Archive for the 'Why There Are No Women in Science' category

Things I Found Ponderable: #scio12 Report the First

Once in New Orleans I went on a late night walking ghost tour.  The ghost stories, the architectural beauty, the historical tidbits have all mostly vanished from my brain, but one bit of the tour stays ever with me.  A careless tourmate paying little attention to the terrain ahead ran smack clang! into the metal upright of a street sign.  His head hit so hard it sounded like a rung bell; he bounced backward, the pole shook.   We stopped, startled and hushed. As terribly as it must have hurt, out of embarrassment he waved us off as though it was nothing and resumed walking.

I've often wondered how I would respond if/when I slammed my own head into an upright metal pole.  Now I have my chance!  Metaphorically speaking.  This post is part of my attempt to not just resume walking as if nothing had happened.

I had two metal-pole-to-the-head moments at SciO12.  The first came right away. No one saw me run into this particular street sign, but rather than just resume walking, I thought it would be better to share the story.  It was at the keynote address Thursday morning: The Vain Girl's Survival Guide to Science and the Media given by Mireya MayorIf you read the page of notes I took from her talk, you would get the sense that I experienced it in a very positive way, enjoyed it, maybe even found it inspiring and found some useful ideas in it.  All of which is true. At the same time, however, I was having an appalling out-of-body sort of experience, listening to an ongoing monologue in my head, wondering "who is this sexist asshole and how did she get inside my brain?"

At first I was conscious only of having a very negative reaction to Mayor.  This felt bizarre, since I knew absolutely nothing about her. Long ago a wise woman told me, "when you find something that makes you angry, upset, or disgusted, move toward it instead of away. Try to figure out why you feel that way.  You may learn something about yourself."  So I attended to the incoherent thoughts in my brain, to puzzle out this negative reaction.  Here is the ugliness I unraveled as Mayor spoke.

Continue Reading »

127 responses so far

When to Tell? Who to Tell?

The most awesome Hermitage asked in a recent post

Ignoring the fact that knowing who to even complain to, and to what purpose, is not always clear, how bad does something have to be before you are compelled to take a stand? Should the criteria be severity, or simply how easy something is to prove? Should you always do the right thing, or should your career come first?

I wrote a long comment that sort of turned into a mini-post.  I'll reproduce it here. My answer was written assuming that what was being complained about was harassment or discrimination.  One main point I wanted to get across is this:  DO NOT WAIT until you have been harassed or discriminated against to try to figure out what you should do when you have been harassed or discriminated against.  Read and educate yourself about your school or workplace's relevant policies and procedures, understand how things would officially be handled and what that would imply for you.  Go talk to someone at the office of diversity or the equal opportunity office (where a complaint might be likely to be handled).  If your university has a women's studies department, ask them for resources to help you understand the situation women in science face in academia and how to respond to harassment and discrimination (tell them you don't need to read high theory, you need practical stuff about dealing with douchebags).  An informed woman scientist is one who is less likely to be harassed, and more likely to be able to aid a colleague who is dealing with a problem.

Okay, here's the rest of what I wrote over at Hermitage's place.  I encourage you to go read her post and the comments there, too.  Continue Reading »

11 responses so far

The Parable of the Wise and the Foolish Engineers

It came to pass that the engineers gathered at their most sacred place, near the river Charles, to seek learning from the wise ones.  And it happened that one of these said to another, “We are women in a man’s world, and we should stick together, and help each other out. We should build together, on the Rock of Amita.”  But the second said to the first, “No, for I am like unto the men myself, and will go in their guise, and learn their ways, and build my house upon their beachfront paradise, next to the all night Hooters and down the street from the Sports Emporium.  For it is more pleasing to be allowed to walk eight blocks to the beachfront between 4 and 6 a.m. and to work part-time at Hooters for minimum wage in the hopes that someday I will be invited to give a talk at Janelia Farm.  The winds blow shrill at the Rock of Amita; harpies take wing in the skies overhead; my legs are clean-shaven.”  And she cast the first away from her, and did take the guise of men, and strove to learn their ways, and built her house eight blocks back from the beachfront paradise.

Then the rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on the house; and the house of the first one did not fall, for it was founded on the Rock of Amita. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on the house of the second one; and it fell—and great was its fall.  For the men would not help her rebuild, and blamed her for building so poorly, and mocked her for her sadness at her loss, and told her that science doesn’t stop at 5 on Fridays, and she was cast out.

