The most radical thing I can do as a woman scientist is, well, science.
October 8, 2014 6:38 PM   Subscribe

When words fail: women, science, and women-in-science – [Trigger warning for this and all following links] by Jacquelyn Gill (@JacquelynGill):
The seminars, workshops, blogs, op-eds, research, policy papers, luncheons, and happy hour discussions are all valuable, and important, and they need to continue. But when the beer is drunk, and the pizza gone cold, and the printed articles relegated to the recycling bin, we are left with words: words written by us and about us, spoken in confidence, tossed like poisoned barbs in the comments sections, smoldering as craters in our in-boxes, pounding in our ears when we run it out at the gym.

I’m sorry, you guys, but words are not enough. Not anymore.

Science’s Sexual Assault Problem by A. Hope Jahren, The New York Times.

The problem with "otherizing" perpetrators of sexual assault in STEM by Ambika Kamath.

Science Has A Thomas Jefferson Problem… by Isis the Scientist (@drisis): "Still, this doesn't change the fact that the notion that 'Science Has a Sexual Assault Problem' makes me salty. Life has a sexual assault problem..."

Previously: #WomenTweetScienceToo, Carry That Weight
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (32 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault referenced and linked in the Jahren article.

Codes of conduct and sexual harassment policies were not regularly encountered by respondents, while harassment and assault were commonly experienced by respondents during trainee career stages. Women trainees were the primary targets; their perpetrators were predominantly senior to them professionally within the research team. Male trainees were more often targeted by their peers at the research site. Few respondents were aware of mechanisms to report incidents; most who did report were unsatisfied with the outcome.

What year is this again?
posted by rtha at 6:57 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wow.

From the NYT link: "a survey of 666 field-based scientists in the journal PLoS One and reported that 26 percent of the female scientists surveyed had been sexually assaulted during fieldwork"

I didn't know the number would be that high. As a woman going into a STEM field (still in college though, for now), I've definitely thought about this some. Fieldwork is often part of entry level jobs in geology and geological engineering, and this fieldwork is often done in remote locations, with few or no other people around.

The article also said that most of these women were assaulted early in their careers.

I've enjoyed the past few years of learning about geology, and I've thought since freshman year that I wanted a cool job where you travel a lot to do field work in neat places, hike around mountains to collect data or something.. But reading pieces like this makes me worry about going into fieldwork, even though I know fieldwork is important for understanding geology. My professors always stress the importance of looking at, say, rock formations in person to understand them - one has always said "don't roadside it" when we're looking at outcrops in the field - but at this point I'm tempted to just try to find a job in a lab somewhere to avoid fieldwork. But I know I can't necessarily avoid sexual assault just by working somewhere else.. And should I really let the possibility of assault keep me from pursuing work in a field I love?
posted by cp311 at 7:08 PM on October 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


(previously)

I usually really like Dr. Isis's commentary, so it really frustrates me that her response is "Sexual assault is a life problem, so there's not a point in talking about it from the perspective of what's going on in science."

Field science has a whole set of factors that exacerbate the "life problem" of sexual assault and make it a particularly good situation for people to take advantage of their field assistants, graduate students, underlings, etc. Just look at the way they're framing this survey on field safety in archaeological fieldwork:
Stories about romantic escapades on archaeological excavations are legend, as anyone who has worked on a dig can surely attest. We have all heard about happy relationships that began in the field and thrived for decades. But as we also know, excavation lore contains stories of other kinds of “relationships,” as well. This Survey on Field Safety: Middle East, North Africa, and Mediterranean Basin is designed to understand the ways in which archaeological fieldwork does – or does not – provide a safe and secure setting for all participants.
"What happens in the field stays in the field" is a real thing. The things that Drs. Clancy, Nelson, Hinde, and Rutherford identified in their initial article on sexual assault during fieldwork - unclear mechanisms for reporting assault, tolerance of male faculty known to engage in sexual harassment, and so on - those are things that CAN BE FIXED. And then fewer people will be sexually assaulted. It's true that the most significant sexual harassment I dealt with on my fieldwork was from the guys I worked with who were local. But it's also true that they weren't the only ones. And it's true that my male advisors and faculty members don't really know how to manage that sort of situation, or initiate that conversation with female graduate students.

