Monday, December 21, 2009

Sexism in Hindsight

A couple weeks ago FSP shared some horrific stories from her post-doc days. If you haven't read it yet, I highly suggest reading the post and the comments. It's amazing to hear what things are still going on these days to women in science all over the world.

In her post, FSP discusses how men (and sometimes women) use the phrase "He must be joking" (or some variation) to basically make an excuse for what should be inexcusable behavior. I'll fully admit that, up until a couple years ago, I was in this camp. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism, so that I wouldn't be wounded in these situations. In any case, I never really thought I was treated badly because I was a woman, certainly not by anyone I had worked for/with.

But, as we all know, hindsight is 20/20. The more I encounter such situations, the more I see in my past. There are a few that have stayed in my mind:

Back in the summer before the last year of my undergrad I worked as a waitress at a nightclub. The owner initially hired me as a bartender, but when I started working, he said I had to "prove" myself before he put be behind the bar. He would make comments about how I should dress sexier, or wear more makeup, but I kind of brushed it of as "part of the industry". That is, until one night he said he'd drive me home (as a safety precaution, of course) and ended up driving to his place. He basically said that if I were to do certain things that night that I would be a bartender and make big money. Don't worry, Mom & Dad, I had the sense to get the hell out of there pretty damn quick and took a taxi. When I look back on that incident, I thank the heavens that nothing else happened, because it could have gone much worse (as I'm sure we can all imagine).

The other two incidents are minor, but because they happened during my grad school years, they really turned me off academia:

Very shortly after DH and I were engaged, I was talking with someone who I considered a friend. They were a graduate student, but a more "mature" one, with a wife and children of his own. When I told him that I got engaged and that we were planning to find a city that would have jobs for both of us, he told me that I "shouldn't make decisions just for some guy". I was shocked. I mean, here's this guy with a family, and he's basically telling me that I shouldn't want what he has (or couldn't have it?). I wasn't sure what to take more offense too: that he thought that I was such a doormat that I wasn't involved in this decision, or that he assumed DH was such an asshole that he would force me to move somewhere without even thinking of me.

The last one is actually the most surprising, because the interaction was with a woman, about the same age as me, and we were both just finishing up our PhDs. She asked me what my plans were after I finished, and I said I wasn't sure about the job situation, but that we were going to try and start a family. Her reaction? "I don't understand why women get PhDs and then just go off and have babies. What a waste of time." Yup - because women who have babies cannot do anything else besides that. Ever. Thanks so very much for your support, my fellow female PhD in the sciences. Yay.

In each of these situations, I suppose the person could have been joking. And, in fact, when I've relayed these conversations to some people, it has elicited that exact response. Because, seriously, who would say that kind of thing? But, I assure you, these people sure weren't laughing.