Monday, April 30, 2007

Dragon Lady

At a recent meeting, a workshop participant I had never met before referred to a senior FSP as a "dragon lady". I asked him why he called her that. I suppose the FSP in question can be a bit fierce at times, but mostly I know her as a very smart researcher with a nice personality and a sense of humor. This man said that she had chaired a committee he was on and that she'd really "cracked the whip" to get the committee to do what it was supposed to do. During our workshop, I found him to be a bit of a ditherer, so it was easy to imagine that he needed some herding (with or without a whip) for a task that had a strict time limit. At the recent meeting, I saw this same man hanging around with a male professor who is rather famous in our field for being very fierce and even rather cruel to students and junior colleagues. "Dragon gentleman" doesn't seem to be a term in general usage, nor does it have the same impact as "dragon lady". However, rather than inventing a new term, I think we need to get rid of one. "Dragon lady" might be clever and funny in some circumstances, but not when describing an FSP who was just doing her job.

On another topic: the Blog Of Note phenomenon still seems to be going on. To those who found this site via that route, welcome and thanks for your comments, although I haven't been able to keep up with all of them and provide answers to all who left questions. Site traffic went up from the typical 600-800/day to 5000-9000/day, though I'm sure it will start to subside soon.

51 comments:

Yvette said...

Interesting. I never thought of this before, but in my department we students have given nicknames to the female professors- "Tigress" and "Momma Bear" respectively- but we rarely do this for our male professors and instead just refer to them by last name. (Of course we call these female professors by their names during lecture and what not.) I will note though that professors given nicknames by students which can be uttered in polite conversation are very complimentary, in case anyone misses that point. :)

And congrats on the success!

DarthImmortal said...

So how does one get onto the "Blog of Note" roll?

Metamatician said...

So what do you look like???

Lol. Metamatician.

Genilimaa said...

Hi,
Found you too via Blogs of Note.

"Dragonlady" or not; in the corporate world with strong academic ties, I have always found that some men have a hard time with women (yes, myself) who speak up at meetings and demand some action. They can't entirely wave it away, since the comments are relevant and reveal some insight into the problem. But often the demand just bounces off and is referred back to personal qualities ("you're too focused on... instead of what we are discussing here").

It takes a lot not to give in. I gave it seven years and then gave in! :)

susan said...

Hi,
I found you via blogs of note while scurrying to post my own blog before start of the school day.

Dragonlady, Ice Princess, The big B are phrases I hear more from my female colleagues than from men.

I will acknowledge up front that I prefer to work with men or by myself. The women I have worked with spend enormous time gossiping, borrowing trouble and generally wasting time that could be spent more productively and positively. They feed the stereotypes. Recently, I was asked by a colleague who had spent more than an hour telling me her personal tale of woe what she could do to help when she realized I was frantically working to finish a project. "Leave and shut the door behind you," was about as friendly and professional a response as I could muster. When I set boundaries on my time and space I am criticized and eliminated from the coffee klatch.

Any suggestions on setting boundaries while not alienating the Ladies Who Lunch?

misterniceguy1960 said...

My problem is that I'm rather literal-minded when it comes to literary references. When someone is called "Dragon Lady". I expect her to get results at least as often through seduction* as through a commanding tone.

*By which I mean, making people crave her favor and approval, not necessarily through sex. The Dragon Lady was worshipped by men who knew they would never, ever get into her pants.

I do think that the term should be retired, for the same reason that "bitch" should be, too: it implies that the target's gender, rather than her personality, are her real "fault".

Besides, isn't it kind of an arcahic term? Most people these days have never even read "Terry and the Pirates".

Leigh said...

One of my former bosses back in LA was referred to as a "Chili Padi" referring to the tiny extra hot Asian chilis and her diminutive size. Her eyes were about level with the lab table.

I think the nickname was meant as warning passing between some of the men who weren't so used to having a female boss. She was very fair and understanding in my experience, but I suspect the folks that had problems remembering she was the boss got some not-so-gentle reminders.

Jan Sigvard said...

I´m glad that I found your blog. It's very interesting to read about your world.
Good luck with your work.

blog of Satu said...

I remember one teacher long ago who said, "Girls aren't good at math and science."
Idiot.

Crabby McSlacker said...

For some odd reason, I've always liked the term "dragon lady" even though it's often used in an offensive way. It's kind of fanciful and, in a way, complimentary, at least if you like dragons.

People of either gender who are too demanding and not at all careful of others' feelings deserve a little derision, at least in my mind. Somehow its fine with me if men are "dicks" or "assholes" and women are dragonladies. Not too crazy about Bitch though.

chipazoid said...