I don't think it's good enough to shrug our shoulders and say "Well, you know, that's what happens when you have a vagina." Things are obnoxious enough walking around as a woman on a day to day basis. If there are specific, institutional ways that we can change the climate when I go to do my work, or go to a conference, or go to do remote fieldwork, then we should pursue them! Women in science are worth it. Women outside of science are worth it, too, but there are fewer obvious solutions to solving the larger problem of institutionalized sexism. This is a situation where there are clear steps - from an institutional perspective and from a training perspective - to measurably improve things for people! So let's do it!
posted by ChuraChura at 7:14 PM on October 8, 2014 [19 favorites]


Yeah, I agree with Dr Isis that life has a sexual assault problem. Of course. No, academia isn't immune from this. Science isn't immune from this either. But I also agree with ChuraChura that there can be benefits to isolating a specific type of sexual assault, that experienced by women in STEM fields.

We have to start somewhere. Academia generally has structures and rules anyway. Science generally rewards logic and evidence and facts. These are things that can be combined to show: yes, this happens. Let's do something about it. Here are some things that we can do.

And scientists aren't just scientists; they're also people in the wider world. So changing the behaviour and mindsets of male scientists is also affecting their behaviour and thoughts as men. And the way they talk to their non-scientist male friends, the way they bring up their daughters, the way they treat their partners and friends and family who happen to be female. It may not be the whole battle, but it's a start.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:22 PM on October 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


And should I really let the possibility of assault keep me from pursuing work in a field I love?

I work in a field in which we regularly put people into extremely hazardous environments. As a result, and as you might expect, we spend a lot of time thinking about risk. I would encourage you to think about two aspects of risk.

First, risk needs to be evaluated versus reward. Small risk, big reward? Great. Big risk, small reward? Maybe think about doing something different. Much of the value here is in consciously evaluating both risks and rewards. If you think you can explain your rationale to a qualified outsider you're probably doing it right.

Second, take only the amount of risk required to get the job done. Many, many things are out of our control and fall into the "shit happens" category. To reduce your overall risk you've got to go after and mitigate all the risks that you actually can control. For us, we do that with things like backup systems, extensive training, tested procedures, and so on. In your case, that mitigation strategy might include things like self defense training, saying no to trips in questionable areas or with questionable people, always having a buddy with you, and so on.

Big picture, the idea is mitigate all the risk you can and then make a go/no-go decision based on remaining risk versus reward.

Best wishes on this and I hope whatever decision you make works out well for you.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:27 PM on October 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


I've been sitting here, weeping, struggling for 30 minutes with all the thoughts and emotions this brings up.

I'm a geologist. I work in the field, in isolated places. I've worked all over the globe. I've worked on oil rigs in the middle of the ocean where there were 150 men and me. I've experienced an amazing amount of shit in terms of sexism and misogyny. And yes, some sexual harassment.

Yet the most sexual harassment and episodes of sexual assault occurred in my "trainee career stages" when "perpetrators were predominantly senior to [me] professionally within the research team." They occurred in the field, at academic conferences, in libraries. In my own goddamn grad school office and computer lab. It was lewd comments, sexual expectations, hands sliding up my legs, hands on my breasts and ass. And worse. And worse. The number of unwanted hands on my body are uncountable; the majority of those hands belonged to people with whom I had a professional, mentor or senior type relationship.They were professors, expedition leaders, field guides, male TAs. They were men I knew and until that moment, trusted. Which, you know, is a whole knot on its own.

And at that moment, you're afraid. You're afraid to speak up too loudly, for fear of jeopardizing your future. For being seen as a troublemaker. For fear of how they might harm you in other ways - by gossip, by action, by revenge.

Until I learned that speaking up also protects other women. Until I learned that you don't just speak up - you scream. You yell. You tell everyone and you don't care who hears you and what the repercussions are. Because this is more important than your career. Because these guys tend to be serial. Because maybe you stop this guy and as a result you never publish that paper but another woman NOT BEING HURT is worth 1000 academic papers. Because the hell with them having that kind of power over you.

And because for the most part, we have gotten to the point where being accused of sexual harassment is something to be afraid of, and if the wrongness of his actions isn't enough to stop a guy, that accusation is. And maybe there aren't procedures in place, but speaking up helps create those procedures, so that women like cp311 don't have to ask those questions which break my heart.

