Women in Science as an Issue is in the news again; or at least, women-in-science is in the weekly Tuesday Science news section of the New York Times in an article by Cornelia Dean. Even if it's not on the front page of the newspaper, the article's existence means that someone still considers the lack of women to be news. One engine driving the frequency of news coverage of the topic is the frequency of conferences and reports about the issue. Let's keep those coming and keep the topic in the face, if not the collective mind, of administrators, legislators, and others with the power to change things.
The part of the article that resonated with me was about how women are perceived:
Because people judge others in terms of these unconscious prejudices, she said, the same behavior that would suggest a man is collaborative, judicious or flexible would mark a woman as needy, timid or flighty.
And because science is still widely viewed as “a male arena,” she said, a woman who succeeds may be viewed as “selfish, manipulative, bitter, untrustworthy, conniving and cold.”
So true. Men who collaborate are open-minded and generous. Women who collaborate do so out of weakness because they are not capable of conducting research independently.
There was also a quotation about how successful women are not liked. I don't know about that. This could be yet another sign that I am delusional, but other than a few chunks of petrified wood, a.k.a. senior faculty in my department, and OK, maybe that guy who really wanted the faculty position that I got instead of him, and maybe just maybe a few people whose papers and proposals I did not give high ratings, but other than those guys, I think that most departmental and other professional colleagues like me (and by the usual objective measures of our profession, I am 'successful'). I don't think successful men are necessarily liked, even though they are respected and/or revered.
And then there is "the aggressiveness question". My take on that is that it is important to be assertive, but that is not the same as being aggressive. I am not aggressive in the least, but I am very assertive. Being assertive can be effective, and assertiveness is much more elegant than aggression. It requires persistence and being articulate about what you want or need for your research. It does not necessarily require social skills (which I do not have in abundance), but humor helps. It also requires that someone at some point listen to you and take you seriously, and that can be the tricky part.
A female colleague said to me recently "I am not thick-skinned enough to write as many proposals and papers as you do." I don't know that I am particularly thick-skinned. I hate getting negative reviews; they can really upset me. But I don't let them stop me. Being persistent is another way of being assertive.
The article says that "the idea that women are somehow unsuited to science is widespread and tenacious", but we can be tenacious as well.
6 years ago