• April 20, 2014

Why 'Female' Science Professor?

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Brian Taylor

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Brian Taylor

In the URL of my blog, I am simply "science-professor," but the pseudonymous name I use as a blogger is "Female Science Professor." Why the extra adjective? Does it matter in my work as a scientist and a professor that I am female?

Many times it does. In fact, when I first started using the moniker, my reasons were a bit cynical. I had been so often reminded by colleagues, in their words and actions, that I was different from the "regular" (read: male) science professors, that I decided to use the extra adjective to describe myself.

Even today, being different in that way—a woman in a male-dominated profession—has often meant that my female colleagues and I are seen as less qualified than our male counterparts. Often it has meant being told that my professional achievements were likely the result of my gender, not my abilities—for example, being told that a university "had to hire a woman," that the National Science Foundation "had to give a certain number of grants to women," that an organization "had to give that award to a woman" (because deserving men had gotten the award every year for the last century), or that conference organizers "had to invite at least one woman speaker." Some of those "had to" examples might even be true, but, in most cases, what happened was that qualified women were taken seriously and allowed to achieve what they deserved without being overlooked or held to a higher standard.

Being a female science professor has meant sitting in committee meetings with men who believed that they were there because of their intellectual gifts and wisdom but that I was there because, again, there "had" to be at least one woman on the committee. It has meant having my sentences interrupted and my ideas ignored unless a man expressed a similar opinion.

It has meant being paid less than my male peers.

It has meant having people assume that my series of papers with a particular male colleague must be the work of a graduate student (me) with her adviser (my co-author).

It has meant having surreal conversations like this, typically at conferences, but sometimes during conversations with a visitor to my department:

Male Science Professor (MSP), on meeting me for the first time: Your husband is also a scientist.

Me: Yes, that's right. He works on topics X and Y.

MSP: I don't know that work, but I do know his work on A and B (insert accurate description of my research topics).

Me: Actually, I work on those topics, my husband doesn't. His name is (different last name from mine).

MSP: I have never heard of him. The person I am thinking of has the same last name as you. It must be someone else.

Me: But you just described my research. Maybe you are thinking of my work.

MSP: Oh no, I am sure that the person with the same last name as you is a man. His work is very well known and he publishes a lot. When I heard your name, I thought it must be your husband.

True story. In fact, I am that person who publishes a lot on topics A and B. I just don't happen to be a man.

Being a female science professor, particularly when I was younger, meant starting each academic term having to convince students that I was a "real" professor and therefore, if they called their male professors "Professor" or "Dr.," they should not call me "Mrs." It meant encountering graduate students and postdocs who were rudely skeptical that I had anything interesting to teach them. In one memorable instance, when I was an assistant professor, a first-year graduate student who was taking one of my courses said to me: "We're the same age. Why do you act like you know more than I do?"

Being a young female scientist meant being insulted, patronized, and intensely criticized with alarming frequency. In a few cases, it also meant being physically and verbally harassed by men who were unable to treat women as professional colleagues.

As I have gotten older and more established as a scientist, those incidents have decreased, but they have persisted to some extent even as I move deeper into my 40s. As recently as a few years ago, I was told that I was "too young" for a position of responsibility that had been given to men my age or younger many times before. A colleague who is four months older than me, and who got his Ph.D. the same year that I did, was deemed old enough for the post, but I was "too junior."

Has all of this made me angry? Yes, but I do not spend my days simmering with hostility and bitterness, waiting for the next insult or slight. I love my job and I am pretty good at it—both the research and teaching aspects of it—and that fills most of my days with positive experiences that overshadow the jarring encounters with sexism. The indignities have been unrelenting at times, but they have never outweighed the excellent aspects of being a science professor.

On my blog, 80 percent of my posts are about general academic issues and my experiences as a professor, or specifically as a science professor. In the remaining 20 percent, in which I write about "women in science" issues or my personal experiences as a female science professor, I have the dual aim of venting (complaining, ranting, shaking my virtual fist at the world) and informing readers about what it is like to be a female science professor—the good and the bad.

Maybe those personal stories help others who are experiencing the same thing; maybe they are depressing because they show that even a moderately successful, middle-aged female science professor still has to cope with sexism.

