Thursday, August 07, 2008

Lady of the Workshop

The workshop I have been attending is over. I am in a nice quiet hotel room in a metropolitan area filled with wireless internet connections, and I am feeling completely wrecked after an intense week. Hence a short post today.

The workshop was very focused, and our small group spent a lot of time together, talking and discussing and eating and so on. On the second or third day, I noticed that scientists from a particular country were unable to call me by my first name. Everyone else was on a first name basis, and these men had no trouble calling the other men by their first names, but they only referred to me indirectly as "she" or "the lady".

I tried saying "Please, call me [my real name]", but they just couldn't do it. Since everyone else was on a first name basis, they couldn't call me Mrs. or Dr. or Professor, so they settled on calling me "the lady".

As with the example I described a few days ago, these are all extraordinarily nice people. I got along great with them and we had many interesting conversations. They clearly respect me as a scientist, but they are unable to think of me in the same way as the other (male) scientists. I was hoping that by the end of the week we spent together that they would have made some progress with this, but until the very end, I was "the lady".

15 comments:

M said...

I agree - the previous situation you described ("I once worked with a Female Scientist") was bizarre, but it's hard to judge this one without knowing more. Such things as letting a woman through a door first, as my colleagues commonly do, is also "treating differently", but it's not something you would fight - or would you? Maybe it's a similar thing for them, calling a woman by her first name. I am from Europe, Poland to be precise. In Polish 3rd person form is used when speaking to somebody you refer to as Mr. or Dr. or whatever. Translating literarly, it would be something as "Can I ask a quetions to mister, mister Smith?" Of course I KNOW that in English it's "Can I ask YOU a question, Mr. Smith?", but still... When I went to Scotland it took me a while to get used to the fact that I should say "you" to a professor. I tried to avoid it by saying impersonal sentences such as "Can I ask a question?".

PhysioProf said...

Im sorry to say this, but my experience is that these are the same people who, when they think they can get away with it or their guard is otherwise down, reveal their gross misogyny. And I have a sneaking suspicion I know what country you're talking about.

Female Science Professor said...

That may well be, but they had no trouble calling the male professors at the workshop by their first names.

Thomas Joseph said...

Strange. Reminds me of a scenario that played out where I work. For the longest time, I've been trying to get our support staff to drop the "Dr" before my name, or calling me "Sir". I just wanted "Tom", which I didn't think wa sa tall order. Anything else IMO, is just unnecessary. Yet, in our workplace, there has been instilled a very deep "professionalism" (for lack of a better word). Try as I might, the best I could get out of our secretary was "Sir Tom". When I heard that, I gave up and said call me "Dr". The last thing I needed was having to explain to my boss why I had the support staff calling me "Sir Tom" as if I was royalty.

Average Professor said...

I agree with M, it's weird, but . . . you know, cultural differences and whatnot. Is it possible they felt using your first name would imply a casual closeness that they felt was inappropriate to have with a woman?

Perhaps my markedly politically correct schooling has rendered me overly tolerant of toolishness in the name of cultural diversity.

Ann said...

Reminds me of a conference I attended 16 years ago in a foreign country. One of the first people I saw there, upon meeting me gave a surprised little "oh!" followed by "I didn't know we would be having ladies at this conference."

M said...

Actually... why don't you say what country it was?

Anonymous said...

It could have been worse: they could have called you "Our Lady of the Workshop" and claimed to see your image in a slice of pizza.

ScientistMother said...

I have to agree with PP. Lately I have found that most individuals are very proper in front of me. I am a pretty obvious feminist pro women in science type of gal so you would have to be a complete idiot to display any misogyny in front of me. Many many people (including gradPI) who appear to be polite, pro-women and supportive of the gender issues have been very very inappropriate behind closed doors.

Ms.PhD said...

Sigh. The only time I've encountered something that bad was when I was working with very senior military types.

And Ann- OH GOD. That is depressing.

Anonymous said...

This is truly crazy..
A situation I deal with is that a lot of the grad students in the lab where I post-doc call me 'Miss' I think they mean this to be cute, but it vaguely irritates me - why not just my first name, or if you are going to put a title in front of my name, then Dr. is the more appropriate one :( I don't see them calling the male post-docs 'Mr.' or anything silly like that. But, if I point this out, I feel that I'm too sensitive..

Helen said...

My favorite zany sexism bit from the last couple of months was when a physics prof was giving a lab tour to a group of engineers and scientists. I was the only woman present. As he was leading us down a hallway, he suddenly stopped, turned around, and loudly gave me directions to the women's restroom.

And no, he didn't follow up with directions to the men's restroom.

Anonymous said...

@helen: He was probably just proud to be so progressive as to have a women's restroom in his lab that he had to show it off to everybody...

The AstroDyke said...

I'm having a week like that, too! Find myself envying my wif's workplace, where being a woman is normal.

A bit off topic -- as a FSP and a parent, might you be interested in posting about timing of children? Is it crazy to try for a kid as a post-doc, while applying for
for faculty jobs? The conventional wisdom seems to be, wait until you have a TT job, which can be hard to reconcile with the fertility clock given the expected 3-6 years of post-docking.

Just wondering.

Female Science Professor said...

Here's what I've written about that topic in the past:

March 28, 2008

July 20, 2006