Thursday, February 01, 2007

Too Feminine.

Yup. That's me. Or so I'm told.

I was surprised by my reaction.

Basically, I can't process this information. I do know that I'm furious.

First of all, I don't think I'm very feminine. I don't often wear skirts or heels. My voice is naturally high pitched, but my Science Voice is noticeably lower.

I don't think of myself as someone who laughs a lot, but I was told that I giggle too much.

This I find hilarious, since I've also been told, repeatedly, that I'm too negative! Lately I'm so depressed that the only genuine laugh you'll hear out of me is one of black humor.

I was also told that search committees want to see that you are Authentic, but that the most important impression you make is all the superficial stuff: appearance, body language.

I'm sure this is all true, but my overly literal and logical brain can't process why the world, people, scientists... would be like this.

The options, as I see them presented to me, are:

a) Change drastically to fit the system, expectations, whatever.

b) Be a Proud Female who is somehow magically successful AND feminine.

I suspect this is the hardest road, though I know there are some (rare) women who manage to pull it off. My fear is the usual- that I'm not Good Enough to be one of those.

c) Quit, so I can live with myself as I am instead of trying to change to please oe impress people I'm not even sure I like or want to work with for the rest of my life.

Now, I know that it's one thing to have a Work Persona who is Not You, but since we work so much, I find it hard to believe one can pretend to be something without becoming it.

Despite all my efforts to appear more Grown Up and Professional, apparently one of the things that is hurting me most is somethingthing I'm not at all sure I can or want to change.

Sure, it would have been easier- a LOT easier- if I were born a boy. But at this point? I don't like this job THAT much. Maybe I should buy a strap-on and wear that for a while.

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22 Comments:

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol. and i never lol.

being feminine can work to your advantage. i don't mean being like a total ho about things. i mean, maybe you can be proud to be a woman and a scientist. why make excuses? screw society. (that is my current stance btw... perhaps it is naive.)

and perhaps the lack of jobs is due to the lack of federal funding available in the sciences. i think you should keep going after what it is you want out of your career and/or life.

that last line about getting a strap-on. priceless!

AFGS

 
At 1:53 AM, Anonymous JaneB said...

This really is a crazy world. All I can say is... I have the tenure track job and am still very much me (I never got the hang of acting like someone I'm not, it's a waste of energy). I get accused of being negative, aggressive etc. when I behave like the men, and it's not fun, but I'm learning that it's not my problem. Keep strong - there ARE places where you can be yourself and do good science and get appreciated for it...

 
At 5:53 AM, Blogger CJR said...

Who told you this? Does their opinion really actually matter?

People will always find things to criticise about you, if they're so inclined - and it's usually a reflection of their faults and insecurities rather than yours. Granted, academia hosts more than its fair share of these types, but on the whole people tend to respond better if you're comfortable with who you are, and have the air of quiet confidence which comes with that. The problem with changing your personality to other peoples' requirements is that you'll still never please everyone, and you'll be miserable into the bargain.

I like the idea of a science voice though - maybe you could branch out into doing voiceovers for science documentaries...

 
At 7:08 AM, Anonymous Jocelyn said...

(Hi. Haven't been round here before...)

Argh. I would also be furious.

I feel the Good Enough fear, too.

I keep thinking up these retorts, like "You must be mistaken. Femininity has nothing to do with scientific ability, thus it must be irrelevant." Even if, for some members of search committee, it is.

If you want to make it a useful comment, obviously whoever told you this has in mind some negative or un-suited connotation with femininity. Like lack of confidence, or something. And maybe it is that connotation that you need to work on countering, rather than the whole thing of "femininity", whatever the hell they take *that* to mean.

 
At 8:53 AM, Blogger skookumchick said...

wow, who had the nerve to tell you all this?

 
At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take this type of comment as a blessing: because it will always indicate to you the places you don't want to be and the people you don't want to know.

Even if you castrated yourself you would then be Too Masculine.

Clearly you are not going to be anything but female in this life. Be professional, but be true to yourself. There is no other way anyways. So honor it.

 
At 5:11 PM, Anonymous Nicole said...

Who told you you are too feminine? How would that even come up in conversation?

