Thursday, May 28, 2009

One more excerpt from the same book by Margaret Rossiter.

I'm putting this here because it so eerily reflects things I have blogged about (30+ years since the 1970s when supposedly much progress was made- at least briefly).

My impression from reading this book is that there was a mini-revolution from 1968-1972, but then the momentum was lost: we're essentially moving forward now at a lazy snail's pace, with no major changes from what it was then.

I say this because I found myself writing still true now! still true now! still true now! over and over in the margins of this book, but especially this page. It touches on three major points I've raised on this blog, all of which were really contentious, namely

(a) Deniers, both male and female, who don't believe there is a problem or that anything needs to be actively done about it

(b) SuperWomen who are not actually useful as role models, and who pull up the ladder behind them as they go

(c) That foreign-born women scientists are treated differently from American women scientists, and have had more success not just abroad but also in the US

from page 381 (essentially the last page of the book):

"But if consciousness was running high and the outpouring of outrage was epidemic in some circles, such feelings were far from universal. Many eminent scientists, women as well as men, did not necessarily agree that there was a problem and wondered what all the fuss was about.

Having adjusted to it all years before and believing staunchly in individual virtues such as hard work, they were either oblivious to the problem or, when it was brought to their attention, adamant that it did not exist.

They were so much a part of the "system" that had treated them comparatively well that it was difficult for them, as it had been earlier for Jessie Bernard, to see a pattern and think of employers and colleagues, even sexist ones, as villains.

Often foreign-born, these faculty women clung to an individualistic view that all that mattered was doing very good work and lots of it; one's sex and marital status were irrelevant. By dint of a lifetime of hard work, considerable self-sacrifice, and perhaps a move to the United States, they had "made it", and they did not wish to criticize American institutions that had made their success possible. Their successful work and high rank on the faculty had blinded them to other views; instead they seemed proof that if, just if, a woman was good enough, she too would be promoted to the highest levels.

Their small numbers could be seen as indicators that a few women offered this successful combination rather than evidence that stronger credentials might be required for women than for men.

For example, German immigrant and Nobel laureate Maria Goeppart Mayer of the University of California at San Diego could not understand why the American Physical Society had created a committee on women in April 1971 or why it had put her on it: she had no interest or expertise in the area.

Similarly, Birgit Vennesland, Norwegian-born and long a full professor of physiology and biochemistry at the University of Chicago, ended her autobiographical statement for her fellow physiologists in the early 1970s with some angry remarks about the younger women who now expected to be put on university faculties just because they felt as qualified as men; for women to press to0 hard in this direction would, she felt sure, lower the quality of the faculty and thus in time endanger the strength of the nation. Academia should hold onto its proven ways and not give in to the merely political pressure of diversifying the faculty. "

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At 8:23 PM, Anonymous ambitious grad student said...

You dismiss "SuperWomen who are not actually useful as role models" but I think that this begs the question: Should there be faculty positions available to individuals who are not "superwomen/men"? Why should individuals be hired if they are not the very best in their fields?

Think about it. A tenured faculty position in the biomedical sciences means that you will basically be receiving a salary paid for by the taxpayers for the rest of your life. I think that this is an immense privilege. No one can claim that he or she has a right to a faculty position. Unless you work in a translational field, your research will (most likely) not save any lives. Why should the taxpayers support it? Unless, that is, you are the best at what you do, and your research will significantly increase mankind's understanding of some basic scientific phenomenon.

I think that we can separate this issue from two related issues. First, maybe you/individuals like you were encouraged to pursue academic career paths on the basis that you would end up in a faculty position, without sacrificing your family or your social life. Second, maybe you see less qualified men landing jobs while highly qualified women do not. Both of these situations are shitty and warrant further discussion, but they're tangential to this issue. While reading this blog, you repeatedly dismiss "superwomen" who devote all of their time and energy to science (and hence make poor role models) - but why should there be room in taxpayer-supported institutions for anyone else?

At 12:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read your blog for a long time and have a great deal of sympathy for many of the views you express.

That just changed.

So, seriously, it's all the fault of those damn foreign women now? Based on *two* examples? What racist and unscientific nonsense.