And she wandered, even as far as the Tobacco Road, and entered into the Duke’s house, and was given a seat at the far end of the table, and permitted the crumbs of the feasting.  But it came to pass that she found a wise teacher, and a holy book, and began anew to build, this time surely, upon the Rock of Amita, which can be found in many places.  And the wise teacher asked her one day, “How will it come to pass that the young build upon the rock rather than the sand?”  And she thought well to herself, and said, “Teach early, else it may be only by building upon the sand that one will ever come to build upon the rock. Many will be lost to the storms; some will repair and rebuild, even to the end of their days.  These I look upon with pity and understanding, for I once lived where they now dwell. Teach early, lest the young mistake the house 8 blocks back from the beachfront, next door to Hooters, as paradise, and clamor to build there, and are swept away in the storms.”

"Paradise," said the wise teacher, "is the opiate of the Engineers.

5 responses so far

2011 St. K3rn Olympic Competition Heats Up Early!

Pace yourselves, Graybearded Eminences of STEM. The year is still young.  Plenty of time left before we award the 2011 St. K3rn Medal come December to the douchenozzle who's single-handedly done the most to uphold and extend institutional and structural norms of oppression in STEM careers.

Although, come to think of it, you might want to get cracking.   Edward Feldman DVM, Chair of the Department of Medicine & Epidemiology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, has begun the year in a spectacularly k3rntastic fashion.

Fear not, though, there's still plenty of room to play.  While he invited his students to vote on a knocked-up harlot's grade, he did not provide them with a voting option to fail their Whore of Babylon classmate or throw her out of the program altogether.  This glaring absence is a concern to me.  These are third year vet school students, after all, and if they have not learned anything by the third year about the mechanics of how to manage animal reproduction, it's not clear to me they should be allowed to stay in the program.  So failure and the boot should have been among the voting choices.  Step up your game, Mr. Feldman, if you want to do better than place or show!  Kudos, though, for training an entire class in how to appropriately socially sanction a woman in STEM who can't keep her legs together.  That "automatic A final grade" they were allowed to vote for as one of the options - does it come in scarlet?

Isis remarks in her post:

If she had earned an 'A', why would the 'B' or 'C' be an option?  The arbitrary nature of these options is baffling.  I also fail to see how the issues related to this individual student are of concern to the entire 3rd year class of a veterinary school.

Baffling until you remember:  procreating marks you as Clearly Not Serious About Your Career.  Once so marked, there's no point in GE of STEM wasting their precious time trying to evaluate you.  Some sort of reality show viewership (hence involving the entire class) voting popularity contest method of assigning your grade (until you can be shamed into quitting altogether) will do.  The class clearly should have been given the option to vote Miss Bun-In-The-Oven off the veterinary island.  She could have been given an opportunity to do a final dance or something similar.

In the future, I recommend that other GE of STEM ratchet up the creativity even more.  Maybe look to the reality game show format. Million Point Final Grade Drop. You're pregnant, what should your final grade be? You start with a million points, Dr. K3rn-Wannabe gives you 7 random multiple choice questions, there's a frantic 60 seconds following the question to bet your points in a distribution over possible answers, all your classmates are watching you.  Wrong answer choice?  Lose your points!  At the end of the 7 questions, your grade is based on the percentage of the million points you've retained. If televised, this would be hugely entertaining, and would serve as an object lesson to young ladeez everywhere.  Think of the synergy, St. K3rn wannabes.  It's one thing to social norm a third-year vet school class about gender role expectations in STEM, but tv could let you do so much more.  An eager nation awaits your tutelage.

10 responses so far

Reinventing the Outreach Program Wheel

Why, oh why do I have to be hatin' on the good works that SciCheer wants to do for the young girls of our nation?

Reader of the blog theshortearedowl suggests

This campaign is like IT Barbie – it normalises STEM as within the range of things that “girls do”, for the (let’s be honest) majority of girls who haven’t yet heard that it’s ok to do things that girls “don’t do”. Maybe it’s good to take this opportunity to lay out the reasons why cheerleading is symptomatic of everything that’s wrong in gender relations; but as for the campaign itself – there’s room for more than one approach?

And bsci says

I just can’t figure out what this group of people using their voices to encourage people to stick with science is a bad thing.

