Thursday, June 24, 2010

I Am A Total Hypocrite

First of all, I'm taking a little break from blogging for a longish weekend -- Friday through Monday. Comment moderation will be sporadic today, and will then diminish to nothing, resuming early next week.

Second, I am a total hypocrite. If someone introduced me in a professional setting as "X's wife" (X, of course, being my husband), I would be really annoyed if that is the first thing people were told about me. In fact, I have been annoyed by this very thing in the past, especially when introduced to an audience just before I give a talk, but also when introduced informally to a group of Scientists at a conference.

But, not long ago, someone introduced my husband to some colleagues at a conference as "FSP's husband" (using my real name, not FSP), and I was amused. Fortunately, my husband was amused as well.

I can sort of rationalize the hypocrisy because the situations are not equivalent. In the past, before "The End of Men"* of course, being introduced in a professional setting as someone's wife could be interpreted as defining you primarily in your role as a wife rather than in your role as a scientist. For example, being introduced as X's wife just before I give an invited talk on my research involves more than mentioning a neutral social factoid about my life; it says "Here is the most interesting thing about this woman. We'll get to her accomplishments in a minute, but for now you should know who her husband is."

My husband has never been introduced before a talk as "FSP's husband", whereas I have been introduced as his wife just before I give a talk.

It's less of a big deal if it happens when being introduced to a group of people standing around a poster at a conference (for example), although it can still be annoying, depending on the people/context. In those settings, spouse-centric introductions happen to both of us, depending on whether we meet a group that is more familiar with his research or mine.

I don't think that I will ever accept this mode of introduction as the first thing an audience is told before I give a talk on my research. If we get to a point, however, when being introduced as someone's spouse really is just a neutral social factoid that is brought up in some of the more informal of our professional interactions, then we can be equally amused by either scenario.

*Oh wait, that doesn't apply to the physical sciences; quote from the article: "Just about the only professions in which women still make up a relatively small minority of newly minted workers are engineering and those calling on a hard-science background.."

25 comments:

Eilat said...

Why would Hannah Rosin bother to consider sciences in her vast overarching re-definition of life and gender? It would spoil her pre-determined narrative.
She is insufferable. A non-journalist with a penchant for punchy headlines and whipping up controversy. Her staggeringly scientifically illiterate "Case Against Breastfeeding" last year pitted women against women, mothers against mothers, and gave a pass to institutionalized family-unfriendliness.

Anonymous said...

The issue of being addressed as X's wife, or receiving a letter addressed to Mr. and Mrs. X (his first and last names) just came up on the boards I read for wedding help (I'm getting married soon). I was surprised that 20% of the posters loved being called by their husbands' name and another third were fine with it. Less than half of us (it is a mostly women on the board) said we'd be annoyed at a letter that came addressed without our own name. I consider this a blow to equality, but it kind of explains the situation you describe. It's way worse to be introduced this way in a situation where you have professional standing, especially in a talk where it's irrelevant. That said, I do introduce people by context, so if people know my husband I think being introduced as his wife (followed by my research) makes sense, just as I might introduce my husband as such, or someone else as A's student.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 8:04. I hate receiving mail address to Mrs. My Husband. The only mail I get that way is the magazine subscription that my mother-in-law got me for my birthday. The mail I hate even more is Dr and Mrs X. I am the doctor, not my husband.

That said, I think introducing someone as A's student, is very different than introducing them as X's wife. The student implies a connection to research, reputation, quality/type of work, etc. By introducing a woman in a professional setting as X's wife, there are connotations as to a research connection, and the dreaded "Well is her husband doing all the work?" question, perhaps at the extreme.

I don't mind being introduced as my husband's wife in a social context but would hate it in a professional one.

Dr. Science Daddy said...

Eh. Being a human that takes a stand on something means that you're going to become or are already a hypocrite. as the Germans say, "nobody's perfect."

