Though university administrators seem to be widely reviled among faculty members, one of the best jobs I ever had was in administration. Many wonderful opportunities came my way; possibly the most mind-stretching, exhilarating, and rewarding of these was the chance to spend four weeks attending the Summer Institute for Women in Higher Education Administration, held at Bryn Mawr College. Just imagine spending four weeks with several dozen intelligent, interesting women from colleges and universities all over the U.S., from a range of administrative areas (including faculty members looking to move into administration).
As you can imagine, with any group this size, there would be some people you would just absolutely love, and some who might just rub you the wrong way now and then. Very early on, one of our instructors gave us this valuable advice: Pay attention to the person who annoys you. Stick with them long enough to try to figure out why you are so bothered by them.
That wording is key: not, figure out why they are so bothersome, but why you are so bothered by them. What are you reacting to, what is being triggered in you, what does this mean for you, what can you learn about yourself from it, and what, if anything, do you want to do about it?
Of all the that I learned in those four weeks, this advice has stuck with me - nay, nagged at me - ever since. When someone annoys me, I just want to get the hell away from them. And there are some kinds of "annoyance" that call for putting as much distance as possible between you and the annoyer: sexual harassers, loud cell phone talkers in public spaces, evangelical proselytizers at your doorstep. But there's another kind of annoyance that really calls for you to move closer in and ask yourself why, really, you feel so squirmy whenever That Person starts Mouthing Off.
Lots of people seem to be annoyed with Dr. Isis lately, for lots of different reasons. But I want to focus on one particular reaction to her and her blog.
I'm not going to go into the whole history of Dr. Isis's use of the teddy bear on the toilet image...I'll just pick it up at the point where Transient Reporter felt compelled to tell us how much he does not like Dr. Isis as a consequence. Which is fine, he is perfectly welcome to dislike a blogger's style. But in the first comment on the post KH, who blogs at Lecturer Notes (formerly Propter Doc), had this to say:
I liked it [Dr. Isis's blog] at first but now the writing is just a steriotype and a pretty poor one at that. Thing that bothers me more is that this cartoon personality makes female scientists sound like shoe fettish ignorant bimbos.
Naturally this did not go down well with Dr. Isis. You can read her manifesto here, and it's a good one. A piece of her reply:
What I find unfortunate is that this is the kind of mean-spirited thing women in academia (and women in general) do to each other and I find it, frankly, unacceptable. Rather than simply stating that she dislikes my particular writing style, is not particularly interested in shoes, or thinks that I have proven myself to be too ignorant to discuss scientific findings with any degree of authority, KH refers to me with a slur that denigrates women in general when she does not agree with something (or a series of somethings?) I have done.
Here I agree completely with Dr. Isis. It is absolutely wrong for women to call each other the nasty sorts of names bestowed upon them by misoygynists. We needn't help them in their efforts to denigrate us.
A comment like KH's has its origins, I suspect, in the fear we all have somewhere in our gut that there is (only) One Proper Way to be, and be accepted as, a woman scientist. We want that acceptance by the scientific community at large. And we know that the powers-that-be have a tendency to ascribe the behavior of any one member of a minority group to the group as a whole (whereas anything a member of the dominant group does is, naturally, reflective only of his or her own personality.) KH's comment speaks to anxieties about perception - if she behaves that way, will it rub off on me? In a later comment, KH says:
To clarify, I do not state that Dr. Isis is a bimbo, I suggest that her writing style makes her sound like one.
How does a bimbo sound? Dr. Isis's sin is that in addition to science, she talks about shoes and cooking and proclaims herself to be a smokin' hot domestic and laboratory goddess. Clearly, she is Not Serious. Only a bimbo would talk about shoes and cooking when we are supposed to be discussing Science.
The problem, you see, is that women aren't really allowed to be ANYTHING in science. If you are a hot goddess then you are Not Serious and Not A Real Scientist and you are Ruining Science For Other Women Who Are More Serious and so on. If you are just a regular goddess (like Zuska) then you are an ugly hairy-legged man-hating feminazi who needs to get laid and Not A Real Scientist and Ruining Science For Other Women Who Are More Reasonable. The mythical More Serious, More Reasonable, non-hairy-legged, non-high heels-wearing Real Scientist woman has, alas, rarely, if ever, been seen. Because women can't be Real Scientists, no matter how Reasonable and Serious they are.
This is KH's dilemma. She wants to stake out the More Serious, More Reasonable territory (which, alas, belongs to Men) and place herself squarely within it. And she doesn't want the likes of Dr. Isis around bustin' up the place, calling attention to all the ways in which Women Are Not Like Men.
Now, you may not care to perform your gender exactly the way Dr. Isis does. Maybe your toe joints ache when you wear high heels, or you just hate cooking, or you never wanted to have kids, or you don't give a crap whether or not you slouch into the lab on Friday morning without having washed your hair or put on makeup. Maybe you don't even own makeup! Dr. Isis's brand of heteronormative femininity is not for everyone. But here's the thing: she's not saying it should be! She's saying: this is who I am, world. Deal with it and move on. I am a shoe-lovin', smokin' hot mama AND scientist. There is no contradiction here: I am all these things at once. And she's saying, signing up for science shouldn't come with a straitjacket for your lifestyle.
We cannot accept that, by not conforming to the patriarchy, we will not be successful. A woman who is aggressive, or who proclaims to anyone who will listen that she has the potential to achieve great things, is not a bitch. A woman who chooses to wear high-heeled shoes is not a slut, a bimbo, or a tramp. We need not be ashamed of the things that make us women (though, granted, we all embrace and express our femininity differently and that should always be acceptable). Neither our bodies, the social/gender roles we may choose to embrace, or our decision to or not to parent children, should ever have the capacity to limit our academic success.
It's a bit disingenuous for KH to proclaim "I didn't call Dr. Isis a bimbo, I just said she writes like one." Whose viewpoint is KH using to look at the world? If she's looking from the vantage point of the patriarchy, then yes, Dr. Isis is giving the performance of a bimbo on her blog. But if she wants to stand against the forces that tell all women - including KH - that there is no acceptable way for them to be scientists and women at the same time, then it would be much better to cheer Dr. Isis's bold, brash, self-confident presentation of self.
If you disagree with what Dr. Isis says about science, or you don't care for her interest in footwear, or you simply dislike her writing style, fine. But if Dr. Isis bothers you because she "makes female scientists sound like shoe fettish ignorant bimbos" then perhaps it's worth spending some time thinking more about why that bothers you so. Who gains, really, if Dr. Isis is required to restrain and constrain her self-expression - and what are they gaining? Is the gain worth what we lose in the process? Who's to say that your version of More Serious, More Reasonable isn't some misogynist's version of bimbo or feminazi?
That's the problem with policing our own ranks. We might think that if we can just get everyone to behave in some particular acceptable manner, then we'll put on a good united front for Women In Science and we'll make some headway. But in that attempt, we forget that we aren't the ones setting the standard of acceptable; that acceptable is a constantly moving target; and that acceptable just doesn't look acceptable when it's worn on the body of an Unacceptable Person (even when properly accessorized with stunning footwear).
If you want proof of that, just take a look at our President-Elect Obama. If ever there was a non-white American leader who ought to be "acceptable" and non-threatening it should be him. And yet we've got a member of Congress, no less, who has compared him to Hitler.
That's why, rather than trying to norm each other into "acceptable" modes of behavior and discourse, we need to be supporting each other in all our various flamboyant permutations. Women have to be able to be everything, if we're ever to be anything at all in science.
Dear Sister-in-Science Zuska, not a lot gets to the domestic and laboratory goddess, but this post brought tears to my eyes. You and I may be different in many ways, and we may not always agree, but we can always be respectful of each other and supportive of our rights to participate in the discourse. Thank you for reminding the other women scientists (and men) in the blogosphere that it is not we who set the standards but we who decide how we choose to behave.
I adore you, Zuska.
A maxim that was imparted to me by a wise woman once said that we are made most uncomfortable by people who are the most like us. The small deviations and differences from how I would behave in a given situation in someone who is otherwise just like me grate. This is especially true if those (subjective) "performance flaws" are "flaws" I suspect or avoid in myself -- if the person who is like us becomes who we, for whatever reason, fear we might be. If there's a certain gender or class stereotype we try to distance ourselves from, or are fearful for being judged on, and then someone like us, representative of us, blithely embraces or ignores it in their performance of the everyday self, there is definitely a squirmy defensive raising of hackles.
"I am a woman scientist and for whatever reason I've decided never to prance about in high-heels and make-up and prattle on about cooking; I am a reasonable person and any reasonable person should reach the same conclus... and OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT WOMAN SCIENTIST DOING? THE SHAME! WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK! THEY'LL THINK I'M JUST LIKE THAT! MUST... DISTANCE... SELF... AAARGH!". It's nothing special about Dr. Isis or science, the mechanism is just the same when it's straight-acting queers rushing to distance themselves from the Leather Fairies float in the parade, or my feeling acute embarassment seeing an Eastern European getting sloshed at a party and acting like Borat.
