men, women, the politics of baking

David Shivak shivakd at fhs.csu.McMaster.CA
Fri Dec 20 04:54:42 EST 1996

On Wed, 18 Dec 1996, aloisia schmid wrote:
>          The little spills and messes is another credibility problem.   I
> was a lab technician before I went to graduate school;  it was fun because
> the people were nice and I enjoyed coming to work every day.  But I have
> noticed that people assume that once you are a post-doc, if you do things
> like clean the coffee area or swab down the common areas or just do
> anything cleaning oriented, i.e., menial and the domain of a lab
> technician, there is some of the "once a lab technician, always a lab
> tecnician" kind of judgment.  It's as though there is a rigid heirarchy in
> this division of labor.  And I find it to be very strictly gender
> divided.  Generally (I know quite a few exceptions) women in science seem
> to want to be team players and to pitch in.  Most men (once again, not
> all)  see that as a sign that they are failing, falling behind, and are
> being forced to stoop to levels beneath them.  There is almost the same
> subtle pressure about cooking or baking for parties.  I think most men
> would think it wussy of them to prepare something.  Don't you?  Don't you
> think they would be embarrassed to bring a cheesecake they themselves
> baked to a pot-luck party?  

I'm not (I bake a decent white chocolate / lemon cheesecake), and I don't 
think I'm that much of an exception.  In the lab I'm in, we don't talk 
about sports much and the longest conversations are  endless discussions 
about new uses for bread makers.  All the guys in the lab are pretty 
good cooks.  If I have the time, I like to prepare something new and 
interesting for a potluck dinner rather than some microwaved lasagna or 
such (at least, I know if everyone else brings slimy nuked lasagna, I 
have one thing I'll enjoy eating).  

As to the division for lab labor, I think productive students 
learn to do whatever saves time themselves.  Some students will wait 
and gripe for days waiting for a tech to do something that takes a few 
minutes to do yourself.  If it is faster to order your own equipment, 
do maintenence, or clean, so be it.  I may be an exception though, 
as I have been in two somewhat "socialist" labs thus far where everyone 
is expected to pitch in.  I know of some labs that are like what you 
described... very "buddy-buddy" and the techs are not talked 
to or acknowledged by postdocs or students.  Perhaps larger labs can 
tolerate a division of skills and labor, but smaller labs (and grants) 
require that the PI get in the thick of things to manage the lab 
effectively.  If one expects to never to get one's hands dirty and have 
techs do all the work, one had better hope that grant money never gets 
tight in the lab.  

David Shivak

David Shivak - shivakd at
"He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of 
cucumbers, which were to be put in vials hermetically sealed, and let out 
to warm the air in raw inclement summers." - Jonathan Swift, _Gulliver's 
Travels_, Ch. 5.

More information about the Womenbio mailing list