Archive for the 'everyday sexism' category

Women at Dutch universities: from behind a curtain to a seat at the kids' table.

Nov 10 2018 Published by under Academia, everyday sexism, women in science

Recently, I learned about Anna Maria van Schurman, the first Dutch female student at Utrecht University in 1636. She was allowed to attend lectures, but only when she sat separated from the men, and hidden from them behind a curtain. Apparently men would allow a woman into the unversity, but only if they weren't distracted by her in their studies.

382 years later, women are everywhere in Dutch universities, but when it comes to the top ranks, they are still underrepresented. This survey across economics faculties comes to the following conclusion when assessing what is being done to promote more women to full professors:

The most successful programmes seem to be the additional ones specifically designed for women. In other words: as long as there are extras, women are being appointed. However, women are still not gaining a foothold through the regular application and employment policies.

It begs the question whether the 1636 situation where women are tolerated only when they are hidden behind a curtain is still the case in a way: women are only tolerated in positions that are specifically crafted for them - like a seat at the kids' table-, but they are not given an actual seat at the grown up table.

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On being comfortable enough for activism

I started writing as babyattachmode online just after BlueEyes was born. I felt that in the competitive academic world, where I was trying to establish myself in a position with a bit more permanence than a post-doc job, I needed to hide a part of my identity. I felt that it was better to hide the part of me that was a tired new mom and to only show the competitive postdoc who would stay productive no matter what to the real world. At the same time, as babyattachmode I could talk about things I thought could be different in academia, like every day sexism and the position of women in science.

After a few years with these two identities - babyattachmode online and my IRL identity offline - I realized that I wished I would be more like babyattachmode IRL. I started to speak up when someone would for example make a sexist remark in a meeting. At first, this made me highly uncomfortable, but the more I did it, the more normal it felt.

And in the beginning of this year I grabbed the opportunity to become involved in the inclusion and diversity group within the company I work for. I have a permanent position where I am now and felt comfortable enough to become more vocal on this topic. However, as Sara Ahmed pointed out: "When you expose a problem, you pose a problem". I tend to want everyone to be happy and posing a problem is the opposite of that.

I realized that some people would respond annoyed when I told them I was working on this topic and for example told that they felt that this was unnecessary ("we already have women, right?"). Last week, I gave a talk about this topic to over a 100 colleagues. I was 90% excited about this and 10% afraid it would not be good for career advancement if the 50-something white men in the company  people in leadership positions would see me as 'the angry feminist'. So semi-consciously I dressed as elegant as I could to avoid this as much as possible*. Perhaps babyattachmode wouldn't care what she wears and my IRL identity does, but slowly I am merging these two identities in the real world and it feels really good.

What about you? Are there parts of your online identity that you wish you would use more offline?

*Writing this and the title for this post makes me realize the privilege of my situation: I am white, cis, thin, heterosexual and able-bodied and I can choose whether I feel comfortable enough to be an activist when it comes to diversity and inclusion at work. I realize that this is not the case for everyone and that sometimes the way you look or the life you live almost automatically makes you an activist.

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On #MeToo, courage, empathy and igniting the atmosphere

I only watched the beginning of the Kavanaugh hearings yesterday. I don't live in the US anymore and the process of supreme court nominations are not something I would normally follow. But of course this wasn't about that. It was about somthing that touches all of us. To me, these hearings symbolized what it is like to be a girl and a woman in a patriarchical society. Where from a young age, you become aware that boys can do things with you that you have to carry with you for the rest of their lives while they laugh about it.

This thread details how that happens ALL THE TIME:

And Christine Blasey Ford's incredibly moving and couragous act of speaking out and uncovering all those feelings that she has carried with her all those years inspires me tremendously.


But it also makes me sad that apparently you need to be white, academic, blonde, have a PhD, etc in order for people to MAYBE believe you. You need to have exactly the right tone and say the right words. It's not like because we know that assault and date rape happens, we easily believe women who come forward and say this has happened to them.

And then Kavanaugh's statement started and I had to switch the livestream off. Not only because it was bedtime for my kids here, but also because it was hard and painful to watch. It made me wonder: what if he actually didn't remember that this happened? I guess it is very possible that an event that haunts one person for the rest of their live is 'just another party' to another person. And that is what is the most horrible part of this to me: the complete lack of empathy that this indicates. And that by making it so hard to talk about this for the victims, it automatically makes it difficult to spark empathy in (potential) perpetrators. And that's when this morning I found this comic that hits the nail right on the head about why we need a #MeToo movement and what it can bring us if we use it well.

