Reminded by this post, I wanted to write about a talk I saw this week.
My department, as I've mentioned before, has very few women faculty. However, of late we have one seminar series that includes, in little bursts, several women speakers in a row from other places. This was one of those weeks when we got to see an unusually successful FSP.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed her talk. Her science was cool, and she's gotten a lot of rewards and awards for it along the way (and is tenured faculty at VeryGoodU).
Having said that, she did a lot of things wrong in her talk. Things I've been told not to do.
Her opening slide was white with small black text, no images, nothing catchy. UGH.
She apologized a lot, and laughed nervously a couple of times in this very particular way that I've only ever seen women do (which I was particularly taught to stop doing for that reason).
Perhaps most distractingly for me, she was wearing a t-shirt, and kept standing in such a way that I felt like I had no choice but to get an eye-full of the outline of her not particularly attractive boob. I kept wondering if she was doing this on purpose or was not aware of it. And thinking, BOOB, BOOB, please put away your boob!
So to sum up, she was not professionally dressed or using her body language to convey expertise or confidence, and her slides sucked.
But I couldn't help thinking that while her stuff was cool, and she seemed smart, I think I'm those things too (plus I'd like to think I give better talks-?).
So I couldn't help feeling just sick with the unfairness of it. I found myself wondering why she gets to do her science at such a high level, and receive all these awards, and I don't get anything but discouragement.
Granted, she came up at a different time, in a different sub-field, and who knows what other factors are involved in who her mentors were, funding, etc.
So here's the thing. I'm glad she's doing good science, setting a great example and all. Yay, role models.
But coincidentally this week, the flip side. If it's timing, it was a small window of timing.
This week I also had a conversation with a retired professor who had just a miserable, sexist experience in her time coming up (before the woman speaker I mentioned above). Ultimately, she moved into more adminstrative and teaching work, a slightly different career than her research, just because it was the best way available to her to get away from all the harassment and discrimination.
Perhaps the saddest thing to me was that here I found someone who understands what I'm going through because she's been there too. And I was surprised because my story literally made her cry.
She said it just breaks her heart to hear that things are not really that much better (maybe these things happen less frequently, but they still happen).
And yet, most people don't believe me when I say in my experience, things have not improved much for women at all, as long as these things are still going on.
So I found myself watching during this talk, and trying to figure something out. One of the things I've been doing lately is trying to develop the equivalent of gaydar for women-who-get-it.
I had the impression that this woman was one of those Deniers, because I noticed something very subtle in her talk.
When she presented work done by a male postdoc, she used his name and said a little about him (in a couple of cases she actually told an anecdote that involved alcohol). She apparently didn't present any work done by women, because she didn't mention any women's names, and sort of implied it was all done by (a couple or three) guys.
So I thought, great, her lab is exclusively male (unlikely, but possible).
At the end of her talk, she mentioned on the acknowledgment slide "Oh yeah, and this one part I showed you was done by (girl's name)." Like a little throwaway, an aside.
That part was actually not a minor part, and generated probably the most questions out of anything in the talk. It was an interesting, unusual result that she plans to work on in her Future Directions, much more so than anything the guys had done.
I strongly suspect she's not aware that she's doing this. And probably neither was anyone else in the room. But I swear, if I could have recorded the talk, I could freeze-frame the parts of it and point them out to you.
So I do kind of wish we could have some kind of pin so we could identify each other as women-who-get-it. It could be something very small. But it would be helpful to know who is sympathetic and who is just completely oblivious to it all.
At one point we talked about making t-shirts that say "This is what a female scientist looks like", and I see now they are actually available online, good on the person who did that.
Maybe I'll buy one when I quit science and come out of the closet. Except it will have to say "Former Female Scientist".