When I write about those issues, I get many positive comments, but the topic also invariably generates hostile comments and e-mail messages, some of which say that "man-hating" women like me are the cause of sexism. Although some of my readers wish I would not waste space on those hostile and absurd comments, I publish all but the most obscene and threatening ones because they demonstrate more powerfully than my little anecdotes just what we women are up against. The only other topic that generates nearly as much passion and anger as "women in science" is money.

Despite more than a decade of increasing numbers of female students in the physical sciences, it is disturbing that my profession, my scientific specialty, my university, and my department are not more populated with women. I have read many of the recent reports—there seems to be a new one every year—trying to quantify and explain the lack of women in certain fields of science, engineering, and math. I know that the reasons for the continuing underrepresentation of women, and the actions that need to be taken to alleviate the problem, are many and complex.

I am not sure why I am here and so many other women who have similar or superior skills and scientific interests are not. I do not fit the stereotype of the single, childless monomaniac who succeeds in science by acting like a man. I am married, I have a child, and I am not particularly aggressive (although I can be assertive, a handy trait).

Nevertheless, here I am: a somewhat rare beast—a midcareer female professor of the physical sciences at a major research university, wishing that I were not still so "different" from most science professors. But I'm still enjoying my job and determined to advertise my differences if doing so helps increase, in some small way, awareness of the magnitude of the problem, and thereby helps solve it.

Female Science Professor is the pseudonym of a professor in the physical sciences at a large research university who blogs under that moniker and writes monthly for our Catalyst column. Her blog is at http://science-professor.blogspot.com.


1. uconnche - June 16, 2010 at 07:35 am

Being a young male art historian (or classicist, or historian or comp-lit scholar) meant being insulted, patronized, and intensely criticized with alarming frequency. It is the culture of upper academia. Distinguished senior scholars relate to their students and junior colleagues this way. There are too many crybabies in academia. Female physicists are rare, but they ain't all that rare. Maria Goeppert Mayer won a Nobel Prize in physics. Shut up and stop preening!

2. dmmanos - June 16, 2010 at 08:21 am

Both Uconnoche and "Female Science Professor" have keyed on problems that occur in academia (and elsewhere). Too many people mistake being rude and hostile for being smart, others mistake being smart for being competent, being competent for being effective, and being, more rarely, being effective for being worthwhile. The tone of discourse, to diminish unacceptable ad hominem presumptions, ought to be set by the institutions "elders", the established Professors, Chairs, Directors, Deans, Provost, and President. Arguments should always be for or against only the ideas at hand. Conversations can be intense to the point of heated, but they ought to remain polite and respectful, regardless of gender, age, or anything else. -jtgwdtt

3. pterodactyl123 - June 16, 2010 at 08:22 am

uconnche is delusional if he thinks that men have it just as bad as women in academic culture. I have never seen young male scholars treated with the same kind of appalling disrepect as I routinely see directed at young female scholars.

His closing line "shut up and stop preening!" is typical of the kind response I see a lot from men who are pushing that forced retirement age (in other words, old geezers).

4. 11182967 - June 16, 2010 at 09:17 am

This sort of thing can work both ways--think of "male nurse"--but is pernicious in either case. The language reflects a way of thinking, but this way of thinking can be moderated by changing the language. Colleges could do this by ending the general practice of referring to their female athletic teams as the "Lady" whatevers--here the men are the Yellowjackets, but the women are the "Lady Jackets," even on the shirts in the bookstore. While we're getting rid of those offensive ethnic names and symbols we might want to divest ourselves of the gender-specific ones as well. (Or maybe we could call the football team the "Gentlemen Jackets"--but trying doing that with a straight face).

5. uconnche - June 16, 2010 at 09:29 am

Delusional yourself,pterodactyl! Part of the problem is that while the treatment is pandemic, females tend to personalize it when they experience it, males less so. So the same treatment perceived by females as "apalling disrespect" is perceived by males as an unfortunate occupational hazard.

Interesting that disrespect toward female scholars is apalling and not to be countenanced, but is perfectly acceptable when directed towards older colleagues, particularly if they are male.

6. nyhist - June 16, 2010 at 09:30 am

I second the female scientist's observation that her presence on certain committees (etc) simply means that a woman's qualifications were finally recognized.

I was the first woman ever hired in my dept in a university that was founded in the 19th century. When someone argued that adopting an affirmative action plan meant that standards would be lowered, I asked: does anyone *truly* believe that in more than 100 years there was no qualified female historian available for appointment in our dept? (No one had an answer.)