I should note I made my comment without reading Dr. Isis' post or the brouhaha, and missed that KH was a male! Oops, haven't had my coffee yet. But the mechanism of aversion is still the same; someone who comes close to how we envision an ideal departs from it in some apparently unforgivable way whether that ideal is our self or projected on some group we are notionally allied with or in support of; this departure seems disproportionately heinous, prompting knee-jerk shaming comments like "talking in a way I don't like she makes all women scientist sound like self-centred bimbos". Objectively, no she bloody doesn't! But KH is showing us a little of the contextual misogyny anyone raised in this culture has roiling in their heads.
(Having read the original posts now, perhaps I shouldn't use the word "mechanism" so lightly, or Dr. Isis will come and smack me down. I don't even know what a cytokine is! Not in the face! Yes, her style is disagreeable to me, for the same reason I can't read that Sports Science guy who loves profanity (I've even blocked out his name, yay!) -- they violate certain tenets I hold dear about how to be a good blogger, of whatever gender, i.e. not coming across as such a self-satisfied ass. But -- KH, don't like it? Don't read it! Simple.)
LOL, ok, KH isn't male. I wish there was a way I could edit these comments. Or stop making them before coffee! Oh, right... walk away from the computer... I can do that.
The "self-policing" you refer to, Z, is going on full-force in the comments to KH's post you linked to. This is "allowed":
I choose to wear flat shoes, trousers and comfortable, practical clothes. When there's a pretty option - nice T-shirt comes plain or with embroidered neckline - I choose pretty if it appeals to me. I choose colours I like and which I believe suit me. I add scarves and sometimes jewellary and different hair ornaments, especially when I'm visiting the administrative offices, where the dress code is more conventional corporate.
But this is not:
Heels, overt display type clothing, painting your face to look more sexually attractive... what has this to do with doing SCIENCE?
The hypocrisy just reeks.
When I was in grad school it was said out loud by at least one prof the he would never have another female grad student it was a waste of his time they just got married and had babies. Male students were encouraged to have a social life and date -- you will find a wife who will cook, clean and maybe have a job to pay the bills so you can focus on your work in the lab. Female students were told if you had any known social life you weren't SERIOUS and a waste of time. At the time I left, it was not the petty, sexist, predictable crap from the male faculty that was the last straw but the backstabbing, manipulative, toxic spew from my female advisor! Now I have a job in the private sector, way below my education level but within $1-2K of what we had hired the last new female faculty. I'm bored out of my mind but I get to have a life without this crap. I miss doing science but not enough to deal with what I went though. We have GOT to STOP doing this to each other! Disagree with the science, but behave like civil adults! Thanks for letting me vent.
Thanks for this Zuska but if I may add a voice that doesn't belong to the scienceblogs cliques (me):
I don't have a problem with the shoes (I love shoes myself, have quite a different taske to Isis though...) The whole writing style I don't mind... I skip the recipe business as it bores me. The whole "bimbo" thing is uncalled for and I get Isis' response but... I remain annoyed at Isis.
Following your exercise, why I am annoyed? The reason has nothing to do with her gender -- yes I'd feel exactly the same about this if she were a man, an astronaut, transgender buddhist monk, whatever....
The whole poo and teddy bear thing. Am I on crazy pills? Am I the only one?? It was embarrassing. The authors' sincere and polite attempts to engage with her and explain to her what was wrong with her post... It made her look like self absorbed teenager or mean kid on the playground. I was cringing. Yet she kept on going...
Then other bloggers came to her defense making it all even more embarassing. I don't blog and have probably commented on blogs about 4-5 times in my life.. And when you're "on the outside" observing, there is a whole other dynamic here!! And I was quite unimpressed by this corner of blogosphere...
As smart/engaging/funny she is, Isis has been unnecessarily rude and mean. There is nothing wrong with discussing science on blogs. How all the bloggers made it all about that issue completely distracts from the fact that she did not need to be rude and offensive in doing so. With Physioprof cheering in the background that anyone who can't handle it is a wuss... I was disappointed and embarrassed.
It was all quite upsetting but think I'll just stick to blogs like Sciencewomen and FSP (who have their own share of drama but are not rude or mean to people..)
Brava! Alle. Dress as you please, cook as you please, write about it. Deconstruct someone else's work, agree or disagree but be polite. It's the science that matters. And having a life -- the guys get one; why can't we. Typed while wearing my new Dansko clogs -- so cute -- so comfy.
(what, you expected another response when you preach to the choir?)
2) "Now, you may not care to perform your gender exactly the way Dr. Isis does." This line is right in so many ways.
3) @O3- don't worry, not knowing what a cytokine was didn't stop lots of folks from having opinions in that matter. Which reminds me, I have something to write...
4a) Godwin's law. Rep. Paul Broun = epic fail.
4b) Is there some kind of meta-Godwin's law, such that bringing up somebody else comparing somebody to a nazi ends the conersation? Cause I've actually followed the entire thing (from the Roosevelt) and it would be spiffy if this were officially over.
Well said. Many paths, not so many goals. That I choose not to cram my tootsies into 3" heels while setting up my PCRs has more to do with my pain threshold than thinking they don't convey a "sciencey" image.
I wonder if some women feel like they should put forth more of an effort to "look like a girl" but other demands on their time make it difficult to do that. I would guess so.
Oh, PhysioProf! You're the foulmouthed blogger I was complaining about earlier! So, granted, clothing of any type has nothing to do with the science people who wear the clothing do (protective/functional clothing aside). Does it have anything to do with feminism? Are there valid reasons why some women, like KH, might be made to feel uncomfortable by Dr. Isis' constant barrage of glittering fashions and unceasing obsession with her own alleged attractiveness, other than them being stinking hypocrites?
Surely, if femme status-symbol $650 high-heeled designer shoes were a neutral, irrelevant choice for any insecure scientist who just wants to feel and broadcast being hot and pretty all - the - fucking - time, if in fact hotness and prettiness were neutral, non-gendered concepts, you could point me to some men scientists who wear them to work and fetishize them on their science blogs? Perhaps some references to their hot sparkly phalluses to go with Dr. Isis' "glittering vagina"? No? Now do you see why she makes some readers cringe and wince and even, dear lord, mouth something about "bimbos", no matter how clever and accomplished and fabulous she is?
Sure, her scientific opinions should be taken seriously no matter how she acts or dresses, and maybe it's some kind of progress to say "girls can be successful scientists and not have to give up the glow of approval one gets in this society for playing sexualized dress-up in stereotyped, patriarchy-defined, male-gaze-pleasing ways", but surely telling Dr. Isis that she at least appears to be reënacting the motions of a cringe-inducing stereotype is no more hurtful or offensive than, say, telling someone their research is equivalent to someone taking a shit. I mean, bimbos, like teddy bears, are silly and cute, no?
Something reeks, sure. Must be all the bear-shit. I mean bullshit.
Ironically enough, drdrA, in a comment at Transient Reporter has just today pronounced Dr. Isis to be More Serious as a result of her move to ScienceBlogs. He benevolently declares this to be a Good Thing and describes himself as pleased.
This cracks me up.
Comedy actually slowly destroys you from the inside out, KH was really just worried about the health of Dr. Isis
I come from the world of software development which I believe shares a lot with science in terms of gender dynamics. I wholeheartedly agree that women in either world should be free to express themselves and their femininity as they please. But some women use their feminity to advance their careers in less than ethical ways, and I think that's made many women more sensitive than they should be to attention-seeking femininity.
(Before I go on I should say that I don't know the personalities involved in this situation very well at all. My comments are not about Dr. Isis or Zuska or any of the other referenced bloggers, they're about the general dynamic of feminine conflict in male-dominated professions).
So what do I mean by opening a can of worms like "attention-seeking femininity"? I'm thinking of times when female coworkers have overtly used their sexuality instead of their ideas, skills or experience to get ahead. At the extreme this includes sleeping with influential men in exchange for patronage. More commonly it's stuff like dressing provacatively and being flirtatious to a distracting degree.
There are a number of reasons why I hate dealing with this behavior. It makes it harder for everybody to get work done. Decisions get made with (even less than usual) consideration of objective correctness. Sometimes the woman in question is not only promoting herself, she's trying to put other women down. Once the workplace atmosphere is sexualized, it changes the way that men treat all of the women. In the long run it isn't even very productive for the women who employ this tactic - they tend to get pigeonholed pretty quickly. In doing so they make life even harder than it already is for women who chose not to participate in that game. It's not cool for women to undermine each other with names like "bimbo", but neither is it cool for women to undermine each other with unprofessional behavior.
The problem is, in real life the line between normal feminine expression and inappropriate sexualization at work isn't exactly drawn on a map for us. Some women wear skirts and pretty shoes and like to cook while still relying on their brains to make stuff happen at work. It's not easy to define what's over the line any better than saying "I know it when I see it". It's very hard to be completely objective about this, though, and sometimes people might "see it" when it's not really there. Really, the vast majority of women I've worked with are just trying to get their jobs done while retaining some aspect of their humanity in the process. The exceptions are infrequent (though memorable).
