men, women, the politics of baking

Sabine Dippel sabine at
Wed Dec 18 06:03:10 EST 1996

In article <Pine.A41.3.95b.961217191733.17848G-100000 at>, 
Sarah Boomer <sarai at> writes:
|> I just wanted to say that I have really been enjoying the discussion on
|> the Oprah thread.  I identified so much with the whole baking for lab
|> meeting thing.  I work in a lab with 60% women and, for the most part, the
|> women all put more effort into the "little things:"  baking goodies for
|> lab meeting, unpacking boxes that are shipped (a constant battle of
|> responsibility in our lab), cleaning up those little spills or messes that
|> "somebody" leaves.  I am open to flames on this one but I just feel like
|> women, overall, are socialized to feel bad if they don't be polite by
|> doing these little chores, being cheerful, fulfilling what just feel like
|> obligations.  I work with many guys who you'd swear are blind to messes,
|> who openly do only their experiments and little else in the way of
|> helping the lab structure.
|> I would love to be able to say, especially after reading Beth's moving
|> post, that I gave it all up for family.  But I am one of those women who
|> don't want a family and don't have a selfless excuse for giving it up!
|> The closest thing I can say is that I gave up baking last year - at least
|> for lab and department functions.  And I LOVE to cook.  I have this huge
|> reputation as the one who brings the best stuff.  But last year, I just
|> said to hell with it.  Why should I SLAVE over the stove on average three
|> hours before lab meeting when the guys (on average) whiz by the Safeway
|> and pick up 5 bucks in cheap donuts.  So I started whizzing by the Safeway
|> and buying cheap donuts.  I have been much happier now that I only cook
|> goodies for myself! 

First of all sorry for reposting this whole long thing, but I just didn't 
know where to cut. In my institute, there are (out of maybe 25 people) 
3 women -- the secretary, the system administrator, and I (a PhD student).
And the three of us keep baking for parties -- I don't know, one is so 
stupid to do this, even though I like cooking, and usually like an opportunity
to bake a cake for -- but then there are some men here who I know like 
cooking, do so once in a while, but would never dream of bringing something

It may seem crazy that I dwell so much on this cake/cookie example, but I 
find it so typical. I think I do this baking as well (okay, I know it is 
extremely stupid, and you can flame me for this) to say "hey, you see, even
though I'm a physicist I am also good at the things we expect women to be 
good at." (It costs me a lot to admit this thought, but it's there, somewhere.
Fits in with the clothes thread discussed here a while ago.)

I also have seen this "cleaning-up" example Sarah gives happen so often --
here, it isn't necessary, because we only work with computers -- but we have
this kitchen, which has evolved into a very filthy state. I think it reached
this state because none of the women uses it, and the men who use it would never
dream of cleaning up other people's mess. A nice example of this 
"putting effort into little things" happened to me when we had this "open
house" in the whole research center (35000 visitors -- a real big thing).  
So, this day was also the day when our old boss left and a new one came.
A post-doc in the lab had the idea of organizing a farewell-party for 
our old boss in the evening of that same day -- 
"just some beer and chips, nothing fancy, just spend some
time together chatting." But, since he would be away the whole week before 
it, and besides doesn't own a car, he asked me if I could buy the stuff.
(When he asked, I was the only person owning a car present.) He gave me 
money, and I bought beer, juice and chips. 
This at once made me "the person who organizes Dietrich's farewell-party" --
I kept telling people "no, I only bought this stuff for Henrik, he's the 
organizer, if you need one, and my responsibility ended when I stored this
stuff in my office." This statement stopped nobody from getting on my nerves
with questions like "shouldn't we also get some champagne? how about some other
food?" up to (on the day in question) "when should we start? shouldn't we have
bought some paper cups as well?" -- which finally made me yell at someone posing
a tiny little question because I was perfectly unnerved (since then, the guy I 
yelled at seems a little afraid of me -- seems to be really easy to make people
fear you). 
Would they have done the same to a man? Or would they have accepted the 
statement "I only bought the stuff, that's all" from a man more than from me?
As I said, they only started to listen when I yelled at them -- which only worked
because they got afraid of this "unpredictable, hysterical" woman, I guess.