Her story about the man who refused to believe that she had written & published the work he admired reminded me of a story once told me by a female science prof on my campus. She got a phone call from a man asking to speak with 'Prof X.' She replied, "I am Prof X." The man said, "no, I want to talk to Prof. X." Again, she said, "I am Prof. X." He responded again, "you don't understand, I need to talk directly to Prof. X." I think there was one more similar exchange before the penny finally dropped and he realized he WAS speaking with Prof. X.

I warn all my female grad students and TAs to expect problems from arrogant male students--these problems go far beyond the 'regular' sorts of issues all young scholars confront (as mentioned by uconnche.) One TA this year had enormous difficulties with a particular young man who challenged her authority at every turn. Like the female scientist, I am now old enough (and well known enough) that that sort of thing doesn't happen any more, or rarely. But younger women in all academic fields confront it. And minority women most of all.

7. schulze - June 16, 2010 at 09:43 am

@ 11182967: It's not exactly the same. I can't speak for the nursing profession, but in education and any child/family related female dominanted discipline, being a "male-x" works very much to the male's advantage. They rise up to upper levels of administration very quickly. Look, for example, at the % of of teachers who are male compared to the % of principals and, especially, superintendents. I don't see the same thing happening for women in male dominated disciplines, and, when a woman is promoted or appointed to an administrative position, you sometimes hear the "had to" explanation, which I have *never* heard in the case of men in female dominanted disciplines.

But I agree about the sports name thing--women on athletics have it worse of all, even today, and have nothing that even approaches the status (and financial support) of their male counterparts.

@ uconnche: You have issues.

8. ksledge - June 16, 2010 at 09:48 am

I find this to be a helpful site:

The truth is that it's very hard to notice the bias unless you're the target. Sexism and racism (and other isms) in academia are fundamentally different from the other kinds of abuse that everyone endures. So you really need to listen with an open mind to these testimonies like the ones in this article to get an idea. Maybe men and women alike have jealous colleagues who make up lame stories about why someone got an award and they didn't (i.e. affirmative action.) But do men really have the conference conversation that FSP just recounted? And when you publish with a colleague (NOT your former advisor) do people just assume it's your advisor anyway? Most of these are examples I have a hard time imagining happening to a white man (though I could see them happening to a man of color or someone with a disability, etc.)

9. pterodactyl123 - June 16, 2010 at 10:05 am

I guess I hit a nerve, uconnche. Why don't you shut up and stop preening? Don't take it so personally.

10. pengland - June 16, 2010 at 10:15 am

My experience as a male professor in the liberal arts, who nonetheless works in a technical department, is that Female Science Professor is dead on. In the liberal arts, I've seen female colleagues encounter problem after problem with students who simply would NOT take them seriously, particularly in service courses. But those same students offered me zero problems.

Believe me when I say it's not because I'm easier to get along with.

In the technical field in which I now teach and work female faculty are rare, and the behind-the-door comments match up with what Female Science Professor says. So sad: if my female colleagues really were hired because they're women, then they simply would not have their current (and impressive) publication and teaching records.

11. dalcyanne - June 16, 2010 at 10:24 am

Thanks, FSP, for an excellent distillation of the problem and a touching (and not overwrought or accusatory) account of your experiences.

To uconnche: does it really seem, reading FSP's column, that she's taking things personally that shouldn't be? Have you ever encountered someone who wouldn't believe that you, as a man, could have done the work you claimed to? Have you ever been accused of benefitting from tokenism? At UConn, for example, 3 of 5 classics Profs are male. At most schools men outnumber women even in that rarifed region of the humanities (no matter how prominent the women are)--even at Bryn Mawr the distrubtion is half and half! Have people ever discounted your opinion until it was verified by a female colleague? Have you ever heard students refer to you as "boy"? Seriously, just entertain the possibility, for a second, that even half of what FSP wrote is absolutely true. Shouldn't we, as self-proclaimed educators, be trying to reform ourselves and our environments so that such systemc prejudice is not an accepted part of our daily lives?

12. unstricken - June 16, 2010 at 10:36 am

FSP's observations match mine. I agree that academia includes some affirmative action (e.g., "let's make sure some women are in the pool of candidates for dean"); I would happily relinquish that minor advantage in exchange for eliminating all of the more subtle barriers that FSM describes so well. The daily toll exacted by these barriers is hard to measure but it is nonetheless draining.