I've found that the best way to cope with those exceptions is to remember that I can only control my own behavior. I can ignore (and thus not validate) displays of excessive cleavage. My personality is strong enough that my coworkers aren't going to conflate another woman's flirting with me. If I really think someone is making something happen that is bad for the team/project/customer, I can back that up with objective reasoning. And if my environment is truly sexually toxic I can (and have had to) find a better place to work.
I am probably one of the lucky female members of the science community who has never experienced sexism, so I may have little to contribute to this discussion, but let me say something.
There is a reason that I am not entirely fond of when people of either sex fuss about shoes and other shit - because you KNOW both men and women do this - it is just pretty fucking vapid. It is nice to look at least presentable, but there are more important things in the world than shoes. Now someone such as Dr. Isis who does this would not quite piss me off, because I know Dr. Isis has a PhD in science (I'm a neuroscience student, and I'm going to earn my PhD degree in neuroscience in about 6-8 years and be a professor), which means I'm going to give her the same respect I give my professors because she knows her stuff (the only exception I have to that rule is people who are well-known by most of my fellow members of the scientific community to be fucking morons). This, in my opinion, has less to do with masculinity or femininity than it does with doing something ridiculous.
I, personally, am probably one of the least stereotypically feminine women I know. My usual fare is a women's t-shirt (usually labeled with, for example, a scarlet A because I'm an atheist), jeans, and a sweatshirt. I do not need to dress up to do what I do, and I can maneuver comfortably in what I wear and still look presentable. Stereotypical femininity and masculinity both sit uncomfortably with me to some extent because both stereotypes are absolutely fucking wacky and I do not entirely trust people to not stereotype because in general, the vast majority of people in society are stupid.
Ok, here's one of the things that bugs me.
Almost every time I have seen a female scientist presenting on something -- whether on tv or at a conference -- there has been subsequent discussion about how she looked. How was she dressed? Was she pretty? Should she have worn high heels? Sometimes this is a few comments, sometimes this holds equal place with the discussion of whatever she was presenting on, and sometimes almost the entire discussion is her appearance rather then the subject.
Male presenters -- the only time I have ever heard any comment about their appearance and/or clothing was when they looked like they had been on a bender the night before and had crawled there out of a gutter without taking a shower, or in one case a man who was truly infamous for his horrible ties. But that's it. It's exceedingly rare. Even for the horrible-tie guy, he's given a number of presentations that I've been to, and the tie was only ever mentioned once, by one person.
So, ok, blogging as a sort of online, informal presentation space.
When a science blog is 1/3 on appearance/clothing -- something that, well, maybe I'm just missing it but I do not see this on any blog by a guy -- in what way does this not perpetuate the "judge me by how I look, baby!" meme?
You know, the whole thing of women being discussed on their appearance as much as or more than on the basis of their work.
Something that I hate when it happens to me. Since it happens every single time I'm in the audience, why exactly would it be different if I'm up giving the presentation. And, dammit, I am not up there to be judged on my clothing and hair and appearance -- I am up there because I have done WORK which I want to be considered for quality. Which I want other people to be thinking about, to see how it fits (if it fits) with their own. But it seems to me that the "Judge me by how fabulous I look!" can be perpetuated by the sense -- conscious or not -- that public presentations like Dr. Isis's blog put forward -- "hey, some women want that! Some women enjoy that!"
Yes, she has an absolute right to do it if she wants to. There are a number of aspects of her writing and treatment of others that bug me, and I doubt if I will read that blog much; but if that is part of her interest and personality I'm not going to be out there lobbying for her to stop. But it bothers me because the whole thing does just play into a phenomenon which I frankly wish would stop. See what I'm saying?
...I just have to distance myself. But I don't have to like it.
If a guy told another guy that he adored him, that would be so weird even if they were gay.
Now I've brought this discussion down to my level, it's time to depart quickly.
Clearly, she is Not Serious. Only a bimbo would talk about shoes and cooking when we are supposed to be discussing Science.
May I? May I please? Pretty please with whole castles of sugar on it?
Oh -- what. Why, telling Comrade PhysioProf that he's a bimbo. I wish I could see his face when he receives the news. As for me, news of my (totally studly) bimbohood has utterly made my day.
@Zuska, well said sister. And as you mention, I think it's actually consistent that KH is female and made those comments, when you think about it, because:
1. Ultimately in the male dominated areas of science (most of them), science culture is still male culture, and that means that the more you fit into male culture, the better your chances of advancing. Naturally, for the reasons Zuska mentions, this is impossible... that being said, careful dancing on the female-serious-not too attractive but feminine-no kids-etc line is still the norm.
2. The above means that when you are a female in science doing that dance, and then someone who is classically in-your-face female comes into your lab, it causes you problems. Now suddenly the bar has been reset, and the lab is not men + women trying to fit into male culture, now the lab is Men + Women. The dynamic is changing. The women may not get along with each other, the men start reacting differently to the women, etc. There is also the "oh great now I have to wear makeup to the lab so I don't look bad" thoughts. So I've noticed that for a lot of people, when there is more than one woman in a lab, and that different approaches to femininity are being displayed, that it often leads to conflict between the women. And KH seems to be consistent with that.
I've also noticed that the above is only a factor in the more male-dominated areas of hard science. Labs that I've been in, like more on the biology side for example, have enough women that suddenly there are just 'people' again and not Male Scientists and Female Scientists. Whereas in a lab with only one or two women, this is never the case. So in that sense the conflict between Isis and KH could also be a 'science culture' one. Isis is in med/bio (right?) and KH is in chemistry (right?) and those are vastly different with regard to the position of women. Isis is at a higher position and in a field where she feels somewhat less threatened. KH is at a lower position and in a field where gender issues are still a major factor and there is a lot of pressure to fit in with the (male) group. And the group doesn't wear high heels..
DCSess, I will deliver the news to PradaCookingProf that he is a bimbo for you in person. I'll let you know how it goes.
Zuska: I believe drdrA is out on blog as a "she".
Well my bad, there. I did not know that drdrA is a woman. Yet one more interesting case of assuming someone's gender is male when you don't know and the name doesn't give a clue. Other than my gender screwup, I think I'd let the gist of my comment stand.
Thanks for making me think more about this. I've come to a simple conclusion:
It's all Beau Brummel's fault. We can all blame him, and besides he's long dead.
Business (yes, read "male") culture has a long-established cultural myth of uniform clothing, haircuts, you name it. This is functional to the extent that it minimizes attention to the person and leaves room to concentrate on the role, such as "engineer", "draftsman," "manager," etc. The fact that there are subtle status indicators in the cost of the clothing is either functional or not, depending on how you look at it. The "myth" aspect is that study after study has shown that physical attractiveness counts for much more than we would like to admit. Those braces that my parents couldn't afford 40-some years ago may have cost me a lot of salary since.
A woman entering a male-dominated environment (and boy, HOWDY! is my workplace an example) is already standing out simply by the impossible-to-ignore  fact that she is a woman. Which distracts from paying attention to her work.
Until they get to know her. The "this is a woman" awareness never goes away, but it gets less distracting. When a co-worker comes in totally stylin', it's actually easier to admire the (and I kid you not, some of these ladies can dress!) outfit and pay less attention to her other attributes. I don't pretend that's universally true. After working with them for a while the dominant attribute is "competence."
Does it put some stress on when one of them comes to work hotter than a Pentium Four with no heatsink? Sure. She's making it harder to maintain the polite fiction that all I care about is how she does her work.
Some of my (male) co-workers are car nuts. Some are gun nuts. Some have had mind-boggling collections of machine tools or reptiles. Several (of both genders) have brand-new kids. It's all good -- we're human. We don't leave that at the door when we go to work.
The one question I would ask is, "are you deliberately stressing someone out?" I am confident that Dr. Isis (being the supremely considerate Goddess that she is) would never flaunt her hotness in any situation where it would cause someone else  distress; we've already had the Cracker Wars on that subject. Therefore when she shows up in some totally hot outfit just blazing radiant hotness (and Naughty Monkeys) I trust that her colleagues will smile, admire, perhaps joke a bit -- and then get on to the science.
 Yes, it is. We're wired that way. It's an effort to set the awareness aside. Well worth it, but an effort.
 Of either gender. For instance, a boobs-in-your-face outfit is Not A Good Thing to wear the day someone returns to work following a mastectomy, no?
I've been thinking about this discussion ever since Dr. Isis's post went up, and I think your advice to figure out why certain people bother you is spot on. It's not just that women who are into shoes and other stereotypically feminine trappings aren't given as much respect as women who attempt to fit into stereotypically male culture. And it's not just that some people use discussions like this as an opportunity to bemoan the "masculine" dress and appearance of their female colleagues. Both of those attitudes really bother me, but what really pisses me off is that women are so often judged first by their appearance, be it femmie or not, and only secondly by their qualifications.
I also think that iltc does have it right that it makes a difference whether one is the only woman in a group or one of many women. I'm hoping as time goes on the increase in women scientists - particularly in the physical sciences - gives us more freedom to choose how we present ourselves.
