Saturday, September 13, 2014

More musings on being a woman in science, and a woman of Planet Earth

First, here is an interesting article: "Why Aren't Women Advancing At Work? Ask a Transgender Person.", by one Jessica Nordell. It discusses interviews conducted of men and women who had changed gender identities, and how it changed how they were perceived at work. Here is just one example, of a Ben Barres who had formerly been Barbara Barres:

(When he solved a tough math problem, for example, a professor said, “You must have had your boyfriend solve it.”) When he became Ben, however, he immediately noticed a difference in his everyday experience: “People who don't know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect,” he says. He was more carefully listened to and his authority less frequently questioned. He stopped being interrupted in meetings. At one conference, another scientist said, "Ben gave a great seminar today—but then his work is so much better than his sister's." (The scientist didn't know Ben and Barbara were the same person.) “This is why women are not breaking into academic jobs at any appreciable rate,” he wrote in response to Larry Summers’s famous gaffe implying women were less innately capable at the hard sciences. “Not childcare. Not family responsibilities,” he says. “I have had the thought a million times: I am taken more seriously.”

I highly recommend that you read the whole thing. It's very frustrating for me to read, as one of two women on my department faculty (the other of whom only joined a year ago), and now teaching my second engineering class that has 4 women in a room of over 20.

Second, I was gchatting with a (woman) friend and colleague the other day. Our offices used to be side by side, but now I am in a different building, so we don't talk much any more. I mentioned in passing that when I did see her, she looked fantastic! I was not just flattering her... she has taken her Equinox training seriously this year for the first time, and she's also been upping the miles on her mountain bike and doing crazy adventure trips with her new partner. Her skin was glowing and she looked strong and radiant. She replied, "oh, thanks. Last night I had a meltdown though... Tried on sun dresses at Fred Meyers. $9, can't beat it. Made me look like a fucking weight lifter and I looked terrible..."

I nearly started to jump up and down, I had had that exact same experience and could not believe that it happened to my ultra-confident and bubbly friend! Several years after I had moved to Alaska, I was visiting California and went into a consignment store in hoity-toity Los Altos. I found a beautiful dress that was embroidered in flowers, and I tried it on and it fit like a dream! However, when I turned around to look in the mirror, I was shocked and appalled! The dress would have been stunning on me when I was a soft, round, fair California girl. As an Alaskan, I was tan, with muscles buldging out here and there, and sprinkled liberally with mosquito bites, scratches, bumps, and bruises. I thought it over and concluded that I preferred the way I am now. So I told her the story and concluded with, "Oh, well, that's one of the benefits of maturity; I appreciate feeling better over looking better. Fuck floral sundresses. We kick ass."

Then I went to Facebook and posted, "Almost all of the strong, healthy, active women I know have had the unpleasant experience of trying on a pretty dress in a store and have it fit like a dream, only to turn around and look in the mirror and see bulging muscles and feel suddenly like a linebacker. Oh well. One of the perks of maturity is that I more appreciate *being* healthy over *looking* pretty. Screw floral sundresses. We kick ass!"

Imagine my surprise to have half the responders be men who replied along the lines of, "Whaaaaat? I think you are gorgeous!" Or, "But many guys prefer women who are strong!" and so on and so forth. Worst of all was, "Oh noooo! Do not accept a man who does not care for you just the way you are!" I can scarcely remember being so appalled and so deeply misunderstood! I had to write back, "Why do men seem to think that this post is about them?? While I appreciate all of y'all's respect, there is only one man whose opinions on my looks matter to me, and he thinks I look just fine. My post was about how *I* feel about *myself*. Aren't I allowed self-assessment that has nothing to do with impressing men? I think I am entitled to some agency here!".

God forbid I ever seek the approval of what I look like, by "many guys"! Ugh! And I can't even tell you how appalled I am that my OWN self-assessment got projected onto how I'm supposedly worried about what MEN think of me. Jesus Christ, if I gave one frozen moose turd about what men thought about me, I probably wouldn't wear Carhartts seven days a week! Most of all, I can't believe the incredible ego it must take for a man to read my post as wanting HIS particular approval!

And that's where things stand, my friends. A woman is not even allowed the agency of self-assessment without having it be assumed that it's about seeking the approval of men. What a load of crap! And how ironic that the very type of women--indeed the actual women--that I had in mind when typing the original post are the least likely to view themselves only through the lens of worrying about what men would think!


mdr said...

When male friend commented "Whaaaaat? I think you are gorgeous!" Take it as a compliment.

When male friend commented "but some men like strong women" Take it as a compliment.

Having said that does not mean you count on their opinions to assure yourself. I only meant to accept nice words from people (male and female). Simple like that, no second thoughts and go on with a happy day.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but men are constantly seeking the approval of women. What do you think we do half the crazy shit we do...?

Arvay said...

@Anon 7:42: you are free to seek the approval of women if you'd like, but you do not get to speak for all men, and you certainly do not get to speak for women.