I know that is simple, I'm really struggling here with my thoughts.

And the Thomas Jefferson problem, oh wow, oh wow, because I get this all the time - Oh you can't go to this place because it's too dangerous as a woman. To which I reply, "Hey asshole, I nearly got raped at field camp by my own professor - it's dangerous everywhere, and if you don't think so then you don't know shit. Now leave me alone and let me do my fucking job." Which, I guess, is exactly what these women are advocating.
posted by barchan at 7:50 PM on October 8, 2014 [92 favorites]


I liked the article, but I anticipated that she take a different tack when talking about all the lunches, workshops, etc. I love getting to know other women in science, but I've started hating events like that. They are so, so discouraging. I've seen multiple young women who were brought to tears by attending one too many "work-life balance" or "women in science" seminars that basically did the opposite of what they were supposed to do and convinced them that the whole proposition was untenable. It's a horribly circular problem. We need to talk about these experiences of being women in science, but we're driving away women in science by doing it. (Cp311, your comment, while 100% valid, is a actually a great example of what I mean. ) Sigh, it all just makes me so tired.

That said, the article does make me wish I'd taken some action of my own and asked a question in the seminar I attended today. "So, in your discussion of the future of [our particular subfield], did you really mean to imply that you thought the future rested in the hands of a group of white men with an average age over 50? Because while you were name dropping, instead of talking about new ideas, that's whose pictures you were showing. And not, you know, a picture of the Asian woman who just this year earned prestigious award for her timely work in this very field." My friends worry about the things that will come out of my mouth once I get tenure...
posted by Cecilia Rose at 7:51 PM on October 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


Cecilia Rose, that's a great point. Because there's a reason why I put up with all the crap: goddamn I love my job and what I do, because it's incredibly awesome.

But what do you say when someone like CP311 comes at you with these questions? You can't lie. And you can't say, but wait, maybe it will be different for you. How do you say, "oh yeah, there's some shit, but it's totally worth it" when "worth it" and "some shit" mean something different for every woman?

I wrestle with that all the time.
posted by barchan at 8:08 PM on October 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Hey, LastOfHisKind, I really appreciate that you are trying to help out cp311 in the best way you can, and I really think your heart is in the right place with that, but that sort of risk/hazard analysis (which I also have done) is really, really not relevant and inapplicable to sexual assault.

With other risks and hazards, you have data that everyone believes in that you can evaluate and then make acceptable choices based on that risk/reward scenario. No one is going to tell you you're less than human for choosing, as a public health professional, not to go to Liberia to help ebola patients. You are allowed to make those sorts of decisions and not be penalized. There is good data available to you, and you know what the strategies are to mitigate it, and you also know that if you take sensible precautions and you go and you end up getting caught up anyway, there will be help for you afterward, and other people will say, "Well, it sucks that it didn't work and you were hurt, but you were really trying to be careful and you were doing good work." Additionally, the threat is external to you-- there is a hazard, but there is also presumably a 'safe space'. If the hazard is other people, say for instance a violent militant group in the area you are working with, at the very least you can delineate the world into violent militant/maybe violent militant/definitely not violent militant, and avoid the latter two categories. And also-- you are CHOOSING to put yourself at risk, to put yourself in the hazard zone.

There are absolutely no similar compensatory mechanisms for sexual assault. The only data you have available is your gut feelings, and no one has ever taught you how to analyze that data. In fact, everyone has been denying that that data even exists for your entire life. There is no THIRA for sexual assault. There is no way you can quantify the risk and make an assessment that people will accept as anything other than you giving up on your career or making unfounded accusations or being overly sensitive. There is no 'external' threat-- every threat is internal, because sexual assault is almost always someone you know and trust or who is in a position of power over you. If you are hurt, no one is going to say that you were hurt in the line of duty. They are going to ask you how you could be so careless, if they believe you at all. There are no risk mitigation strategies that you can reliably enforce that will not be hugely damaging to your professional relationships (have you ever TRIED to avoid being alone with a male supervisor in a workplace? People notice and it's seen on about the same level as just outright accusing him of being a rapist.) Mitigation strategies that you can employ will be criticized as being paranoid, prudish, or, God forbid, unjustifiably hostile to the hazard itself (men). You do not choose to put yourself in the hazard zone, because it is everywhere. You can only choose broad probabilities based on hypothetical scenarios, and you are going to be forced into some high risk scenario sooner or later (through going on a date with someone you don't know-- or do know-- or by having a male boss, or by needing to get to your car in an empty parking lot alone at night, or by drinking a little too much at a bar, or by inviting over that one ex who always treated you great while you were dating for a little post break-up nookie, or by doing geological field studies.) You do not get to leave the zone. Ever.