Dear Dear Rhiannon. I rewrote this for you.... maybe you can figure out what the real problem might be...
All the capitalized words are my subs.
Who gives a fuck if women wear high heels and cleavage.
THIS is the conversation that ought to happen, but often doesn't and not JUST in the hallowed halls of science.
I come from the world of software development which I believe shares a lot with science in terms of gender dynamics. I wholeheartedly agree that MEN in either world should be free to express themselves and their MASCULINITY as they please. But some MEN USE THEIR POWER to advance their careers in less than ethical ways, and I think that's made many MEN more sensitive than they should be to ASSHATTERY MASCULINITY.
(Before I go on I should say that I don't know the personalities involved in this situation very well at all. My comments are not about Dr. Isis or Zuska or any of the other referenced bloggers, they're about the general dynamic of MALE/FEMALE conflict in male-dominated professions).
So what do I mean by opening a can of worms like "ASSHATTERY MASCULINITY"? I'm thinking of times when MALE coworkers have overtly used their POWER instead of their ideas, skills or experience to KEEP THEMSELVES ahead. At the extreme this includes sleeping with LESS POWERFUL WOMEN in exchange for A NOTCH ON THEIR BELT AND MORE POWER. More commonly it's stuff like SLAPPING WOMEN"S ASSES and being VERBALLY SEXUAL to a distracting degree.
There are a number of reasons why I hate dealing with this behavior. It makes it harder for everybody to get work done. Decisions get made with (even less than usual) consideration of objective correctness. Sometimes the MAN in question is not only promoting HIMSELF, HE IS trying to KEEP WOMEN down. Once the workplace atmosphere is sexualized, it changes the way that WOMEN treat all of the MEN. In the long run it SEEMS very productive for the MEN who employ this tactic - they tend to get WHATEVER THEY WANT BY VIRTUE OF THEIR POSITION AND POWER. In doing so they make life even harder than it already is for MEN who choOse not to participate in that game. It's not cool for MEN to undermine WOMEN with names like "bimbo", but neither is it cool for MEN to undermine MEN with unprofessional behavior.
The problem is, in real life the line between normal MASCULINE expression and inappropriate sexualization at work isn't exactly drawn on a map for us. Some MEN wear THEIR POWER RESPONSIBLY WHILE relying on their brains to make stuff happen at work. It's not easy to define what's over the line any better than saying "I know it when I see it". It's very hard to be completely objective about this, though, and sometimes people might "see it" when it's not really there. Really, the vast majority of MEN I've worked with are just trying to get their jobs done while retaining some aspect of their humanity in the process. The exceptions are infrequent (though memorable).
I've found that the best way to cope with those exceptions is to remember that I can only control my own behavior. I can ignore (and thus not validate) displays of excessive POWER. My personality is strong enough that my coworkers aren't going to conflate another MAN"S INAPPROPRIATE SEXUAL EXPRESSION with me. If I really think someone is making something happen that is bad for the team/project/customer, I can back that up with objective reasoning. And if my environment is truly sexually toxic I can (and have had to) find a better place to work.
THE DAY THIS CONVERSATION HAPPENS IS THE DAY I WILL WORRY ABOUT FEMALE SEXUAL DISPLAYS IN THE WORKPLACE. UNTIL THEN< FUCK OFF!!
btw- NOT ignoring it but challenging the Alpha dud would be a good thing- unlike the last paragraph. And my last words, UNTIL THEN were meant to be followed by a decisive FUCK OFF!!
Merry Christmas, dear
btw- NOT ignoring it but challenging the Alpha dude would be a good thing- unlike the last paragraph. And my last words, UNTIL THEN were meant to be followed by a decisive FUCK OFF!!
I was very interested to read this post - I'm still an undergraduate looking ahead to working in one of these heavily gender skewed environments, as I'm already in a gender skewed program.
I find it disturbing that wanting to have a life - friends, husband, children, hobbies - has to be such an obstacle for the success of women in science - in some cases (and especially in the words of some commentators) I read this as the need to rid oneself of being a Woman in order to avoid all the nasty repercussions of your womanly attributes somehow distracting from the science, (because, obviously, Masculinity NEVER ever does, Ever.)
I feel like I have a problem with the label 'Women in Science'. Makes me feel like there is some great big zoo out there with people pointing " Look Jimmy - it's a Woman in Science!!!. She gets to play with the boys!".
A male perspective: I discovered Dr. Isiss blog about 2 months ago. I immediately enjoyed it, though I mostly lurked. The reason why is that she makes me laugh. By this I do not mean that she is not a scientist or any of that. I see it as comedy mixed with education/science (a good learning tool by the way, used all the time). See Phil Plaits blog for making science almost as entertaining. I understand that Dr. Isis is a persona she (and perhaps even he) plays on the internet. I found the teddy on the toilet halliereus (meaning very funny, I cannot spell worth a crap). I see this and no different then a male scientist doing science during the day and then appearing at a comedy club at night (with jokes about his career). Yes the goddess is a scientist, but probably could have an equal career in entertainment. And just in case her godliness ever reads this, consider this butt kissing ;-) (smiley for the joke impaired) . But from lurking on both blogs (here and her holiness, ok, ok, both are goddesses) now that she is on Scienceblogs, most that criticize her, seem to be women. Jealousy anyone (you know those without the danglies, nuts, balls, etc)? She is making her holiness noticed. Perhaps everyone needs to lighten up. I found Kelly on Married with Children a funny character, but I understand that is a character Christina Applegate played on TV and she herself is not stupid. Her holiness, Dr. Iris, may be as popular as PZ Myers some day. Again, Jealousy anyone? Did I mention I cannot spell or put a coherent paragraph together? Which is why I mostly lurk.
OMG, did danimal just say:
now that she is on Scienceblogs, most that criticize her, seem to be women. Jealousy anyone (you know those without the danglies, nuts, balls, etc)? She is making her holiness noticed.
You have got to be fucking kidding me! Have you noticed that we've not only left the 1950s, but moved into a new millenium? Because of course, women are all bitchy cats that hate each other for being hotter and in competition for their menz. No sensible disagreement on issues is possible, cause you know our ladybrains simply don't handle the serious. 1950s comedy gold, that one was.
Which, hey, leads back to my big issue. Women are so much judged by their appearance, that a woman out there going "look at me, I'm hot" is either subversively playing with the cultural norms, or supporting them.
There is no neutral, unfortunately. While I wish it were otherwise, we are not free to "perform our genders" as we wish, without being judged on it. Usually negatively. Whore or dyke.
BTW, to who ever said "perform our genders", I totally love that phrase. Because it is a performance, that we may choose to do or not do in many ways. And everyone's a fucking critic.
Where were you when I was in Grad School, Zuska?
I could have used this.
I will now coin Daedalus' law:
Who ever uses non-scientific criteria to complain about a scientist or in a scientific argument has shown themselves to be a non-scientist and has lost the scientific argument.
In this instance, complaining about Dr Isis' infatuation with shoes is a non-scientific criteria, and is orthogonal to all scientific matters. It has no relevance positive or negative.
Complaining about Dr Isis being a smoking hot woman is a non-scientific matter.
Whether a person has a social life or not is not a scientific matter.
If you are a man and cannot deal with a smoking hot woman being a scientist, then become a eunuch or a gelding or take Lupron. If you can't think with your brain instead of your dick, you have no business pretending to be a scientist. Leave serious science to those of us who can keep serious scientific matters separate from serious non-scientific matters. That Dr Isis is a smoking hot woman is a serious non-scientific matter. It is not a non-serious scientific matter.
Cath: I think the concept of our genders being a performance was introduced mainly by Judith Butler (others please chime in if my info is wrong/incomplete). Oh, and speaking of groundbreaking ideas, how about that danimal? Chikz is jus jellis!
Seriously though, the idea of asking ourselves why we react to those we find annoying is *great* advice--the best I've seen in a while. I think I'd heard this before, but forgotten it. I'm going to start practicing it diligently.
This is a great post, and I haven't even read Dr. Isis' blog. I will try to now, though.
I read PropterDoc for a long time, and while I didn't agree with everything she wrote, I liked her blog. It was nice to have another female postdoc blogger around.
I just read the latest post at Lecturer Notes, though, and I completely disagree. I didn't leave a comment because I didn't know where to begin.
Based on what she's written in the past, I think KH is having growing pains. Sometimes when we first experience sexism we want to blame other women for our own problems. Most of us eventually reach the other side and realize it's a larger cultural problem.
But I think I am too tired to get into a fight about this. I wish women would realize that the ONLY way we're going to get anywhere is by helping each other.
I disagree with the notion that women shouldn't exclude men from our groups or discussions because that would make us too much like them. I think we have work to do that many men can't completely understand, and they might want to help but not know how.
There's something to the idea that having mixed company changes the dynamic and makes some things a lot harder to address. We're not saying it has to stay that way forever, but sometimes it helps. For example, when we're talking about sexual harassment in the lab, some women feel uncomfortable describing what happened if there's a man around. And that is OK.
Maybe when KH realizes how bad it can get, she'll see things a different way.