I would think calling someone "This is Y, X's $relation." is perfectly acceptable if the other half of the introduction already know/knows X quite well. If in a professional setting, it'll likely need to be followed up with "{he,she,it,they,$yourpronounhere} works on z, with an emphasis in P and is here to talk to about D." or what have you. The point is that they know X quite well, but don't know Y yet. So explaining how they're linked helps them integrate the newcomer into their existing social network.

Anonymous said...

To anon 8:04: I'm shocked at the huge percentages of women I know (mostly in their mid-20s, middle-class, & most with a master's degree) who, upon getting married, take their husband's name. My own grandmother, although she knows both my husband and I hyphenated, recently sent an anniversary card addressed to his birth last name only (as least it also included my first name, *sigh*).

I would also find it problematic to be introduced as X's wife in professional settings--this used to happen occasionally when my husband and I worked at the same office, but as we are now in very different fields, this only happens now at social events for either his office or my department. It doesn't bother me there--at social events, my connection is to my husband (or his to me).

Anonymous said...

I'm shocked to hear that anyone would introduce you, when giving a talk, as someone else's wife.

In my field this would be considered extremely inappropriate unless you are married to Albert Einstein, in which case it would be considered a bit of fun trivia, just as one might introduce a speaker and annotate "a little known fact is that in his youth, he was an actor at the Royal Shakespeare".

Anonymous said...

I am also a total hypocrite about this topic. I once introduced a seminar speaker (after describing his background and key honors) by mentioning that his wife had recently secured a tenure track position at the same institution. I did this to provide a "success story" for our students struggling with dual career issues. I hope he wasn't offended!

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I find almost all introductions before talks pointless and irritating. I don't want to know whose student he or she was 40 years ago, nor what car they drive or who they are married to.
The name of the speaker, their current affiliation (for contacting them), and their affiliation when they did the work they'll be speaking about (if different) is *ALL* we need to know about the speaker.

I don't care if he or she has gotten 50 different awards from organizations whose sole purpose in life is to give out awards (like the Nobel committees). I certainly don't want to hear their complete resume read in a monotone by the introducer.

Let the speaker talk.

Sarah said...

@gasstation
I found it helpful, while a student at my SLAC, to hear a little background about the speakers. There is a point where it is too much, but as students trying to navigate possible future careers (and figure out how to get there), I know that many of us talked afterward about a speaker's background and what she did between undergrad and speaking at our college. (For this reason it was also helpful when, once a year or so, our professors told us about their academic/industrial trajectories before ending up at our school.)

Doctor Pion said...

That article from The Atlantic was no surprise to me, because of an entertaining bit of number crunching on census data for college grad rates I did last summer.

As for your example of the intrusion of patriarchy when you are being introduced, you probably need to come up with an appropriate joke to respond to it.

Cherish said...

I know how you feel:

http://mareserinitatis.livejournal.com/752197.html

Janus Professor said...

As far as annoying introductions... I just gave a seminar at a public university. Part of my introduction was that I had a baby and wasn't that amazing that I could juggle it all? And oh, here's a talk on Science, too.

Anonymous said...

Part of my introduction was that I had a baby and wasn't that amazing that I could juggle it all?

I don't understand this one. Having gone through tenure with a baby at home I can attest that it takes extra effort. Are we so bitter that we cannot take a compliment anymore?

Anonymous said...

Anon at 10:26:00 AM

Having gone through tenure with a baby at home I can attest that it takes extra effort. Are we so bitter that we cannot take a compliment anymore?

I think Janus just does not want her reproductive status to be the first noteworthy thing one learns about her. I too would not my talk introduced by mentioning my superpowers to balance family and work, even if I had borne 10 kids while having won 2 Nobel prizes. Personal life is personal life.

Female Computer Scientist said...

@Janus - I once had a colleague who did this kind of thing to scientist mothers all the time. It drove me nuts, and one day after an extremely atrocious incident, I (politely) called him on it. He hadn't realized he was doing it. He apologized, and to my knowledge hasn't done it again.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

I find it so refreshing that you admit that this practice bothers you.

This happens to me ALL. THE. TIME. So annoying.