Then, when the hazard happens (because for too many people it is a when and not an if), you will rarely if ever be allowed to classify it as "shit happens". You will be reminded of it frequently and inexorably every time someone puts their hand on your leg when you didn't invite them to, or wolf-whistles at you in the street. If sexual assault is surviving an earthquake, imagine the survivors living with detectable tremors every day.

Living with the constant idea of sexual assault is not comparable to a known hazard. It is the largest, most untractionable, most terrifying unknown facing many women (and some men.) It resembles nothing so much as being an undercover agent in a foreign country. So while I appreciate that you really are coming from the right place on this, I would ask that you reconsider whether or not your advice is applicable in a situation that really almost nothing in common with the other types of professional hazards.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:08 PM on October 8, 2014 [59 favorites]


I stand corrected.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:19 PM on October 8, 2014 [21 favorites]


My professors always stress the importance of looking at, say, rock formations in person to understand them - one has always said "don't roadside it" when we're looking at outcrops in the field - but at this point I'm tempted to just try to find a job in a lab somewhere to avoid fieldwork.

I work on the edge of STEM (or rather, my work is in STEM but my graduate school training was not, so I feel like I straddle the edge of the field). I don't think it's an accident that the majority of women I interact with professionally have taken positions with less field work (and where the field work they do is less isolated). The only questionable behavior I have personally seen was at conferences (where some of the behavior is very bad indeed), but that's largely because the women have self-selected out of the more field-based work, so I'm rarely on a project site that is anything but 100 percent men.

And that's shitty, in part because the field work is way more fun than the office stuff, and also because the higher risk/higher reward field work moves careers ahead faster than the lower risk/lower reward track. The choice you are considering is probably rational and smart, but it comes with professional costs as well.

It's shitty for the field also, because it means that the only people with significant field experience are all a very specific kind of confident, outdoorsy white guy. They do good work, but the lack of diversity of experience and perspective mean they are approaching both technical and social problems with a more limited toolkit, and therefore the solutions presented are less well grounded.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:20 PM on October 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Thanks for a graceful response, LastofHisKind, and for listening. I think you have a lot of good moral support to offer for women in STEM and your heart is definitely in the right place. I hope I didn't discourage you from keeping on reaching out to folks who need it. Sometimes we all just need a nudge on how to think about things, but then we can do even more good after that.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:22 PM on October 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't know that I'd point to sexual assault as the primary reason women tend to do less fieldwork than men as they become professors (and I think whether that's the case is field-specific). I know a number of women who've transitioned away from fieldwork because they've started having kids. It's a lot harder for moms to spend the summer on rocky outcrops or in the rainforest when they've got nursing babies and young children than it is for dads. Nearly all of the male professors I've done fieldwork with have had kids; none of the women have.
posted by ChuraChura at 8:25 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I really appreciated Jacquelyn Gill's point about the double bind of being expected to be a champion of woman-in-science but also being expected to shut up about it; there are so many contradictory expectations that even figuring out the right tone can be exhausting. This rang particularly true to me:
And, being a woman in science also comes with the expectation that I talk about being a woman in science; that I become an expert on everything that helps and hinders my progress; that I mentor my fellow women through the slog; that I have informed opinions on the latest issues facing my gender. ... Being a woman in science comes with the expectation that I just shut up already about women in science and just do the damned science already.
The field work issue is also huge. This summer I installed a bunch of climate sensors in the forest in very remote locations and was told that I wasn't supposed to go out in the field alone because of "liability issues" (which none of the male students I asked had ever heard of), but that I was expected to camp in the field a lot with my field assistant, who is male, just the two of us. He's a great guy and nothing bad happened at all, but I felt profoundly uncomfortable about those expectations.