Daedalus - I totally agree with you on this one. Personal lives don't really have much to do with how good a scientist you are. Look back historically at super famous science brains: astronomer Tycho Brahe kept a drunk Moose for goodness sakes, yet no one will deny that he took some fantastically accurate data. Newton was obsessed with Alchemy, of all things, but,hey, he's NEWTON. If someone can tell me how liking shoes is somehow more unprofessional than alchemy and a drunk moose, I'd like to hear it.
If someone can tell me how liking shoes is somehow more unprofessional than alchemy and a drunk moose, I'd like to hear it.
Ursula_Minor wins the entire Internets!
And Daedalus' Law is dead-on. Well said.
@Angel, comment #6: we need more of this venting. I think we have to stop letting people think "oh, women do not get there because they are not interested/are not capable/do not like science/are just worse than men at math". We know it is smoking crap, but we also know that many are leaving because they find the academic enviroment frankly toxic and not rewarding to them.
If you need to get paid like crap and work like a slave, there should be something positive you get out of it (apart from the usual "joy of discovery", which does not pay the bills), and obviously there doesn't seem to be enough of it for women.
I say, somebody has got to do some serious research on WHY people leave -- I know it is not very "sciency", but one has to understand the myriad of personal reasons and identify a trend. And I betcha, economic reasons paired with a hostile environment are king & queen of the castle...
Well said Zuska! And well said Impatientpatient! And many others of you!
I'm mostly a lurker but decided to delurk because this is such an important topic....
I find it bizarre how it seems to be "acceptable" in the science blogopshere for a woman to discuss how she balances having a family with her science career but "not acceptable" for a woman to discuss how she balances her version of femininity with her science career (and I use femininity in its widest possibly sense to include any way any person chooses to identify with being female including transgender femininity). I suspect that not too many years ago discussing family in relation to science would have been seen as just as "unacceptable" and reminding the men with the "power" that we are "not the same"(actually although it seems acceptable on the blogosphere it is still relatively unacceptable in many workplaces). I would have thought both were very important discussions to have as we as women develop a range of role models rather than a single preferred "way of being" a woman scientist and show everyone that many different "types" of women who choose many different lifestyles can be very successful scientists. This will help more and more women to feel like there is a place for them in science whether they wear heels or flats or a mixture, whether they have a sense of humour or not (sorry couldn't help but put that in! ;-), whether they have children or not, whether they cook or not, whether they are morning people or night people in the work environment, whether they......
One issue I've had throughout my career is a lack of a range of female role models. Most of the older women I've come across (and there aren't many in my field) have kept their private life very cordoned off from their professional life. It makes it hard as a young female scientist to figure out how to balance family and career and it only shows one way of being a successful female scientist - those who are able to neatly separate their career from the rest of their life. I feel like I had to completely invent the wheel even though I'm sure many older female scientists had already experienced many of the things I went through (and am still going through). Now that I'm a bit older a number of younger (and even similar age) female scientists have said to me that they are happy that I start work/family/femininity conversations with them and that they have learnt a lot from these conversations. And I know that I have learnt a lot from our conversations too.
To me, the science blogosphere is a wonderful place for the sparsely populated female science population to get together and learn about how to balance our work/family/femininity. Many of us are pseudononymous so we don't need to worry that discussing our children, or even desire to have children, will mean that we will be put on the "mommy track". It also means that we can discuss our femininity (in all its wonderful colours and hues) and show each other that there are many different ways to be a successful female scientist. I only wish that Dr Isis, Zuska, FSP, ScienceWoman (my entry into female science bloggers about 2 years ago), KH and all of you female science bloggers had been around when I was just starting. Some of you I identify strongly with and some of you are quite different to me. Your are all just so valuable and I hope all your voices continue to be heard. I may not have hesitated so much or made so many mistakes and I may have been far more confident within my self if I had had all of you as role models 15 years ago.
If someone can tell me how liking shoes is somehow more unprofessional than alchemy and a drunk moose, I'd like to hear it.
Seriously? Tycho's family were nobles in the Danish court. Whenever any rich person does something weird, it's "charmingly eccentric" no matter what it is. He also displayed his manliness by losing his nose in a duel, so his testosterone-power was never in question.
In Newton's era, alchemy was in fact considered a real science. The 1600s version of chemistry. It wasn't any weirder than we would consider, say, economics.
Sorry. Did you want to pick a better analogy?
On the shoes vs. seriousness debate, I am rather of the opinion that if anyone is dumb enough to be manipulated by something as shallow as clothing, then by goddess they deserve every bit of manipulation that comes their way. I think it's a little (OK, maybe a lot) naive to say it doesn't matter in the real world and people should simply judge the quality of your work--hey, while I'm dreaming, I'd like a pony--but if what it takes for me to be considered a Really Serious Scientist is to put the hair in a bun and wear a $1000 wool suit, then it's still $39,000 cheaper than my undergrad degree.
I guess I would say, when attempting to break into the Boys Club, one way that has been successful for me has been to fit a female role that men already understand in both personality and dress: sister or mother tend to be good bets, as those tend to get a modicum of respect and civility. I have not seen the "girlfriend" role play out very well though, but that's just me. Might I suggest that Dr. Isis is fortunate enough to be reaping the benefits of those who have gone before her, that she is privileged to express herself thus, and that gender dynamics change considerably depending on whether there are one or two women in a large group of men vs. a somewhat larger percentage of women (still a minority) in the group?
As a sometime lurker here, I am always impressed with your well-written, thoughtful posts; this one is no exception. However, I disagree with your conclusion, that "we need to be supporting each other in all our various flamboyant permutations. Women have to be able to be everything, if we're ever to be anything at all in science."
Perhaps we can take a lesson from President-Elect Obama, whom you mention. Obama cannot pass as a white politician any more than a woman can pass as a male scientist. Why was Obama successful? To a large extent because he focused on our commonalities, not our differences. In the end, he had to distance himself from his outspoken pastor, who couldn't seem to see beyond black vs. white. This, I think, is the way forward. We, as women, are not as powerless as you make us out to be; we do have a voice, and a responsibility, "in setting the standard of acceptable."
I'm very glad, as a female mathematician, to see different ways of "performing gender" out there. Most of the established women in math I know have gotten there in part by keeping their personal lives scrupulously separate from their professional lives, as has been mentioned above. In addition, it seems like downplaying femininity has also been necessary in the past. Things are changing -- more women can now be themselves and also succeed -- but it is slow. I value Dr. Isis's voice because it provides a counterweight to the, "Oh, you wore a skirt -- is it laundry day?" comments I got every year of undergrad.
I understand some of the comments about discomfort with overt femininity in science settings; we're trained to be uncomfortable with that. Part of that is maintaining a non-sexual work atmosphere, and part of that is that women simply don't want to be targets if they are greatly outnumbered. (By targets I mean targets of attention, even friendly attention. Being asked out by every guy in a group in a nice, respectful, honest way is still being singled out by every guy in the group. I've been there.) I'll do what I have to do to survive and if wearing jeans and sweatshirts is the way to do it, that's fine. But...
Don't any of you folks love fashion? love beauty? love being heterosexual? love flirting? I do, and I don't think I'm just brainwashed! (What about all those art students out there? We got no respect for them...) No, these are not things I will share or want to share with my work colleagues -- but with my friends, or my husband, or whoever else might be appropriate, why not? Does Dr. Isis say she went into work today and used her womanly wiles to get the tech to give her extra computing power or get her journal submission accepted? No! Is she sharing with her internet "friends"? Yes! Why are we acting as if blogging is the workplace, when it's supposed to be about life or whatever you choose to focus on? We should act with respect for others, certainly, but pseudonymous blogging is not about being professional, it's about being yourself.
Cath the Canberra Cook: In the words of PhysioProf: FU. In memory of my best friend Jeffw RIP 09-12-1961 until 11-15-2008. Zuska and Isis both rock.
I saw the title of this post, and it made me grind my teeth in wrath and frustration, and when I read this I sighed in relief. Not that I expected the title to be descriptive of the entry, and the sigh of relief was due to how much sense I expect this entry to knock into people. The no true scotsman fallacy just keeps hitting a nerve.
Danimal: speaking for myself, rather than Cath, FU right back.
most that criticize her, seem to be women. Jealousy anyone...
No, just a serious discussion of an issue WE have to live with, and if you can't figure out how stupid, immature, and offensive you have managed to be then I strongly recommend you go back to shutting the FU until you grow up another 10 years or so.
I'm glad you like Isis and Zuska. Now go figure out how to think before you write.
Luna_the_cat: "Now go figure out how to think before you write."
Perhaps you are right. See my previous post about losing one of my best friends. Maybe I was not thinking right, my apologies to anyone I offended. If I lived another ten years I would be 57.
Danimal: yeah, fair enough. And, I'm sorry to hear about your best friend. Whatever happened, that is way too young.
