I like hearing about all the various responses to some of the more annoying questions one gets as a Female Science Professor or as a woman scientist in general. This is how we vent, bond, and have some fun with the situation even though in some cases the situation and its implications are rather serious. I must admit that I have trouble mustering a feeling of concern for young-looking male professors who are mistaken for students, but I suppose I could try harder..
Despite my propensity to be Nice when confronted with a clueless (or rude) question, there are some times when I've been pushed too far and have responded in anger and what I fervently hope was biting sarcasm. However, these instance are rare and my personal preference for responses in real life range from Quite Nice (polite responses that let the guy off the hook, but still correct the misperception) to Gently Sarcastic (but not to the point of humiliating anyone). In the short term, these might not be as satisfying as a really pointed remark, but I have seen this type of response pay off in the longer term. Also, I'm not a confrontational person, so it works for my own comfort-level in personal interactions as well. I've described before how some very decent colleagues just don't 'get it' about some issues, but gentle prods can really have a major positive impact and ultimately serve the purpose of inching us all towards the goal of just letting us all be scientists together. That said, I think everyone should respond in their own style. I have a woman colleague who is absolutely incapable of responding to a rude question with a polite response, and that's just the way it is. We have great fun trading stories about our different experiences and debating whether she should be nicer and I should be less nice.
One thing I've struggled with is whether it is OK to be silent in the face of some amazingly blatant discriminatory remarks or situations. My first reaction would be to say No! but then there's real life. Example: I was a participant in a federal panel involving the sciences, and, on the first day, a senior male scientist expressed his opinion that we women were just there to fill a quota for diversity and this was too bad because it deprived the committee of people with 'expertise'. There were some extremely accomplished women on that panel, but no one responded to this statement. I thought "We'll show you..", and we did. I don't know how deeply held his opinion was or if we changed it permanently, but after 3 intense and long days of all working together in a small conference room, we produced what we thought was an outstanding document that addressed the issues that we had been charged to consider. Everyone had something important to contribute, and we worked as an effective team. At the end, without specific reference to his earlier remarks, the senior male scientist shook everyone's hand and effused about how much he'd enjoyed all the stimulating discussion and debate. Happy ending, I guess.
6 months ago