I just don't think it even occurred to any of the people involved in my study (all men) that I wouldn't feel 100% safe in that kind of situation. It should have been at least as much of a concern as my breaking a leg or getting attacked by a bear or whatever they were worried about with the liability thing (which, again, my male colleagues hadn't heard of and they all go out to do field work by themselves frequently; incidentally my life would have been a lot easier if I could just go do my field work by myself without coordinating and paying for an assistant).

Nearly all of the male professors I've done fieldwork with have had kids; none of the women have.

How many of the male professors also had wives who stayed home with the kids all day? Nothing against the wives of course, far from it - I just find that the majority of the newly tenured, productive male professors of my acquaintance rely hard on their spouses staying home and picking up most of the load for their families. Most women don't seem to have the same luxury. Maybe we all just need to find stay at home husbands so that we can have a prayer of competing with their productivity...
posted by dialetheia at 8:47 PM on October 8, 2014 [13 favorites]


lesbian separatist communes for science.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:55 PM on October 8, 2014 [16 favorites]


You know, I take back that last sentence - I'm just painfully envious that they don't have to choose between having children and having a serious career in science.
posted by dialetheia at 9:00 PM on October 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


Sexual harassment in the field was never, ever ever, brought up in my classes. Not in undergrad, not in grad school. At least one professor slept with two or three graduate students in the department. I mean, maybe someone passed down suggestions or tips, but nothing formal. I was lucky, but some of my friends were not.

I would say it's a shame, but it's not, it's an insane blight on every discipline that knowingly condones or at least turns a blind eye to sending out their students without any thought to their safety. Maybe it's a liability thing-- if you admit that past students have gone on X dig and been harassed, you open yourself up to issues even if it's not your dig. Maybe it's just that there are so few women professors and students to be able to give advice. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:03 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


barchan: How do you say, "oh yeah, there's some shit, but it's totally worth it" when "worth it" and "some shit" mean something different for every woman?

I think that's the main thing I'm considering - that it may not be worth it. I might feel more comfortable working in a lab or office (not that assault can't happen in these places..) than somewhere remote in the field.


Dip Flash: and also because the higher risk/higher reward field work moves careers ahead faster than the lower risk/lower reward track. The choice you are considering is probably rational and smart, but it comes with professional costs as well.

I think the higher risk/reward work in geological engineering is often in mudlogging or other petroleum industry jobs, which involve working on a rig site in a remote location, maybe living in a trailer or condo onsite, probably being one of very few female workers. It's true that these jobs typically pay well (they're the ones my classmates are looking for), but honestly, I'd rather do something else, even if it means less professional advancement or lower pay.
posted by cp311 at 10:58 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is a solvable problem. I know because I've done countless fieldwork trips, like years total and I've never run into situatuons like this or heard of it from friends I work with. And we very often have mixed gender camps. I would think nothing of going in the field with a male colleague alone as described above. I've spent weeks that way. The behavior in the article would absolutely not be tolerated anyplace I've worked. I think a big element is that I've worked for agencies and industry mostly and we don't allow booze or fraternizing in the field. I've been on trips with occasional field staff / grad students and they can tend to treat field work like a party trip, which we shut down right away. It's work and you're expected to act professionally. Also there are a lot of women in biology in senior positions, half or more on most projects so the atmosphere is different.

I have had male colleagues when I was young who clearly thought they should have first dibs on single female coworkers but you get that in every social circle I think. Plus women can do that too plus it was always corrected so I can't say it's affected me other than occasional irritation at someone whining that I don't like them enough which isnt job specific.

I'm really angry on behalf of the young women who have experienced this kind of behavior. It is totally unacceptable and the project managers are 100% at fault.
posted by fshgrl at 12:00 AM on October 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think a big element is that I've worked for agencies and industry mostly and we don't allow booze or fraternizing in the field.

I overlap with a bunch of agencies and consulting companies, and it's striking how different the institutional cultures are on this. Pretty much universally (meaning completely anecdotally), the places that have attracted and retained large numbers of women employees run a tight ship on this and the most you will see is a beer at dinner; some of the other places are 100 percent dudes and work with them means lots and lots of alcohol the minute the field work is done, sometimes starting in the truck headed back into town at the end of the day and commonly headed from dinner to a strip club if there is one in town.

