Posts tagged: sexism


As a member of the SIPB community, and as a female member of the SIPB community, I’ve been asked, a number of times, what I think about the SIPB environment, how to encourage people to hang out in the office and thereby recruit new members, whether there is sexism in the office or any other deterrent that is more specific to one gender than the other, etc. I’ve thought about this from time to time, when it’s randomly popped back into my head, but not terribly thoroughly. Some of my preliminary thoughts, though, follow.

Is there some sort of sexism in the office, or else something in the environment that would perhaps make girls feel more uncomfortable than guys, or vice versa? I have heard talk about how, in the past, there were more PDA in the office, and this resulted in the perception, on the part of some non-SIPB-affiliates, that SIPB was a place where the female members were required to be in some sort of a non-platonic relationship with with the male members. I was not personally around during this period, however, and it seems that this is much less of an issue these days. The office does, on the other hand, often play host to sexual jokes that are probably not unexpected in a college environment. And this is, perhaps, where my opinion requires some qualification. I wouldn’t categorize myself as the type to be sensitive to these sorts of issues; if they were pointed out to me, I would certainly see them and understand them, but I might not notice them on my own. I’ve always just wanted to be treated like everyone else, and a lot of what that meant was that I didn’t want to be treated differently because I was a girl, that I didn’t want to be treated differently from the way the guys treated each other.

This is part of the problem with sexism, isn’t it? It’s the same problem you have with other kinds of discrimination, like racism. Some people consider affirmative action to be a form of racism, which, by strict definition, it is, because it involves treating people differently based on race; racism and racial discrimination are not synonymous, after all. Going back to sexism, then: are girls more likely to be offended if they’re not treated the same way everyone else is, meaning that they don’t want people treading more carefully around them because they’re girls, or are they more likely to be offended in an environment where people casually banter about sex, etc?

I can definitely see how girls of the latter type would be turned away by the office environment as it exists on a not-infrequent basis — sexual banter is not uncommon in the office, after all, even if people don’t mean anything by it in particular. What about the former type? I generally don’t have a problem with the office, at least. There have been instances, however, where I have felt that there were insinuations made about the technical ability of girls, which is not something the office should tolerate.

Moving on to the more general topic of how welcoming SIPB seems to newcomers, the main problem that people have noted is the feeling of not fitting in. Some people don’t feel technically competent enough to fit into a situation where they feel that everyone else has some high level of technical prowess (which not all of us do, by the way). Some people feel like they don’t fit in because they feel that the SIPB is already its own community, an established social group, and they’re intruding and don’t know anyone. These seem to be the two main issues that are getting in the way of people coming by and spending time in the office.

People tend to be engrossed in whatever their current project is while they’re in the office, which could be contributing to both of these potentially problematic perceptions. The only solution that I can think of at the moment is simply to encourage people in the office to be more expressive about what they’re doing, the way that mystery hunt teams that allow for hunters who drift in and out do. For example, the Simmons team, which tries to encourage resident participation by emphasizing that one doesn’t need to be a hardcore hunter to join in for a puzzle or two, tried to have someone operationally in charge of base so that people drifting in and out would be welcomed by having what was going on explained to them and they wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the fact that there were many groups of people in the middle of  working intensely on puzzles.

Another solution that has been proposed in the past in response to the general problem of recruitment has been a mentor-type of program. Things to consider: Someone needs to be in charge of coordinating it. It has the failure mode of scaring away prospectives who are not so interested in such an arrangement because it is somewhat more formal and feels like more of an obligation than not. It should be optional, of course, but it could make prospectives who sign up for it feel like they “needed more help” integrating into SIPB than prospectives who don’t, etc. Would there be enough members interested to make this work? These questions/issues can be worked around, though, and it would be something worth implementing for the sake of the prospectives who are interested in it, I think.

Biology BS Filter and … Why It Sucks To Be A Girl?

From my personal class (-i bio):

Me: I should have something better than a generic BS filter.
Ian: bullshit?
Me: Yes.
Me: I often can tell when people are bullshitting about basic biology, but asking me to spew it and remember terminology off the top of my head is somewhat more difficult. Then again, I learned most of that stuff >9 years ago, and last ~reviewed it >6 years ago, so … can I be forgiven for being rusty?

This seems like a similar problem to how Real Mathematicians tend to lose practice with arithmetic and are slower at it than an elementary school student might expect a person “who does math all day” to be. Over my years in the laboratory, I’ve spent more time dealing with immunology- and cancer-related terminology than the basic terminology taught in general/introductory biology classes, so while I can mostly remember what various terms mean when they’re being used to explain things to me, and thus can detect BS reasonably well, I probably couldn’t actually explain some basic biology terms the way that I feel that I ought to be able to.