13. ex_lit_prof - June 16, 2010 at 10:49 am

During my short-lived career as an English prof, people in the small university town often commented on my Asian descent, assuming that I must teach courses on ethnic literature (in fact, I am fourth-generation Japanese-Canadian, and my specialty was Modern American Literature). This pigeonholing is infuriating. After unsuccessfully struggling to find employment in a more urban, cosmpolitan setting, I decided to choose my mental health and leave academia altogether. Read about my journey at: www.the-reading-list.com

14. akprof - June 16, 2010 at 10:55 am

schulze - it works that way in nursing as well - males often move into administration even before they are qualified to to do. But, ion fairness, female nurses often treat male nurses shamefully, often expecting them to do the very heavy physical tasks just because they are male. Life isn't fair!

15. 11232004 - June 16, 2010 at 10:59 am

It still amazes me when people discount academics account of actual situations, belittle the people who give the account, attempt to relate the experience to their own, and then state theirs is the same. Uconnche, do not doubt you too, have experienced poor treatment by senior colleagues. I've seen that happen as well. BUT I bet you've never had an undergraduate walk in to your class, ask who the professor was, and when you answer it's you, tell you they were hoping for Dr. (put your last name here), because HE (and you are a she, you can reverse that to because SHE) is a good professor, and they don't need to learn this from you. I've had it happen not once, not twice but probably 4-5 times in my career. The assumption is that, "if it's good, it has to be a male." I honor your complaints about what happens to junior faculty, I see it. Is it really so hard to immagine that some of these same people would treat colleagues poorly because they are women (or young, or in a different field)? None of it is right or helpful to the academy, and only when ALL faculty step up and see it for it is, will it change. Saying, "buck up" to people is not helpful, and you're actually ducking YOUR responsibility to create a postiive atmoshphere where you work, and contributing to an on-going negative one.

16. bekka_alice - June 16, 2010 at 11:24 am

Another surreal conversation - it's not just men that do this to us, it's women - Woman PhD in administration, to me: "We need to change the voice mail message, there's a woman's voice on it and it sounds unprofessional." I certainly didn't take that "personally" since it wasn't my voice - but I did take it as an absurdism about the gender. Similarly, uconnche, I doubt you've had anyone insinuate you had a given job because of the quality of your chest instead of your mind. And if you'd like to take it out of gender context, I deem it unlikely you've had people tell you that you had a job because of your male gender equipment (I have no idea what terminology is acceptable in this post so we'll go with a silly one) rather than your mind. Taking cases as applying to one's entire gender in the face of evidence such as your own post is a very different thing than "taking it personally." Quick, tell me I'm hysterical for noticing, it's been at least a week since anyone used that one. Or maybe we can blame it on hormones.

17. f_physics_postdoc - June 16, 2010 at 02:19 pm


You are correct, Maria Goeppert-Mayer won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963. You forgot Marie Curie, though, who won in 1903.

And Marie Curie (same one), Irène Joliot-Curie, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, and Ada E. Yonath each won the Chemistry Prize in 1911, 1935, 1964, and 2009, respectively.

Since 1901, there have been five (5!) female Nobel laureates in Physics and Chemistry. The rest of the laureates were men: 186 in Physics and and 156 in Chemistry. I'll let you do the math, which I hope helps you realize how rare we really are.

18. princeton67 - June 16, 2010 at 02:44 pm

Change "female" to "Black": increase condescension, misapprehension, and rudeness - conscious and unconscious - tenfold.

19. hmprescott63 - June 16, 2010 at 02:49 pm

@uconnche -- have students even assumed that you were the department secretary? That's happened to me many times, still does.

20. drnancylbush - June 16, 2010 at 05:15 pm

The "old boys' network" is alive and well in all academia, and certainly in the business related fields. Who takes the notes in the meetings, who is expected to play nicely and make the department function smoothly, who is expected to volunteer? I guarantee you it is seldom the male of the species. Oh, yes...and who gets the praise? Don't count on it ladies!

21. dmaratto - June 16, 2010 at 06:01 pm

I used to work at a place where it was all ladies except for me. I was not treated disrespectfully, but then again, I made sure to be extremely respectful of everyone. Had I been an arrogant jerk, I would have been treated with contempt by my female colleagues, and rightfully so. You give respect, you get it. That's just common sense to me, but then again, lots of folks don't have common sense. Do unto others ...

