Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Invited Wife

There are many professional situations in which I am comfortable being the spouse of another professor in a similar field of Science. For example, if my husband gets an award, I am happy to accompany him to a ceremony and be there, not as a professor or scientist, but as a partner.

And then there are situations that are a bit more odd. For example, my husband recently got an invitation to attend a special faculty dinner in honor of a Famous Person, and the invitation notes that the person hosting the dinner (a colleague of ours) "would like to invite you and your wife to join [list of names of Scientists and wives] at dinner to celebrate this [event/Famous Person]."

I saw the invitation when my husband showed it to me, and I didn't really think anything of it at first because I assumed that I would also get my own invitation, since the dinner party will consist of scientists celebrating another scientist. My husband is being invited because he is a scientist.. I am a scientist.. ergo..

But then later my husband asked me if I'd gotten my own invitation, and we realized that because I hadn't gotten one yet, I wouldn't be getting one. Other faculty (and their spouses) in the department have been invited, but I am not one of those faculty. So, I am either being invited as a spouse, but not as a scientist, and I would not otherwise have been invited; or our colleague hosting the dinner assumes that I don't need a separate invitation because he's already invited me as the wife of someone else he invited.

When we realized that I was an Invited Wife, I just shrugged, but my husband said "Well that's really obnoxious of [our colleague]". Kind of.. but this person is not known for his social skills, so I see no point in being offended.

I was relieved to notice, however, that the special dinner is for a date when I am out of town (doing sciencey things) and so I cannot not attend and wear my special Wife Suit. I don't think I will bother to send my regrets, though -- I will let my husband do that for me.


Mad Hatter said...

I have to agree with your husband that that is obnoxious. Even if your colleague had assumed you and your husband did not need separate invitations, he could have addressed the invitation to both of you, as in "Drs. So-and-so, I would like to invite both of you to join...." Surely that wouldn't have been too much trouble!

Gingerale said...

I agree with Mad Hatter and with your husband.

And I love it that you'll be unavailable due to sciencey things.

Curt F. said...

I agree that the way in which you were invited was mishandled and definitely sub-optimal.

Sounds like this can scratched up to social cluelessness on the part of the inviter, but I admit that I was surprised on how negatively your husband reacted. To me, and it seems to you as well, an issue like this would be a minor annoyance. But then again I am usually surprised on how sensitized many people are to issues like this one. I need to learn a lesson on how other people's sensitivities may not be my own, I guess.

It's one of the best things about your blog: exposure to well-reasoned people who have some pretty different priorities than me.

John V said...

From your description, it is not clear whether you can be sure that you would have been invited were you (1) not your husband's wife (assumed you'll feel invited already), or if (2) you'd been a man (inviter sexist or awkward), or if (3) you'd been a single man (couples only). Just wondering whether more clues are known.

I believe you're probably right to suspect (1) or (2), and my mother as a widowed faculty member in the 1970s encountered (2) on a routine basis, and was often demoralized.

Anonymous said...

The 'correct' thing for the sender to do is to send separate invitations to you and your husband. What is up with "your wife," do you not have a name? One would never say "and your wife" even for a wedding invitation.

Comrade Physioprof said...

Sounds like this can scratched up to social cluelessness on the part of the inviter, but I admit that I was surprised on how negatively your husband reacted.

It's not "social cluelessness". It's just the usual patriarchal presumption that women's default role is as fuck receptacles for men's dicks.

Katie said...

"Sounds like this can scratched up to social cluelessness on the part of the inviter, but I admit that I was surprised on how negatively your husband reacted."

It's rude and unacceptable behavior. He was right to have been angry. Just because someone doesn't know he or she is being rude and sexist doesn't excuse the behavior.

FSP, I'm impressed that you handled the situation so graciously. I'm not sure I would have been able to stay silent - the entire department would have heard about how the host "forgot" to invite one of the only female science faculty members.

Ms.PhD said...

As usual, your sense of humor cracks me up. And you have a wonderful husband.

John V. brings up some interesting points though. I do wonder, in an alternate universe where you were unmarried, whether you would have been more or less likely to receive your own invitation?