Darlene of SciCheer says

These women spent most of their time talking to people about science and chatting to young girls and boys about careers in science and engineering (and why it’s important to understand math and science).
The response has been overwhelmingly positive (particularly from moms). You certainly don’t have to agree with the approach.

I certainly don't, and I'll tell you why.  Continue Reading »

31 responses so far

But What If The Science Cheerleaders Save Just One Girl?

Alex Dunphy (frustrated):  (mumbles stuff about math equation) Oh, this stuff is so hard!
Cute dude math tutor: Don't worry, you'll get it!  There are lots of women scientists!
Alex Dunphy (alarmed): But aren't they all fat?
--Modern Family, 11/24/2010

Okay, let's play what if. What if the Science Cheerleaders are responsible for making just one girl stick with her science & math classes - isn't it all worthwhile then?

Let's say the Science Cheerleaders do keep one girl in advanced science or math classes, but make three other girls feel like they have to pornulate themselves in order to be 21st Century Fembot Compliant While Doing Science, and make five d00ds feel like it is perfectly okay to hang up soft porn pictures of sexay hawt babes in the lab and harass some colleague because hawt science women WANT to be appreciated for being sexay and smart! - is it still worth it?

At K-State we ran a science camp for middle school girls. One summer there was simultaneously a football camp and a cheerleader camp for kids who were just a little older than our science kids. Our camp was called GROW, for Girls Researching Our World. All these kids mingled in the cafeteria. At the end of lunch one day, one of the football camp boys approached a small group of our science camp girls and asked them if they were there for the cheerleader camp (because why else would they be there?) "NO!" shouted one of them, who was a bit ornery and feisty. "No way! We're here for GROW!"  "Grow? What's that?"  "GROW, as in grow up, get a good job, and make a lot of money!" I doubt that young girl would have been inspired to explore science by a group of science cheerleaders (which is not to say she might not have been excited, in another venue, to meet some professional cheerleaders.)

Girls who had been at our camps could also sign up, throughout the year, to go on excursions to various engineering/science-related facilities, where they would get to see how professional scientists and engineers put their training to use in the workplace right there in companies in their own home state. They met with women scientists and engineers in those companies, who hosted the tours, had lunch with them, and told them stories about their lives. The comments we got back on evaluation forms - we did evaluations for all these events, pre and post evaluations, and long term follow up to see what impact the program was having - showed something really interesting and consistent over the time. The girls LOVED meeting women in the place where they worked. They loved seeing the clothes that the women wore to work - in many cases they were astonished to see how NORMALLY the women scientists and engineers dressed, that they looked just like "normal people", that they got to wear jeans, that they looked so comfortable at work, they they got to use so many cool gadgets and play with computers at work. They LOVED hearing stories about how the women got interested in science. And they LOVED hearing stories about what the women did in their spare time - that they had pets, went to church, played sports, volunteered in their community, what hobbies they had, etc. In short, that they did things not unlike other people the girls knew, and not unlike things they themselves were interested in doing or aspired to doing. What kind of car do you drive? they wanted to know. How much money do you make? How many years did you have to go to school? Did you have to study a lot of math? What do you do for fun?

They got to ask all those questions of women they had come to know in the course of a day through talking with them and seeing them in their workplace - seeing them in charge, seeing them as active scientists and engineers explaining and demonstrating their work to them. The women were real people, and the girls could imagine themselves growing up to become just like them. This was the feedback we got, over and over - "I could be just like them. I could wear jeans and work for x company and have a dog and drive a nice car and have my own home and do science!" And some of these girls went on through the high school girls program and on to college.

Now that is a lot of hard work and it takes years. And you have to evaluate along the way and keep refining your programs and adding stuff and fixing stuff and you have to work with the local school districts and teachers - because you also have to work with the teachers and the guidance counselors on doing a better job for the girls, to keep them in the science and math classes, and to advise them properly in choosing colleges, and because you want to track course taking and compare with control groups who haven't been to your programs. And sometimes you think, hey, x is a great idea! And you do it, and your evaluation shows it was a total flop, the kids hated it, or it didn't even register on their consciousness, or it had the opposite impact of the one you wanted, or it sent a completely different message than what you thought you were sending.

