sabine at hlrz4.zam.kfa-juelich.de
Fri Oct 10 03:49:42 EST 1997
Okay, I guess I should comment on this, especially since some of you have
touched upon a number of things that are too true. Maybe I should first clarify
my earlier comment. When saying things are a bit more relaxed in Europe, I meant
EUROPE, including Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, Britain, Spain,
etc. However, as everybody knows, Europe is far from being homogeneous, but I
was thinking of the average in a way. I should probably add that as far as I
know I am the only woman in Germany working in the subfield of Physics I am
working on, and also that this field in Europe is dominated by the French --
with whom I dealt extensively in the last few years, thus maybe getting a
better impression of the way women are treated in science than I would have
gotten had my experiences been mainly in Germany.
Another point is that I was referring to conferences. I have never seen sexual
harrassment happen there -- I think the basic problem here in Germany is that
the problem is widespread, but happening less in public than in the work
environment (meaning lab, office, etc. -- the more "private" places of the
work environment). This makes things even worse, because the public is not
conscious of it.
To those who had pretty bad experiences a while ago: things are getting slightly
better. Meaning that there now are people (sort of ombudsman - is there a word
like ombudswoman?) that officially are supposed to deal with this sort of thing
if it occurs. Normally, every university department is supposed to have one.
Still, I assume that many women don't dare complain, because there is a big
likelihood that nothing will happen, except making the woman concerned a
"troublemaker" in the eyes of her colleagues and superiors.
I would like to add that I have never experienced harrassment in the work-place,
which means 2 universities, this research center I am at right now, and a number
of summer jobs. Neither have any of my female friends. Still, I admit that I
can imagine to well that and where it exists -- my dad works in the construction
business, and boy, some of the people he has to deal with there are the worst
chauvinist pigs I've ever met, including the habit to grab at every female they
see. Since in a way I grew up with this, I think I know pretty well how to
handle it personally and how to evite that sort of people -- but I admit that
this is no solution and only helps to keep me out of problematic situations.
Coming back to the problem women face in science in general -- that's one of
my pet peeves. As Karen mentioned already, yes, an extremely strong cultural
bias exists agains day-care. This has even greater consequences than it might
seem at first sight. It is not only a problem for a working mother, but also for
women who might become mothers (meaning the whole female population approximately
aged 15 - 40). There is a deeply rooted fear in most employers (men) that a
woman they hire might get pregnant, and then stop working, or at least go on
the generous maternity leave of 3 years now provided by law. If she puts her
child in day care, she's a bad mother -- would you want to hire someone who
cares so little for their offspring? Maybe they would care as little for their
work or company? I am phrasing it this way to show that the problem is not
unique to science, but in most professions - at least male-dominated ones.
In science, there are some other problems. Unlike in the States, where in the
best possible case after a few post-docs you manage to get a position as
assistant prof and eventually manage to get tenure at the same university, in
the German system it is next to impossible to get tenure at the same university
where you had the job equivalent to an American asst. prof. This means that at
age 35-40 you are again forced to move -- a time where it might be very hard
to transfer your spouse to this new place as well. By the way, I think I don't
know of any case where the university found a job for a spouse of someone they
were hiring in Germany.
In any case, the more women work, and have qualified jobs not so easily
transferable any more, the more this becomes a problem for men in science --
though I suppose it would take a long time until they see this problem
strongly enough to start doing something about it.
As a matter of fact, though it is a big problem, I see sexual harrassement not
as the biggest problem -- because it is in many cases something you can point
to, because you can do something about it if you are brave enough to do it. My
bigger concern are all the subtle discriminations you cannot do much about it,
strange things happening and you are asking yourself "Am I just misinterpreting
his motives?", not being able to figure out if your being a woman has to do
with being overlooked in certain situations, or if you are being noticed for
the wrong reasons, that sort of thing.
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