"Y" not? and "women's" work

SL Forsburg susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu
Mon Feb 19 15:12:57 EST 1996

Joy Frestedt wrote:

> I'm applying for a job teaching because the cut throat medical 
> research,  stress, and competition are a pain.  Am I copping out 
> because I'm female?  Or I'm female and therefore I expect better 
> behavior from my colleagues (mostly men in powerful places) than 
> I've been receiving.  I do expect better behavior, but most of the 
> men who counsel me say to expect this deplorable treatment in the
> work I do.  Many women confidents (and forward  thinking wonderful
> men generally NOT in the trenches with me) also expect
> better behavior.

It's unfortunate but true that you have to expect some deplorable
behavior.   That is not to say that there arent examples of decency 
and integrity and  sterling fairness in academic science, and some 
excellent people (men and women) committed to moving ahead!  
But if you sketch a portrait of the profession in the US, 
it does tend to a rather unattractive average of 
aggressive competition, rudeness, what one reader of this group 
called "borderline unethical" behavior and what I think of as a
ruthlessly careerist mentality.

Joy raises an interesting point here. Are women less likely to 
"put up" with the macho science behavior than men?  

Part of the macho science affect includes competing in heirarchies,
whether within one institution or between them; I think women are 
more likely to realize that these heirarchies are artificial and to
leave them without any sense of losing face. Of course, they
are then dismissed by those who judge themselves by positions
in heirarchies!  (I'm beginning to sound like a social scientist,
and me just a humble yeast geneticist...) My observations on searches
suggest  that women are not applying for positions in the same
ratio that they are present in the postdoc population;  I can't 
blame them, but I also fear things will never change unless
they change from within, which means, getting in the system. But
women students and postdocs (and a few men) have told me that 
that they dont want to put up with the grief. They are more likely
 to think that they can't make it, because they don't behave in 
the aggressive  fashion (which always suggests to them great self 
confidence on the  part of the opposition). They have also  told me 
that they don't want to be like me, now that they have seen
 the stress of a junior faculty position. I guess that makes me a 
negative role model.  :-(

I'm sure a number of men are also not applying, for the same reason;  
the net effect is that the people who do apply are biased 
towards the problem behaviors. And thus, as you look up the
ranks of faculty, you see fewer and fewer women, and fewer and fewer
men without the macho science attitude.  Without positive
examples of what I have called "humane" science, people who do not 
behave in the aggressive competitive way feel discouraged, and a 
negative cycle repeats.

What can we do?


S L Forsburg                             
susan_forsburg at qm.salk.edu        
 "I don't speak for the Institute,         
 and the Institute doesnt speak for me."

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