Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Women's dinner

"So what did that have to do with discrimination against women?" someone asked after half the table excused themselves from dinner to get work done. The remaining women looked at each other awkwardly, until someone said "Not much."

I hemmed and hawed my reasons for not bringing up any of the issues I so easily talk about in private. But the truth is, if the permanent faculty member at the dinner wasn't introducing the fact that this was a dinner for women in the department, and a safe forum to discuss any issues one may have, I didn't feel comfortable doing it at all. This is a startling and disturbing realization.

Once we realized that there were, in fact, several women at the dinner who wanted to talk to other women about sexism they face in life and work, the conversation quickly turned to swapping stories, and giving advice.

"How you deal with non-academic discrimination, such as the neighbor who says that women's brains are scientifically proven to be less capable of mathematical thinking?"

"How do you tell your adviser that you are pregnant?" Unfortunately, I could not remember this series of three posts off  the top of my head.

"I've decided to publicly start warning women against men I've had bad experiences with." I venture.
"We should make lists like this public," someone says. After a while, someone else points out that it is very hard to talk about this. "I don't want to spread rumors, and it is hard to tell if it is just me, or if the person really is a problem." If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that last sentiment.

"How do you get out from under the influence of a scientist who is biased against you?"

"How do you deal with the nepotism of academia?" Move to a country that is less nepotistic, unfortunately. 

Walking home, I ask "why women in Europe seem to leave the workforce more than their American counterparts?" Someone asks "If having children is so hard, why did you do it?" Damned if I could tell you now.

This is why we have women's only events. Once a safe space is established, there is too often so much to say. Can I name a few men who would contribute to and benefit from these dinners as much as the women? Sure. Do I want to be a gate keeper? No. Do I want to ruin the feeling of a safe space by having to pause and explain to someone who hasn't faced a certain behavior, why that behavior is harmful? No.

For now, I've made piece with this exclusionary policy. Yes, we are diminished when we exclude half of humanity from any event. But we are not excluding them from the discussion. We talk to them every single day. If they are not as keenly aware of how few female colleagues they have, then that is not my problem. This dinner was a chance to put my guard down. It is sad that in the 21rst century, I still need such a place.

1 comment:

  1. oh I recognize that feeling... Last time I went to a "networking women thingy" it was not really the crowd since it turned out to be a lot of "this is really not an issue for us post-docs" and I thought to myself, you just wait until you try and get out of the post-doc. (My bitter realism would be to look for the glass-celing when it really counts, i.e. getting money and tt positions).

    For now, I usually say something about "I'm not sure I'd work with X, but you might have a different feel. But I would advise you to look at the stas coming out of their lab" (well knowing that X has never had a successful woman coming out of the lab, only men)