As to the science part, here's a second-hand anecdote from my girlfriend, who is a female scientist and works in a college lab populated entirely by female scientists, except for one man. Before he arrived (from a Middle Eastern country), her supervisor gathered all the ladies around and told them (I'm paraphrasing): "Listen, in his country, women are worth nothing, but he will be working here to help us now, so remember, you use him!" It turns out he's shy and retiring, but it would have been interesting to see how the dynamics played out with one guy and all the girls in charge!

22. cranefly - June 16, 2010 at 07:18 pm

I get a reasonable amount of press in my research, and I'm constantly referred to as "the female researcher" or some such. It's rare that, despite the fact that my name is obviously female, an article about my research doesn't point out that I'm female. My research has nothing to do with gender issues, and I find this deeply offensive.

And I have to admit that I tire of males who think we're just "still complaining" when we still make less in the same jobs (even in academia), still get taken less seriously (by students and professors alike), and still are treated as if our gender is the most important aspect of our work.

23. chron7 - June 17, 2010 at 12:47 am

I found the article balanced and well-presented. Imagine my astonishment when I read the first comment to 'shut up'and stop 'preening'. Case made.

24. leesplez - June 17, 2010 at 09:11 am

I think your article is very well written, and quite revealing (just look at some of the comments you've been getting)! I glad that I come from a liberal arts school with a large population of female professors, and I have never met such respectful and helpful mentors and peers. Both my advisors for my two majors are women, and I find them extremely helpful and kind, which can't always be said about all my male professors!

And you should never have to "shut up," or tolerate anyone who says you do!

25. docnik - June 17, 2010 at 09:50 am

I completely agree with the content of this article. As a young, science professor, I have often found myself having to explain myself more than my more mature counterparts. I am often mistaken for the secretary in my department and questioned even more by students if I am "really the professor."

26. gfv1105 - June 17, 2010 at 09:54 am

Ugh. I should have read a manuscript instead of slogging through the comments. We should all get back to work instead of wallowing in self pity. More pubs + more grants = better job.

27. chroniclebarnacle - June 17, 2010 at 11:17 am

Ladies- please understand that uconnuche does not represent all male opinion. His was a rude and short sighted comment meant to hurt or perhaps stir up ill feelings- he has done that by reading the posts. Let's face it- there are inequalities that remain. It is not a perfect world but we in the U.S. certainly have a better record for equal treatment albeit we have a good way to go.

28. stardreamer - June 17, 2010 at 05:47 pm

chroniclebarnacle, you really don't need to carefully explain to all the women here that not all men are like uconnuche; pengland gave an excellent demonstration of that way back at #10, and I think any woman who is posting here is capable of figuring it out on her own. The problem is that TOO MANY men are like that. If you want to help, don't just say "some of us are different" -- do your share of the heavy lifting, and push back when you see it happening to women in your own organization.

29. softshellcrab - June 17, 2010 at 06:36 pm

But you seem to be kind of vindictive and chauvinistic about it, Ma'am. What's more, I don't believe you. I don't believe that in a widespread way you were insulted, patronized, and intensely criticized with the alarming frequency that you claim. Oh, I believe it happened sometimes, but I believe that you, in your own mind, again chavinistically, portrayed the jerkiness of a few men into a running generalization about "how men act" and that you saw (and see) insults behind half the innocent remarks you heard from men. You say that "In a few cases, it also meant being physically and verbally harassed by men who were unable to treat women as professional colleagues." I have two daughters, both professionals, and I taught them to let this stuff go, and that no one is out to get them, and to just be mature adults. They have done very well under this philosophy. They have not had trouble from men in the workplace at all. Now you run a blog which you admit is 20% dedicated to womens' issues. Stop being so chauvinistic in life, and you'll be a lot happier. Stop seeing phantoms behind every tree...

30. fobean - June 18, 2010 at 04:40 am

Wow, between softshellcrab and uconnuche, one has such delightful examples of precisely what the author is discussing. I am extremely curious as to why someone would teach his daughters to "let go" of physical and verbal assaults. Being that softshellcrab has told his daughters that he will not be sympathetic to any comments about men and will regard said comments as failing to be a "mature adult," what makes him think that his daughters would bother telling him about any of the issues they are having?

