Thursday, July 24, 2008

So They Had To Hire A Woman?

UPDATED

Eons ago, I wrote about suggested phrases for obnoxious questions commonly asked of Female Science Professors. In the past 2+ years, I have made intermittent additions to this list. It occurred to me to collect some of these (with thanks to commenters), expand the list, and request additions of both questions and answers.

For each of these questions and comments, there are many possible answers that vary in their degree of sarcasm, politeness, and profanity, depending on mood/context.

Question: So they had to hire a woman..?
Answer 1: Yes, but only because a woman was the most qualified for the job.
Answer 2: Yes, but only because all the male applicants were mediocre.
Answer 3: Yes, they finally realized they had hired enough mediocre men.
Answer 4: No, but they did anyway. Why do you think they did that?

Question: So you're going to get a Ph.D.? Couldn't you find anyone to marry you?
Answer 1: Why would I want to get married when so many men are just like you?
Answer 2: That's right, and I want to be a professor so that there are fewer people like you saying things like that.

Question (said to male person): Who takes care of your kids when your wife travels?
Answer: The cats.

Question (said to married/partnered female person): Who takes care of your kids when you travel?

Answer: The cats.

Question (said to academic couple): Which of you is the trailing spouse?
Answer: Our cat.

Comment: You don't look like a professor. (variations: You don't look like a scientist. You don't look like an engineer) * thanks to commenter Helen for this suggestion *
Polite answer: But since I am one, I must look like one.
Somewhat rude version of polite answer: B
ut since I am one, I must look like one. Welcome to the 21st century.
Somewhat polite answer that is too subtle for some people: I don't? What does a professor look like? (pretend to be confused, making the questioner realize that it was a rude question based on a stereotype)
Rude answer that is not highly recommended but that may be useful and satisfying in certain circumstances: And you don't look like a [insert unflattering word such as moron, sexist, ignorant fool], but you are.

Question: Are you a real professor?

Answer: (said while pinching yourself) Ouch! Yes, I guess so.

50 comments:

Squeaky_Brakes said...

Haha, too funny. I believe you have missed your calling as a comedian.

I was actually asked a variation of the second question when I recently left my full time job. A coworker actually approached me in the staff room and asked if one of the reasons I decided to go back to school is because I couldn't find a boyfriend/husband. My reply was that I didn't have a boyfriend/husband because I screw around like a rabbit.

FemaleGradStudent said...

"Question: So they had to hire a woman..?
Answer 1: Yes, but only because a woman was the most qualified for the job."

I was once asked a variant of this question while I was an undergraduate research assistant. It went something like this: "So, did your advisor just pick the tallest, blondest student he could find?" This was an astonishing question, and came from an almost complete stranger (maybe it was his screwed up way trying to flirt with me?). Despite my mouth dropping open at his sheer audacity, I managed to give him a variant of Answer 1 and never spoke with him again.

Auntie Em said...

Squeaky - I wish I had your Chutzpah. I happened to do my PhD in the same place as this wanker:

http://sexes.martinsewell.com/

who repeatedly claims (in person and in print) that a) women like me (and I get used as a named example, which is nice) only do PhDs to snare high status men and b) women like me (white and middle class) are letting the side down by not giving up our careers to have babies because 2i) we're taking up a job that a man might 'need' and 2ii) 'less desireable people' are 'outbreeding' 'us' (feel nauseated yet?). Despite being the biggest pile of twaddle, it was still demoralising - mainly because of the complete lack of counter-argument from the staff in the department. I'm all for academic free speech, but not when one side gets all the airtime.

There's no way I'd ever go back to working in that particular department whilst he's still infesting the place like a bad smell.

Academic said...

To the last question: Well, what do you mean by "real"?

Seriously though, those questions are obnoxious. Although, the trailing spouse is pretty awesome. Which one of you stays at home? Our cat.

Anonymous said...

Question (said to married/partnered female person): Who takes care of your kids when you travel?
Answer: The cats.

Yes! I love this! As a FSp (p=postdoc ;) married to another academic-type, I get this question frequently. I boggles my mind that people really think that I could have made it to where I am now if my husband wasn't a true partner, equally invested as I am in raising our children and taking care of our household, and capable of doing so in my absence. Okay, okay, he's not perfect -- he can't lactate, but I'm willing to pick up the slack on that bit and not travel for a while when the kids are babies.