And if - like me - you're fantasizing about what all the rage of women in the world could do, @scicurious calculated that for you in this thread:

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On recognizing bias directed to you

A while ago, I received feedback that "I shouldn't show my ambition so much because it makes people around me uncomfortable". It was one of those remarks where at the time that I received this feedback, I didn't really react to it. I didn't immediately react for multiple reasons, the primary one being that I wanted to keep my pokerface in this meeting and I knew that reacting would mean that I would show emotions.

But when I cycled home later, I wondered whether the giver of said feedback would have said the same to a man. And I continued to wonder how you can recognize this? Because when you're the person giving feedback like this, you can flip it to test it, ie. check whether you would have said the same to a man as you would have to a woman. And sometimes it is obvious that the feedback is sexist, for example when you're a woman and asked to smile more. But in this case I believe it is much more subtle and perhaps I am being too pushy on what I would want to achieve and when?

Either way, I realized (again) that recognizing bias takes time and effort, and therefore it is a classical Nature move to put the burden of confronting gender bias in the workplace on women's shoulders. As this article clearly lays out: the onus shouldn't solely be on women to change the workplace:

"we cannot and must not absorb facetious messaging that says we created and can fix failings that are not of our own making—and that we might somehow shape-shift until we fit perfectly into fundamentally flawed workplaces."

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#MeTooSTEM: stories for everyone

If you have been living under a rock and think sexual harrassment doesn't happen in academia, this new blog is for you.

If you think: this only happens in the US, this story is for you.

If you think: men who are accused of committing these acts lose their whole career, then read what the women it has happened to have lost and are still losing.

If you think: these women only come forward hidden behind pseudonym, that is not the case. Although understandably, many are.

If you think: if stuff like this happens, people who see it will speak up, this story is for you.

If you think: I have my own story, these resources are for you. Also, consider sharing your story.

If you think: I want to thank the person who is bringing this to light ánd started a petition to remove sexual harrasers from the National Academy of Sciences, then consider sending @McLNeuro a supportive gif on twitter!

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On credibility and using your title

The other day I was in a training where we talked about how you can influence other people and we revisited Aristotle's pathos, ethos and logos triangle on persuading people (google it if you want to know more). One point of this triangle, the ethos part, is about credibility and trust, and in this training we talked about what that could look like. It made me realize that for some, credibility comes easier than for others, because some people may look more like what society finds credible than others. For example, I've heard people say that I look young, and not much like a scientist, so I guess I need to bring other ways of establishing credibility than someone who does look like your stereotypical scientist. Also, that stereotypical scientist can afford himself the luxury of coming into work in shorts and sandals and still look credible, while his female counterpart has a much narrower definition of what she can wear to be assumed credible.

Another aspect of credibility for scientists is your Dr. title. I've heard many people say that there is no need to use your title, and especially in The Netherlands there is a culture where people tend to be very informal. But if you can't use your title to bring credibility, for example when you're teaching, then how are you supposed to do that when you don't have the stereotypical "credible looks"? And wouldn't a really strong way for white men to be allies to women (or people of color, or anyone else who does not come with the stereotypical credible looks) to start using titles again, even in a society that is informal and scores relatively high on the gender equality lists? Would this be one way we could counter the "gender equality paradox in STEM?"

 

 

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On improving diversity and what that feels like

Last week I wrote that a news outlet reported that Hans Clevers had said that Dutch women don't want to work hard. According to Hans Clevers, who came to my blog to reply, he hadn't actually said that.

Seeing the article on a Dutch news website, writing my post here and the discussion that followed left me feeling drained. I feel so frustrated that while I and so many others with me point out how this attitude of saying "I have done some things and there is nothing we can do to further increase diversity" is unhelpful and harmful, it does not seem to change the speed at which diversity increases. Outside of this blog, the LNVH ("Landelijk Netwerk Vrouwelijke Hoogleraren"; the Dutch society for Women full professors) wrote a letter to a large Dutch newspaper. And Athena's Angels (an initiative of 4 female full professors) wrote a reply in the same news paper today. But otherwise nothing happened. What could have been an opportunity to start a discussion on how to improve diversity in (Dutch) academic science, and increase the retention of women and minorities in the academic pipeline, ended in silence, at least as far as I can see.

I want to look into scientific literature on methods to increase diversity in STEM (or elsewhere) to write a post with suggestions on what to do and what works, but haven't had the time to do so. If you have links/papers to share with me, please do so in the comments or on twitter.

And in the meantime, I want to acknowledge the energy it takes to address these issues and take a deep bow for those of us who do this on a daily basis. I realize the privilege of writing here under a pseudonym and being able to go to work at a place with great emphasis on diversity. As Sara Ahmed wrote in her blog post titled "Feeling Depleted : "I think of social privilege as an energy saving device: less effort is required to pass through." So for those who still believe women aren't working hard: this is also where their energy goes: into the invisible void of challenging the status quo.