I've seen all kinds of canoodling and strange sexual stuff at conferences but never outside of that, but I'm sure it happens. For various reasons there aren't interns or students involved in anything I'm working on, so I'm not around the problem of access to vulnerable people described in the research. (That's problematic in its own way because involving interns and students offers a path into the field and not having that plays into a culture of hiring "people who fit in," meaning more outdoorsy white guys, of course.)

It is totally unacceptable and the project managers are 100% at fault.

Yes, absolutely.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:33 AM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm just painfully envious that they don't have to choose between having children and having a serious career in science.

I went looking for a vaguely remembered quote I first heard as a kid, probably from my mom or one of her grad school colleagues, so it would have been the 70s - something about "everyone needs a wife."

Found this op-ed from the NYT, in 2005, which is about why there are fewer women in science (plus ça fucking change), and it turns out that that vaguely remembered quote is from a Ms. magazine article - The early feminists knew all about wives. On my office wall I've taped a reprint of an essay by Judy Syfers that ran in the first issue of Ms., titled "I Want a Wife." ("My God," she concludes, "who wouldn't want a wife?") Today's most successful businesswomen know this, too. Women who have reached the top rungs of corporate life are increasingly likely to be married to men who have either quit work to stay home or have stepped back their own careers to clear the path for them.

My eyebrows went WAAAAY up to see feminists from 20 years earlier described as "early feminists" but whatever! The original essay can be read here.
posted by rtha at 5:48 AM on October 9, 2014 [9 favorites]


First off I will say that shift workers at Burger King have the same problems. The solutions are the same. I just have personal heartache from the decades of work that get compromised when this happens in STEM.

Anecdata shows a large percentage of my female friends received unwanted physical contact. Not even touching the verbal stuff. From my limited but ringside seat I've seen that science in higher ed means long hours and nighttime lab work in nearly empty buildings and parking lots and streets. It means sharing these spaces with men who take part in the grind away from home, and do not always have well adjusted attitudes towards women. These mentors and colleagues are the principal threat. The rest of hazard comes from night shift workers inside and nogoodniks outside. It sucks and adds a layer of pure physical stress, this is before career etc can even begin to creep in for the next layer of stress. I thought this might end once the woman gets into a less obvious subservient position but it does not.

The institution is to blame for not fixing the principal threat. What turns my stomach another spin cycle is the the women who are above the offenders on the org chart do nothing about it. Some practically feed younger women to the mill. There may be a handoff to legal whose job is to protect the institution first, do arbitrage on the damage, and do the least they can.

More than once I have seen women in power ask the younger ones to step up and take action after an incident as "a favor" with the line that the senior woman can finally do something against the offender in an open setting. It is Lucy with the Football each time and the younger one gets a rap for being "difficult"

I find it is helpful in most cases to introduce myself to male coworkers making it plain that there is a party that gives zero fucks about their standing in the world, only concerned with their character. Making it plain that my friend is valued and thereby encouraging them to do the same.

When my daughter enters the field I will be insufferable.
posted by drowsy at 6:04 AM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


My personal story lives in the realm of the sexism and sexual harassment that hit me so early in my undergraduate STEM career that I bailed out of that educational path, full speed, into the less sexist arms of research administration instead of being the one doing the actual research. (Administration, don't get me wrong, has its own systemic sexism problems, but they're somewhat different ones that I am better equipped to handle and they do lie more in sexism and not in sexual harassment or assault.)

I love what I do. I am good at what I do, probably better than I would ever have been at the STEM career I'd intended to have. But I still regret the path I was not strong enough or brave enough at eighteen to continue following against the resistance I had smacked into so hard that it broke my heart.

Maybe I would have done something really amazing, solved some problem, made a lot of people's lives better. We'll never know, because these conversations weren't happening anywhere I could hear them in 1997, so I thought it was just me, being not good enough. I didn't understand the problem was with an entire system.

I'm so grateful these conversations do happen often and openly now, so no one has to think it is just them, all alone, causing the problem, and to leave science because of that. But I'm also so bone-deep angry that these conversations are still necessary.