People have indirectly and DIRECTLY told me that I only get annoyed about it because I am young and haven't learned to let "certain things go."

Um...what?

irongrrl said...

I wonder if anyone has ever introduced a male professor with, "and he has a newborn baby at home!" I somehow doubt it.

Anonymous said...

This is a response to the article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Government female scientists with Ph.D.s are probably worse off than academic female scientists. First of all, there are no unions to take one's case. Second, there is no legal system that a female scientist can consult for dealing with demeaning, belittling behavior and insults experienced by female scientists from male colleagues or supervisors in government. What they do is leave the female scientist out of important meetings or decision-making.

unlikelygrad said...

Anonymous@10:26 said:

I don't understand this one. Having gone through tenure with a baby at home I can attest that it takes extra effort. Are we so bitter that we cannot take a compliment anymore?

The real problem here is the way her mommyhood is singled out. No one in their right mind would say things like, "Dr. X has helped his wife deal with cancer during the last year, but still manage to get decent results" or "Dr. Y served as primary caretaker for her mom with Alzheimer's" or, worse, "Dr. Z managed to get impressive results despite going through a nasty divorce with bitter custody battles" etc.

I would guess that probably 30% of the scientists in the audience are in a rough life situation (of some sort) at any given time. How many times is this acknowledged?

Regarding the name thing:

When my eldest son was making up his graduation announcements earlier this month his first draft read, "Mr. & Mrs. UnlikelyDad are pleased to announce..." My husband cautioned him to change it before I saw the draft. He didn't. I think people could hear the resulting roar of frustration in Maine and Alaska.

The worst part was that Al didn't get why I was so upset about it. What sort of children have I raised? We've worked hard to banish gender stereotypes--right now, for example, my husband stays at home while I go to grad school.

Thanks to FSP's post, I now have a better way to explain it. What would Al have thought, I wonder, if I told him it should be "Mrs. & Mr. UnlikelyGrad"? Hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

on the introduction with the parenthood thing, male scientists take a fair share of them at our institute. So, I don't see much problems with it. Though here in the UK both parents takes great pride in bringing up their child, so in that respect I guess its fairer and more accepted here in the UK to mention things like that in the intro.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

"I wonder if anyone has ever introduced a male professor with, "and he has a newborn baby at home!" I somehow doubt it."

I have heard it in my own department. But most of my department are parents and are pleased to hear about other parents' kids. It is not unusual for the male faculty to have pictures of their kids as desktop backgrounds on their laptops.

The family-friendly nature of the department may make small talk a little harder for the few faculty without children, but we can always talk about research or pets rather than schools or raising kids.

joana johnson said...

I still get snail mail addressed to Mrs. My Husband's Name from his medical school's "Women's Auxilary"; a club for wives of physicians. Funny, the current medical school is 51% women and the percentage of women in medical school has been this high for 15 years!
By the way, I love your blog. Although I am not in Science (I am an historian), my 10 yr. old daughter is very interested in becoming a Scientist.

Bagelsan said...

Part of my introduction was that I had a baby and wasn't that amazing that I could juggle it all? And oh, here's a talk on Science, too.

Psh, science talk? I wanna hear more about the state of your uterus! :p

Anonymous said...

my husband is not in academia, and not in science so I've never had this problem of being introduced as primarily a wife and never will, thank goodness!! I can see how it would be very annoying and insulting.

I have many female friends (in their late 20s and 30s) who upon getting married were very eager to take their husband's name and be identified primarily as their husband's wife. My theory is that this stems from insecurity - they want to broadcast that they have in fact reached this "milestone" of getting married and having a family since in our culture being single for life is still not considered an acceptable lifestyle choice for a woman. It is considered deviant to be a woman who has chosen to not become a wife (unless you're a nun). I don't think this cultural preoccupation with being identified as a wife first and foremost is very healthy. One of my above friends is now going through a divorce - so there goes her identity and sense of self...

Phillip Helbig said...

Don't forget P.A.M. Dirac, who introduced his own wife as "[Eugene] Wigner's sister".