Thursday, October 25, 2007

The good, the bad, and the unacceptably pretty

Our university ran a really interesting forum yesterday on women in academia. On the panel were five super-powerful local women: the deputy vice chancellors of two of our universities, plus directors of various national research centres. It was great to see such a line-up of important women, and also a packed room of female academics who were taking the opportunity to network and reflect on their careers. The talks by each of the panel members were also fascinating, especially the extremely cryptic one by someone who obviously didn't feel she could come straight out and criticise our university directly, so instead gave her entire speech as a completely incomprehensible analogy involving orangutans.

Unfortunately, during the question time, something happened which totally appalled me.

A young woman from my department stood up and commented, "I often find that the ideas I put forward in departmental meetings and so on are ignored, and I wonder whether this is because I am dismissed for being young and female. Do you have any thoughts on this?"

The first panel speaker answered that really, that was very unlikely. Academia is extremely competitive, you know, and if your ideas are dismissed, that is probably because they aren't very good ideas.

The second speaker said that men learn to ask questions and propose ideas in a particular way, and that we should all pay attention to their behaviour and way of talking, and model ourselves after that, if we want to be taken seriously.

The third speaker pointed out that the woman who asked the question was very good-looking and that men probably weren't listening to her ideas at all, because they were too busy thinking about what she looked like.

My friend sat down very red-faced and ashamed. Because, you know, either she's too stupid for academia, or she isn't manly enough... oh, and maybe her superiors are spending their time imagining her naked.

Sometimes I am proud of how far women have come. And sometimes I wonder why we continue to shoot ourselves (and each other) in the foot.

12 Comments:

Alice said...

That is pretty appalling. Plus your friend, once again, is not taken seriously! How frustrating. What is up with that?

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Excuse language, but holy FUCK. That is outrageous! I mean, WTF were they thinking??

Ianqui said...

Honestly. Someone should tell those women that they're not serving as very good role models. At. All.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Sadly, they may be right about why she's getting ignored -- but their answers were not at all helpful.

The History Enthusiast said...

How ridiculous! Tell your friend that I think those comments were shit. Seriously. That sucks.

Anastasia said...

holy shit. I can't believe that. I'm with ianqui, someone should tell them how much they suck as role models.

Marcelle Proust said...

As far as the actual original problem goes, what I find really depressing is that there are some studies that suggest that women are *more* likely to be listened to when they do the traditional feminine throat-clearing of "well, you know, I don't know but what I kinda think is . . ." because it takes so long for men to tune in and listen that there's no point in starting with the important stuff. I expect it does depend on audience. My native style is more "masculine" and I've found there are certain men who hear it, and others who hear "feminine" women, and others who don't hear women, period. If I just want to get something done, I let it go if some male re-states my point later and people hear it; if I want credit, though, I'm not shy about saying "I said that 10 minutes ago!" Sorry to go on . . . is there anything helpful in here?

Kate said...

I wish I were surprised, but unfortunately I was at a talk at MIT this past spring by Ben Barres and Nancy Hopkins, and they were equally disappointing. After patting themselves and other senior faculty on the back for the great things they had done, their advice for all the female grad students raising issues in the audience was "If you don't like your lab, get out. You don't have to put up with that crap any more." Or "Find a mentor." Or "File a grievance." Yes, because we've all found that leaving labs (which is far more complicated than Barres or Hopkins made it out to be) or working within the system has DONE US WOMEN SO MUCH GOOD. Argh.

Bardiac said...

Sometimes, I just get so frustrated at the BS. I need bourbon. Now.

ScienceGirl said...

Are all attempts at figuring out how to deal with the men that "don't hear women, period" futile? And must the women who are obviously going more then half way to the solution be told over and over that THEY are the problem?

Dharma said...

Recently, my advisor told me that being good looking could be a deterrent to being taken seriously - that being *too* good looking could actually harm one's credibility.

Can you imagine? The worst part (for me) was that she said it as though it was not a concern in her/our department - I guess we're homely enough to be credible.

While she was talking, I was thinking, "Why is this being discussed?" I mean, really.

Dorabella said...

Adding nothing new here, but that is fucking hideous. I hope those unhelpful comments inspired some critical responses from other audience members, whether they were actually voiced during the panel or not.