I'm glad these women survived the gauntlet and became scientists. I mourn the science they are not getting done because they have to keep fighting this battle over and over again. When is Sisyphus supposed to have time to pause in all of the eternal boulder-rolling, to bang out a fantastic NIH grant proposal?
posted by Stacey at 7:15 AM on October 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm just painfully envious that they don't have to choose between having children and having a serious career in science.

This isn't true. Plenty of men quit fieldwork when they have kids too and some men and women don't. It's entirely dependant on that individuals family situation and their own wishes on the subject.

Also working late or asking men and women to work together is hardly exclusive to science.
posted by fshgrl at 9:40 AM on October 9, 2014


lesbian separatist communes for science.

What now?

This is about abuse of power. If you don't think women in power have never treated women (or men) in abusive ways in field or lab settings? Think again.

It happens more with men in power because, in these contexts, more men currently have power. But these type of injustices are not limited to male against female.
posted by jeanmari at 9:47 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Plenty of men quit fieldwork when they have kids too and some men and women don't.

I'm not just talking about field work, I'm talking about all of the successful young male professors I know having stay-at-home wives to take care of all the domestic stuff, including chlidren, while they are free to stay late and write another great paper. Nobody's saying that literally all men and women follow these templates, only that these factors tend to disproportionately affect women. That's not even to mention that many women in science are still expected to do a "woman's share" of the domestic and emotional work of the household once they get home.

Also working late or asking men and women to work together is hardly exclusive to science.

First, it's not just "men and women working together," it's going out into very isolated places alone with a man you've known for less than a week with no recourse if anything gets weird. Second, nobody said any of this was exclusive to science, only that if you want to examine the women-in-science issue, you have to acknowledge these safety concerns.
posted by dialetheia at 9:56 AM on October 9, 2014 [9 favorites]


I should clarify that it wasn't just the going out in the woods with the field assistant alone overnight thing that bothers me in retrospect - he's a good guy, I wasn't specifically afraid of him - what bothered me was the implicit message that this is something that will continue to be expected of me, that if this makes me uncomfortable that I should either get over it fast or find another line of work without a field component. I have a history of abuse and I don't think that women who have such histories should be de facto excluded from field work just because they might have tighter boundaries than other people. Maybe it's just not a good fit for me, though, it's possible that I'm being overly sensitive* because of my history.

*This is actually the thing that I hate most about being a woman in science: constantly, endlessly wondering if any given potentially-sexist issue is Just Me Being Too Sensitive or if it's a real thing that is happening.
posted by dialetheia at 10:14 AM on October 9, 2014 [8 favorites]


This is about abuse of power. If you don't think women in power have never treated women (or men) in abusive ways in field or lab settings? Think again.

My comment was in direct response to the comment above it, which lamented the unfairness of women being expected to stay home with the kids while the husbands pursued academic and research careers, and pointed out how helpful it would be if women could rely on having stay-at-home partners to allow them the same career freedoms.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:51 AM on October 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm talking about all of the successful young male professors I know having stay-at-home wives

I literally do not know a single one of these. Most scientists I know are married to professionals, ideally an engineer or someone who makes some money! Maybe in a place where a young researchers salary allows them to support an entire family but that is not possible on the west coast or in any of the European cities I've worked in.

There are a lot of problems in science, particularly academia but I've lost an equal number of male and female researchers to family issues. I'm losing a guy right now who needs to quit fieldwork because of babies.
posted by fshgrl at 11:03 AM on October 9, 2014


Just to give a counterpoint, my best friend is currently in Utah - living out of a Westfalia camper van - doing fieldwork with a 6 month old. As she says, the whole world is her lactation room.

Don't ask me how she does it, either. She's all kinds of amazing.
posted by barchan at 11:22 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


What's possibly even worse is that some field research involves having supplies of ketamine on hand.
posted by yohko at 7:41 PM on October 9, 2014


> "There are a lot of problems in science, particularly academia but I've lost an equal number of male and female researchers to family issues. I'm losing a guy right now who needs to quit fieldwork because of babies."

I do not doubt that this is your experience, but the research shows that this is not common.

In cases where one spouse quits their [STEM] job to stay home, 97% of the time it’s the woman.
posted by kyrademon at 2:24 AM on October 10, 2014 [14 favorites]


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