The gender blender
This morning I read a provocative review of a new book called, aptly, Delusions of Gender. In it, the author throws down a gauntlet, taking particular aim at studies claiming that gender differences in ability are primarily biological.
I'm glad to see books like this, in the sense that I think there are far too many people (okay, mostly men) out there who need convincing. However, I'm not sure that they'll be convinced by anything like this. Will that stop me from reading the book and possibly sending copies to all my friends with daughters? Probably not.
Especially the ones who have one of each: the boy who likes robot toys, and the girl who likes the easy-bake oven. Do they accept any responsibility for this? Of course not. How could parents possibly be biased?
But for those who don't have an open mind about the question, I'm not convinced that battling it out is going to help anyone.
I'm so tired of fighting all the time, I actually passed up a coupon for super-cheap martial arts lessons. There was a time when I would have (and did) jump on these kinds of opportunities, but lately I just feel like I'm shadowboxing all the time. I'm making myself tired, but I'm not landing any hits on my opponent. And I'm not really any more prepared when I find myself on a dark street at night.
I'm still encountering these gender-biased assumptions regularly in real life.
In a rather heated example, I had a long argument with a "friend" over Facebook chat, who was arguing about gay marriage and how it's not just important but also easier for women to take care of children than for men to take half the responsibility, and how this is why the traditional formula of one man + one woman is better.
I was trying to tell him that being a woman does not, by default, make you a better parent. At all. And that breastfeeding does not, by default, prevent all possible health problems later in life, or anything remotely like that. I was breastfed, and I have terrible allergies, and I still kind of hate my mother. Yet I still hear, on a regular basis, that allergies and "bonding" are two of the biggest reasons why breastfeeding is so important.
I also try to point out that there are just as many studies showing that it doesn't matter as there are studies claiming that it's absolutely essential.
And when I see both men and women using breastfeeding as their default, fallback excuse for a) whining all the time about their kids and b) making excuses for why they don't try harder to share the parenting responsibilities equally, it makes me want to bean them on their heads with dirty diapers.
In a more subtle example, more than one friend has suggested I should really consider a Perma-doc type of position, just to stay in academia. It's usually a guy who uses his own wife, or another friend's wife, to illustrate his point, which usually goes something like this:
"She's really happy, she's the right-hand person of this PI, the lab is all women, she's the senior person who oversees all the benchwork and he writes all the grants, so she doesn't have to worry about funding. He's such a great mentor, great boss. He offered to help her get her own lab and funding but she didn't want to. I mean, you've never had a great mentor like that, it would be so good for you."
So I say, Uh, I'm gonna have to stop you right there, buddy.
I have to point out that I have, indeed, had "great mentors" who would have been happy to keep me as their right-hand person. The problem was that none of them did more than offer to help me get my own lab or funding. When I tried to take them up on it, the offer somehow dematerialized.
Or, it turned out they didn't really know how to help, or the offer was actually to help me help them get more funding for their projects, with some nebulous offer to eventually help me get my own projects funded independently.
I mean, what?
As in, what rock are you living under?
Because at the end of the day, I sincerely doubt anyone would be pushing me in the direction of aspiring to be the Perma-doc version of the lab harem's best wife if I were a guy.
Historically speaking, that is where women have always been welcome in science. In the supporting roles. Not leading.
But somehow, maybe because I happen to be female, nobody seems to hear me when I say I think I'd be best utilized in a leadership role.
And yet, the younger women seem to see it. They say how discouraging it is that they won't be able to join my lab someday.
And then I have to read these idiotic emails from various women in science groups lamenting how they can't figure out why more younger women don't want to go into science. And how we need to do more outreach with little girls to get them interested.
I keep trying to tell them, there's no inherent difference in girls vs. boys at the level of interest. All kids, when shown cool science demos, think it's fucking cool. Because it is. And only some kids want to know how it works. And only some kids are encouraged to pursue finding out how stuff works. Probably, in our culture, we do encourage boys more, but I think that difference happens more at home than it does at school.
The real problems come later. The glass ceiling is still there. And it just cuts deeper the farther you go up.
At the end of the day, it always comes back to this. Somebody wants to know why it's not fair, why it seems like we're not treated equally.
And some jackass will try to console us by saying it's because our brains are different. Or because we have boobs.