However difficult it is to be a non-professorial looking professor and scientist in North America, the situation here for women in science is much better than in other places where I've lived or spent a substantial amount of time. For example, I spent a recent sabbatical in Europe. I had a really great time living in Europe and traveling and meeting new people and getting recharged by all the new experiences. Even so, it quickly became clear that it was absolutely pointless even to try to be taken seriously as a scientist or professor. I was only there for a year, so it didn't really matter, but I had numerous experiences that reminded me of stories my senior female colleagues have told me about what it was like for women in the U.S. a few decades ago.
There were lots of women students and postdocs in my host institution during my sabbatical, but there were no women professors in my research field in the entire country. The society was set up for a situation of working men and stay-at-home moms, so I wonder what will happen to all those smart young women. I think the pipeline over there does more than just leak (like it does here) -- I fear that it gushes, but I would like to be wrong about that.
In our sabbatical city, which was a major business and cultural center, we got some strange looks at the bank when we first requested an account that had my name on it as well as my husband's; we had to explain why we needed this (I was getting a salary from the local university) and fill out special forms and wait a surprising amount of time to get full use of the account. And then there was the school system, in which kids have somewhat random schedules and go home for lunch after being at school for only a couple of hours. My husband and I spent a large part of our sabbatical walking back and forth between our apartment, our daughter's school, and the university, sometimes 6 times per day. In addition, my department at the university had its weekly department seminars on the one afternoon of the week when the local schools were not in session, making it impossible for people without child care to attend. My husband and I took turns attending the seminars, though sometimes we brought our daughter to the ones that we both wanted to attend. After the first month or so, the people in my research group at the university didn't even bother to tell me about informal meetings, visitors, etc. because they assumed I wouldn't be able to participate - most such events involved activities in the late afternoon or evening.
When asked what my position was back in the U.S., I would reply that I was a professor. Sometimes I would be corrected, as if I were confused, and I was told that I may have a Ph.D., but in Europe that didn't mean I was a professor. * NOTE: I am deep into my 40's and had 'Professor X' on the nameplate on my office door *
Another typical response to the news that I was a professor was the statement "There must be a lot of professors in the U.S. It is not such an important position as it is here." No of course not -- how could it be if they let women be professors? There is an element of truth to the statement that professors are less 'important' in the U.S. than in Europe in terms of the academic culture, but no one ever told my husband that professors must be less important in the U.S. upon hearing that he's a professor, and it happened to me a number of times.
And then there were the endless official government and university forms to fill out. These all assumed that my husband was filling them out, and there was always a space labeled "wife" just for me. Even checking into some hotels, there would be a line for "Name" and a line for "Wife's Name". I talked to a lot of women (and men) who said that the society was changing, but very slowly, and most of these official things were behind the times in terms of the way people actually lived their lives.
Sabbaticals are still a very great thing, even if one has to live in a gender time warp for a while, and I am already looking forward to my next one.
6 months ago