This is exactly the sort of clubbiness that persists in the 'social' part of 'work', even though we're supposedly so much more liberated and liberal than once upon a time when it was only men who were allowed to do science. Now with our whopping 10-25% of women (depending on field), we're 'equals'.

Anonymous said...

The trailing (less academically desirable) spouse in a two-body situation can encounter much ruder and more systematic versions of this sort of snubbing-- care to write a blog post about that sometime?

Curt F. said...

Comrade Physioprof:

I agree with nearly everyone else here that the inviter was rude to not address FSP as a scientist. But all we know from FSP's post is that FSP's sole apparent role in the mind of the inviter was "wife", because that's how he referred to her. This possibly reflects an unfortunate patriarchal presumption on his part.

But unless you know something about the situation that we don't (are you married to FSP?), I'm not sure that your particular patriarchal presumption was at work. I don't understand how you could ever even suggest such a thing, unless you think that "wife" is synonymous with "fuck receptacles for men's dicks".

Do you really think the misguided inviter thinks that? Maybe he has antiquated ideas about the role of women in society. Maybe he thinks they should all just be wives. I'd be the first to agree: such attitudes are sexist, and should be cast aside. But this form of sexism does not come close to the caricatured misogyny you are spouting off. In my book, your baseless logical leap from "wife" to "fuck receptacles for men's dicks" is an insult to wives everywhere.

In short, your comment is needlessly provocative and insulting, and is unsupported by anything FSP wrote in this post.

yolio said...

It is interesting. Of course, you can't get upset about these things because they just happen too often. You would spend all your time being upset! Not functional. Still, you can't help but make a note of the insult.

In science/geek culture, we make extra allowances for social ineptitude. Most notably, excessive bluntness is tolerated because in some cases it is essential for getting to the truth of the matter. We care more about truth than feelings.

But social cluelessness is not an entity unto itself. What makes this a faux pas is that the inviter behaved as though your status as a spouse trumps your status as a scientist, and given the social context of sexism in science, this is problematic. The inviter committed a minor social crime of the sexist variety.

Unlike bluntness, there is no desirable reason to tolerate sexism. So, where is the line? Do we benevolently tolerate social cluelessness across the board? Or do we distinguish between social cluelessness of the potentially beneficial variety and that of the only malevolent variety? Is it even possible to distinguish?

Curt F. said...

Katie: So do you think FSP was wrong to "see no point in being offended"?

John V said...

I would think FSP would be offended in direct proportion to how limiting are the antediluvian manners of her colleagues.

If it is an occasional gaff by anomalously retrograde people, one can laugh it off. If it seriously interferes with ones standing in the dept and ability to work, each instance could be infuriating.

Katie said...

Curt F. - yes and no.

On the no side: As a previous poster mentioned, you can't get offended at every sexist remark; you'd have time for nothing else. Additionally, only FSP knows the situation: whether or not it will actually affect her, who this colleague is and what they might have meant by it. Only she knows whether or not she should have felt offended.

On the yes side: Feeling offended, and voicing such an opinion, might help stop this type of sexist behavior in the future, both from this particular colleague and possibly from others who would hear about it.

However, you have to pick your battles, and only FSP can decide if it would have been worth the effort.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Every human being brought up in a patriarchal culture is indoctrinated into assuming that women are fuck receptacles for men's dicks. This is as inescapable as the air we breathe. The only question is the extent to which individual human beings manage to dissociate their behavior from this assumption. But there is no avoiding it.

Anonymous said...

As a woman, wife and yes, a scientist, this angers me. You say the invitation-sending is a colleague of both you and your husband. He therefore knows damn well that (a) you are a scientist in a similar field therefore it should be appropriate to send you an invitation directly, and (b) your name, rather than just addresing your husband "Dr so and so and your wife".

This is minimizing your professional stature. It's as if you don't exist in the field, or that your existence is entirely overshadowed by your husband (is he much more senior or well known or accomplished than you that it would warrant this treatment?)

My field is also male dominated. Often at conferences I'm the only woman in the session. Such conferences tend to also advertise in their brochures and on their websites social programs specifically "for the wives". My husband has not attended those social programs because he doesn't want to have to go shoe-shopping.