I do agree that women do not get room to really be anything without getting stereotyped in the science world but I also think the idea of women always 'supporting each other' is a bs concept. I do not think the solution to sexism is for me to judge women by a different criteria than men. Im not trying to imply that there is an equal playing field because I am painfully aware that there is not- but trying to solve the problem by keeping opinions of womens personalities to ourselves is dishonest and in my opinion actually contributes to inequality. Men are subject to those judgements- they do have an advantage for sure, but certainly mens' personalities are the subject of discussion and its not always positive. The bit about figuring out why other people annoy you is golden-I think that is a much better solution than the last bit of the post. I dislike being encouraged to develop a set of standards for people just because we all happen to have ovaries. Unfair criticism is bad and should be discussed and pointed out- this is a very complicated issue and I think the 'women supporting each other' message is much too simple a solution for the problem.
Thank you very much for posting about feminism on your blog. there is not nearly enough discussion about these issues.
Why is there the assumption that Isis is being fooled or is a sucker for being into expensive shoes? How do we even know how much she spends on them? Is there an on-line report of her credit card bill? Is it at all possible that she knows that they are overpriced, but just finds them fun, and maybe once in a great while is able to get a pair at a sale after saving up for a while? How is that different from the stereotypical male scientist who spends a chunk of cash on a bunch of home electronics like a plasma TV? (And I do know one who did, for $3500! Should his grant be revoked?) Do we now police how we use our discretionary income?
Ditto on the clothes - you'd think Isis wrote that she came to work dressed like Madonna on her Truth or Dare tour. I highly doubt that has happened. What I am hearing is a lot of potential "blame the victim" attitude. It's as though it is too scary for us to admit that hey, we don't have the power we want yet. If men act sexist we want to think it is within our control and damn if another woman dresses up a bit it will be her fault that sexism rears its ugly head. Because if it is not her fault that is just too awful to contemplate . . .
I've been thinking about this set of posts for a few days now. There are competing crosswinds that women have to navigate in our culture. One wind insists that it is vital to be feminine and that one must dress "hot" to do so. A second wind warns that it's a dangerous world out there, and if you draw too much attention to yourself (in feminine ways), you will bring BAD THINGS upon yourself. A third whispers that if you want to join the boys' club, where they have some great toys (confocal microscopes, 800 MHz NMRs and more), you have to pretend to be one of the boys and, if you're lucky, they'll agree not to notice that you're a girl. We try to find a bit of ground where we can stably resist these winds blowing us this way and that, but it takes a lot of energy.
We all have to find a way of performing gender that we're more or less comfortable with. It won't and shouldn't have to be the same for everyone.
I, for one, am delighted to have Dr. Isis on board, and am equally delighted to have Zuska blogging, and am somewhat less delighted but still grateful that other, more... I would say 'serious-minded' but that implies that you two aren't 'serious' and that's not what I mean at all... let's go with 'levity-impaired' bloggers are still blogging.
Science is Serious Stuff. You wonderful people are saving the world, one grueling grant, project, and paper at a time! And you know what that is? It's HOT. You ladies (and your male counterparts) have BIG, THROBBING BRAINS, and are all TOTALLY HOT. The shoes are just icing. But what's a cake without it?
Thank you both -- and ALL -- for bringing science to the masses. You all speak to different types of people, and let it be known that it's *not* just women in your own profession.
Keep bringing the hotness, ladies. Cheers.
I am an engineer, not a scientist, but I face a lot of the shame stuff, ya'know? So just, thanks for being as intelligent and thorough as always, Zuska.
astronomer Tycho Brahe kept a drunk Moose
Note to self: obtain Moose and Jameson.
Which, hey, leads back to my big issue. Women are so much judged by their appearance, that a woman out there going "look at me, I'm hot" is either subversively playing with the cultural norms, or supporting them.
There is no neutral, unfortunately. While I wish it were otherwise, we are not free to "perform our genders" as we wish, without being judged on it.
Subverting and supporting cultural norms are not necessarily muturally exclusive. Sometimes it's not about removing sterotypes so much as altering them.
In the world of societal expectations, you can support "women" with "pretty shoes" while building "women" and "scientist" (the consequence will be that "scientist" will end up associated with "pretty shoes"- but I just can't bring myself to see a real threat in that).
I think we need to build up collective subconsious associations of "woman" and "scientist"- at least to the point where the former word is not an obligatory modifier of the later, and people don't feel like a circus sideshow or zoo exhibit.
That said, cultural norms often have an impressive force behind them. You are right that it is totally unrealistic to assume that how we want to perform our genders will always be how they are seen by our audiences. Does "scientist with pretty shoes" really stretch the collective imagination to the point where other messages don't get through?
But I think I am too tired to get into a fight about this. I wish women would realize that the ONLY way we're going to get anywhere is by helping each other.
People have said a lot about how they aren't willing to support 100% of other women 100% of the time (which seems perfectly reasonable to me, for the record).
But people haven't said so much about what they do think is called for in this respect.
To Dr. Isis, Zuska, and everyone else out there who wants in:
I, Becca, do solemnly swear:
*to make amused noises at your footware choices, no matter how implausible they seem
*to tell you you're totally hot
*to remind you that you are a good person for taking care of your aging parents/your young child/your cat/yourself (cause you are).
*to try to understand why you perform your gender the way you do
*to call BS on your BS (cause you can do better), but to recognize that many things that do not ring true for me may be true for others
All I ask in return is that you tell me about totally hott science (consider that a plug for December Scientiae) and/or totally hott social engineering (is it weird that's how I see what you do, Zuska?).
After reading the comments on this post, and related ones at other blogs, what surprises me is the polarization, with regards both to opinions for/against Dr. Isis, and to the binary definitions of gender female/male. Dr. Isis' blog doesn't resonate with me, I don't share her taste in clothes and shoes, I don't view myself as a goddess (nor do I aspire to be one), and it's unlikely that I have achieved her (apparent) level of academic, material, and domestic success as she defines such things. But none of that constitutes an "attack", nor does it make me an embittered, failed, science beeyotch. And it certainly doesn't qualify me for "Against the Sisterhood" status in academic science. I just don't share Dr. Isis' attitudes and priorities.
As a biologist, the gender dichotomy expressed in some of the comments on this post of Zuska's really surprises me. You're either a girlie girl, or a blokey bloke, apparently. I thought we were past "gender as binary choice", and had moved on to "gender as spectrum", but I guess I was wrong. Drosophila and C. elegans are more nuanced than we are?
ImpatientPatient here again.
I have been thinking about this post and my post and I need to chat.
Here it is. A woman in any field is censured by other women by virtue of their appearance. Men do it, too. I work in a children's field- definitely not science - and have been chastised for wearing heels and skirts because I have to be ready to run, I have to be able to sit on a floor and am I SURE my clothes are wash and wear. Oh, and lower class children's staff do not dress like you are dressed- that is reserved for the upper classes.
Ummmm.... where to put that? I wear heels- not four inch naughty monkeys, but heels nonetheless. Sometimes strappy shoes, sometimes boots. I wear tights with skirts- no nether regions to be feared. All my clothes are wash and wear thank you- I am not stupid- and cheap and chic enough to forget about if something icky gets on it. (I am the queen of sales and free.) I am tiny. Like Isis I am hot. (Like I am in my forties and am mistaken for 25 hot -LOL!!. ) I have balanced my family demands with my work- and have been shocked at how bitter some women are towards those who they perceive are younger, prettier, smarter and better dressed. All this while dealing with a serious family situation and teenagers and wondering how anyone has time to worry about the petty stuff.
Oh, and did I tell you that I attend school and have kept up honours, albeit on a part time basis. While being excellent at my job. For the most part, I have seen many women who support each other. But I have also seen women who go for the jugular. Mine and others. And it is because we are young (or in my case look young) attractive and worst of all -CAPABLE. Let the undermining begin- it has been horrifying.
In my part time service sector job, it is not so much the staff as the clientele that are vicious. I have had to limit my exposure to certain "types" of women, because I know before I even open my mouth they have judged me and are going to make my life difficult. And they do. My daughter who is working her way through university as well finds the same thing happens to her. We shake our heads, because really and truly, we are the type of people who are very fortunate to have to do very little to present an attractive front.
With men- most are respectful. But recently I came upon one who was a boss (customer service) who when he did not get a fawning response cut me to shreds verbally and harassed me physically. I went to work as plain as possible, no heels, mascara only, and fully covered in layers to fend off those advances and attacks. Nothing worked and my first paycheque I walked. That had not happened to me for over twenty years, and I was as unprepared this time as I was back then.
I have tried to keep peace, and to please those I have worked with/for or stay off their radar. Unfortunately you cannot please everyone, but you can please yourself. The moral of the story is to be who you are, celebrate whatever aspect of being HUMAN you want to, and let the chips fall where they may. Some people will hate you because they perceive you as vain, shallow, unserious- fight it if you have to and move on, in your Jimmy Choos, or your Walmart Specials- but enjoy YOUR OWN LIFE and screw everyone else.
Zuska- #12- I am indeed a woman, junior faculty in an institution of higher education, who has two children and blogs in her spare time. I enjoyed your post and find the point above, about figuring out why certain people get under one's skin and learning how to deal with this, to be extremely important (for lots of reasons).
