Saturday, June 24, 2006

Hypocrisy Weakens The Cause, or, Women Hating Other Women

I was talking to a postdoc today who said she could never work for a woman.

This postdoc wants her own lab, but she doesn't realize the hypocrisy of expecting other people to work for her when she's obviously discriminating against all women PIs herself.

It's infuriating because my own mother always used to say, starting when I was little, all kinds of stuff about how women were always so nasty. She always said that men, in general, were nicer.

So I grew up thinking that working for a woman would be impossibly hard. But - and we've discussed this here before - it's a bit ridiculous to make these kinds of sweeping generalizations.

I've been pretty happy with my current advisor, all things considered. And none of my complaints about her have anything to do with her being female.

One thing my advisor said to me recently was that when funding is low (the last I heard, NIH was funding to the ~8% level), the women are the first to go.

She doesn't believe it's because the women aren't as good as the men are.

It seems pretty obvious, given the way grant review committees work, that the women are shut out when men close ranks. Women don't have analogous alliances to protect their interests.

So ladies, stick together out there. And think twice about whether you deserve to have your own lab, if you think no woman should be a PI. Because that's basically what you're saying when you say you'd never work for a woman.

If we don't believe in ourselves, we can't believe in each other. But it goes the other way, too. If you don't believe your female colleagues can be successful AND fair AND be good mentors, what does that say about your own self-hatred?



At 10:58 PM, Blogger John said...

I'd agree it is silly to say that one would never work for a woman (or man).

However, review panels aren't men closing ranks, in my experience. My last NSF panel duty was on a panel run by two women, with two of eight panelists also women. My last other panel duty was also run by a woman.

Personally, I'd consider it silly to support a proposal because it was written by a woman, just as it would be to support a proposal solely because it was written by a man.

Gender shouldn't (and doesn't, in my experience) play a role in funding decisions. Except that I've seen a number of proposals get bumped up solely for being from junior women, which I agree with.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger Saoirse said...


At 6:06 PM, Blogger SciMom said...

Unfortunately I have seen this myself. My biggest complaint is that women don't mentor other women. And worse than that, once they reach their senior position, they seem to forget the unique obstacles that are faced by women and take on the "I made it so what's your problem" attitude. Now not all women are like this but I've seen it many times. I saw it alot at a women's college where I did some research off-site of my Ph.D. granting institution for 6 months. I never understood this attitude. Maybe we can be our own worst enemies. I would only say to other women "don't forget where you came from and what your experiences were". If you make it, you are an invaluable resource for other women.

At 8:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of the people on the NIH study section I review for are women.
At almost all of the study sections I have ever been on, the majority of the people have been women.

NIH only gets 1 in 3 accepting to review for them. I think women volunteer more.

At 12:32 PM, Blogger ScienceWoman said...

nice post.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Except that I've seen a number of proposals get bumped up solely for being from junior women, which I agree with.

Uh, John, could you please clarify here? I'm hoping it's just that your phrasing is unclear.

At 2:28 PM, Blogger Fab adventures of Carlysle Tancha said...

I am wondering if this situation is not self perpetuating. Perhaps this is a jealousy type of situation; a place where those climbing the ladder aren't ever truly happy. Because of this unhappiness along the way, once at the top, the idea that "I made it, so you can too" pervades. I have been to a number of such presentations where this happens. The senior people say "I just fell into the situation," leaving the rest of us thinking that the PI is obviously from another world-- one that no longer exists.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger John said...

Oops, I see what you mean.

By "bumped up", I meant given an extra benefit of the doubt. As in, she's just starting out in a faculty position, she desrves every chance to show what she can do. A similar sentiment comes up with men starting out, but in my perception it is less strong.

At 6:12 PM, Blogger Meredtih said...

This is an interesting post, indeed.

As a woman PhD in the sciences, I've witnessed this phenomenon first-hand, and heard about it from males in the field.

Certainly, not all women perpetuate this kind of discrimination, but enough do that it is definitley a problem that I have contended with. I think it is a complex matter. One of jealously, but also one of culture- even women sometimes believe that men are better at these jobs than they are, so they seek approval from men in the field and come to value men's opinions more than other women's. They are exceptionally hard on their female peers, and see them as competition often, rather than colleagues. Also, I increasingly run into assumpotions that people (both male and female) make about me based on my career status- namely that I must be a hard, cold, career-driven bitch in order to be an assistant professor at 31 years old- so not true!