A related question that drives me nuts: "Does your husband babysit the kids when you travel?" Answer when I'm in a good mood: "No, he parents them." Answer when I'm in a bad mood: "No, since he has a PhD he charges $20/hour, and that's too rich for my blood. Instead I hire the teenager down the street, since she's cheaper."

female in academia said...

Thanks, some of those will for sure come in handy one day!
I always am appalled when they ask me:"so, how do you manage it, with the kids and the housekeeping and a full-time academic job?"
mostly, because nobody ever asks this to my partner, implicating that the female is left with the kids and housekeeping work on top of her full-time job, not accounting for the possibility that the male partner might also be able to take care of 50% of all of that.

I guess I am not creative enough to find a better anwer than
" I manage just like my partner does"...

Julia
"

Professor in Training said...

Excellent Q&A! I thought I was the only one that got asked stupid questions like those. In fact, yesterday's question was: "congratulations on your new tt job but when are you going to settle down and get married?" Grrrrr.

JenDharma said...

Part of me can't believe people say these things and the other part, well, can.

Last night I was watching Nova and I was so annoyed when the 2nd scientist interviewed, a woman, was described briefly but the narrator who talked about how she chose her field, but then we had a digression into her husband and personal life. No other scientist who appeared on the show was the subject of such 'balanced' background reporting.

I was mildly incensed. I kept thinking, "Who cares about her husband? What does this have to do with the deep sea/underwater camera body she invented?"

Robin said...

Please tell me you've never had anyone actually ask you if you sought education because you couldn't cut it in the marrying world.

Please.

PhysioProf said...

I think, perhaps not surprisingly, that the correct answer to all of those questions is "Go fuck yourself, you troglodytic douchecornet".

Kim said...

I've gotten a number of variants on "Could you tell me where to find a geology professor?" I suspect that I'm not the only female science professor who is regularly mistaken for an administrative assistant.

(I usually say something like "Right here.")

Geoknitter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steph said...

I went to a conference a few months ago and while I was there one man told me to get him coffee. I like to think that this was a genuine mistake though.. despite the badge.

Female Science Professor said...

Those are all 'real' questions, alas, but see this update re. the professor who asked the can't-find-anyone-to-marry-you question.

Citronella said...

Question: So they had to hire a woman..?
That begs for "No, their only requirement was to hire someone competent."

Question: So you're going to get a Ph.D.? Couldn't you find anyone to marry you?.
Honestly, if I'm ever asked this question, I'm probably going to implode with furor before I can answer anything. But I think that "Oh, no, it's just that my fiance would never marry below a doctor" could be rather appropriate. Or "as a matter of fact, I am married." Or, maybe, "Well, the cat insisted I should get one."

For the last one, I'm debating between "And you, are you for real?" and "No, I'm a cat".

Ronine said...

A variant of femalegradstudent's experience:

When I was working as a student researcher, a visiting ph.d.student commented - in my presence - to 'my' research assistent: "In my department, we usually try to hire the prettiest of the female students". Thank you very much, being sexist AND rude all at once!
Luckily the (male) research assistent looked at him in disapproval and I could just hate his guts for the rest of the time, we were sharing office!

capella said...

I have been asked (by other scientists! my own age! whom I've just met!) "Why aren't you married?" or some equally over-direct variant. My preferred response is to look them straight in the eye and ask "Why would I be?"

Older men tend to ask me things like "what does your boyfriend think of all that?" (after he has asked me a bunch of questions about my career). I usually say "he doesn't have any thoughts, because he doesn't exist," or "I don't know; I haven't asked him". I am pretty sure male scientists do not get asked what their girlfriends think of their careers.

Julie said...

"Question/Comment: So they hired you because you are a woman.."

Answer: Yes, and I don't have a problem with it. Look at all the men that were hired just because they are men.

Reviewer A said...

My response to idiot comments (and there have actually been very few lately) is "excuse me?" or "what?". If politely asked to repeat or elaborate on the dorky comment, people get either pretty embarrassed or defensive and pissed off. Either outcome is fine with me.

Anonymous said...

I was asked years ago about why I want to go to grad school.... I was asked along the lines of "was I waiting for my boyfriend to finish his masters" or "was I going to do a masters just to hang with boyfriend who was working on a masters there" type thing. The graduate coordinator whackjob was the one asking!

He told me how cool my BF's research was (duh), about all the long hours he must put in the field (duh again). He said he hoped me getting a degree wouldn't just be a space-time filler for waiting for BF to finish. He asked me what I would do to "fill the space" when he's gone in the field. I said (and I still to this day cannot believe these words left my mouth and that I was so quick on the draw) "well, I make sure when he comes home from the field that the fridge is stocked with beer, there's food on the table, and the dog's been walked."

