A jambalaya about women in science/feminism/politics


There’s been a lot of ‘stuff’ (for lack of a better word) making it through my ‘what’s interesting’ filter in the last week concerning women. It started off with the debate coverage concerning Romney’s ‘binder of women’ and ensuing discussion of feminism, which happened to fall on Ada Lovelace Day, continued with a brief twitter conversation started by @Chookooloonks, (who keeps one of my favorite photography/mom blogs) in which she asked if dads’ views on feminism change once they have daughters, and emerged again today when #womensciwp surged on my twitter feed.

I think this one is my favorite

I was probably not as perturbed by the binder comments as most women I know, more vastly amused by the resulting meme. At least he acknowledged he had a blind spot. However, I was pleased to see that a fair amount of the discussion triggered pointed out that men, just as much as women, are in need of flexible schedule during child rearing years. For a mother to be able to take on a career, she absolutely needs a support system. If you have tons of money, like Marissa Mayer, then you can avail yourself of 24 hrs worth of nannies and all the hired help you can get. Or, if you are like the rest of us (read: me!) you need your partner to be able to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, in the US, it seems this is not happening, especially in the kitchen. Fortunately, for me, my husband definitely picks up the slack. Even when I was not pregnant, R does the majority of the cooking, and now that I am ridiculously immobilized by this pregnancy, he does the majority of the cleaning too. On top of his 55-65 hr/week startup job. And he does it without a word of complaint. (Well, ok, a little grumbling. He’s not a saint. But he does come close.)

During our birth class when pregnant with J, the mothers were all aghast that I was taking only 6 weeks maternity leave (that’s it???) while the fathers were amazed that R was taking 3 weeks of paternity leave (that’s a lot!!!!). This is clearly in line with how our nation ranks against most other industrialized nations in paternity leave (hint: we’re rock bottom.) How many of those fathers from the birth class, I wonder, are cooking meals or doing the laundry, now, and how would it compare to the fathers from, say Sweden?

Which brings me to the twitter exchange about fathers and feminism. When asked if there were dads out there whose views evolved when they had daughters, there were of course an avalanche of yes’s. But I was struck by one father who immediately said “no. Being the son to my mom did… but not being dad to my daughter.”

R is one of the most progressive, feminist men that I know. His actions (of which he never touts, it’s always me who brags about him) speak loudly and clearly; he thinks women are just as capable of doing anything a man can do, and he will support whomever he believes in, in whatever they want to do (within reason) no matter their sex. This means that he contributes equally, if not more (especially these days) to the housework, especially when my schedule is crazy. And he expects me to have the same courtesy for him. Where does he get this from? Somewhere, I’ve heard the saying goes that any man who has sisters will respect other women. But I do think it goes further than that as well. R has no sisters. He has not experienced parenting a daughter (yet). I think it comes from his parents. And not just his mom, but both of them. For most of his childhood, R’s father made it a point of being home by 5 so he could be involved in evening life at home. His mother went back to school when he was young, and has been working full time since. Those examples clearly had an effect on his attitudes about what women are capable of, and how men should treat women.

I don’t know if his parents realize what a stellar job they did there, but standing ovation to them for that. We married young, and I didn’t quite realize just how amazing he is in that respect (I had an inkling, but not a true understanding of it).

And this brings me to the third piece. Today, wikipedia entries are being created or edited on women in science and technology, and that made me think about the challenge that is raising a potential female nerd. (Yes, I am being optimistic assuming that my daughter will be bright. So sue me.) Here is where I do think R has a blind spot. A couple months ago, I brought up in conversation with 2 college friends of ours (who also have one son and one daughter) that I was nervous about how I would parent a daughter as opposed to a son. R turned to me and said somewhat stridently “I don’t see how this is an issue. You treat your daughter just as you treat your son.” And I applaud him for that sentiment.

But, as my friend very sagely replied, “I don’t think you’re going to convince her or I that it’s that simple. After all, the rest of the world will not treat her the same way they will treat your son.” My friend and I have both experienced life as women engineers, and we have both faced subtle and blatant sexism as a result. R has not had this experience, partially because he just doesn’t have that kind of bias himself and expects others to be the same way.

The issue has been tabled since then (after all, our daughter is still in utero, what’s the point of beating that bush?) but as a woman in science, reading about past women in science who have forged the path in front of me, I do wonder if enough progress has been made such that my daughter will get picked as a partner in machine shop class by a boy while she’s in college. I certainly hope so.

