assertive vs. bitchy

Neva Morales nmorales at ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU
Mon Oct 6 12:41:12 EST 1997

Hello Dr. Mertz and to everyone else,

I really enjoy reading your message on being "assertive" or "bitchy."  I
am having a problem now.

I am a Masters student in the field of biophysics (it is still a man's
place in this discipline).  I have applied to the phd program in my
department and I am in the process of applying to more competitive places
(also, places that are closer to home). 

The committee has reviewed my application but they said that I need
another recommendation.  After finding out about places like NYU and MOUNT
SINAI in NYC and how their Molecular Biology program (although i have a
bachelor's degree in physics, i have fallen madly in love with molecular
biology and desire to pursue this) are incredibly strong,  I made the
decision of leaving my department with only my Master's degree. 

I made the mistake of telling my advisor of my intentions to leave this
December and I did not anticipate his response.  First he made it sound
like he didn't care if I was leaving and today, I get these weird email
messages from him telling me that I'm being dishonest with the admission
committee.  He also said that I am basically here because of his word and
that the admission committee is making "hard choices" to "accomodate" me
because of him.

This truly bothers me because I feel (and I guess I've always felt like
this from the first day I entered this program) that I'm not being taken
seriously.  From my advisor's message, it sounds as if the committee
doesn't think I am good enough to be considered a phd student.  I have a
good gpa and I am already getting funded on the phd level.  I strongly
feel that if some of my other peers (white men)were in the same situation
that I'm in, they wouldn't have this problem.  I guess what bothers me and
hurts me the most is that I feel as if my advisor, someone I respected and
admired, is now against me because I dislike the environment and because I
strongly believe I can thrive elsewhere.  He is supposed to write me a
recommendation and so far he (I think), has been stalling despite the fact
that I gave him almost two months notice.

Sorry to vent, but I feel as if no one is giving me a chance and no one
seems to understand how i feel.  I'm probably being seen as a "bitch"
which I don't mind being called, if standing up for myself labels me a

thanks for listening,

Neva Morales

On 6 Oct 1997, Janet Mertz wrote:

> 	I agree with the problem women face: whereas men are viewed 
> positively for being "assertive", women with the same behavior are 
> viewed negatively as "aggressive" or "bitchy". However, if women are 
> not aggressive, they are largely overlooked by male-dominated fields 
> (e.g., not invited to speak at meetings). I have experienced these 
> problems first hand. As an undergraduate and graduate student, I 
> behaved aggressively and was viewed as a female "superstar". I was 
> accepted to the top graduate schools, gave talks in place of my 
> future Nobel laureate advisor at highly prestigious conferences, had 
> top-ranked unversities asking me to apply for tenure-track faculty 
> positions, etc. However, many of my male peers were jealous of me and 
> I didn't enjoy playing this highly aggressive game. Thus, I turned 
> down Harvard and other places where one has to be highly aggressive 
> to survive as a professor in favor of the University of 
> Wisconsin-Madison where I can do equally good work in a much 
> friendlier, less-competitive environment. I have been continuously 
> funded by major N.I.H. grants for the past 20 years, have exciting 
> findings that resulted in an "outstanding" rating on my recent 
> competitive renewal, give excellent talks, serve on study sections 
> and editorial boards, and am much happier with myself and my life. 
> However, I am no longer an invited speaker at conferences because I 
> am not playing the game by the same rules as are the "assertive old 
> boys". One can succeed without being forced to play the game the way 
> the "old boys" do. Don't give up. The only way we will be able to 
> change the rules of the game for all is by having a higher percentage 
> of the players being women in positions of power. Remember, 
> however, this problem is not peculiar to science. For example, Pat 
> Schroeder abandoned her race for U.S. President when she realized she 
> would be disliked as bitchy if she were assertive and considered too 
> weak to be president if not assertive.
> 	Hang in there. We can make a difference and succeeed.
> 	Janet Mertz
> 	Professor

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