Helen said...

Anyone got any suggestions for "You don't look like an engineer!"? Because I get that one regularly, and my stock reply of, "And you don't look like a moron. Funny ol' world, isn't it" is a bit rude for some situations.

My more polite variant thus far is, "Since I am an engineer, clearly this is what engineers look like. Welcome to the 21st century."

sandy shoes said...

Hot damn, those questions are obnoxious.

(Douchecornet! That's a keeper.)

Female Science Professor said...

Thanks, Helen. I meant to include that one. I generally give the same response that you mention (the more polite one, though the rude one does come to mind). I will update my list.

Kea said...

I prefer longer and far more sarcastic rebuttals, say for the first question something like

Well, no, of course they tried very hard to hire a man, who would naturally be far more intelligent (right?), but the two men on the shortlist had tragic accidents just before their interviews and that left only poor old me. I don't know how the Department will cope ....

but I rarely take that route because it increases the time I spend talking to the culprit.

PhysioProf said...

Anyone got any suggestions for "You don't look like an engineer!"?

Sorry, my striped cap is at the cleaners.

scout said...

Many of these are bordering less on the serious and more on the rude or humorous. But, they're the responses I thought of, and what I have felt/would feel when asked those questions.

Question: So they had to hire a woman..?
- Answer: Yeah, the all the male applicants got snapped up by [major competitor] that year, so they were stuck with me.
- Answer: Well, I'm statistically less likely to resort to physical violence when I am asked ridiculous questions by my clueless colleagues, and you know they just let the insurance people make those decisions in big companies like ours these days.

Question: So you're going to get a Ph.D.? Couldn't you find anyone to marry you?
- Answer: No, so I figured a Ph.D. would be a swell little hobby to keep my pretty head busy until I could get into my REAL career as a trophy wife.
- Answer: No, I had colleagues who thought that I was intellectually capable and would make a competent scientist, even though I'm biologically pre-destined to churn out babies and fetch coffee for real scientists.
- Answer: Honestly, I feel a tremendous intellectual calling to the field, but I often question my decision to pursue a Ph.D. in it when people like you ask me questions like that.

Question (said to male person): Who takes care of your kids when your wife travels?
- Answer: She usually takes them in her checked luggage because, like all men, I'm inherently incompetent when it comes to nurturing my own offspring.
- Answer: The same person who created them with her in the first place.

Question (said to married/partnered female person): Who takes care of your kids when you travel?
- Answer: Their sperm donor.
- Answer: We got a fancy new canine nanny, just like in Peter Pan!
- Answer: We have a modified dog kennel to make sure they don't get in my husband's way when I'm not there.

Question (said to academic couple): Which of you is the trailing spouse?
- Answer: I walk faster, but he actually has longer legs. What about you and your wife?
- Answer: We race to see who can stick their elbow in their ear first, and the other person has to give up all career ambitions for the next three decades... you and your spouse should try it, it's hilarious!

Comment: You don't look like a professor. (variations: You don't look like a scientist. You don't look like an engineer)
- Answer: Well, I always wanted to be an under-paid waitress at [local fast food joint] when I grew up, but I didn't make the cut and got stuck with this lousy tenured job instead.

Question: Are you a real professor?
- Answer: No, I just play one on TV. I'm crossing my fingers for a daytime drama award at the end of the season.
- Answer: Actually, no! How did *you* know that I spend my *real* time disguised and fighting crime in the greater metropolitan [university town] area?


Just wait until you see my super-scientist cape,
scout

JaneB said...

I occasionally answer my phone as 'Dr JaneB' and am asked 'can you put me through to DrB?' - it can take a few rallies before they really get that I'm DrB, not DrB's secretary... (I guess I sound young and female on the phone?)

Female Science Professor said...

I've had people walk into my office when I have been sitting at my desk and say "Can you give this to Professor X?" (i.e., me). Depending on my mood, I either say "No", which gets a surprised/angry look; or "You just did", which gets a surprised look.

Ms.PhD said...

A classic post.

What I love is when people correct me.

They say: You don't look like a (PhD, postdoc, scientist, etc.)

And I say: Yeah, I guess I look too young.

And they say: You're supposed to say Thanks!

Apparently we're supposed to want to look like Angelina Jolie, not like scientists. But seriously, who doesn't want to look like Angelina Jolie? I've been doing this all wrong, trying to look smarter than I actually am!

