical reasons why the fields are so different in percentage of women; I'll address this in a future post.

At the end of an earlier post, I asked what was different about other professions, especially law and medicine, for women. I included those professions as these are the ones I remember being spotlighted as 'women-friendly' by the women in science and engineering groups I used to work with. Maybe they are just friendly in comparison to SMET.

One other thought I had after reading the article by Rachel. Why would anyone want to hire her, award her a scholarship, or sponsor her on a project? As she stated, she would very willingly give up any career to stay at home and raise a family. I sit on many hiring committees and sponser several scholarships. I wouldn't want to waste my money or time on someone who isn't interested in continuing into a career with their major. I remember the warning I received as an undergraduate that women only studied engineering to get an MRS. degree so professors won't want to waste their time on them especially if they suspected you weren't serious. Given that the internet is now a way to research job applicants, what is to prevent a future search committee from finding the article and a reason to not hire Miss Rachel? This is one of the areas where feminists fought against discrimination in preferential hiring of men as they would be 'more stable.'

I was struck by the obvious tone of the article as one of the priviledged class. She obviously comes from privilege so she feels she doesn't have to work. Someone will take care of her for the rest of her life as they have done so far. As another comment stated, unless her spouse dies, has a heart attack, or kicks her to the curb, but then she can just run home to mum and dad. Wouldn't that be nice!

By SuzyQueue (not verified) on 19 Nov 2006 #permalink

As to if older or younger people in my field(high energy physics BTW) are more seixist, its hard to say.
I once got into it with a very senior member of my field over a diner conversation. He posited that religion was an evolutionary adaptation that encouraged people to make war, and specifically rape the other side thus passsing on genes. I gave him hell, (the entire ide is pretty stupid) bu discounting half the human race in terms os giant things like evolution and religion is just reeeeediculous. The thing was he backed of, said he hadnt really thought it through too much . Thats the thing, lots of older guys dont even THINK about women at all, just didnt occour to them.
(Like I read Stranger in a strange land an threw it across the room 4 times cuz the female characters sexuality just wasnt adressed even though the book ,was supposed to be ground breaking). Another time I had a diner conversation with a senior prof as he said he didnt think American culture devalued women. Again I got into it, like how woman is synonyous with coward and "effeminate" is the worst thing a politcal leader can be etc. Didnt even occour to this guy to even think about this stuff.
Anyway, its not that I've never heard stupid shit from people my age, just that old men dont even consider us, younger guys seem to have a clue we exist.

By Carpenter (not verified) on 19 Nov 2006 #permalink

had a discussion in my group today about affirmative action. One of the guys comented that if we promoted women in male fields soon all groups on the fringes of society would ask for prefferential treatment. I couldn't figure out what was bothering me for a while, but wait a minute since when are women a fringe group. And this from a man that considers himself liberal and progressive. Poor Rachel, one day her eyes will open and she will see how much worse she is off as a woman. I'll be there for her to come crying to.

Funny, I wrote about what some of the commenters are writing about recently myself (maybe a week or two ago). Young women are RUNNING away from feminism, and I mean RUNNING. They are in denial, and words like "patriarchy" and "sexism" are frightening to them.

What in the world has been done to them that they are so afraid to acknowledge what smacks them in the face every single day? It makes me sad.

In any case, great job with your response Zuska!

Even though I graduated near the top of my engineering class a few years ago, it was iffy for a while that I would even finish. Why? I couldn't go back to the lab. I couldn't face some of the teachers, some of the students (who would tell me I should wear skirts in the lab more often), and some of the grad students who would hover around and insult me when I wouldn't give them my phone number. I was eventually hysterical, and then depressed, and seriously breaking down from the harassment in my my engineering department.

And yet, when I was in first year....I felt pretty much like Rachel. Nothing had happened to me; erego, there is no problem. Everyone is equal. There are no barriers for *me*.

People are to some extent self-centered, and have a very difficult time understanding the experiences of others unless we live through them too (is this why novels were invented?)
I feel *that's* the problem, and why the harassment never stops: No one else, unless it has happened to them too, believes you when you ask for help. They just can't fathom what is going on, or would prefer not to.

It amazes me to this day the gulf of understanding between myself and friends, roommates, and partners, who can't begin to understand some of the cruel, ridiculous, and perverted behaviour that has been targetted at me.

And PS - I'm a writer now, and have been thinking of writing something women-in-engineering related (in terms of a novel or screenplay). I have my own experience to draw on. What else is out there? (Contact me via my web site if you'd like to get in touch!)

I have an engineering degree.

When did engineering become a science?

The various categories I can think of that are used to classify academic areas are science, technology, arts, humanities, social science, that kind of stuff. Engineering tends to fit in the technology category.

Engineering originally was in the category of applied science or applied mechanics, a division of physics or basic science. Technology is a relatively newer discipline compared to the various branches of engineering. The basis for engineering calculations is science. Chemical engineers use chemistry to design processes according to design specifications. Mechanical Engineers use Physics, especially Mechanics, to design machines. Electrical Engineers use Physics, especially electricity and magnetism, to design electrical and electronic systems and so on. Social Science is a subset of science so the purest academic divisions would be arts/humanities and sciences. Although engineering requires imagination, it is not considered an 'art' in the academic sense.

By SuzyQueue (not verified) on 02 Dec 2006 #permalink

Gary, I'm not sure what your question is apropos of...but I have a degree in Engineering Science from Pennsylvania State University. http://www.esm.psu.edu/ I think of engineering as applied science and technology, using creative design and innovation, to solve problems and improve societal conditions.

PSU's Engineering Science and Mechanics department gives this as its mission statement:

To develop future state, national and international leaders of scientific and engineering endeavors, the law, medicine, business, politics and governments, who apply a solid foundation in engineering and scientific principles, to impact the well being of the global society, its environment, and future frontiers, yet to be discovered.

Engineering is indeed a science - and oh so much more.