Many of us have had to leave our home country to find faculty jobs, and yes, I'm sorry, it is a sign of determination - maybe you should consider it yourself rather simply blaming those who are more willing to grab opportunities where offered.

At 1:22 PM, Blogger Jay said...

I'm not in the academic world, but I see this all the time in the corporate [scientific] world. Not exactly foreign women, but non-white women can often be positively stereotyped as being technically smart. However, this doesn't necessarily mean they'd be promoted to management, but on the lower ranks it gives them an edge over their white (and african-american and hispanic) colleagues.

Definitely agree with the Superwomen. Though it's not necessarily because that woman herself is awesome or more brilliant than the others, but when I look around at the women who've succeeded and see those who had a serious advantage (either connections, or charm, or good looks) and they've succeeded and I think "i can't compare myself to her, she's an outlier." So that's definitely a problem, and not really enough women to compare oneself to as is.

So in the corporate world, much of this rings true. I haven't seen women pulling the ladder up behind them (not anyone under 40 anyways) but the discrimination is still definitely here. I guess I just always assumed in today's world we were still a lot better off than 20-30 years ago. I'd be disapointed to know the changes have been that small :/

At 10:39 PM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc said...

@ Anon 12:20AM:

In reaction to your suggestion to MsPhD to consider leaving her home country to find a faculty job like you did:
I'ld like to point out (as someone who has a bit of experience in this) that faculty job markets in most other countries are nowhere near as open to foreigners as the market in USA is.

Also, finding a faculty job in USA or anywhere is not simply a matter of being "willing to grab opportunities". It is a game of establishing wonderfully supportive relationships with influential people, and being successful in this game requires other things beyond research excellence and "determination".

At 4:26 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

GAAAAH!!!! Fucking blogger ate my reply again!!!

Seriously have to think about switching to something else. What do you think, maybe Wordpress? I'm so sick of this happening.

At 8:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ancient physics postdoc

In my experience countries such as the UK, the Netherlands, and Canada have job markets that are completely open to US citizens. I'd be intrigued to know which countries you mean when you say that the market is closed.

What I have noticed over various faculty and postdoc searches, however, is that we get almost no applications from US citizens, even though in our field the European groups are as strong and well-respected if not better. I've asked American colleagues about this and they tell me that they simply have no wish to work abroad, even for a short while. In the international labour market of academia this is very short-sighted. Those foreigners who move to the US for a while have built up an international network of contacts, while the Americans, by their reluctance to travel, have less of a chance of doing this. This may be a contributing factor when it comes to looking competitive in job searches, and may explain why international candidates do well. If you also fail to attend any conferences outside the US then this looks very poor in faculty applications.

At 1:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You dismiss "SuperWomen who are not actually useful as role models" but I think that this begs the question: Should there be faculty positions available to individuals who are not "superwomen/men"? Why should individuals be hired if they are not the very best in their fields?

YFS talks about faculty in biomed because that's what she does. I can give you the same argument in pretty much every well-paid and well-respected field of academia and industry.

And no, if you look at the top .1% of the population, I seriously doubt you would see a gender gap in any objective sense.

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Anthony Fejes said...

I don't doubt the existence of gender based stereotypes and the jerks who think that gender is seriously a qualification for a job, but I would like to know how you think this "denier" thing works. How do you know that you aren't just an "over-reactor", that will always think that there's a problem - even once it's gone.

At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If women should have to be Superwomen in order to get faculty jobs (because of upholding standards in academia or whatever), then the men should be held to the same standards too and have to be Supermen. the fact that on the male side, Average Men are also getting faculty jobs whereas on the female side only Superwomen continue to get such jobs, shows there is a still a double standard.

whether only the best of the best should get faculty jobs is irrelevant. The point is that there is a clear double standard.

At 3:50 AM, Anonymous ancient physics postdoc said...

@ Anon 8:42AM:

It seems our experiences are at odds. (Maybe it is field-dependent?)
I was a postdoc in the Netherlands at one point. At postdoc level the milieu was very international - the majority of us were non-Dutch. But at faculty level it was completely different: the vast majority in my department (and in other departments as well as far as I could see) were locals. The expectation was that the postdocs would find faculty jobs back in their home countries (if at all). At one point when a faculty position opened up in the dept it went to a Dutch guy who had done his phd and postdocs at illustrious uni's in USA. My impression is that that was the norm for faculty hirings there.

