Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Speaking of 2 Career Couples

Yesterday I heard a report on Marketplace (American Public Media) about 2-career academic couples. The story was motivated by the occurrence of the 5th annual Dual Careers Conference.

When I heard the story, I was in the final hours of a very long drive and was not in the best of moods. My impression at the time was that the story was extremely negative, although it does mention that some universities are participating in Higher Education Recruitment Consortiums (HERCs). HERCs are ".. clearing houses for all available jobs at all participating schools in a region." I suppose that could be helpful in some regions. It's not enough to solve the problem of 2-career couples, but it's some progress.

I just read the transcript of the Marketplace story today, and I still find it disappointingly negative. The husband and wife featured in the story have lived apart for nearly 20 years. In their interview, each one makes points that resonate with me; for example, about how neither one could ask the other to give up something that is such a major part of who they are. The interview is very sad because they've been apart for so long and decided not to have children because of their commuter relationship. It's important to tell stories like this, as it's a situation many academic couples face, but it's not the whole story by any means.

There are couples who have made the 2-career situation work. These examples are not so rare as they used to be, and it wouldn't be hard to dig up an example or two. Instead, the story ends with this sad quotation from one member of the long-separated academic couple: "God, I don't want to do this forever. It's such a hard existence."

Another Marketplace story of interest had to do with women's voices, and how the pitch of your voice can affect whether you're taken seriously.

NYU's Sheila Wellington says it's important for women to cultivate a strong voice.

OK, fine, but it is also important for men to learn to take women seriously even if we sound like women.

And then there's the issue raised by Deborah Tannen:

If they sound too young, Tannen says, they run the risk of not being taken seriously. On the other hand, if a woman sounds too authoritative . . . she .. has to choose between being a good authority figure and being a good woman.

An academic woman listening to these programs yesterday might well get the impression that she's likely to end up alone and afraid to speak in any voice.


Ψ*Ψ said...

Glad you brought up the voice article. (And I thought I was only being judged for my appearance...GAAAH!) Also glad I don't sound terribly girlie.

Anonymous said...

It should be noted that Middlebury, VT and Northampton, MA - the two towns involved in the 20-year long-distance relationship cited in the Marketplace story - are 145 miles apart.

Not to make light of their situation, or the general case - I know it's bad, from personal experience (perhaps my own long-distance relationship would have survived, if I'd been able to be there by dinner). I just wish they had chosen a more motivating example.

Anonymous said...

I am so excited to have stumbled across this blog. I am a woman late in graduate school aspiring to be an engineering prof...and I'm sure this blog will be a breath of fresh air.

Global Girl said...

I agree with your point about voices - I don't need to pretend to be a man to be a good scientist. I have never been very girlie, but I'm not about to think that I need to change my pitch of voice to conform to a msaculinized idea of authoritativeness. In fact, that could hurt my vocal cords. Men need to change, not me.

Anonymous said...

I did the girly voice a lot when I was in engineering in my early 20's. I can't remember the moment I started feeling disgusted with my "little girl" voice, but I know when I stopped using it at work it was harder to get men to go along with any of my ideas and being in that environment became very unpleasant (the all-female secretarial body did not like it much either). Now, this was a while ago, and not in the US, so think the society of 50's USA.

When I came to the US, still in engineering, I was able to drop the voice without any negative repercussions, but I wonder how much of that is because I picked up the never-make-a-statement prosody very quicky. Perhaps I picked up that as a way of compensating for dropping the little girl voice.

I agree this is something both women and men should work at: women should strive to not sound tentative, and men should learn that tentative wording/prosody does not equal wimpiness, or worse, incompetence.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I heard a seminar by a pretty grad student with a girlie voice and I am sad to admit that I first I doubted her. But she gave one of the best invited talks in our department that year. I'll never judge anyone that way again.

I'm extremely petite and I look very young, which is a little like having a girlie voice. I'm always waiting for someone to treat me badly/differently because of it, but I don't think it has happened yet. This occurs to me mostly at meetings because I work in an almost all-female lab.