As you mentioned, the hypocrisy is that women still expect female grad students to work for them- and seem to have no problem in most cases being in a position of power over other women- they just have trouble seeing them as peers or higher-ups, in general. Perhaps it is the alpha-female personality of a lot of female PI's that makes them this way by nature- or perhaps it has more to do with the male-domination scientific culture we all grow up in.

I'm not sure what the solution is- but great discussion topic!!!

But I would definitley like to see this change- I see this as a big obstacle that is adding to the leaky pipeline problem for women in academia.

At 12:01 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

From Meredith's comment: so they seek approval from men in the field and come to value men's opinions more than other women's

This is so true! And nicely put.

At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I am a phd student in sciences (I am a woman) and I have some experiences of working for both male and female advisors. My very first advisor was a woman (I was working on some science project in highschool) and it was a mixed experience. The second was a man (masters degree) and well, in the end things became quite ugly... My more recent advisors (two men and one woman) turned out to be really great. I have enjoed working with all of them, but I was surprised at how great it was to have an andvisor that also happens to be a woman. She was a role model for me in a way my male advisors could not.

What I am trying to say here is that I think the postdoc you are talking about is missing on some potentially great advisors...

At 8:30 PM, Blogger avocadoinparadise said...

Very interesting topic. I'm a woman who has had almost entirely female bosses at work and as academic advisors. I really enjoy it a lot more than working with males, because I feel like I have more in common with women. More common ground from which to have conversations, a more similar conversation style.

I agree that we need to stick together more and be much more supportive of fellow women though. In my sad experience with peers, we don't have the same kind of close automatic bond that guys have with each other. I think that's because they don't think as much or analyze situations as intensely. They are much more likely to just accept each other without questions.

So I'm a big fan of female bosses/advisors but not such a big fan of female peers asking questions after a talk I've given.

I've had some bad experiences with both male and female faculty members who have stereotyped women unfairly. The worst male grad professor verbally terrorized during class any female that didn't fit into his narrow view of womanhood (beautiful, madeup, high heels). The worst female grad professor believed that any woman who had a child before tenure didn't deserve tenure. They were both tenured.

I could go on about this forever! It's all so unfair.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Brooks Moses said...

ellocin1, I think I have a dissenting viewpoint to your "In my sad experience with peers, we don't have the same kind of close automatic bond that guys have with each other."

That's been nearly the opposite of my experience as a male engineering student -- I haven't really seen any of these "close automatic bonds". I have had good collegial relationships with people I work with closely, yes, but all of those took a while to develop (and were far from "automatic"), and they feel very much related to the work at hand -- and I've had a hard time forming collegial relationships outside my immediate research group. We don't really discuss hopes for the future, or things outside of the project, very much. (And, for what it's worth, it hasn't felt distinctly different whether the colleague was a woman or man.) So most of the bonds feel neither automatic nor close.

Interestingly, my experience with the engineering women's group (which hosts an excellent seminar series that I've attended) has been somewhat different from this, too -- it's clear that this is a group of women who _do_ stick together and support each other. The conversations there that I've been a part of have had lots of comments about how things were going in a real sense rather than just the technical parts, and thoughts about the future and things outside work, and a lot of the things that seem to me to be markers of closeness. Even though I felt a bit of an outsider, I've felt that they were supportive of me -- asking about how I was doing, expressing concern for the fact that I was feeling stressed about things taking longer than expected, and so on.

I wonder, somewhat, if some of this is a case of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence. (Perhaps combined with the fact that men, in this culture, are much more reluctant to express a need for more interdependence.) I don't think it's that the supportiveness is a male-only thing at this point; I think it's that it really doesn't exist that much in the culture at all -- or, if it does, it's not in a form that works well for me.

So, yeah, I'm very definitely in agreement that "we need to stick together more and be much more supportive of fellow women", and I include myself and my male colleagues in that "we". The parts of that sort of supportiveness that have been extended to me have been very good things, and I'm all for anything that produces more of it for other people. And I'm really glad that finally there are people in the culture who are willing to point out that there should be more of it.


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