Hi, I just came across your blog. I'm just a lowly undergrad student trying to work her way up to becoming a professor as well. You're an inspiration to female students such as myself with a flaming desire to become something more.

Keep posting, your blog is a pleasure to read!

jesseconway said...

nice. what do you know about Bisphenol- A?

6inptc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
6inptc said...

Really enjoyed your blog. It is funny after all these years of women in the workplace there is still a lot of discrimination towards professional women. On the other hand, I have known a few women that take offense when I have treated them just like I would treat any other person (men) and that refuse some assignments based on the fact they are women.

I guess there will always be people you can never please.

I do agree though that name claling based on gender is just plain ignorant.

Caroline said...

Hi! I'm from 'Brasil' so, sorry the errors to write in english. Well, I'm a woman who has interesting for science, I'm a Maths and science teacher. And I agree, its very rare, but much more rare than this is a woman interesting in science and who makes poetry... And that is me. Imagine my situation!
Well, congratulations for this blog and if you understand some of portuguese visit mine. Bye!

Horse said...

Easy,just think about Madame Curie.

nonk9 said...

http://conmantversky.blogspot.com/2007/04/dragon-lady.html

Mr. B. said...

It's actuallly worse than you may have thought to call someone a Dragon Lady, as it is an old Asian stereotype/slur:

3. "Dragon Lady"

"Dragon Lady" refers to an Asian woman who is perceived as seductive, desirable but at the time she is untrustworthy. Movies from the early century have been successful in portraying this stereotypical version of the Asian woman. "Daughter of Fu Manchu" is one of them.


http://mahdzan.com/fairy/papers/asian/asian09.htm

Mr. B.

Jenny F. Scientist said...

We call some of them the 'Grand Old Ladies of Science'. I'm not sure if it's insulting or not. We call their male counterparts 'Cranky Misogynistic Old White Men', usually. :)

StarkEffects said...

I'm very glad I found your blog (probably that "blog of note" thing).

Like it or not, the experience of being a scientist is not the same for the two sexes and your perspective is a valuable one.

Rather than academics, most of my experience is in industry where I often see and hear expressions from both sexes that indicate the expectation that a woman's ability as a scientist or manager is diminished by her "natural" feminine characteristics. What I actually see are unique sets of faults for every individual and we all love to categorize these faults even when the categories don't make sense.

BTW, it would be just as wrong for me to assume that every male coworker holds the "good old boys" negative attitudes toward our female colleagues.

Sydboz said...

Take these nicknames with a grain of salt. They are spoken as a result of one's own insecurity and lack of self respect.

You should in fact feel sorry for people who lable people in that way. They are indeed pitiful.

Daisy said...

I had a career in high-tech sales before going back to school to study science. I am currently finishing a PhD in Mol Bio. Your story sounds very familiar to me and I've seen it in both worlds. It sure tells me a lot about the person who makes such a comment!

Jennifer said...

Hello Dr. FSP,

I found your blog through the "Blogs of Note". Congrats on being named on the "Blogs of Note".

I agree with sydboz - nicknames based on one's gender are usually used by people who are insecure.

I've heard an assertive female colleague say this to someone (male) who called her a "bitch" - "Like that's going to bother me - I've been called much worse for lesser reasons, and even that didn't bother me!"

Drnjbmd said...

As a soon to be female surgeon who was a professor before medical school, I can relate to your "Adventures in Academia".

I am going to link your blog to mine (Medicine From the Trenches) because I believe some of my readers will enjoy your blog too.

We have much in common. Unlike your colleagues who would refer to you (and me) as "Dragon Lady", my colleages just burp and grab their genitals to see if I notice. I always ask them if they feel that they have "lost them" so that they have to check.

Humanbeingsfirst said...

Dear FSP

Hi,

One of your colleagues in the academe is waging an interesting battle.

If you are interested, you can read about it at:
http://normanfinkelstein.wordpress.com/

If you deem it appropriate, perhaps you can opine on this slightly more serious subject that not only potentially impacts the health and sanity of this nation, but the health and sanity of the academe itself.

The least responsible thing one can do is to ignore it. imho.

How is this related to 'Dragon Lady'?

Because the 'Dragon gentleman' that you so abhor, is also in one of these two contestants in the referenced matter. The question is, which one? And in this instance, curbing the 'Dragon gentleman's' menace to free thinking civil society and to its proper functioning as a 'populist democracy', is perhaps more worthwhile than getting rid of either the term 'dragon lady' or 'dragon gentleman' - because surely such people exist. A descriptive term that easily cuts down on a paragraph+ to otherwise describe the characteristics of such peoples.