I think how you present yourself makes a difference, e.g. your body carriage, projected confidence. Also, I think my field has more women than many of the sciences, so maybe the old men are used to little girls giving talks. ha!

Yvette said...

The voice one reminds me of a passage in Contact (the book, not the movie) where Ellie is encountering problems with boys ignoring what she says about physics. So she develops a loud, cutting "physics voice" several decibels above normal conversation level to steer the convo towards her, then continue on her normal voice because she's worried about bursting out laughing if she continues in the physics one.

Great read for any women in science, by the way, for those who haven't read it. Carl Sagan was suprisingly in tune with the day-to-day issues of women in this regard.

SandyShoes said...

Sorry for the micro-rant, but the voice thing burns my grits.

Reminds me, also, of a recent Good Morning America story about how women should properly present their breasts in the workplace... what size is best, etc. (!!!)

It boils down to yet another way in which women are told (often by other women -- gaaah!) how we need to make it easier, more palatable, for men to take us seriously.

Where are the "studies," the major news stories, preaching to men at this patronizing level?


Rosie Redfield said...

If you use a strong voice, you instead get the "S' word problem ('too strident'). And if a woman sounds too old (rather than too young), nobody expects her to have anything important to say.

But we need to keep talking anyway.

Anonymous said...

I was also pretty bothered by the voice article when I read it. It may be true that women are taken more seriously if they have a deeper voice - it's also true that we're taken more seriously if we're taller. But why do we have to try to be more like men in order to be successful?

I do have a girlie voice and a very slight build and youthful appearance. These may or may not be disadvantages to me as a woman in engineering, but I'm really not willing to down-play my femininity (which I consider a really important part of my identity) in order to be taken more seriously. And I don't think it's necessary.

Anonymous said...

One can still have a 'girlie' voice while being confident and assertive. I was speaking to a scientist of my acquaintance who also opined that it was wrong to have to adopt 'masculine' characteristics just to be noticed, which I agreed with. However, she counted self-confidence and assertiveness amongst those characteristics (the person in question is rather shy and quiet), with which I had to disagree. Height and a deep voice are commonly "male" characteristics by virtue of biology -- but confidence, presence and assertiveness are only considered "male" because of tradition / sociological factors. The very factors that enlightened people try to overturn. Assertiveness isn't a good "male" trait. It's a good trait for human beings.

Ms.PhD said...

Two things quickly-

One is that it's biological. Men don't HEAR female voices very well, they're too high-pitched. So in some sense they can't fix it without perhaps getting special hearing aids. Maybe they should.

The other is that I hadn't heard of HERCs. Now I'm very interested to know what these are, since I think it would help not just dual-career couples but science in general if faculty recruitment were more organized and standardized, like it is in some other fields. It would make it harder, I think, for the politics to be invisible.

Anonymous said...

It's not actually true that men don't hear women's voices as well. Think about it, even the highest children's voice is still way below the actual hearing range.
There was a discussion on language log about it:

Anonymous said...

Men don't *hear* women's voices very well?

I call bullshit.

Ms.PhD said...

Too bad the languagelog link got cut off, I don't have time to go looking for it.

But that next comment? Wow, now that's a scientific response if I ever heard one. We must have some real experts here.

Sorry, FSP, didn't mean to start a flame war by not having a citation for every flippant comment I make.

I'm wasn't talking about perception or language myths, I was talking about biological auditory capacity.

I believe the article I'm remembering was a study on older (human) males in particular, measuring hearing loss at higher pitch ranges (into the range where women's and children's voices tend to be).

Whoever said grandpa could hear his grandkids but not his wife? Nobody said that.

I remember because we joked out how it explained why our PI at the time seemed to delibrately ignore the women in the lab while fawning all over the men. He couldn't hear us!

I wanted to put a link here, but actually there are too many similar articles to sift through, I don't have time right now to find the one I was thinking of.

It was in Science or Nature, not too long ago, maybe in the last ~ 5 years. Try looking in PubMed. You might be surprised.

Anonymous said...

nice very touching
יעוץ זוגי