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3 Responses to A jambalaya about women in science/feminism/politics

  1. LOVE this post. I have to much to say about it!

    I was always a desirable lab partner- because I was good at science. And sexism or not- I’m a big fan of the Eleanor Roosevelt saying, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” In general, I think I am mostly oblivious to sexism, size-ism (I’m fat, people seem to hate me for it), and all other kinds of “-isms” that might pertain to me. I just have too much bluster and balls to succumbs to BS. It took practice to develop such a thick skin, and it was hard to do, but I think I’ve come a long way. It helped that as an undergrad, grad student, and post-doc I had female advisors who were at the top of their game.

    Have there been instances where I was dumbfounded by blatant sexism, yup. Did I relish the chance to put the sexist in his/her place, yup.

    That said, I was the eldest of 2 daughters born to one of the most manly men to ever live. My father was one of 4 boys, married my mom who is just like me in the bluster/balls/BS department, and raised 2 daughters who never felt like he longed for a son. He took us hunting, taught us to shoot, and was proud when we excelled at those things and at ballet, drama, and singing. I don’t think he was intellectual enough to spend time thinking about his motivations. He just parented however it felt right to him. My mom was mostly the same way.

    Now, I’m married with 2 kids and a husband who is a stay at home/work from home dad. He does the bulk of the chores, is the primary caregiver, does all the dishes, and makes it look easy even when he’s up till 3am getting an edit out to a client. He is also man enough to not only deal with me, but to love me. I think our relationship will be an excellent example to our kids that you can be whomever you want, you can have any kind of family you want.

    We’re raising a girl (eldest, almost 3yo) and a boy (5months). I’m not worrying too much about raising them the same. She likes pink, it’s as arbitrary a choice as blue. She loves to dance around her Lego tower, good for her. She was motivated to potty train so she could wear pretty panties and go to work with mommy and do science on Kids Day, whatever works. She plays with her dolls and she’s not afraid of bugs, I have help battling the stink bugs. She will be whatever combination of what society deems feminine and masculine that she’s going to be.

    When she got a play kitchen for Christmas a friend joked on Facebook, “How could you get her a kitchen?! You should have gotten her a chemistry set!” I was a little irked- she can play with whatever she wants to! And come to think of it, a recipe is a protocol done in a kitchen instead of a lab. You learn how to follow directions, measure volumes, chemical reactions that make dough rise and phase changes that make your pasta pot boil over. Science is everywhere.

    I didn’t grow up as a stereotype of a scientist-in-the-making, it didn’t mean I wasn’t cut out to be a scientist.

    You and J have good instincts. You have a healthy dynamic in your relationship. You will set good examples. You can do what feels right and you will raise kids capable of resisting limitations others would try to put on them!

    • Good for you for having that bluster! It took me a long time get anything close to a thick skin. (I’m still working on it, frankly.)

      It seems to me that the “wet” and or medical sciences have more balanced gender ratios, because I have not experienced much sexism in that environment. Like you, I’ve had some strong female role models at various levels of the hierarchy.

      However, this is sadly lacking in the engineering field, and perhaps that is why I am still working on my “balls”, as it were. I did my undergraduate and master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and while in general, my peers did not question my intellect (we worked together on homework sets without incident), it was clear as day that they did not think I could do hands on work. Routinely, in all my design classes that had a machine shop component, the men would not partner with the women unless forced to. This wasn’t the 1970’s, this was around 2000. Although, (and I say this rather sheepishly, even with the recent study on women and men professors being equally gender biased against female applicants) the reason I noticed it was because *I* didn’t want to partner with any of the women either.

      I guess we all have work to do, no?

      In any case, having grown up as the only Chinese kid in her elementary/middle school (other than my brothers), on top of being a nerd when it wasn’t cool to be a nerd, I’m a bit sensitive when it comes to my kids being able to face these kinds of prejudices. I was an excessively insecure kid/teenager who did not believe in my abilities, and I do not want either my son or my daughter to go through that, and then be further beaten down by the system.

      Interestingly, if you had asked me 3 years ago if I’d worry about my son being insecure in that way, I’d have said no, but now, knowing his personality, I do worry 😛 So I guess it is equal opportunity now. But it certainly feels like a different kind of a worry; for him it’s more tailored to his personality, whereas with my daughter-in-utero, it’s a blanket gender bias worry.

      Anyway, TLDR, but thank you for your reassurances, and your vignettes of your daughter. I love seeing how little people have no concept of gender bias; J has been obsessed with blue since he could barely speak, but loves to talk about butterflies and rainbows and princesses, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  2. Pingback: I wanna see you be brave | Wedge Wonders Why

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