On that day, I was already "highly explosive" because of what had happened in 
the morning. As I said, BIG "open house", lots of visitors were expected, so 
8 people were "on duty" in our institute for the first 3 hours. Of these 8
people, 2 (me and another (male) PhD student) appeared on time - the others
first showed around their spouses, girlfriends, etc. before they cared to show
up 2 hours late. Up to this point, we already had had an estimated number of 
250 visitors, whom the two of us had toured through the institute without a break,
explaining everybodys work, showing demonstration experiments, etc. I had also 
brought my parents, whom I wanted to show around a little, but sent them off 
because "someone has to take care of the visitors." 
After some people finally arrived, I got away to get a break and some food and
drink, only to hurry on to the "women-in-the-research-center"-stand, where I 
again put in a "double shift" because someone else hadn't appeared -- and 
afterwards all the others, who had maybe worked for an hour that day, wondered 
why I exploded when asked to take care of the party as well. (My, did I get drunk
after all this was over...)
In the next morning, I bought flowers for our secretary who at that day had 
completed 25 years in the research center -- again me, because noone else 
thought of it and I knew how disappointed she would have been had we forgotten
about it.

And then I wonder - should I become a jerk, simply because everyone else 
behaves like one?

|> Nevertheless, I was touched by Beth and others who seem so content with
|> their decisions.  I am still in the mode where I feel like I am a terrible
|> woman for being a leak in the pipeline.  Part of it comes from
|> being told this by various colleagues or past professors (that I am too
|> good to leave, that I am too good for the teaching positions I aspire to).
|> I think as a woman I take all this more personally, too... again, because
|> there is this element of being socialized to be nice.  I would like to
|> have the strength to let it all slide off my back but it annoys me often
|> that I am not PLEASING someone!  Isn't that ridiculous!

It is, but it is so true! I found that decisions get a lot easier if we 
manage to separate our own wishes and desires from what others expect from 
us -- it still may be tough to find out what exactly our wishes are, but 
it makes life much simpler. But I am also someone who tries to please -- 
and be it only in the sense of adhering to something I said to people a 
while ago, even though the situation has changed completely. 

2 examples (and then I'll finish the longest posting I ever wrote):

- When I looked for a place to do my PhD (here in Germany that breaks down
to finding a prof who will pay you on the basis of either a grant, a research
or teaching assistantship) I had found a nice group -- but then their grant
didn't come through. While I was also looking for other possibilities, they 
were really trying hard to find a source for money. They tried for 3 or 4
months, coming up only with possibilities, but nothing certain (I did an 
internship in industry during this time), when I found the position I am 
currently in. Once I had the offer, I hesitated for 2 days (the offer came
as a surprise, since my present advisor at that time had neither seen me nor
spoken to me on the phone) and then told them right away that I was very sorry,
but I found something else.
Even though I notified them instantaneously, they knew I was looking for other
things, and I was choosing a research assistantship for 3 years over the 
POSSIBILITY OF FUNDING for 1 year, I felt extremely guilty of doing so, of
disappointing the first group, who had done so much for me. They didn't like
this either, fortunately they work in a completely different field, so I do
not have any interaction with them professionally any more.

- I "accepted" an offer for a post-doc with a group I have known for a long 
time when I was still thinking about staying in research. (Again, an offer of 
the sort "when the time comes, we'll look for money.) Now I decided also to 
apply for jobs in industry, but I didn't tell them about this yet - who knows,
maybe I'll take it if I don't find anything in industry - after all, a year in 
Paris would be nice as well. But I feel so guilty about not telling them -
and I will feel really guilty if I turn down their offer because I go into 
industry -- but then, I am not blocking anyone else, I am turning down a job
that might not even see the light of day because of a lack of funding. Is this
again the desire to please?

| Sabine Dippel     | e-mail: s.dippel at                 | 
| HLRZ              | phone : [++49] (2461) 61-2318                   | 
| KFA Juelich       | fax   : [++49] (2461) 61-2430                   | 
| 52425 Juelich     | WWW   : | 
| Germany           |                                                 | 


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