As for my comment at Transient reporter- It's fairly obvious that now that Isis has moved to scienceblogs her blog has a muted tone from her original blog- so I stand by my comment. But perhaps I didn't make my meaning clear. I do think Isis has important and valid things to say. But for myself- I find all the discussion about clothing and cooking distracting from the important stuff- or at least the stuff that speaks to me as a woman in science. I imagine myself in a scientific seminar where the speaker spends 35 minutes talking about shoes and 10 minutes talking about data- and I don't think it is a stretch to say that it would be difficult to take the speaker seriously, irrespective of gender.
I have posted my thoughts on this subject here- for anyone who cares:
I imagine myself in a scientific seminar where the speaker spends 35 minutes talking about shoes and 10 minutes talking about data- and I don't think it is a stretch to say that it would be difficult to take the speaker seriously, irrespective of gender.
You probably missed the point then. When you go to a seminar- you get science. When you go to a Scientific and Domestic Goddess blog it tells you a lot about the writer by the very title of her blog. In real life you could be quite upset if a scientist talked about shoes most of the the time while supposed to be discussing, let's say how quitting smoking can cause medication to be metabolized differently, and the implications that has for people who take SSRI's. In blog land , you can complain, but because you CHOSE to come to a place that advertised IN THE TITLE something less pure than pure science- you get what you pay for!!!! Some of us like free laughs, shoes, and inspiration- if you don't pack up your sensible shoes and please go somewhere else to visit.
I find it really funny that the post everyone is freaking out about WAS about science, but because it wasn't deferential enough to the status quo- polite and through PROPER channels- she is now being attacked for being a WOMAN IN SCIENCE WHO IS NOT SERIOUS.
I wish Physio Prof had written a comparable article in HIS unmistakeable way- Because I bet he wouldn't have been taken to task for being an unserious MAN IN SCIENCE.
I just don't get people. Don't get em one little bit..... if you don't like something then quietly don't like it and move on. Don't go on and on about how someone is no good because you do not like their style of doing something. Go somewhere and get your own needs met- and let us enjoy our irreverence if we so choose.
A very Annoyed
If you want proof of that, just take a look at our President-Elect Obama. If ever there was a non-white American leader who ought to be "acceptable" and non-threatening it should be him.
I think this is a terrible analogy. Obama didn't choose to be an African-American, but Isis chooses what she wears and says!
I do not disagree with your points here though.
Personally, Isis is just not my kind of person based on the way she presents herself. I never care how she looks, but I do care how she responds to other people. She
didn't seem to be a nice person. Well, I could be wrong. I probably would like her very much if I knew her. Who cares? I just won't let my daughters read her comments.
Please excuse my Chinese English here.
First, I apologize for having annoyed you. This was not my intent at all.
Second, I don't believe that I missed the point. I gave a somewhat ridiculous example to make the point that important issues that are central to being a woman in science (or a scientific goddess- if you wish) can be obscured by overemphasis on, or the majority of time spent talking about other stuff. I fail to see how this is controversial in the least. As for your thought about Physioprof, he avoids mixing issues quite well, and doesn't generally talk about science on his blog at wordpress. C PP saves the careerism/grantsmanship posts- which, by the way, are unbelievably important- for Drugmonkey- where they are undiluted and written in his unique style. I don't believe that this is unintentional.
Furthermore, if you had read my original comment at transient reporter- I actually meant it as something of a complement, and not as a snide or snarky remark frankly- because as I say clearly above- I do think that Isis has important and valid things to say, and I'd like to be able to get to that message more easily.
Finally- I am not sure what you are referring to here:
'I find it really funny that the post everyone is freaking out about WAS about science, but because it wasn't deferential enough to the status quo- polite and through PROPER channels- she is now being attacked for being a WOMAN IN SCIENCE WHO IS NOT SERIOUS.'
Because I certainly never said anything of the sort. What I did say about that is posted here:
Chinese Qma: On the topic of your 'Obama' aside, I feel the need to point out somehting which has been bugging me in general, and is partly relevant in explaining why the Obama thing was put forward. In specific, Obama's 'threateningness' is because he's part of a suspect class (having a 'black' ancestor and therefore being 'black', thank you one drop of black blood America). Similarly, here, Isis's (or any woman scientist's) 'threateningness' is not because of their actual reasonable human valid choices, but rather because they are women. Zuska's point here is that, barring certain extremes (such as, you know, actually trying to threaten people) it matters very little how threatening or non-threatening you are. You're going to get the short stick.
More longwindedly, in a society where racism/sexism exists, people who do not conform to the 'highest norm' (roughly upper middle class, white, straight, cisgender, christian, etc. (in America, your area may vary)), can always be marginalized and insulted based on their class. A woman could dress in sackcloth, and someone would still find a reason to insult her ('Doesn't she care enough about her appearance? What a hag.') One could dress very well, and someone would find a reason to insult them ('What's she trying to do, seduce all the men in a room? What a slut.') One could try to shoot middle of the road, make no waves, but you are still subject to the whims of the outside observer. Little too uncombed one day? Ugly bitch. Oh, sparkly jewelry! What a bimbo. In the same way that Obama is being criticized for shit that you can't actually pin him down as doing, or things which Bush did in spades, but because a Democrat/Black person/Crazy Secret Muslim did it, it's suddenly fascist to the people who are interested in keeping the rigid social order around. A 'terrorist fist jab' with his wife? Oh god, look out, black people taking over. A bad bowling outing? Oh, what a sissy! 'But he speaks so well for a black man... he's not really black.' A giant pile of arbitrary bullshit that exists almost strictly to tear people down. Just like this.
To now finish making the analogy clear, socially, Obama is conceptually very 'white'. Which in our society, means very 'in' with the power structure. Also, he's half white by blood, he is relatively affluent, etc. And some people call him an oreo, say he's not black enough. And some people call him a secret muslim socialist other. No matter what Obama does, someone will still find him lacking with respect to the magical arbitrary norms that define what he 'should be'. Just like women in science are always (at the moment) lacking with respect to the magical arbitrary norms. At best, standing on the point of a very sharp pedestal, where at any time, someone can decide you've fallen off, unserious, unrespectable, unscience. And that is why it's important to, as Isis put it, support women of all stripes in doing science to the best of their ability.
Mecha, Obama's infamous cycling outfit was the problem. a serious problem. who gives a crap about bowling...
BikeMonkey: It's so hard to keep track of the numerous statements generally right wing types have used to imply someone is queermosexual, you'll have to forgive me for missing that one. ;)
Again Isis can decide whatever she wants to do, and it's her way, scientists or not. She doesn't have to justify it to me at all. If she enjoys it, more power to her.
I have two bright daughters and am a professor myself, and her "behavior" does seem to be the one my girls should model after. That's it.
I agree with you that we should not "marginalize" anyone including my own biracial kids.
Do I marginalize her? This really depends on how you see it. So, if I donï¿½t agree with her behavior and decide to turn her off, I marginalize her?! And it's the same as when people don't like African American or my kids just due to their skin color? Uuuuh, forget it!
Qma: It more depends on the how, as I see it, and how it's presented.
You can choose not to read her, totally you, totally cool. Or one can choose to, as others have done in this case, denegrate her writings as like a bimbo, or whatever gender-based slur is necessary, which is what's under discussion, because it is marginalizing, dismissive, etc. And one can do this to someone, really, no matter what they do on the scale. Ugly women are bad, pretty women are bad, fat women are bad, skinny women are bad... pretty much, you eventually get the picture that no matter what way you choose to be, it's bad. That's the kind of behavior problem being brought up here, and the kind of thing the last metaphor gets at.
Similarly (although not exactly, because nothing is exact), it's possible to not like Obama's policies (or a black person), and disagree, cool. Or one can choose to call that person a radical, a muslim (as if that were a bad thing), dismiss him or her. And really, no matter what a black person does, same thing. Too radical, too passive, too much like a stereotype, they eat too much chicken, they like rap music, what does that say about the rest of us? If they don't conform to the perfectly nice (but not too nice) intelligent (but not too intelligent) standard society demands, then they'll be dismissed. That's the parallel being drawn here.
I'm sorry if it came across as I thought you were being dismissive for not liking her, I was simply attempting to explain the Obama metaphor as I see it a bit more.
Correction of my previous comments:
I have two bright daughters and am a professor myself, and her "behavior" does NOT seem to be the one my girls should model after. That's it.
Mecha, as usual I find myself nodding along with much of what you say.
Tangentially: "cisgender" and "queermosexual" are my new favorite terms (neither quite manages to trump ambisextrous, but they at least tie for first).
I wasn't going to comment, but no one else has mentioned it, so -
1) SARAH PALIN.
All women who are hot are not unintelligent, and all hot women aren't intelligent either. Base your decision on the actual characteristics of a person, rather than their appearance. And don't attack their gender expression or appearance when what you really mean to attack is their substance or personality.