One great activity we did was this: the Career/Life Game. The girls had to roll a dice at the start, and they got a certain amount of money based on the roll - because not everyone starts out the same. They had to make choices on how to spend their money, and time. Work in high school? use the money to buy a car, or go to college? Get married? Have kids? Got to grad school? There were a lot of complex choices they had to make, but it was all in the form of a game - they had to roam from station to station, and they could collect "diplomas" if they made it through various degrees. After it was over we discussed their choices and outcomes with them, and whether they were happy, and what they might have done differently, and how starting out with more or less money affects your life chances, and what you can do about it.

I guess we could have just brought in cheerleaders to jump around and yell "Gooooooo SCIENCE!" But those kids, mostly from low-income families, needed and deserved a helluva lot more than that. IMHO.

We did a program for the girls and their guardians. It was originally going to be girls and their mother but then we realized a lot of these girls might be raised by a grandmother or other family member and we didn't want to limit it or make them feel bad, so we just said guardian. We talked about what guardians could do to keep girls strong and interested in math and science, and gave them materials with resources in the community they could draw on. We talked to the girls about what THEY needed to do to keep themselves on track for careers in science, and why those careers were worthwhile for them. We said stick with math - almost anything you want to do will call on math skills. We would play a game where we'd invite any girl in the audience to name a career and then we'd say why math was important for it. We'd always get supermodel - then we'd explain how if you were a fabulous rich supermodel you didn't want someone else managing your money and cheating you - you needed to be smart and financially savvy and know what was going on, so you'd get rich and stay rich - and that meant math.

There is, indeed, no reason why a woman can't be both cute and smart. But that was hardly the issue facing the young girls I saw in Kansas. It was lack of knowledge, lack of access, teachers and guidance counselors who didn't know what was necessary for sci/eng careers and didn't think it was all that important anyway to steer young girls towards them, parents who were overwhelmed and didn't know about these careers or how to take the first step to get their kids on the college prep pathway let alone to a sci/eng career, young girls who were just dying for adults to invest some time and energy in caring for them and their bright minds and what they were capable of doing.

Science Cheerleaders is, at the very best, an outreach program for already-privileged girls who are already interested in science/engineering but who are afraid it will make them look like fat lesbians.

60 responses so far

Every Little Girl Wants To Be A Cheerleader

Scicurious is a cheerhater.  How awful!  Science Cheerleaders is just a new kind of role model for young girls! Boo, you negative scientists and science bloggers!  Get over it!  It works!

Let me explain it to you.  As I understand it from reading Andrea Kuszewski's post, cheerleaders are there to support the team.  They aren't on the team.  They are typically attractive, and are supposed to do stunts to draw attention of the crowd to the team, and to the larger institution.  That is definitely a great role model for drawing young girls into science!

Scene: Friday lab meeting

PI:  "Jane, what results do you have to present this week?"

Jane: "Goooooooooo SCIENCE! "

PI:  "WTF?"

Jane:  "e to the x dy dx! e to the x dy! cosine secant tangent sine! 3.14159!"

PI: "WTFingF?"

Andrea asks, "[What is wrong with] being intelligent AND a sex object?"  And I answer, what is wrong  indeed.  If one has no problem with being a sex object in the first place, then it hardly matters if one is also intelligent. So it totally makes sense when Andrea implores

Feminists should be screaming at the top of their lungs in SUPPORT of [Science Cheerleaders]—strong, intelligent, independent, confident women who are trying to be good role models for young girls—showing them you don't have to give up your womanhood or your femininity in order to be a successful career person.

Right on!

Here's my top of the lungs scream in SUPPORT of Science Cheerleaders:

All girls love cheerleaders, unless they are (a) ugly hairy legged feminazis who can't get laid, (b) ugly hairy legged feminazi lesbian bulldyke ballcrushers, or (c) ugly sad pathetic uncoordinated wannabes who didn't make cheerleader in high school. It's a fact. Groups (a), (b), and (c) are at high risk of becoming scientists. This is unattractive and unappealing for dudes in science. Occasionally, a hot cheerleader sneaks through and becomes a scientist. In the interests of Dude Nation, it would be good if more Hot Babe Cheerleaders became scientists and focused on Looking Hot While Doing Science. In the interests of Women Who Support Dude Nation, it would be good to draw attention away from the gender non-normative aspects of doing science or engineering by emphasizing Hot Babe Cheerleaders Of Science - And You Can Be A Hot Cheerleader Sciencey Babe, Too! No ugly lesbians over here in nanotechnology, nosiree! Genomics is chockfull of pom pom waving blond bombshells in booty shorts! Rest assured, Science will not make you less of a Real Woman! Dude Nation will still want to fuck you up the ass!