 

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On raising boys in the #metoo era

Jan 18 2018 Published by under everyday sexism, parenting

Yesterday I read this article from a mom writing about raising her girls to say "Don’t say that to me. Don’t do that to me. I hate it.". I don't have daughters but I do have two sons and have been thinking about parenting and what we can do to make a more equal society in which hopefully men won't believe they are powerful enough to abuse women or treat them badly without consequences. Obviously, I am not the first to think about this and the internet offers suggestions such as: not giving different chores to boys and girls, and don't use "like a girl" to say something is inferior. And then there was this great last year's New York Times piece on raising feminist sons.

These are the things that I consiously do to make my kids aware of consent and equality:

1. I always ask for consent to touch or kiss them: I always ask "can I give you a kiss" or "can I give you a hug". This may seem a bit ridiculous to some, and it actually started because my oldest often does not want to be touched and is very particular about when he likes to get a hug. But I also believe it makes it more normal to ask for consent in sexual relationships when you're used to asking for consent to touch each other's body. And now it actually really bothers me when people hug my kids without asking or warning them. I also sometimes talk to them about you being the owner of your body and that you have a say in who does something with it.

2. When it comes to equality I find it harder to find the right tone, especially because Dutch TV has a lot of pretty sexist children's shows. There is a channel that in the morning broadcasts shows like Lego Ninjago and Power Rangers and advertises it with:"BOZ - more for boys!".  And then there are numerous shows that have an element of competition and more often than not the competition will be boys versus girls. With obviously all sorts of tiny little remarks that girls are not as good at a whole bunch of things. I always imagine what it would look like if they wouldn't divide the kids by gender but by race and that would of course never happen on TV! So why does is it so normal and accepted when it comes to gender. Either way, I try to talk to them about this and fortunately (or should I say obviously) my husband and I share a very equal load of household tasks to model to our kids that men and women are very equal in what they can do and contribute. I try to model that for example your preference for particular chores (my husband likes cooking better and I like laundry better) should determine the discussion of who does what rather than what gender you have.

3. I let them cry if they need/want crying. I never say things like: "boys don't cry" or anything along those lines. I listen and let them express whatever needs expressing.

What about you? Do you consciously parent your children in what can be considered a feminist way?

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I shouldn't ever stop caring about harassment cases

This morning I came to a realization that shocked me and that made me quite painfully aware of my own biases. Already a couple of times I had come across this headline on twitter: She Was a Rising Star at a Major University. Then a Lecherous Professor Made Her Life Hell. Every time I saw it I couldn't help but think: Oh man, another person who was oppressed/harrassed/assaulted in whatever way by some man who has the power to do so and still goes unpunished for way too long. But it didn't touch me enough to read the piece. Or to retweet it or say what I think about it. It just made me a little numb that this just keep happening over and over and over it seems.
And then someone tweeted the name of the victim in this case. And I recognized the name and realized that I had seen her present her work and I was so impressed with her. She was energetic and funny and a really good presenter who did very interesting work. All of a sudden I cared so much more about this case. And that is the part that shocked me.
Because someone shouldn't have to be energetic and funny and a good presenter for me to care. I should always care when someone is oppressed or assaulted or harrased, whether they are boring or funny to me and whether I like them or not. It made me think of whenever men say things like:"We should care about women because they are our daughters and wives and sisters" and I think to myself: no, we should care because they are people. Yet I do the exact same thing in my head: I care more about people that I know and/or like.

 

How can I change this attitude and make sure I don't stop caring about cases like this one? By reading the statistics about how often women are sexually harrassed in science that make me angry every time I look at them. By linking to all the pieces online that show how hard it is to file these complaints against established men when you are the victim, but also how there are kind people that stand by the victims. Although at the end of the day the question remains whether you can ever really win in a case like this.

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On consent for sexual assault

Oct 12 2016 Published by under everyday sexism, personal posts

I just RT'ed this tweet. And as I did that, for a split second there was a voice in my head that said: "but that one time when a boy in high school grabbed your breasts you were drunk." "And that other time when a stranger kissed you on the mouth out of nowhere you were by yourself and wearing a skirt." "And when you're in a club it's nearly normal that guys grab you when you walk by."

Why am I making up excuses for the men who did this? When was I taught that being drunk or wearing a short skirt are consent for sexual assault? Because obviously they are not.

I guess this is how that works: when you hear those kind of excuses often enough you start to think it is normal that these things happen. And even worse: you almost start to believe that your actions cause these things to happen. Which in itself is already #notokay.

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