Quite often, I get e-mail that goes something like this:
"A female professor/supervisor was really mean and unfair to me. What's up with that? I thought women were supposed to be really nice and supportive because there are so few of them/us. How are women ever going to get ahead in science/engineering/math if some women are really mean?"
Some of these complaints are from young women who are disappointed that they had a negative experience with someone they hoped would be a mentor.
Some of these complaints are from men who note that if women want to be respected, we had all better start behaving better (because of course every single woman is a representative of all other women).
Is there really any mystery here? Some women are jerks. Men do not have a monopoly on jerk behavior. The existence of male jerks has not stopped men from succeeding.
I wish there were fewer jerks in the world and I am not defending female jerks or condoning their behavior or lacking empathy for their victims, but at the same time I think it is unwise (and not quite fair) to expect all women to be nice.
I also think that the belief that successful women "pull up the ladder" so that younger women cannot attain similar levels of success is a myth based on assorted anecdotes of not-nice behavior by some women.
I think that I am overall a somewhat nice person, but that doesn't mean I am consistently nice, or that I am nice to everyone. Does my lack of total niceness mean that I am an obstacle to the progress of women in science? Does anyone believe that the only way women will attain increased representation in the sciences (for example) is if every single female scientist is super nice to everyone all the time?
A related question: Does anyone really believe that the world's problems will be solved when there are more female leaders? I think there should be more female leaders of the countries of the world, but only because women make up ~50% of the world population and because some women are fully capable of being in charge of a country. I am not under any illusions that world peace will automatically ensue once more women are presidents and prime ministers.
When more women are given the opportunity to be in positions of power, whether over countries or academic science department or even over individuals in scientific research groups, a wrong will have been righted -- i.e., the systematic denial of opportunity to people for reasons unrelated to their abilities or qualifications -- and maybe some things will get better. Maybe there will be fewer unfair barriers to career opportunities and advancement for women in STEM fields, and maybe academic culture will overall be improved for everyone when there is more diversity of experience and opinion represented in these fields.
Maybe. Just don't expect all women to be "nice", either nice according to a universally accepted unisex definition of the term or nice according to a more restricted perception for how women should behave.
7 years ago