Thanks.
Zahir.

P.S. if you are interested in seeing an analysis of the referenced matter, you may glean it by scrolling down on the above website towards the very end and seeing my own humble letter there.

mineIsay said...

I got one for you. I'm a female Manager of Operations, and probably just a smidge less scarse than your Science Professor ratio's. Once, a co-worker (male) was calling up to get me access to a datacenter, and the admin on the other end asked "Is she large and in charge?"
Would any women ever ask that of a man?

Anonymous said...

I remember at top-notch Math-Science Professor at UC Riverside named Pam Klute. She has probably moved on or retired to "Administrative Duty" but she was never called "Dragon Lady" that I remember. Bob! at: www.bobyourlifepreserver.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Beware of "nonk9" - she's a former decision scientist who "decided" herself out of academia and into a jail cell by threatening toddlers (and economists, and myriad others) online.

(Hi, Deb!)

Mervat M. Fahmy said...

Hi, I really can connect with what you said, I'm a teaching assistant in a university in Egypt, a country where women are still generally supposed to "lay low" and not show that they can be hard-working, espicially in research which is mostly "man" territory. Although I recently knew that I was called names "somehow I think in a complementary sense, such as hard a** and b****" meaning that they think I'm serious, but I really wonder if they call my male colleagues similar names. But I guess you have to do what you have to do.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why we can't just decide that 'dragon lady' is a gender neutral term and apply it to men and women.
I think I was recently, behind my back, thought of as a dragon lady while trying to herd a committee. I got the job done and treated them with respect (while keeping my eye on the ball to get what I needed from the committee). I was actually called into the meeting by a coworker to 'crack the whip,' so being known as a 'dragon lady' has its advantages!

aiks said...

not to be rude, but, i think it is only in the luxury of the university setting that a person can feel justified agonizing over the use of an off-handed phrase like "dragon-lady" as if the world turned on it. the rest of the world, where i dwell, is far to cruel a place to give it more than passing notice.

Female Science Professor said...

I don't think you are being rude at all, but I am not exactly sure of the basis for your interpretation of my brief posting. Perhaps with some careful reading between and beneath the lines, it must be obvious that I was indeed in agony about an off-hand sexist phrase.

[note use of sarcastic font;
I recently did an 'interview' with Mr. Joe on his blog and I described my "Philosophy" as Sarcasm, so I need to keep in practice and be true to my Philosophy.]

Every once in a while I go on a trip to the cruel non-academic world, but I try not to stay too long. Most of these trips involve acquiring food or interacting with children and teachers (note: my daughter, who is in elementary school, does not yet have tenure). So, although of course I can't speak with any expertise about the real world, I can at least express sympathy for those who reside there and are forced to read frivolous academic blogs.

Hello small world, my name is Cheney. said...

I was shocked when I was working on my masters degree at a very high profile university and one of my male professors said of a former grad. student "she was beautiful, but boy was she a bitch." Needless to say, I did NOT choose him to be my advisor and instead went with a female professor. I am currently a PhD candidate and I struggle with a love/hate relationship with conferences,etc. This past year I went to AGU and I can't tell you how many high profile male scientists blatantly made passes at me. It was great to be interacting with so many of my peers, but I definitely didn't feel comfortable around a LOT of them!

I'm so glad to have found your blog!

metagrape said...

Hello!! I created a blog two years ago but got down to the activity jus recently. And yes!! I found you through Blogs Of Notes (sure glad i did!!:-)).. Its nice reading through your blog.

I rmbr a Lady Prof we had whom we designated "Amma" (mother in India) for her postulations to us to remain virgins till matrimony (beleive it or not!!) and yes, we did tag our male professors too. But I agree that its the Lady profs who get targeted more.

blanko1 said...

We need more women scientist. Keep up the good work!

Varchazz... said...

Hi
Nice blog...The fact that ur a professor+researcher intrests me

旅者 said...

Loved reading your blog. Yes, got to it via BoN (Blogs of Note) honour roll.

I remember during my undergraduate days, my friends and I termed three female professors - the Dowagers. It wasn't derogatory. On the contrary, we felt it was a term of utmost respect - they having arrived at the (perceived) top of the echelon of the department, and they were very good in their own fields of expertise. And yes, we didn't think they'd suffer nonsense from us if we failed to do our proper set of readings and tutorials.

