Monday, July 02, 2007

Am I My Husband?

Here is a conversation I had yesterday with someone I just met for the first time. He is a non-US scientist in a related field to mine and about the same age as me (maybe a bit younger). I don't know his work well, though I recently reviewed a manuscript on which he was 3rd or 4th author.

Male Science Professor: Your husband is also a PHYSICAL SCIENTIST [names general field].

Me: Yes, that's right. He works on X and Y.

MSP: I don't know about that work, but I do know his work on A and B and C [insert accurate description of my research topics].

Me: I work on the things you just listed. My husband's name is [insert different last name from mine]. Are you sure you are referring to his work?

MSP: I have never heard of him. The person I am thinking of has the same last name as you.

Me: Maybe you are referring to me then. You just described my research topics.

MSP: Oh no, I am sure the person with the same name as you is a man. His work is very well known and he publishes a lot. When I heard your name, I thought it must be your husband.


******

Epilogue: Someone else assured him that the 'man' with my last name is me. He was surprised but seemed to take the news well.

Did I just change his view of Scientists, or was this just another strange little episode?

25 comments:

Average Professor said...

This story is hilarious and super-sad at the same time.

SandyShoes said...

Change = one new perspective at a time, I guess. Sigh.

Won't it be nice when he contacts you to apologize and assure you that he's learned not to make those wacky sexist assumptions?

I'll eat my hat if you eat yours :).

Marciepooh said...

Wow. Insisted the author was a man after you'd said you're husband's name was different and those were your research topics. Is he from a country where there are even fewer woman in your field than the US? Did he seem embarassed after being assured you were the author he was referring to? Wow.

Lisa said...

That is horrible! It reminds me of a similarly bizarre but much less upsetting incident I had at the grocery a few weeks ago. My husband and I had ridden a distinctive tandem bike there, and a man stopped to talk to us about it (actually, he mostly talked to my husband). He wanted to know if my husband knew the other guy with a similar bike that's not a tandem.

Husband: That might be me, sometimes I ride a different bike.

Odd man: No, his bike is really odd [describes bike].

Husband: That sounds like us, that's how our other bikes are.

Odd man: He has his wife or girlfriend with him.

Me: Yep, that's us.

Odd man: No, he rides down [the street we take to work].

Husband: Yeah, we like that route . . .

Finally, the odd man seems to get it. But he still seems to think that, whether I am on the front of the tandem steering us both, or actually providing my power independently from my husband by riding my own bike, I am just being carted along by my husband, who is apparently in charge and has real places to go and things to do.

blop said...

incredible!
(but true, I know...)

Jay said...

I have to say that I doubt this guy is really going to change his attitude; he may just decide you're an exception to the general rule. Which is, of course, that only men are real scientists.

When I was fresh out of med school I had "M.D." placed on my checks after my name. So our checks had "Clearly Male Name" on the top line and "Clearly Female Name, M.D." on the second. One person looked at that and said "oh, your husband's a doctor".

Anonymous said...

wow. I have made the mistake of assuming the gender of researchers incorrectly before, so that is not so strange to me. Some English first names are gender neutral, and many don't have a clear gender to non-English speakers. But his insistence that it had to be a man was weird! Still, it is good that he took it in stride; it probably means that however biased his assumptions may be, he is not bigotted beyond repair.

Bee said...

That's quite an impressive amount of ignorance - insisting that that work has been done by a man without even considering it might be wrong!

A funny episode I had lately: Was at my dentists, and with me in the waiting room, sitting opposite to me there was a distinguished looking man, late 50ies, wearing suit and tie etc. So that women comes in with the files and reads out my name with the Dr. title (my dentist put it there as a joke because I visited him the day of my defense and was really nervous about it). While doing so, she's standing with the back to me, addressing the man in the suit who doesn't even look up from what he's reading. She repeats two more times 'Dr. Soandso, please' and is completely suprised when I stand up and say, yes that's me.

Best,

B.

Bee said...

That's quite an impressive amount of ignorance - insisting that that work has been done by a man without even considering it might be wrong!

A funny episode I had lately: Was at my dentists, and with me in the waiting room, sitting opposite to me there was a distinguished looking man, late 50ies, wearing suit and tie etc. So that women comes in with the files and reads out my name with the Dr. title (my dentist put it there as a joke because I visited him the day of my defense and was really nervous about it). While doing so, she's standing with the back to me, addressing the man in the suit who doesn't even look up from what he's reading. She repeats two more times 'Dr. Soandso, please' and is completely suprised when I stand up and say, yes that's me.

Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

i'll have to agree with the previous anonymous person wrote, as well as add that we've all on one occasion or another assumed something that was incorrect, and at times you feel silly- so you don't want to admit the mis assumption right away.

at least you were praised for your work. :)

Anonymous said...

on a more positive note.....

I have a three year old daughter. Her pediatrician and dentist are both women. One night we had to take her in after hours for an ear infection or something, and another doctor from the practice was on call. As we were leaving, she said. "Mommy, who was that man?". I said "That was Dr. Smith." She looked at me kind of perplxed and said, "A boy doctor?!"

Todd's Stories said...

Lol, I find it interesting that their still is chauvinism in this world, now that's funny!

What was he, like 98,lol? I bet that feels a bit insulting. You could've said, "Hmm, well, I thought you were a woman by looking at your work", but that would probably be mean,lol.

Todd's Stories said...

Geez, that's funny, like a woman can't be a scientist,lol? Seriously, is the man like 98 or something? Who thinks like that these days,lol?

You could've said, "Well, by your work I thought you were a woman", but that probably would be too cruel,lol.

lhuffman said...

My advisor has a feminine name and many people are surprised to find he's a man. It's one of those names that CAN be a man's name, but is more frequently a woman's name.

So this sort of thing can happen the other way, but I doubt than anyone insists that he's a woman.

Anonymous said...

I have a related story about a professor in my department named Jane Smith. A male graduate student in a related department, upon hearing people refer to her by her full name, assumed she was a man by the last name of Janesmith, and was surprised to discover she was a woman. I think the most frustrating part of this is that he was a graduate student -- so much for the younger generation being more enlightened.

Anonymous said...

I was recently told by someone at a company where I have submitted my resume that they haven't hired any women (i.e. me) because they are concerned that the male employees will sexually harrass them. This is a professional jet pilot position for which I have years of experience, mind you.

Isn't it refreshing to know that they're looking out for my best interests?

LZ Blogger said...

Sometimes it is easier to change someone else's mind than it is their perceptions! ~ jb///

donna said...

Reminds me of the Scrubs episode where Elliot has the janitor play "doctor" for her when her patient insists he has to have a male doctor and she pretends she's the nurse.

anon said...

lhuffman,

I think I know who your advisor is. I made the same mistake in thinking that he was female. Eventually when I looked on the group website I realized that someone must have used that old male name for its true purpose like people did 100 years ago.

I was reminded of it when I saw him just a while ago. That guy is huge and he has an intimidating manner of speaking before seminars. And definitely non feminine. I would not insist that his work was done by someone else if he was bearing down on me with that intense look.

Now if I figured out who lhuffman is from just that comment (although I am in the same exact subfield probably), that means FSP should not give out personal information like the anonymous commenter wants her to do in the previous post.

Quantum Moxie said...

You mentioned the MSP was not a US scientist. I would guess (and you obviously would know the answer to this) that he is from a country where there is still a considerable amount of chauvinism (i.e. moreso than here). Still, it highlights a problem we, as a discipline, have been grappling with for decades: how do we increase the number of minorities in the physical sciences? In my own field, at least, there are (perhaps slowly) an increasing number of women judging solely by my unscientific observations at conferences. Lagging even further behind, in my opinion (and it is simply that), is the presence of African-Americans in the physical sciences. How do we change that?

Ms.PhD said...

I'm with average professor- this story is soooo typical, and it's really funny in a very black humor kind of way.

Hey, at least he likes your work! You should take it as the highest of compliments!

I do find it odd that he wasn't the slightest bit embarrassed by his mistake.

A game I like to play whenever I'm reading is to try to guess from the writing whether the author is male or female. I'm probably wrong about half the time!

Anonymous said...

Be careful about using terms like "physical sciences". You have compromised your anonymity slightly by doing so, by way of largely eliminating the possibility that you are a physicist. To physicists, rightly or wrongly, there is only one physical science, and they're in it ;-)

Ms.Sunshine said...

Well, this story yet again proves that despite all that objective scientific evidence that has accumulated through the decades that women have the same scientific abilities as men is nothing against prejudice. Btw, in relation to this, in this week New Scientists there is an article about gender inequality in sciences. In it, a scientists who used to be a female but overwent gender change surgery tell the story how shortly after her changing her sex to man she/he overheard his colleagues talking how good is his science compared to his sisters....

Flicka Mawa said...

I can see chuckling after the "MSP: I don't know about that work, but I do know his work on A and B and C" line, but after his next statement I'm feeling a little awed by his ignorance. At his last statement, I completely drop my jaw and stare. Wow.

flit said...

And he probably left absolutely clueless about what a jerk he was