2) The problem with acting as though sexualized women are wrong/inappropriate/bad for other women is that it is in fact, the most insulting to MEN. The whole concept assumes that MEN cannot handle their own sexuality and we must protect them by being agendered beings so as not to disrupt their barely-hidden URGES from coming out. Really? Intelligent, accomplished professional men can't set aside their sexuality and act like grown ups? Because our society's norms for men (business suit, tie, etc) are designed to make men look more angular, broad-shouldered, fit and tall - all male secondary sexual characteristics. And somehow, we women are able to ignore these things all the time and not drool all over our male coworkers, but men aren't able to and shouldn't be expected to? ugh.
And yes, since I have female secondary characteristics that are noticeable, even in neutrally-gendered clothing, I have noticed staring/comments/harassment in both science and non-science workplaces. Whose fault is it, if I have a date and wear flattering clothing, if they are distracted by my appearance - not mine, unless I am wearing 5" platform heels and a miniskirt (just like if a man wore no shirt or what we like to call 'junk pants').
My daughters can model whomever they choose. Karma means they will probably end up looking like the girls from The Hills, but it's OK with me. GENDER SPECTRUM, people.
I think Isis overposts and is a bit snarky, but that is what the internet is FOR. DIVERSITY OF BLOGGERS AND OPINIONS. Also, I like shoes and science, so she makes me happy.
Zuska, your response is the most measured I have seen and makes me happy to have feminist women in both blogging and science.
I did read you post and then a bunch of comments, followed links and was up until the wee hours of the morn. Talked about it at work today too- un-sciencey work with a preponderence of female types, who are very interesting to be amongst. The drama- the backbiting- the silliness that says that we should cut each other slack cuz we all have PMS- everyone that is but the person who tells that to us. I have lived with cold silence, rumour, innuendo and practical mutiny as people jockey for position. It is very odd. Most women support each other, but the few that work to undermine certain "targets" make the workplace a poisonous place. Based on appearances. And allegience to the old ways of doing things. It is to the point that I actually spoke loudly and firmly this year to a co-worker, and then left before I said "stuff I would regret". The pettiness is unbelievable.
So believe me when I tell you that I know of what I speak. I never used to- or I was much better at seeing the positive, or I was just willfully oblivious. I don't know. But when my leisure time pursuits echo my real life I tend to be a bit cranky.
In a response to your post and some comments you wrote this:
I see that you had quite extensive comments on your post. I agree that the old way of scientific writing will change with the rise of other types of discussion format. This is a good thing, for sure. But- Im advocating that a civilized (treat people as you would want to be treated) tone remain, and that people who participate or initiate such discussion should think carefully about the impact their words may have on others with different sensitivities- and choose their words carefully. Maybe this is too PC for the blogosphere, maybe Im just hopelessly old fashioned?? I suppose my point is that one can make a serious scientific point without a lot of grandstanding.
Ummm..........Where to start- Isis's post was about science, but she had not written it nicely, so now she is being chastised (in an oh so gentle way- like fish nibbling at one's toes in your post ) for not doing science "properly" . Your comment is one of the more civilized of the ones who criticize, and comment on her pseudonimity being a problem for real scientists..... but it still is about women scientists not being mean to others- period it, ever, full stop. I have seen nasty male scientists on line, but they are usually characterized as curmudgeonly, not bitchy. (which is what is implied when women are told that they are not nice to a fault.) Where are the hoards of women saying that Orac is snarky to the "woo people", or PZ is mean to religious folk, or Physioprof is just plain nasty ----nowhere, really. It is perfectly acceptable for those gentlement to have a fixation on something- but Isis picked shoes and that is just so distracting to science compared to what the men go on about. And I think that saying that because someone speaks with swear words while using their first name, but speaks in proper words while using their last name (think equivalents to CPP here) does not make them more credible. It just splits them up. It is through the swearing dude that I met the sciencey dude. I was fascinated/repulsed/hysterically laughing and somehow he stayed on my radar because of his style. We overlook the irreverence in a man because he dresses up his science in a three piece suit, but we are excoriating it in a woman who knows what shoes to wear while she trashes what she saw as crappy science.
I go back to my personal experience in my job and I see it over and over and over---- we let guys get away with a lot more, and we expect a certain conformity by the women around us. Anyone who dares to step out of that box is quickly outed and pointed at by those around her. And it is a bit tiring. Women can TOO say shocking things that piss people off and it should not be an EVENT. Even if they do like hot shoes. And look grand standing in them.
Sure. There is drama everywhere, and the workplace can resemble high school. As you have already picked up- academic science is absolutely no different. I despise this kind of drama.
But my post wasn't about criticizing how anyone is 'doing science'. Science is not done in the blogosphere- it is done in the lab. At the most basic level it's about hypotheses and experiments. I do not know any of the players involved personally- and it would thus be impossible for me to judge their science at this level. If I had done so I would have been quite in error.
A second, and very important part of doing science is discourse and interaction with colleagues. Nowhere did I make a point that it is acceptable for men to behave badly in these interactions but behaving badly for women is never allowed. That seems to be your general point- one to which I say that from my perspective- the gender of the badly behaving person matters to me not one wit (and in that I may be out of step with society, but in a good way, I think).
Ironically- in the post from which you quote the comment above, I also called out Physioprof - who is a man as you know- for name calling.
Cisgender's one that came to me from other places like Shrub, Pandagon, Feministing, Pam's House Blend, etc, and is an actual solid term to remember that straight and 'being the gender you look like' are two different things.
Queermosexual, now that's just my favorite term to refer to the LGTBQ alphabet while mocking people who are obsessed with hating teh gays. Because when you're denigrating gay people from the right, it's all about sex. 'Tyson Homosexual takes gold', as it were.
1) I don't get the gender role dichotomy we've set up here.
2) I don't read Dr. Isis because I really hate the whole shoe thing. Kinda like I don't read a couple of other ScienceBlogs written by males because of their assy politics and "objective" dickswinging.
Impatientpatient wrote: Where are the hoards of women saying that Orac is snarky to the "woo people", or PZ is mean to religious folk, or Physioprof is just plain nasty...
They were all over the blogs, a year ago. And I mean ALL over the blogs. Furious firestorms of them. Flaming shitstorms. Drama llamas abounded. Maybe you don't see them anywhere now because eventually people get tired of shouting, or they eventually just get shouted down...
Mecha: Re. evertyhing I've ever seen you post -- have I ever mentioned that I totally love you for your brain?
I'd just like to say something here.
As 1 of 2 female postdocs in a lab of shock full of male computational scientists, it doesn't matter what shoes I'm wearing, if I wear makeup, if I wear a skirt, if show up naked, if I wear a ski-mask. The minute I started in that lab, the whole dynamics shifted, and I'm not an agressive woman, and I tried to fit in with the I'm just a guy role.
But, after over a year, and much frustration later, who am I kidding, it will never work!
I have two degrees in male dominated fields but I have never been in the sort of close knit environment where I have experienced this before.
So, I say, wear heels and type linux commands. Bake cheesecake. Or Not. Do what you want. Do what makes you happy. Wear old smelly sandals. Mix it up. And no more stereotypes.
Just please, we need more women scientists!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
this is for dr. isis,
Do what makes you happy. Since when did science become governed by a dresscode?
I'm a woman doing her graduate studies in physical science field.
Quite often, my female colleagues/friends come to me to complain about the sexism they face and how they can't wear tanktops because they are uncomfortable with their advisors looking down at their cleavage. How they get annoyed when they see other females using their "assets" to get what they want from the guys.
I try to be understanding and offer them counsel, but sometimes, it just feels really overwhelming to obsess about this when I have other things,... like science in my head.
I consider myself a tomboy. wear comfortable sneakers, since i'm running around the lab, wear the same clothes for DAYS(and sleep in them too) and I've even reached WEEKS. I've been hit on some male professors (not my advisor), guys in the stockroom, guy that I depend on everyday so I could finish my phD for the last 5.5 yrs. This proves one thing. When there's only a handful of woman in a male dominated building, she can wear the same clothes everyday for a week and reek, and the guys will not be deterred.
Don't let trivial things like this get to you. it's science we have to focus our energy on.
Also, constantly making it a sexist issue can backfire. I've seen another woman get completely ostracized by her group of 20+ male members.
My strategy is to deflect potentially sexist-like comments to comedy. When a guy says "you look really pretty today, " my usual response is "oh that's because i took a shower" works everytime. Otherwise, I would've not lasted this long without becoming disgruntled.
If they hit on you, hit them back. A student kept giving me his number and treating me like a challenge rather than a mentor. So, I make jokes in front of others about selling his number to the highest bidder. He never did it again. Whenever a prof ask me out, i promptly answer his question with another question: "how's your wife doing?"
YES there is plenty of sexism towards woman. I see it on a daily basis. I've seen lots of female graduate students leave because they felt too much sexual harrassment and voiced it , only to be cut off entirely from the male sector comprising of 80-90%.
I've come to live with it because I can't radically change old school traditions. I'm here because I love the science which is not sexist and it is pure.
I love that I can wear dirty clothes/sneakers everyday, joke and bash the guys into their place, and just do science.
And when some female colleague comes to lab wearing nice clothes and high heels, I admire them for having the courage to work in those shoes. we are a rarity in this field. we need to stick together and not judge based on clothes and looks.