On the side note, I used to dabble in science up till high school. After 10 years of that (and lots of mugging), I figured a survey of the social sciences would be a good balance. Now I wonder if the sciences and the teaching of it had become more interesting than when I was a student. : )

Anonymous said...

For more on nonk9, here's a (national) news story which covered nonk9's threatening:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGpSy7iZ-C0

sushi said...

Female Science Professor,
A challenging question for you: what compound gets warmer as temperature decreases, otherwise nothing else changes in its "functional" state? Example: a tree (the compound) will still be a tree (w/leaves etc.), but its temperature increases as the air temperature decreases

sushi said...

My blog address: http://icychem.blogspot.com/

The Rock Doctor said...

Unfortunately, old habits and prejudices die hard.

I received my Ph.D. last year. My advisor was (actually, she still is) a woman, and is one of the leading scientists in her particular field of geophysics. She was tremendously supportive and a great mentor, even to this day. I never thought of her as differently because of her gender, but then again, I'm not from the "old school."

The fact remains that old habits and prejudices take generations to fade. All one has to do is look at racial discrimination to see this fact. It has been almost 150 years since the end of the Civil War, yet prejudice against African Americans continues. The fact that women are paid less than men for the same work is just another line of evidence that the acceptance of women as equals in the workplace still has a long way to go.

Marciepooh said...

Found you by Blogs of Note, stayed because of the writing. In the department I studied in we only had one FSP (a second was hired as I finished, now has a third out of 10-12 profs). I don't think she had any nicknames although she dresses more formaly than the men (or the newer FSPs).

@hello - I wish I'd get hit on at conferences!LOL At one meeting (small, very specific topic) I could have counted the number of other female scientist on one hand. That was 6 yrs ago; last year there were many more (still not 50/50). We'll see in a few weeks if there are more or less this year. It is getting better. The old-outdated-thinking men are retiring.

@ FSP - Keep up the good work. I'll be back.

nonk9 said...

Thank you for debunking the myth that the tenure system encourages intellectual risk-taking.

You are a full professor and yet you don't have the ova to identify yourself.

I wouldn't call you a dragon lady, doc, but you sure are a drag.

Deborah Frisch, Ph.D.
former director
Decision, Risk and Management Sciences
http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5423&org=SES

Reviewer A said...

I was the "bitch from Portland" and one of the two "wolf women" in our department when I was in grad school studying (a hard science). This was very odd, because I am actually a mealy-mouthed, non-confrontational person. I guess it was because I am not a beautiful soul from Venus, either...

Anonymous said...

This is interesting

Carol said...

Two female colleagues growled at a male member of staff who peeped his horn as they wandered up the middle of the road oblivious to his car. As they turned a glowered at him his passenger, also male, proclaimed - Look! Rottweilers wi' lipstick!

Thatsnews said...

Don't you just despair about the professional ditherers at meetings?

Lucretius said...

It's interesting to see slogans, names and cliches from my youth reappear in popular culture, having lost their original context. The "Dragon Lady" was originally a character in the comic strip "Terry and the Pirates". Male characters had names like Big Stoop, Captain Judas, Chopstick Joe, and Cue Ball. Other women included Cherry Blaze, and Burma.

The Dragon Lady started out as the leader of a band of pirates. She was basically a femme fatale, in the James Bond sense, but not a "Bond girl" by any means. During World War II, she and her pirates became patriotic Chinese Guerilla fighters.

She had a name: Lai Choi San. There was also a radio show. Agnes Moorehead played the Dragon Lady for a while. You might remember her as Samantha's mother in Bewitched.

Sometimes the Dragon Lady was a villain, sometimes a seductress, sometimes she and Terry were on the same side. Always she was an effective leader and business woman, working in a primitive environment but with a lot of style. She was clearly a more interesting character than the stereotype her nickname has come to represent.

jeevan_royal said...

I like your candidness

Natalie B said...

An interesting thing to note. In a textbook used for an English course last fall I came across an article in which a female professor in NY describes a class in which she asked her students what the male equivalent of the word "bitch" was. The response, from a female student, was "boss". Disturbing.

I'll resist the urge to post relevant stories of FSPs encountering lack of respect (to put it mildly) at the university I attend, as I did not opt for the degree of anonymity that you enjoy, and a campus of 35,000 is surprisingly small and interlinked.

Jeff said...

The Looney Tunes cartoons of the late 1930s payed homage to the Dragon Lady character of Terry and the Pirates, but always as the seductress that ends up performing some level of violence on a male character. I think this is where the current more common conception of the term comes from.