Anna said...

This really is a great post. I have suffered a few such questions, but one really sticks out.

When I informed some guy in a shop that I was finishing my PhD, he was astonished.

"But you're too pretty to be so smart!" he said.

I froze. I honestly had no kind of response to that. None. I think I slowly turned around and walked away. My mother later reprimanded me for not accepting a compliment, as always. Am I the only one who doesn't see a compliment in the shop-man's statement?

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid that if I were told I didn't look like an engineer, I'd be tempted to pull my glasses, my TI-89, and a mechanical pencil out of my purse and respond "Is this better?"

As I finish up my Ph.D. and look forward to the rest of my career, sometimes I'm honestly really discouraged. Am I creative? Yes. Can I do the math? Yes. Can I communicate the results? Yes. Do I like to research, teach, and mentor? Yes. Do I want to deal with all of this crap in academia? Hells no.

Anonymous said...

Jendharma: "Last night I was watching Nova and I was so annoyed when the 2nd scientist interviewed, a woman, was described briefly but the narrator who talked about how she chose her field, but then we had a digression into her husband and personal life. No other scientist who appeared on the show was the subject of such 'balanced' background reporting."

"I was mildly incensed. I kept thinking, "Who cares about her husband? What does this have to do with the deep sea/underwater camera body she invented?""

I saw that same episode, and I think you should pay closer attention before you pronounce something sexist. If you see the episode again, you'll see that they talked about her husband because he builds and helps design the cameras. I think that even if he plays a comparatively minor role in the research, it's still neat and interesting. Though they did talk about the reason she wanted to be a scientist, which they didn't do for others, so I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Regarding anon 12:05's comments...

I always get asked about why I want to study physics. Or why did I go into physics. (I even got asked this at a faculty job interview.)

I am always mildly offended by the question because I do not think the average Joe gets asked the same question.

Any good responses from the audience?

Female Science Professor said...

I think being asked why you went into a particular field of science (or whatever) is a question that is asked of most scientists. Of course, there are obnoxious ways to ask it, but if it's a neutral "So why are you interested in Science X?", it might be the start of a good discussion.

Anonymous said...

Question (Statement?): Wow, you do math? It is very hard! Especially for women!

Answer (after picking up my jaw): Quite frankly most of the men I know are lousy at math... But would you believe that I can drive too?

I wish I could come up with a more snappy answer just like those in your post. You got any suggestions? I'm afraid this was not the only time I might be in need for such an answer...

Kea said...

Question: Wow, you do math? It is very hard! Especially for women!

Answers:
1. Yeah, right.
2. Oh no, what I do is much harder than math, but you wouldn't know what it was if I explained it, so I just say I do math. Oh, and by the way, what was that about women?
3. silence, scornful stare

melancolybaby said...

"you don't look like a scientist"
I was often mistaken for a secretary.
I guess the worst one was this colleague of mine who said:
You shouldn't be in physics, pretty women are usually secretaries.

Anonymous said...

I'm a bit late here, but I really enjoyed the thread. The next time I'll get one of these questions I'll be prepared.

In my opinion, the best answer to
"Isn't math hard, especially for a women?"
is something like "This shows that you don't understand mathematical distributions at all."
Followed by an explanation (maybe with a sketch) of Gauss curves and the fact that women have actually caught up to men in mathematics scores in many western countries.
I hope that this will actually convince some misguided people.
Maybe I'm naive, but I'll test it some time.

Yttrai said...

Oh, thank you so much. I've filed this for future reference.

Perhaps it's because i have geek hobbies outside my geek work, and i live in a geek town (i can see MIT out the window) or maybe simply because i'm ugly :D but i have never gotten asked these questions. Except one internet acquaintance who likes to troll me, but since he's doing it on purpose that isn't the same as the ignorance displayed by these questions in general.

"My reply was that I didn't have a boyfriend/husband because I screw around like a rabbit."

This is brilliant. My variation is to refer to the most recent SO as the Ball and Chain, and blame him/her for not letting me go out drinking or playing video games all night :D

Dr. MCR said...

Another late comment :)!!

These are great- my favorite one so far was:

"So, who's going to take over your lab once the baby comes? I guess you'll just go to teaching"

I laughed, but sadly, the "asker" was the senior research mentor for my campus (old white guy)...

Anonymous said...

