Normative Heterosexuality In ScienceLand

Female Science Professor has a great Q&A post, So They Had To Hire A Woman. Here's a sample:

Question: So you're going to get a Ph.D.? Couldn't you find anyone to marry you?

Answer 1: Why would I want to get married when so many men are just like you?

Answer 2: That's right, and I want to be a professor so that there are fewer people like you saying things like that.

I much prefer the first answer. Heh.

But really, once you start perusing the comments, it's absolutely stunning how many women report having some variant of this question thrown in their face. Like this comment from Professor in Training:

Excellent Q&A! I thought I was the only one that got asked stupid questions like those. In fact, yesterday's question was: "congratulations on your new tt job but when are you going to settle down and get married?" Grrrrr.

What all this tender solicitation about the state of one's marriage prospects reflects is a desperate unease with the presence of a woman unanchored by a man. She represents several things: undoing the social order, potentially uncontrollable sexuality, but worst of all, the threat of lesbianism. And a lesbian, of course, is a woman who has no use for a man. And men have got to be the primary important actors in every woman's life. Therefore, to maintain order and civilization as we know it, an unattached woman needs to be constantly reminded of her major goal, nay, duty, in life: to find a man.

Apparently unattached women will be presumed by all concerned inquirers to be heterosexual, and moreover, to be urgently desirous of finding a suitable mate. If you are not, no matter; all those fond questions are designed to reconcile you to your normative heterosexual role. The patriarchal borg is intent upon assimilating you. Your lavishly funded research program, your 3 papers in Science, your fancy new lab equipment - all that is mere sublimation of your deepest needs and wants, which is for Prince Charming to awaken you from this dreamscape of a career with one true kiss, so that you may happily ever after wait on him hand and foot.

This, ladies, is why I believe Answer #1 above is demonstrably the far superior response when faced with any version of this moronic question.

Or you could just ignore the question and ask the moron if he's heard that joke about the princess and the frog.

Once upon a time, in a land far away, a beautiful, independent, self-assured princess happened upon a frog as she sat, contemplating ecological issues on the shores of an unpolluted pond in a verdant meadow near her castle. The frog hopped into the princess' lap and said: Elegant Lady, I was once a handsome prince, until an evil witch cast a spell upon me. One kiss from you, however, and I will turn back into the dapper, young prince that I am and then, my sweet, we can marry and set up housekeeping in your castle
with my mother, where you can prepare my meals, clean my clothes, bear my children,
and forever feel grateful and happy doing so.

That night, as the princess dined sumptuously on lightly sautéed frog legs seasoned in a white wine and onion cream sauce, she chuckled and said to herself: I don't fucking think so!

More like this

There was this guy named "Maslow" who talked about the career vs. relationship thing. I don't suppose you've heard of him?

This seems to be the question most encountered by singles of either gender. Of course, people wait until social hour to inquire of the single men. However, we seem to be one-tracked into the idea that singleness is just a bus stop on the road of life.

Of course, answer 1 supposes that the questioner is male (is that always true?) and that the questioner suspects you're hetero. Some women do settle down and get married to women (at least here in Canada).
This question probably gets directed frequently at single women (and sometimes to single men) who are at the age when they may be in a PhD program. It's the age that makes singleness questionable to too many people. They think that by your mid 20s you should be getting on with life and that means family life, not intellectual life. By not doing that you're challenging the way they followed their life plan. They didn't question it at the time and maybe regretted it... your challenging it means that they had a choice too and maybe screwed it up.

I understand that this is only a small part of the problem discussed in the post. The small not-so-sexist part. I do realize that such questions are mostly sexist in content.... but there is an added layer: anyone who questions the common life decisions that the majority follow by not following them can be in for irrational comments.

There was this guy named "Maslow" who talked about the career vs. relationship thing. I don't suppose you've heard of him?

Yes, I have actually - and I don't recall him defining his terms so narrowly.

RichB, thanks for that Nellie McKay link, that song is priceless! Miss Prism, that t-shirt is just...really. too. much.

I wish the stupid questions would end with marriage...but that would be too easy. Now that I am engaged, I get comments like, "Well, you should really reconsider your career goals if you want to have kids." WTF? I tell them I don't even know if I want kids and then they scrunch up their nose or look confused and start shaking their heads no, like it will make the insane comment go away.

I remember those 'what are you plans for children' questions. My answer back then was that I lived in an apartment and couldn't plant a garden to which came the question as to why I needed a garden. Because, silly, that's where you find babies, under large cabbage leaves. The conversation usually ended there.

My other favorite comeback to the inevitable sexual innuendo that men would make was to explain that 'mother told me that if I ever saw something that I hadn't seen before, throw rocks.' At which point, I would point to the victorian looking bag that I always had with me. The bag held rocks since I collected them on my walks and I was always looking for a good rock.

By SuzyQueue (not verified) on 02 Aug 2008 #permalink

My favorite was the anesthesiologist who said "Your husband is allowing you to become an internist?"

I once met Robert Fletcher, who was then co-editor of Annals of Internal Medicine with his wife, Suzanne. He told me of an engagement party his parents gave for them at which an older man said "Where did you meet her?" and on being told it was in med school, replied "You're going to make her quit, right"? Suzanne Fletcher is about 15 years older than I am and unfortunately it didn't get all that much better in the interim.

I have endured over 20 years of adulthood with these moronic attitudes. Fortunately, I am now old enough that everybody in my family has given up lecturing me on what will make me happy, and I no longer allow them to negatively interfere. And the percentage of unmarried, childless 40 year old women in my country, and some other western countries, is just staggering. Can't recall the actual figure, sorry. But if most of these idiots knew the actual figures they would probably die of shock, or at least turn blue with cognitive dissonance.

and.. even if you are married, it doesn't stop -- and it isn't limited to science...

When I started grad school in philosophy, the grad advisor asked me if my doing grad work was "ok" with my husband -- and, whether or not my husband would be ok with my not being home in time for supper.

I really should have taken the hint and run for the hills -- but, instead I hung around until he retired... hmmm.

By philosopherP (not verified) on 03 Aug 2008 #permalink

Hmm. So would "You're a woman in (scientific/technical field). How do you put up with all the sexist bullshit women in fields like yours tend to get?" be welcome or no? x.x