Friday's post -- and similar ones by me and others who write about encounters with people for whom women scientists/professors are invisible -- raises the question: What do you do when you have one of these encounters? Should you confront the situation directly then and there (and if so, how?) or not? I've touched on this before, but it seems to be a rather eternal issue. [executive summary: Distinguished Visitor encountered a male colleague and me in the hallway and ignored me completely, even my attempt at a handshake and an attempt to start a conversation]
Last week when I had this latest brush with invisibility, there was a group of students and postdocs (all male) witnessing the event, in addition to my colleague. I'm glad there were others around to see it, but because the situation was a bit humiliating for me, it was important to me that the focus stay on the visitor's appalling behavior and not on pathetic attempts by me to get his attention. So I walked away.
Even though this has happened to me many times before, it always takes me by surprise. It is never my expectation that I will be ignored. In this particular case, I thought I'd be meeting with the visitor the next day for a one-on-one conversation about scientific topics, and figured that would be the best way to demonstrate that I have interesting things to say (or not). The few times when I have dealt directly with one of these situations (typically with a sarcastic comment rather than a more aggressive approach), such as at a conference, I have felt it was a one-shot chance to make the point. I can't say I've changed anyone's attitude, but my hope is that maybe some of them will at least be more aware.
I talked to my colleague about it more after the encounter last week, and he said that he was (1) stunned, although he knows this happens all the time, and (2) disgusted, and wanted to get away from the conversation as quickly as possible. One of our junior colleagues invited this visitor, and was really proud that this Distinguished person was here in our department. This junior colleague came to my office after the visitor left, and he was so happy, saying things like "Isn't he great? Wasn't his talk interesting? He is such an amazing person, I'm so glad he came." I definitely did not have the heart to tell him that no, I did not feel the same way either about the visitor as a person or a scientist (I thought the visitor's talk was a classic example of someone who gets so famous that they think they can talk about anything, no matter how shallow, and everyone will be impressed).
So it goes. I will likely continue to deal with each such experience in its context and decide on the spot whether to confront it or let it slide.
6 months ago