Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Women's spaces

People occasionally write about whether or not women in STEM groups/meetings should include men.
Another hope of mine, perhaps an even less realistic one, is that it wouldn't always be women talking about careers-and-babies, but that more men would be involved in these discussions. It is still common for FSPs who are invited speakers at other institutions to be asked to have a "pizza lunch" or whatever with female students and postdocs, typically to talk about work-life issues.* Are any of you in departments that routinely invite men to do the same?
Up until I entered grad school (and therefore really faced discrimination on an impersonal systematic level, as opposed to the personal cultural discrimination that goes on inside most homes) I did not understand the need, in this day and age, for women's only spaces. After all, conventional wisdom is that for any "minority" to gain access to its rights, the issue of their rights has to stop being a niche issue, and has to start being a mainstream issue.

Furthermore, a lot of the things we discuss in "women in my field" meetings are really general interest issues. We talk about networking, research opportunities, job applications, grants and lots of other things that all academics care about. I find myself wondering whether or not men get similar career counselling. I am very grateful that I get this opportunity to talk frankly with people other than my supervisor about these general issues. I know a lot of men who would be too.

But then invitations like this pop up in my inbox:
Dear all,
Time for a new meeting of the [our groups] women has come! 
Which is about getting together, having a nice supper, teaming up, group-therapying about any sexist situation you may have suffered, brain-storming for avoiding them in the future, having many laughs and all in all have a nice evening together :)

"Group therapy." "Sexist situation." This is really why we have these meetings. We just don't necessarily say it so directly.

Okay fine, so we need a safe place to talk and discuss issues that detrimentally effect us in ways it doesn't effect men, but wouldn't it be useful for us invite men as well, especially the ones that are known to be safe to talk to? Yes, ideally. But how does one do that without acting like a teenager?

"Professor X, you are invited because this gaggle of girls have decided you are cool. Postdoc Y, you are not cool enough to be invited."

If one invites men to these meetings, how does one mediate against sexism at the meetings? Should one ask people not to come back? Wouldn't that be more exclusionary? How would one make sure that the standards are applied in a non-discriminatory fashion? 

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