I don't think you can change to fit the system. Sure, you can modify some things, but I don't think that goes very far. I have noticed that the most successful women in my field look very much like men, and much different from the average woman at the grad student stage. I've always wondered how that came to be.

 
At 12:20 PM, Blogger misguidedgrad said...

great post!

 
At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally sympathise - I am going through my first faculty applications at the moment and the same issue arises. Too much enthusiasm and they see you as a 'girl' not a professional.

Yes, the system sucks, and women still (right now) have to behave in a way they wouldn't necessarily do normally in order to get appointments. I'm coming to the sad conclusion that the only way to change this is to get the job first and then make it right from the inside. It does mean putting on an act for interviews - but then interviews are an act anyway, right?

And then once you're in it's all too late....

 
At 6:51 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I knew people would ask who it was.

It was a woman who saw me give a presentation. I had asked for feedback. And boy did she give it to me.

I can't say more than that, but I did suspect, upon thinking it over (after writing this post) that she has some serious issues with herself, which would explain her advice to change as much as possible to please other people.

re: funding, yes. I was reminded this week that there are people in fields only a few steps horizontally distant from mine who are getting job offers for assist. prof positions with fewer papers than I have now.

Another piece of advice was that I'm close enough now that if I have funding, people will bend over backwards to hire me. So I will probably try again to get some kind of grant. I like the idea of them doing backbends and asking me, while upside-down, if I would please join their department!

 
At 7:42 PM, Blogger Depresso said...

I don't know why this bothers you. If you are too feminine, then so be it. That's a good thing for a woman. Why change these things or even get offended by them?. Take it as a compliment. That is, the person who gave you the feedback did not have anything negative to say about your work -- so she said it about you, personally.

This is easy to say, but, as long as you produce good work, you'll get somewhere. Why worry about things which are so superficial?.

And speaking as a man, the last three hires in my school have been extremely feminine.

So, I don't think being feminine or not has anything to do with it.

-Depresso.

 
At 7:21 AM, Anonymous TW Andrews said...

Don't take this criticism at face value. Is the person who made it threatened by you, your work, or do they harbor a general dislike of you (that they tend to express in a passive/aggressive way)? Is s/he known to be a jackass in general?

This sort of comment strikes me very much as the sort of thing that one says simply because it will upset whoever is on the receiving end, and it's essentially irrefutable. It's just an easy way to be an asshole.

Don't let yourself think that this comment was a) an actual assessment of your "feminity" and how it may be holding you back or b) an explaination of how you might best succeed. It was neither. It was an open expression of hostility.

 
At 8:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been reading you for a couple years. I remain anonymous because I think we know each other. I think what you write is often very insightful, and I comment every now and then.

FYI, one of my collaborators (tenured) at a solid tier 2 school said that they have so many jr faculty applicants who have Science/Nature/Cell (...) papers for their one position that they can't agree on who to make the offer to. He said that this has never happened since he's been there and that in the final pool of 7, there are at least 3 who are more qualified than anyone they've hired in the last decade. What this tells me is that there are no positions out there right now for someone who is solid but not graced with the perfect pedigree. Period.

What I've heard is that if you want it badly enough, you'll have to find a niche that people realize they need filled. That may mean running a core facility or being a non-tenure track faculty member supported by a senior investigator. At least for a while. If you don't want to try industry, it may be best way to stay in the academic game.

 
At 9:07 PM, Blogger Irie said...

How can you be too feminine? Are you a walking Barbie doll? Even if you were that means nothing in terms of your ability and intelligence.

Have you ever thought of taking those personality tests or interest surveys? While in community college I took a class that gave us these tests and it was scary how accurate they were.

 
At 9:24 PM, Blogger Veo Claramente said...

Distressingly often, it is the women isn't it? It would be MUCH easier if a man had siad it, he could be speedily despatched to the deserts of chauvinism. What do you do with women who propagate the malaise?

Keep going, and the very best of wishes!

 
At 3:47 AM, Blogger MissPrism said...

Haha! And the words would be all upside-down, like:

iPHd SW +u3W+JVd3P Jno NIOr 3SV37d

 
At 6:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are probably not too feminine, just the right amount.

What you are most likely is too arrogant, like most people.

You say you know that what counts is all the superficial stuff but your overly logical brain can 't process this. The reason your brain can 't process it is because it is NOT overly logical.