Goooooooooooooo SCIENCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

36 responses so far

Dear St. Kern: A Modest Proposal

Found this blog post about the child labor bill being passed in May of 1918. My grandfather would have been 15.

...no minor between 14 and 16 years shall be permitted to work more than 51 hours a week or more than nine hours a day. Such children shall also be compelled to go to a vocational school at least eight hours each week, the time they spend in such school to be counted in the 51 hours.

The local newspaper at the time explained why everyone hated the new law and how it was just bad, because the poor widows were going to starve since their little boys could not go off to work now as breaker boys now that the mine had eaten their husbands/daddies. And besides that work is not really that hard, and they want to do it, and all the smart kids these days want to be breaker boys!

The occupations are usually not too laborious and are not harmful as is attested by the fact that many of the richest, brainiest and most able men of the coal region today are men who worked in the breakers and mines when they were boys under the age of that provided by the new child labor law.

You might say they had a passion for picking slate, and that it made men out of them, and slate picking doesn't stop at 5 on Fridays.

St. Kern, you don't have the balls to follow your vision where it is truly leading you. If we are going to exploit workers around the clock, let's do it right.

Let us return to the days before May of 1918. Young children can be trained to run gels and staff the centrifuges of our nation's cancer research centers. Piecework and child labor made this nation strong once before. Let them be wielded once more as mighty weapons in the War on Cancer. A beneficial side effect is that many children, like the slate pickers, will likely be exposed to carcinogenic and mutagenic substances, since the little dickens just aren't always so careful and clever as they think they are. So they can work for us while simultaneously serving as de facto research subjects, and think of the cost savings with that kind of vertical integration! The child-worker experiments can replace some of those costly animal research protocols, and we won't need to spend so much on feeding and housing critters that can't load and unload a centrifuge or wash up some glassware for us.

If we build little cancer company towns, employ grad students/postdocs and their children, and pay them all in cancer scrip that can only be spent at the St. Kern Cancer Company Trading Post, which is located right next to the Cancer Research Factory, they really never need leave the worksite nor want for anything that the Cancer Factory cannot provide.

12 responses so far

Dear St. Kern (and all your wannabes)

You've read St. Kern's blather.  You've followed the twitter fun - and doesn't that just make you k3rn3d!, because, alas, you were not curing cancer during the fun times you were having mocking St. Kern on twitter.  You've read Drugmonkey's excellent takedown of St. Kern.

And now...now what?  You know what's next.  The zombie St. Kern wannabe PI hordes are gonna come crawling out of their nicely appointed offices, borrowing the language of "I was walking around this weekend and didn't see you slaving away over the bench at 11 pm on Saturday" and "you gotta have PASSION!  PASSION, I tell you!" and "Science doesn't stop at 5 on Fridays" and "the children! think of the poor children with cancer dying because you had to go home and kiss your baby."  The "5 on Fridays" bit is a direct quote from my master's thesis advisor a month or two after the sudden and unexpected death of my dad, when I told the advisor I was having a bit of a hard time coping with everything and wanted to drop an elective course.  The St. Kern's we have always had with us.  

Well, my puke's too good for the shoes of those d00dches, but I'll tell you what.  I don't know about you, but I didn't go into science to work like a mule in a coal mine.

When my parents scrimped and saved to send me off to college, it was so I could get out of the blue collar life, and have a job that paid reasonably well with decent hours "where you don't have to work shift work" my dad said. Come home in the evening and be there with your family. His dad told us the story of the mules he worked with in the mine when he was younger. How if they found a good mule that would work for them, they worked it and worked it and worked it until it dropped dead in its traces. "Don't be that mule" he told us.

7 responses so far

ZOMFG!!! There Are Women Science Bloggers!!!!11!1!!

The interoobs have discovered (again) that women write science blogs!

Excellent summary, with even more excellent commentary, by Kathryn Clancy of Context and Variation, here.

Here's what I think. From the bottom of my cynical hairy-legged heart: Continue Reading »

10 responses so far

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