As for the UK, my impression is that the academic job market there is probably the most closed in the whole world. Not so much closed to foreigners, but closed to anyone who is not "one of us" in the sense of belonging to one of the right clubs.(I.e., having done their phd and postdocs at the right places under the right people.) At the same time that I won a Marie Curie fellowship from the EC (cruising in with well above the required number of points to make the cut) my postdoc applications to even the smallest, least prestigious uni's in the UK generated absolutely zero interest. Ditto for later faculty applications. At the same time I saw, e.g., someone with phd from Cambridge and minimal publication record get a postdoc at Imperial, followed by a fellowship back at Cambridge, all while said person's publication record and its impact remained a joke. So it goes in the UK.

For postdoc and faculty applications I have always applied all over the world, and my impression has been that my chances, small as they were, were always better in USA than elsewhere. It is probably no coincidence that the two regular (non-fellowship) postdocs I managed to get were both in USA.

As for Canada, I agree that the market there seems open like the one in USA, although I don't know much about it from first-hand experience.

As for why Americans tend to remain in USA, I suspect it is mainly because they (correctly for the most part) perceive their opportunities to be greater inside USA than outside it. Without going into details (since this comment is too long already) I'll just mention that the experiences of the few US postdocs I've known or heard of in Europe support this hypothesis.

Finally, I have to disagree completely about international experience helping a person's competitiveness on the academic job market. Whatever boost it might give is negligible compared to the all-important requirement of belonging to an influential mafia family and having the strong support of leading figures within it.

At 5:32 AM, Anonymous bsci said...

ambitious grad student (comment 1),
Your comment display more than a bit of idealism. Yes there are superwomen/men to live and breathe science 24/7 through a long career. Hopefully these people get great jobs, but they are only a fraction of faculty even at top places. The real issue is whether more women than men need to be super to get the same proportion of jobs. The answer was undeniably yes in the not too distant past. In some cases/fields the answer is still yes and in most fields women still need to deal with more sexist garbage.

Also, the taxpayer supported argument is ridiculous. In most places, public universities hire faculty to teach. If they teach, they get part of their salary. If they earn grants and have a proven track record, they get taxpayer dollars and more salary to do more research. A superperson might get more grants and more money, but grants are given on a per-proposal basis.

YFS, why did you need to ruin a perfectly reasonable post by pulling out your xenophobic "foreign postdocs" garbage again?

At 10:18 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


Just one thing, since blogger made my earlier attempt at replying disappear-

okay actually three things.

1. I really wish you would stop being so fucking defensive.

2. I am NOT saying that foreign scientists are the problem per se.

I am saying, in particular in this case, that US women have a harder time everywhere, but maybe even especially in the US, than foreign women do.

And I don't think this is fair.

I am not saying this is the fault of foreign scientists.

In theory at least, I would rather see more women scientists, of any nationality.

2. This particular excerpt is about a particular phenomenon I have wondered about before, which is whether foreign women scientists tend to be less aware of the issue of sexism, but especially of the sexism faced by US women scientists. Particularly since I have seen in my own circle of friends and colleagues, that foreign women are by default treated with more respect than US women are.

I have certainly dealt with sexism from women scientists as well as men, both foreign and domestic.

In this case I'm pointing out that SuperWomen as often NOT helpful to the cause of women's right to be treated fairly in the workplace, since many of them are deniers. Some of these SuperWomen are foreign; some are not. As Margaret Rossiter points out, at one point is was mostly foreign women. I'm not sure if that's still true. I suspect if you check the Prize listings (if you care about that sort of thing), there are still fewer American-born women who have won big prizes than naturalized citizens or foreign women have. And I don't believe that's for any good reason other than exactly what you accuse me of- BIAS.

At 11:55 AM, Anonymous Katja said...

I can't believe you're still on this stupid and racist horse about foreigners. You know privilege? Being American in America is one. Those people you are somehow in your sick mind perceiving as having an advantage have to excel in a strange culture, using a foreign language, away from family and friends, and often having to financially support family back home. Shame shame shame on you!


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