Curt F. said...

I hope CPP's crass phraseology hasn't kept anyone from noticing an important shift in his claims.

Comrade Physioprof first commented on the patriarchal presumption that women's "default role" was as a procreative receptacle.

In his second comment, Comrade Physioprof mentioned only the idea that "women are fuck receptacles for men's dicks." Nothing in there about this being women's "default role", although I suppose it was still exhilarating to see all those dirty words.

Without the word "default" or a similar one like "primary" or "only" in there, the new version of the supposedly patriarchal assumption boils down to the simple idea that women are sexual partners with men. It sounded a lot worse when it was dressed up with profanity, as CPP is wont to do.

Of course, assuming that women are sexual partners with men is presumptuous and unjustified. It doesn't seem to be sexist to me though. It is certainly discriminatory against gays and bisexuals, but that is a different type of discrimination.

Don't get me wrong; I think it is pretty likely that the original incident that FSP described was a form of sexism. I'm just talking about CPP's comments.

Maybe people think I am splitting hairs, but I think discussions like this, where everyone's passions run high and tempers flare, can only be productive and informative if we all try our best to be precise.

Rhea Miller said...


FSP I have to say I admire your professionalism...it's easy to be petty. Tho I have to say it's nice that you have other obligations.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Maybe people think I am splitting hairs, but I think discussions like this, where everyone's passions run high and tempers flare, can only be productive and informative if we all try our best to be precise.

Yeah. We all better calm down our passions and tempers and try our best to be precise because Curt the calm rational d00d says otherwise we won't be productive and informative.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!! dude, are you fucking kidding with this shit?

EliRabett said...

Don't send any regrets. When your husband shows up the inviter asks, where is your wife. Husband replies: You didn't invite her. AND THEN HE DOESN'T EXPLAIN

Katie said...

"the usual patriarchal presumption that women's default role is as fuck receptacles for men's dicks."


"Every human being brought up in a patriarchal culture is indoctrinated into assuming that women are fuck receptacles for men's dicks"


the default assumption is that women are fuck receptacles for men's dicks

I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, just stating that those are all the same thing.

Curt F. said...

Katie, thanks for the response. The don't sound the same to me, but I can see how perhaps I one could infer that the second one had an implicit "default role" or similar exclusionary phrase in there.

Engr Management said...

One thing nobody has brought up yet is whether the "and your wife" bit was due to laziness and a form letter. Maybe the offender was just lazy and was sending out form letters to all people, without realizing that he personally knew "your wife."

Just a thought.

neurowoman said...

It may be that this is an error on the part of the administrative assistant who got stuck with the job of actually sending out the invitations, given a list of faculty to invite. Therefore not the host's intention of not inviting you, but someone else looking at a list & figuring you were included in the invitation with your husband (as if it were a simple wedding invite, being a semi-social occasion). I find the typical (female) low level assistant is not especially attentive to gender-related issues that professional women are acutely atuned to; as in, it just wouldn't cross her mind. If so, the host needs to know what happened so as to correct the assumptions of the assistant. Also, if your last names are the same, as listed as Dr. Somebody without a first name, it may have looked like a duplicate. I think you should politely bring it up as an administrative error.

Quercki said...

At a similar function, the other woman and I were surprised to find that the men's spouses had been invited and ours hadn't. When I mentioned it to the organizer, he said something about me being so young and...umh.....

The other woman wasn't young.

Si3N4 said...

Querki - I have had the similar experiences. Often it seems that the (non-science) wives of male scientists are more welcome at work-related or lab-related social events than the husbands of female scientists. Why is this?

Anonymous said...

This happens to me all the time, sadly. I usually sulk and say I haev something more important to do (maybe sciency..)- and then get questions afterwards about why didn't I come too. Which provides an opportune moment to point out that I didn't get a personal invitation. They get the point then and don't do it again. But there are so many of "them" out there.

Worse still, people assume that because they've told my partner one thing, or because he was involved in a committee discussion about another, that I automatically know too (by osmosis?). Now that really gets to me...