The Gender Smog We Breathe: The NIH Edition

Our good blog friend Dr. Isis of On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess has recently launched a "Letters to Our Daughters" project to solicit advice from women researchers to those who are following. The first entry is one from Pascale Lane, M.D. on being assertive... and the inevitable epithet of "bitch".
You may also have noticed the latest iterations of vigorous discussion over the role of observations about personal attractiveness in the work setting.
These issues raise their ugly heads everywhere....including the discussion over the merger of NIAAA with NIDA. NIDA, of course, is headed (2003-present) by

one Nora Volkow, M.D. Two of the other more-interested parties in the fold-the-NIAAA discussion are NIMH and NINDS. NINDS is currently headed (2003-present) by one Story Landis, Ph.D.
Now, as I alluded to the muttering and whispering has been going on for quite some time about this move. In recent months it has been breaking out into the open, particularly when 2 or more long-time NIAAA funded investigators are in the room.
It takes about two seconds for one or the other nasty things to raise their ugly head. First, a suggestion that Story Landis is, you guessed it, a bitch. That she has it in for Volkow, etc....always, always with a tinge of cat-fight about the discussion. The second meme (which interleaves with the first) is a suggestion that Volkow's personal attractiveness will be the critical factor in her victory in this matter. Combined with a suggestion that she intentionally deploys such factors to her benefit with the usual implications.
Leaving aside the accuracy of any political speculation....WTMF!??!!!
Are you people out of your bloody minds? These are the highly accomplished heads of our funding Institutes. This is about politics and infighting, sure. I see that. No problem. But assigning such tired gender analyses? c'mon.
Look, Volkow is a fantastic advocate for drug abuse science in my view. I'm on record about that. I find her to be charismatic and compelling and when she is on full boil I can't think of anyone else that should be out convincing the public and our CongressCritters that this is important stuff. But please. This is personality, not physiognomy.
I realize that talking about this runs the risk of perpetuating it. I hope that doesn't happen. I hope the nay-sayers simply file this away in their list of evidence that no matter how elite and accomplished a woman is, the gender smog inevitably catches up now and again.
I have borrowed the title concept from Zuska, where I first learned of it.

8 responses so far

  • Dr. Feelgood says:

    For whats worth I think Nora has been the best director at NIDA for a long time. She is real scientist rather than the typical scientific dabbler in a suit they usually give jobs to.
    I work in a research team of 4 PIs. Two men and two women. I am the youngest of the 4 and the two women are 1 and 7 years older than me, and the other guy is 12 years older than me. The two dudes are full professors and the women are associate professors. The women are just as productive, and have the same amount of support as the men.
    We often joke with them about it when they are pissed off and drinking beers with us. We explain its because we are men, and they are women...its very simple! Then I usually get crap thrown at me.
    I am doing my best to rectify gender inequality. They are coming with me to my new dept chair position at my new MRU and getting promos to full prof. But...of course...I got that job because I was a man.... 😛
    Doc F.

  • It takes about two seconds for one or the other nasty things to raise their ugly head.

    Dude, is any of this going on in accessible places, or just orally behind closed doors?

  • DuWayne says:

    It is incredible to me that anyone would have the audacity to throw gender into discussions about Volkow. I certainly have my disagreement with the hardline she takes on addiction and abstinence, but that is hardly unique te her. And I hardly expect to see the head of NIDA taking a different line.
    I know nothing about Landis, but I am aware that Valkow has a remarkable record as a scientist - especially for someone holding what is essentially a political position.
    Fucking morons.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Depends what you mean by "behind closed doors", PP. It is not just one-on-one if that's what you mean. That's bad enough. It is in the presence of trainees, for example, which is totally over the line if you ask me.
    The point is, if the very picture of a g-man, Dr. Hanson, had gotten the nod for NIDA (I think he was in the running, as acting director) we would not be having this conversation at all.

  • What I meant was, got any fucking links?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Good Gawd, no! I would hope nobody would be stupid enough to say this stuff in the full open.

  • Thank DM for highlighting what is often said behind closed doors. Sometimes I wish someone would say this stuff in public, so that others would realize the insidiousness of the gender smog. Unfortunately, no one is willing to say it "in the open" and so these issues are hidden within in labs, albeit in front of trainees, her word against his.

  • DSKS says:

    "I hope the nay-sayers simply file this away in their list of evidence that no matter how elite and accomplished a woman is, the gender smog inevitably catches up now and again."
    Well, we got a big fat slice of that reality during the Democratic Primaries (I was one of a few that felt a bit like this on that score).

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