Lady Ghostbusters, Hillary, and what I learned in women-only spaces

Last summer, I submitted a grant application with two women. It was the first time I’ve ever been involved in an all-woman project. Partway through the process, the lead PI revealed she was stressed out — up against another deadline, traveling, and struggling with a chronic illness. The other co-PI and I both sympathized, told her to take care of herself, and asked what we could do to help — we picked up the slack, stepped up with preparing some of the documents that usually the PI handles, and shared a moment of solidarity for a tough time. This attitude continued throughout the process: supportive, helpful, positive, fun. It was so unlike my other grant experiences, in which I have almost universally been the only woman and often the lead PI. I’ve struggled to get materials from co-authors, to get people to answer emails, and had to balance out squabbles amongst the group, but I’ve almost never experienced anything like the proactively supportive environment of that all-women proposal. It was awesome.

All this was happening around the time that the Ghostbusters remake* came out, and I couldn’t help but notice the parallels. Women were helping and supporting each other on screen! They weren’t undermining one another! They were getting shit done, without dehumanizing anyone in the process. Most of my female friends adored it — the representation of women geeks, the direct references to sexist tropes, and the general badassery. Meanwhile, from what I could tell, most men were either absent from the theater, or busy harassing women online about the movie.

I’m  active on social media with my “real name,” and my field is pretty male-dominated. One thing I’ve noticed is that on Twitter, I often stumble into arguments involving pedantic, nit-picky points (which is always super fun when you’re limited to 140 characters), or alternative hypotheses portrayed as absolutes. These encounters are almost always with men — either interacting with me (“Well, actually…”) or with each other. There’s a certain machismo to them that I just find so off-putting — demanding an answer, rather than asking a question. Mocking, rather than earnest dialog. And I hate that this sometimes makes me second-guess my willingness to speak or write about my science in public. Why do these interactions with my male colleagues, who presumably agree with me on most things and share similar interests, have to be so combative?

These experiences have had me thinking a lot about the culture of science, how men and women are socialized differently, and all the myriad ways this plays out. Continue reading


What happens when everyday sexism is ignored?

Today’s post is by a guest author, graduate student SquirrellyRed. She shares a recent experience about what happens when small acts of (benevolent) sexism add up to create a broader culture of hostility towards women.

Given Acclimatrix’s recent post on how gender equality needs to be a collaborative venture in academia, I thought it’d be helpful to share a story about what could – and in this case, did – happen when some of those points that seem trivial or harmless (especially #2) are ignored – and how the effects are amplified the further down the academic totem pole you travel.

As a PhD student in a mid-size biology lab at a large Midwestern R1 university, my group includes a team of undergraduate research technicians that I help supervise. In my lab’s case, all of the undergrad helpers are female students in biology related majors (woohoo!). They are curious, hardworking, and hilarious – a critical combination when we sometimes spend twelve hours at a time together, driving to field sites and collecting measurements. So while I’d like to tell you the rest of this story is about how hard the lab has worked to mentor and support them, unfortunately it’s a story of how the lab failed one of them this summer. Continue reading