As a male a year into a tenure
track job, I can say -- at least
from my limited data-sample -- a
few of these questions/issues
apply to both sexes. To be precise:

- Several colleagues asked me if I
was going to get married now I
have a job (not to any specific
person, just in general).

- I certainly got asked why I went
into physics in interviews.

- People don't think I look like
a Professor; In my case,
I'm mistaken for a student, not a
secretary.

Anonymous said...

Question: So they had to hire a woman..?
...

As a male engineer, we don't have enough women, and some of the best engineers I've ever worked with have been women.

The CHIEF engineer on the 747-8, the 747 with 787 engines and otherwise brought up to date is a woman, and a mother. It's hard to imagine a better job for an engineer. World's greatest classic aircraft....

However, I am curious what you think of what is being called Title IX for Science, which I believe is studying the sex mix of Professors in Science Departments and in its next phase will either withhold funds for departments that don't have a 50/50 mix of men and women, or actually mandate quota hiring. (If you believe John Tierney and conservative/libertarians).

There may come a time when "So they had to hire a women" in a science department is quite literally true.

I don't think that will be good for science, for women, or for men.

I normally surf the liberal political side of the blogosphere and haven't seen much discussion of this issue, so I don't know how real it is.

If you wanted to blog about it, I think that would be very interesting.

(And I came here via a link from Skepchik, who I recently found.)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but how does any of these questions even come up during an interview? If I was asked about my spouse or children, I think my answer would be, "What does that have to do with the job I'll be doing?" and "How would my answers affect the outcome of this interview?" Same as if they asked me what kind of car I drove or what brand of cereal I ate in the morning.

Really, interviewers have no business asking any questions about your personal life at all. Shouldn't they just be able to tell you things like, "This job will require travel about 10% of the time," or whatever, and leave it to you to decide if you can find care for your kids while traveling? Jeez, what a messed up world we live in sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Seeing as I am a physically unattractive man I really have to watch what I say around women in my office - someone may decide she wants her friend to have my job (laugh it up, ladies, but it happened... the good looking guy from Australia can grab their asses with impunity though)
I upset people because I refuse to treat anybody differently. I have had people mock me because I had a woman for a boss. They seemed confused when I replied 'she does her job and does it well, what's the issue?'

scubajim said...

I am truly sorry such cretins would even consider asking such questions.

I work in the private sector and I would be shot by HR if I asked such questions during an interview. It is opening up the company for a law suit, because it is discriminatory. (and wrong, it has nothing to do with the job!) It turns my stomach that these sexist comments.

Anonymous said...

I want to echo what scubajim says, however there is a downside to that scenario too.

In the very large company I work, all candidates for a specific position have to be asked the exact same questions. These questions are written down beforehand, discussed, and logged. There are no individual 1:1 interviews. The interviewee sees a panel. The answers are logged and retained as well as the panel's evaluation forms.

There are no followups. There are no opportunistic queries to follow where the answer to the prior question leads.

I think this hurts everyone. The company is not able to find the best candidate. The candidate is not able to realize what a bunch of jerks is employers are.

This is what happens when we get too many lawsuits and let the lawyers dictate policy. The answer to ugly free speech is more free speech.

Samia said...

@Anonymous 8/04/2008 12:44:00 PM:

I blogged about Title IX:
http://im-geiste.blogspot.com/2008/07/my-take-on-mr-tierneys-article.html

@Anonymous 8/04/2008 05:19:00 PM:

*tiny violins*

The AstroDyke said...

Here's how I was asked Q#1 last spring while interviewing at Famous University:

After the Dinner with Faculty, a colleague invites me for a cup of tea with him and his wife (also an academic in the department.) As we sip Constant Comment, he asks who's on the shortlist. (There are 3 women, 1 man).

"Wow, the Dean must be making the committee hire a woman."

I responded, "Respectfully: Bullshit. We're the best candidates."

But it bothered me. Was he right? So I shared this teachat with the sole female member of the search committee. Her response was, absolutely, it's Bullshit, you're there because you're good.

I don't know what's more worrisome: that he's that sexist (in front of his physicist wife!), or that he can't handle the binomial theorem.

Anonymous said...

You are an anomaly. Why be so bitchy about that? Give it up. Men AREN'T trying to "hold you down." You are a woman in a male-dominated field.

What is up with all these angry women? Men have it rough too. You think we all are bright enough and have the financing to get a PhD. I am a man and have found life to be very very very very very hard.

Give the hatred a rest.

Female Science Professor said...

Don't worry -- we don't think men are all bright enough.