A logical brain accepts facts as they are. The reason why your brain can 't accept that is because it WANTS (an emotion) to be accepted for the value of your work. Well not only can 't we always get what we want, we rarely do.

You are not selling out by adapting to the conditions under which you live. THAT is the logical decision. When you have achieved the position in which you can dictate the conditions under which you live (ie SUCCESS), then you can change them to something that you WANT.

It is the immature position to claim that it is the world around us that is incorrect. Humans have achieved enormous successes by the path they have followed. YES, this has also created enormous failures but it was never claimed that perfection has been achieved.

Your success is determined by how you adapt to the environment and how you adapt the environment to you.

 
At 8:58 PM, Anonymous hopefulbiogal said...

Hi, I have recently found this and am late in throwing in, apologies. This seems a potential example of a senior, established woman--who had to fight hard to get where she is--imparting severe judgement on a junior female. Or maybe this criticism was more impressive coming from a woman? Or both. I am approaching the same level as you, MsPhd, (admittedly no true pressure yet) and in surveying postdoc and other academic positions find myself evaluating departments not just based on the proportion males (always a majority) but the positions of the females. One of my mentors is a tenure-track woman and has certainly received stronger support from the secure old-men professors in our relatively friendly department than ie the established, defensive, woman professor who was initially assigned as her faculty mentor. Our faculty is 15% women profs and only one seems actively supportive of new women. I don't know how widespread this attitude is but I hear about it and now notice it in other places.

 
At 3:19 PM, Blogger Joolya said...

Too feminine? What the *fuck* does that even mean??? Have you been flashing your vulva or something?
Dude. Next time someone tells you that, fucking kick them in the knee.

 
At 10:03 AM, Blogger Kaethe said...

"Feminine" is an impossible ideal. There is a distinct possibility that the woman who told you this really was trying to be helpful. Presumably she has achieved her position after years of negotiating with men about how she can be acceptable to them in the workplace. If she hasn't yet realized that just being female makes one "too feminine"in any male-dominated field, well, you're probably not going to change her mind now.

May I suggest a modification of the options: "b) Be a Proud Female who is somehow magically successful."

Save yourself the grief. Yes, there are rewards to women who exemplify "feminine", but there are also punishments. So don't go there. Carry on as you will.

 
At 3:47 PM, Blogger Kate said...

this is a belated comment - i've just found your blog and had to comment on this post! i loved it - i think it speaks, with humor, to some very real issues out there...

first off, i can't believe that a woman scientist was the one who provided you with this "too feminine" feedback. you'd think, with a little relativity, that she'd 'get it'. apparently, not so much.

you're absolutely right that there's a double-standard w/ females and males in the amount of self-expression that is accepted in their department. i'm not saying that all men are void of challenges to personal style or don't feel conformist pressures at some point. but i will say that most men that have felt these things are not what you'd consider the typical "mainstream male academic". and even if they're outside of that mold, they're still males, and it still seems to be a bit of a divide.

there's a guy at our huge annual neuroscience meeting who i've noticed twice; first, he's incredibly tall and second, he wears glitter. yes, glitter, all over his face and body.i overheard some pretty intelligent things from him during a poster session, so i'd imagine he contributes pretty actively to the scientific community. no, his means of self-expression isn't the norm, but i thought it was great. i'm also sure that many scientists DIDN'T think it was great. but if it was a WOMAN, she'd be laughed out of the place.

so not only do we seem to have to fight to earn legitimacy in the scientific world as women, but we have to restrain ourselves to a predescribed, mainstreamed version of ourselves as individuals. could this be? is it really that tragic?

anyway, thanks for the post - i'll look for more!

 
At 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't you show them how a feminine woman does dress, and no that does not mean showing too much.
Men's clothing has no real style or color, women have ALL the choices in clothing.
You can wear skirts, or a dress with heels and look completely business like. Have you nails done, wear leather knee high boots. What I am trying to say is, if you like being feminine dress it, they will respect you more after a while. A strong feminine woman, who looks put together, has always received more positive comments, it shows strength of character, and defines who you are.
If you feel feminine dress it, forget them.
When was the last time they were able to go to work wearing a leather skirt...

 

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