I feel guilty about this, but it really is a matter of practice and common usage, I think. Most of that basic biology is stored in my implicit memory, so recalling it from no particular starting point is difficult. So while I feel guilty for not knowing basic terms/principles as well as I could, the only real solution is to use them more often, or else spend time reviewing them (which, in my opinion, setting aside chunks of time for is silly, since the time could probably be more effectively used and/or the material could be more efficiently reviewed).

I vaguely wonder if this is related to language usage. There is this common phenomenon that one remembers a foreign language much more quickly than might be expected when immersed in the environment, and I feel that it is similar (for me, at least, and probably for many/most other people as well) both with languages and different kinds of jargon. For example, I’m reasonably confident that it would take me some time rambling/thinking about immunology before I could just spew about it and use the jargon as fluently as I did when I was actually doing immunology work, but it would come back to me faster if I were inserted into an environment where other people were throwing around jargon (although it would take considerably less time in both cases for cancer terminology, I imagine).

Of course, this is just a specific area of general knowledge recall, I suppose, although I am inclined to say that knowledge recall is slightly more explicit than implicit. Then again, the split between explicit and implicit memory is probably not that distinct for specific topics (e.g. some of my biology knowledge is probably explicit, and some of it is probably implicit), and implicit memory can be analyzed to make it explicit, which is what teachers who are “experts” in a field but relatively new to teaching (e.g. me) do in order to be able to convey it to their students; for that matter, it is how people communicate ideas in general, to some extent.

Speaking of which, I’ve been asked to enumerate/expound upon the reasons “Why It Sucks To Be A Girl.” (Feel free to contribute additional reasons/comments or ask for clarification in the comments.) Having at it, then (disclaimer: I do not guarantee the veracity of the statements below, nor even that they accurately represent my opinions; spending time trying to figure out how to address every edge case or wording ambiguity is not part of the exercise here, nor is it something I’m willing to spend time on right now, and besides, these are very much intended to be broad, sweeping generalizations that don’t hold water in the face of anecdata) ….

Girls are generally expected to dress “better” than guys, or have a better fashion sense, or something. For guys, it seems more acceptable to dress casually, because they have more of a need for functionality, while girls are here just to look pretty. For example, guys can claim to need to carry tools around on their belts, whereas if a girl wants to, she meets more resistance. Another observation that has been made time and time again is that while wallets made for girls/women are at least the same size, if not larger than, wallets that are made for guys, the pockets in girls’/womens’ clothing are considerably smaller than the pockets of guys’ clothing. What does this mean? Essentially, girls are forced to carry purses (or backpacks). I don’t know about the rest of you, but personally, I rather dislike purses. What else…oh yeah, what’s with this whole high heel thing? There’s so much suggestion in the media that this/that is more attractive/feminine, but how it is practical AT ALL? Moving on to makeup…it really just gets everywhere. Do I really want lipstick smeared everywhere after kissing, or foundation smeared everywhere if I want to rest my head on someone’s shoulder? And eye makeup? Gets into your eyes and dries them out. Very irritating, both physically and otherwise. And how does this all play out in a work environment? I’ve been told that more attractive women get paid more and promoted more. While this is probably true for both men and women, it feels more excusable for men to be slightly more unkempt/disorganized. And don’t even get me started on things that are actually biologically-related…(although here I go anyway:) when women moved into the workforce and we finally got to the point where men stopped freaking out about it, society basically seemed to say, “Fine, you want to work and all that? You still have to deal with all of this childbearing/child-rearing crap.” (Yes, “crap” is probably not the word I want, or maybe I am using it to refer to the negative aspects of pregnancy and “womanhood” and such.) So prime time for reproduction for women falls somewhere in the twenties, which is also the point at which careers are supposed to be worked on heavily and possibly take off. What happens if you wait on one or the other? Waiting to work on one’s career generally works less well than in theory, because going back to school/work is *very* hard after children. Waiting to have kids is also less-than-ideal because of the increased risk of things going wrong in the pregnancy. And doing both at the same time…I think the solution of most women in such a position is to hire a (live-in) nanny, which, some of those mothers say, gives them less contact with their children than they might like. The other solution, of course, is heavier involvement from the father, but that depends heavily on the relationship. Anyway, this basically segues to the whole double-standard in society that so many people have remarked upon between men and women. Sure, sexism is much less prominent these days as compared to some number of decades ago, but the double standard is still there, and it sucks.

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