Given that this author is well published and otherwise doing fine in her discipline, if she did not spend 20% of her blog and this article telling you she did have problems--how exactly would you know that she was "not doing well under [your] philosophy."

Ignoring something as if it is not there, and being able to do so, is not an ability to "stop seeing phantoms"--it is denial. One can live a life of denial if one likes--and some people are happier that way. But, there is very little difference between your insistance that noticing something is what "makes it so," and claims that people of color who note their colleagues' implicit racism are, again, bringing something into being simply by noting it. This is not "chavinism." [Though I am puzzled by the suggestion that noticing that others think one is LESS than they are means that one thinks instead that one is MORE than they are--is that an affirmative conclusion from a negative premise or am I getting my logical fallacies mixed up again?] I suppose we are not to notice that the emperor has no clothes.

Let me give you an example--in my former department, my supervisor who was fond of patting himself on the back (is that the sound of one hand clapping? I have always wondered . . . but I digress) for being amazingly culturally sensitive was engaged in a loud conversation with a TA who was extremely ticked that an Asian student of hers (a male) referred to her as "teacher" and continued doing it despite being asked, repeatedly, to call her by her first name. The two, very loudly and probably intending to be overheard by the student, discussed the degree to which this was symptomatic of Asian males minimizing females and chauvinism on their part.

As the only Asian in the department (it was a humanities department), I knew better than to point out (equally loudly) that the term "teacher"--or "sensei"--is used to refer to both men and women, equally. It is a term of respect--like "professor," or "officer," or "senator"--which is used instead of the person's given name (the given name being too informal). It calls attention to the accomplishment of the individual and pays respect to his/her earned role. The given student had probably been so instilled by his culture to be respectful of his teachers that he could not bring himself to call her by her given name any more than I was ever capable of addressing my professors as anything other than "Dr. X" or "Dr. Y" despite being encouraged to do so.

Am I wrong, in this case, for noticing the "phantom" ethnocentrism of my colleagues? Certainly they do not regard themselves as ethnocentric, and certainly they would not mean to be--and certainly they would vehemently argue that they are not and that I am misinterpreting their behaviors--but does that make them any the less ethnocentric? Am I chauvinistic for pointing out that Asians have a different culture and way of perceiving the world and that one might at least be sensitive to it? Can you at all see my point, given that I just dissed a feminist (given that you don't like feminists)? Or am I, as Glenn Beck likes to put it, arguing with an idiot?

Well, that's enough rhetorical questions in a row. I enjoyed the article and wish I had read something similar about Asians in the humanities--I would have known better than to stay in the discipline and might have very sensibly shifted to secondary education or library science and might now be employed full time rather than being an adjunct prowling The Chronicle at 2AM.

31. bythenumbers - June 18, 2010 at 05:50 am

Thank you for the article-- it mirrors my experiences as a young woman in the Humanities.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the added complications of being an attractive woman in academia. I have heard comments (said of an attractive, young post-doc--(not me): 'Her article was published only because she's sleeping with the editor,' when there was absolutely no evidence that there was a relationship between the editor and the researcher.

If an attractive woman (especially if she's single) starts gaining a reputation as a successful researcher, the rumors about her sex life seem to grow proportionately. This seems to be an attempt to 'explain' her success as a researcher. I know several women who wear fake wedding rings just to keep this sort of thing out of their lives.

32. supertatie - June 18, 2010 at 09:32 am

Those who know my posts know my political leanings - free market conservative. So one might expect me to accuse this author of feminist extremism. But I've been in academia for almost 20 years, and she is absolutely correct. It is manifestly unfair for anyone to mischaracterize her as oversensitive, when the tone of her piece is so obviously moderate and sensible. And those of us who have lived it know exactly what she has been through, because we have dealt with it, too.

Others who have remarked that senior academics routinely treat junior ones of both genders (not to mention non-Caucasians) shabbily are also correct. And we don't even need to remark on how they treat professionals who are clinical or adjunct faculty - people who are consummately qualified and experienced in their own fields, but who do not have a Ph.D., or tenure.

So, I will make a statement that it is PRECISELY because academia is shielded from the same kind of reality that companies in the private sector face, that woman and minorities have done so poorly, professionally here.

