Lessons from the BSDs in long black robes

Jun 04 2009 Published by under Gender, General Politics

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The good Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde spotted something the other day that I can't believe hasn't been noticed by a wider audience. In the wake of the Sotomayor nomination, DJ&MH posteda telling quote from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS).

From this week's NY Times Week in Review:

But Justice Ginsburg said her own influence in all sorts of cases at the justices' conferences was uncertain. "I will say something -- and I don't think I'm a confused speaker -- and it isn't until somebody else says it that everyone will focus on the point," Justice Ginsburg said.

That is, she is one of the nine highest-ranking judges in the nation, with the power to define and defend constitutional law, and she sometimes kinda feels like people ignore the points she makes...until a guy says the same thing ten minutes later.


For those in my audience who are unaware, this is one of those lame situations in which women frequently find themselves, including in bioscience. Frequently, from what I can deduce.
Now I have to acknowledge that I am someone who (in some professional environments, not all, some*) has a pronounced tendency to talk and argue and generally be an active participant (no doubt because of a hypertrophied d00dly-opining d00d lobe). Of course I don't think of this as gender privileged behavior**, I, um, fail to defer to d00ds too!
As I am sort of vaguely realizing the impact of my usual antics on women and possibly other underrepresented groups in science, I was receptive to an interesting comment left over at DJ&MH's place. Some pulsating d00d-lobe type opined:

This is one of the most difficult aspects of male privilege to overcome as a man. I consider myself pretty aware of male privilege and how it makes me act like a misogynist shithead. But sometimes I, nevertheless, find myself discounting or ignoring the voices of women in contexts like a conference or other group discussion. I constantly make an effort to not do this, but it still sometimes happens.

Huh! Yeah. I really don't know. How would one? I mean this sort of discounting is not, presumably, intentional. So therefore it operates at a level not accessible to one's recollection.
I am thinking that I should adopt a citation style in discussions. Seriously. I mean if you are constantly saying in your lab meetings after bringing up some brilliant new idea ("....which Postdoc Smith first brought to our attention, right?"...) wouldn't this help keep credit straight in our own minds? And if we make a mistake wouldn't this be an explicit invitation for someone to correct us?
In roundtables, conference Q&A sessions, study section, Dept meeting...it could be applied. Slightly ponderous, perhaps. But wouldn't it help to interrupt that subconscious process of ignoring women's comments and attending men's comments?
__
*I swear!
**It is though.

6 responses so far

  • becca says:

    Good instinct, but I'm not sure about how feasible the implementation will be.
    Lately I've been paying attention to a nuance in talks that PIs give. It seems very common for them to go through a whole talk, being appropriately "PI-psudeo-modest" (i.e. "and this work was carried out by my postdoc so-and-so", ending with "and let me thank the people who actually did the work...") and not acknowledge anywhere near as many women as men. Yet, when they show their lovely group-lab we're-real-people photo, there are clearly more women in their labs. I grant that women are probably more likely to be techs, or undergrads, which confounds attributing credit.
    But I'd advise people to watch for it, and see if there's anything to make you feel squeazy there.
    "And if we make a mistake wouldn't this be an explicit invitation for someone to correct us? " The power dynamics don't necessarily work that way. Even in the most egalitarian labs, different people have different incentives to promote themselves vs. avoiding "tooting their own horn" excessively.
    In my own lab meetings I, for one, would say that I am "somewhat comfortable" gently pointing out when the (singular) other female in my group makes a contribution that was going unrecognized; "perfectly comfortable" pointing out when I notice the same thing happening to a male labmate (which I don't notice so frequently); and "completely uncomfortable" when pointing out my contributions were not attributed. This, despite the fact I really, really, really enjoy saying "I told you so" 😉 Actually, maybe in part because of how much I enjoy that- there is a point at which I become an insufferable know-it-all. But also because I know I am more likely to come across as defensive or as "having a chip on my shoulder".
    I think the strategy might work better in a faculty round-table discussion where everyone is obstensibly of equalish rank, but I haven't been in those situations enough to have much insight into how it might play out.

  • Grad Girl says:

    Citation style discussion would be ponderous...but nice. Otherwise, it seems petty to come out with "Hey, douchebag, I just said that. Glad you finally wrapped your little brain around it."
    My PI, who at times treats females, self-included, very inappropriately, does at least recognize good ideas regardless of the source. In lab meetings, if a smart comment is being ignored, he will often bring it back, prefaced with "As Sole Female Student said..." Still, some--though not all--of the Boys in the group tend to not register what I have to say if the PI isn't there as reinforcement.

  • Isabel says:

    >saying in your lab meetings after bringing up some brilliant new idea ("....which Postdoc Smith first brought to our attention, right?"...) wouldn't this help keep credit straight in our own minds?
    I'm afraid the person announcing the great idea (that a woman previously came up with) is probably not the best source of original credit. The speaker above and most of his listeners might not even remember that it was not HIS idea, or that it had been previously mentioned. And your suggestion really wouldn't help the problem of people not getting excited about the idea the first time it's mentioned, by the woman. Listening carefully and actively when women speak and saying wow, what a great idea Ms.X might help cement the origin of the idea in people's minds.
    >And if we make a mistake wouldn't this be an explicit invitation for someone to correct us?
    It might be helpful if any present that did hear the woman's comments or know she had stated the same in the past now said, especially if they suspect she is not being credited with her ideas "Oh yes Ms. X pointed that out earlier" or "oh yes, Ms X did suggest the same thing at our last meeting didn't she"
    Becca is right that women can seem on the defensive when we stick up for ourselves, but we can at least try to get credit in when we can. Sometimes we are just sitting there in shock at being openly ripped off by an otherwise friendly colleague who doesn't even seem to realize what he's doing, and then the moment passes...

  • Gingerale says:

    I have experienced similar misattributions of credit quite often.

  • D. C. Sessions says:

    Something similar happens with cultural differences [1]. Working with colleagues from other cultures (India, China, etc. especially) really requires keeping a lid on -- if we don't, people just clam up. It also requires actively forcing ourselves to give others space to express themselves, actively listening, rather than expecting them to fight for their own time with the mike [2].
    In the case of the Court, this kind of thing suggests that a woman with a good bit of time in front of the bench as well as behind it will be more effective.
    [1] I can't say how much of the gender aspect is a manifestation of culture.
    [2] It doesn't come easy to an over-the-top cowboy. I'm more comfortable with Mediterranean-style arm-waving and yelling, but my comfort isn't on the list of objectives.

  • zayıflama says:

    The speaker above and most of his listeners might not even remember that it was not HIS idea, or that it had been previously mentioned.

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