Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Because I can?

I'm going to be working with someone I've known as an acquaintance for a few years. We're approximately the same age and level of scientific experience. I'm generally pleased about this, but I've noticed something subtle and strange.

He has a wife who takes care of everything at home, from laundry to food to everything in between, not to mention their young child. He works hard and is always enthusiastic. He's very good at what he does, but what he does is very focused on one system, one set of techniques.

I'm the opposite in almost every way. I have no wife and my partner and I try to split all the responsibilities at home, which means that on balance I'm still doing a lot more housework than my married colleague. I'm not as enthusiastic as I used to be, and while I'm good at what I do, I'm a Jill of Many Techniques.

So here's my question of the day:

How come, when he says "That won't work" or "I can't do that" everyone seems to accept those as valid answers, but when I say those same phrases, which isn't very often, I'm regarded as negative and lazy?

It's not that we discuss science in a wildly different way. He's not more forceful or authoritative in his manner of speaking, nor more knowledgeable.

So does this have to do with him being generally more likable and respected, or is it something about expectations being placed on me?

I guess what I'm trying to figure out whether there is something, in addition to science, that I can learn from his example, or if this is something perhaps requiring a gender lens?

Or am I just being punished for not specializing myself into a safe little corner?

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At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Similar situations happen to me too. I feel like people sometime do take my words/advice seriously. I think it may be I've been in general easy going and not very much determined??

At 11:22 PM, Anonymous Betsy said...

I've often wondered if the biggest difference between men and women is that men are better at not giving a shit what people think about them. As a result, they come off as more confident than women, who are more worried about pleasing everyone.

I do think that sometimes there are different expectations for women and men. But I also think that some of it is perception of what we think people are saying about us. With your example, do you know that people would regard you as negative and lazy, or is it just your perception, and are you being too hard on yourself?

At 4:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Betsy, that's a huge over generalization. Most men I know give a major shit about what others think of them. As do most women. I see no gender differences on this one.

At 5:47 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

I don't know, I think Betsy has a point. I think everyone struggles with it, some people more than others.

But most of the men I know are better are keeping up the appearance, at least, of not caring.

But I know for a fact that they care deeply what other people think. They just hide it better.

Anyway yes, I know that people respond differently when he says "That won't work." They take his word for it or just let the point go.

With me they say "Why not?" and proceed to propose things as if I haven't thought of them. So then I have to say "And here's why that won't work." But by then I'm perceived as putting up a fight and being 'difficult'.

More often than not, I'm forced to try it anyway just to be able to show the data and say "I thought of that already. Moreover, I tried it, and it won't work, and here are the data showing why."

Similarly, when he says "I can't do that" they say, "Sure, sure, you're too busy, you have a family" etc.

And when I say the same thing, and typically I will only say that when something is clearly going to take forever, cost a fortune in research dollars, and probably not work, then they say to me, "Oh well, then, if you're not serious about your job, well then, that's your choice."


At 5:49 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Correction: career. They say career, not job, when they accuse me of not being serious.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger EcoGeoFemme said...

Sometimes it can be the phrasing or timing that makes people react how they do. For instance, if you respond with "that won't work" very quickly, it may seem to the other person that you haven't really thought it through, even if you have. Maybe you could take notes on how your colleague answers, rather than just noting what it is that he says.

At 1:28 PM, Blogger Rosie Redfield said...

I think people (including women scientists) are more likely to assume that what a man is saying is correct than that what a woman is saying is correct. He may not be more confident than you, he may not even sound more confident than you, but we're all more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt.

This is one of those unconscious 'gender schema' things that make it harder for women to succeed.

At 6:37 AM, Anonymous hollsterhambone said...

One, last, little thing: perhaps people drop the subject when your male colleague says "that won't work" and persist when you say "that won't work" because you, traditionally, are a better problem solver than your male colleague and everyone knows it? And perhaps people use the word "career," not job because they are using appropriate word choice--because they know that you have a career in science. Anyway, what I'm saying is, perhaps these things that are happening to you are compliments.


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