Monday, March 05, 2007

On barbies, bulldozers, roles and expectations

An alert reader sent me a few articles, you'll note the last two were posted in a comment on the most recent entry here.

This first one has some great lines in it that I love, like the following universal truism:

But when my head finally hits the pillow, I remember that I didn't finish loading the dishwasher and I forgot to transfer laundry from the washer to the dryer.

Does your life, too, seem to straddle two different worlds, one at work and one at home? Does it feel like there aren't enough hours in the day or days in the week to split between them and give them both their due?

But I think the most important insight in this article is that there are three major areas, the balancing of which creates tension for most of us:





cultural expectations

Ain't that the truth?

I think it's that last one that bothers me the most, and it's why I'm becoming more of a raging feminist the older I get.

I really believe we need to rethink family structure and gender roles completely. The old ways make no sense to me, and they never did.

But the older I get, the more they are applied to me whether I like them or not.

It was clear when I was a child. Things are very sexist around very young kids. Pink and blue. Barbie and bulldozers. This is still true, 30-ish years later.

I realize that there must have been some kind of protective bubble for a few years in the middle. Being a teenager, I guess you're too horny to mind, and everyone is awkward and experimenting, and no one is really going to hold you to any decisions you make about how you dress or what you do, so long as you don't get pregnant. Most every stupid decision is reversible, or at least mostly repairable, at that age.

College was also a lovely bubble of idealistic, academic liberal forward thinking and women's studies classes... but clearly I did a great job of denying the significance of the fact that I had to call an escort to get home safely from lab every night.

God, how did I miss that??!
It wasn't just my campus, it was most people and most places.

I think I'm finally getting it.

Looking back, even grad school was not so bad, at least for me, since most of us wore more or less the same clothes (baggy sweatshirts and ratty jeans, anyone?) regardless of gender, age, religion, country of origin, or orientation. This uniform, and the relatively even distribution of male:female students, made for a very equitable environment in my grad program, even if we didn't receive such equitable treatment in each individual lab.

But now, as we approach the end of the Female of Childbearing Age, I for one am getting clobbered by the gender roles again. I'm struggling far too much with what to wear, and how to handle the awkward professional social settings like getting drinks or lunch with people from work. The women want to talk about their kids, mostly, which I mostly try to avoid.

And if I'm not talking about work with men, they want to dissect me because they can't figure out where I fit, when there are only the two boxes labeled "Us" and "Them". I think one of the things I'm constantly doing is trying to stretch between these two worlds: the one where I am shopping in the women's section or annoyed if my Ipex bras aren't clean... and the one where I am trying to convince the guys to take me seriously.

Am I sure I take myself seriously? And is it better to take yourself too seriously, or not seriously enough?

So now I've gone on a long tangent. I'll have to pick this up some other time if we want to discuss the other article, too.

This article also lists various sources of trouble, the top two of which are the Glass Ceiling and the Workload/Role Overload.

Maybe I've said this here before, but lately I think the Glass Ceiling is a misleading misnomer. I don't see any women doing what I want to do. I don't see them being what I want to be. Isn't the total lack of role models a problem for that whole analogy? Aren't you supposed to be able to see where it is you want to be, even if you can't get there? If you can't see through it, it's not really made of glass anymore, is it?

How much ground have we lost since the '70s, when things were supposedly improving at a rapid rate? Doesn't it seem like things are going backwards when spike heels are in again??

But the Role Overload is definitely a problem. I am tired of running a one-woman show. I am my own director, producer, lighting technican, stage manager, librettist, orchestra, costume designer... It's definitely too many hats for too little applause.

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At 9:58 PM, Blogger Am I a woman scientist? said...

I so hear you, sister. These thoughts have been floating around in my head for the past week. I think I should just blog about them already.

At 3:31 AM, Anonymous gerry said...

A realistic post you are a jack of all trade? good to know that :) guess women are great for their versatility, for being able to rightly know how to balance it all which most men like us fail to here comes my applause for you ,my friend.
Do drop by my blog too coz am sure you'd love reading the same.

At 9:51 AM, Anonymous JaneB said...

Hi, I always understood that the glass ceiling was about seeing anyone (but particularly men) doing exactly what you wanted to do but, despite there being no 'no girls' rule no women seemed to be getting from 'here' to 'there' - the barriers to women doing or being this apparently obvious thing were invisible - so to me it was about seeing men doing stuff that women just don't seem to get offered the chance to do.

I have a different problem - the senior women in my university are there, even a couple in sciences, but they are all in more of a political role - Faculty Director of this or that, or Director of an Institute - and as such at least partly divorced from the running of a lab or the teaching of students - I just want to run a great lab and teach well and do cool research, and don't have any female role models for that sort of 'doing the job' role, only for the more visible, powerful, political roles... not at all my thing!

At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Elenor said...

Admittedly I am still in High School, but I don't find the feminism bit too awful. The most significant reason is that I am smarter than the great majority, or perhaps all of, the guys in my class. And that applies to several females in my class. I am also not a very careful dresser, and I tend to be friends with guys rather than trying to impress them with my femininity. However, I do see your point and agree with you

At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are going to end up living a self fulfilling prophecy. You see sexism everywhere, and I think a lot of the time its imagined. Who are you? Who has the time to keep you down? No one does.

Every one has something to battle against, stop whining and get past it. Keep setting up your strawmen if you like but I think you would be better served taking care of your science and future goals, bogeyman-free.

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

To the last Anonymous,

People like you are precisely the reason why I have this blog. I'm guessing you're either male, or living with a bag over your head.

Wake up. Millions of women are not imagining sexism, it is a real problem.

My boyfriend used to be like you. Then he started to witness things that happened to me, and he couldn't explain why they would happen unless discrimination exists. Unless sexism exists.

Maybe you're just sheltered, maybe you're just lucky, maybe you're in denial. Ignoring it won't make it go away.

If people are constantly putting roadblocks in your way, would you rather know, or just keep banging your head against the wall wondering why you aren't moving forward?

At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You presume too much. I think people may sense your bias and resentment from the start. I could be wrong, but I get the feeling you treat every encounter with men in a professional setting as a battle.


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