Private companies are accountable in ways faculty are not: failing CEOs get removed by boards of directors; failing boards get removed by shareholders; failing products get rejected by consumers; unpopular corporate positions result in boycotts.

No, it does not (usually) happen quickly. But it takes place at lightning speed compared to change in academia. We can all recite notable examples of failed CEOs being thrown out. When was the last time a tenured professor lost his or her job?

In fact, even when tenured faculty who are administrators fail in those administrative capacities, they retire back to their cushy tenured faculty position with a light teaching load. Faculty complain bitterly about coaches' salaries. But athletic departments are not filled with highly paid fired former coaches.

I submit that one of the reasons so many senior faculty are so hostile toward anyone who is different is that they are among the most professionally insecure individuals you will ever meet - as people become, when the only thng propping up their reputation is insulation from actual competition.

33. fcstemp - June 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

You are right on, Female Science Professor. Add "coloued" to "female" and it would be even more drastic - from first hand experience!

Shame that it has to be like this in 2010!

34. mdl06g - June 18, 2010 at 04:52 pm

And people who are short are mistreated. People who are red heads are mistreated. People who are overweight are mistreated. Academics aren't respected by administration. Administrators aren't respecte by academics.

At some point will you realize that part of the human condition is being noticed for the thing that differentiates you from any population in which you find yourself?

I think it's interesting to hear the stories and to realize that maybe this is some evolutionary lesson that's hard coded into us... to look around and see which of us is smarter, stronger, faster, older, weaker, taller... so we know who to avoid, who to ask for help...

I'm just now 40 years old. My experience has been that we human beings are exceptional at being unfair. We notice whoever is near us and is not like us in whatever way they may be different.

Don't take it personally. You're dealing with humans and that's what we do well.

35. wilmingtonmedia - June 19, 2010 at 11:58 am

Many teachers/professors bring their emotional baggage along with them at work. In this case, I think the hostility towards women has to do with childhood experiences. Being a male 'nerd' in a regular middle/high school environment can be problematic, to say the least. Not trying to excuse people's actions, but it's important to know why. Anger is counterproductive. Attempting to reach out to people gives you at least a chance to connect with the offenders. Now if you wanna see a switch between genders, there is the Women's studies department, renowned for its hostility towards half of the population. They have their motives too. Anyway, best of luck, hope things work out okay for you. Bye.

36. bruce_1867 - June 20, 2010 at 03:39 pm

It is always amazing when the ignorant assume that those who have experienced prejudice all of their lives are not experts on the manifestation of that particular prejudice.
That being said, misogyny is not the only form of prejudice in the university. You could probably still find people who deny making their classes less than comfortable for people of color. These forms pf prejudice have been recognized by society.
The unsung form of prejudice that is relevant today is that against disabilities, both hidden and tangible. The person with the hidden disability is most likely to be ridicule for bringing an act to public attention. The actor believes there is safety in such behavior.
The administration does just enough to satisfy the law, resenting the idea that this is an unnecessary expense that interferes with their ability to use that money to pad their resumes. The denialist that presume to function as teachers are more simplistic. They resent the added burden, real or imagined. Who is that “lazy student.”

37. boredwithacademia - June 22, 2010 at 09:28 am

Try being a male job applicant in the humanities in years when 80% of tenure track jobs in your field go to objectively less qualified women, who in many cases have zero publications and no professorial-ranked teaching experience. Then consider a tenure case in the department you graduated from in which a barely published and generally ignorant female faculty member was turned down and turned down again on appeal but still granted tenure by the institution's president after threatening to file a lawsuit for sexual discrimination. Then have a female colleague who teaches a class on witches (only female witches, by the way) and looks like she knows what she's talking about tell you that she will only vote for female job candidates to redress gender imbalances, regardless of the qualifications and achievements of male applicants. Perhaps that would lead to an informed conversation about gender bias in academia.

38. sdryer - June 25, 2010 at 08:31 pm

Most people on occasion are subjected to "appalling" disrespect and professional dissappointments and sometimes it really is unfair or certainly seems that way. Gender is just one of may reasons why this can happen. There are all sorts of pecking orders that have nothing to do with productivity or impact.

39. dougstan - June 26, 2010 at 09:27 am

I enjoyed the article, and have found all of the comments illuminating. I am male, within sight of retirement, work in administration at a major research university (21 years) in a department that is 68% female, have a master's in journalism, worked in the newspaper world for a time and have also started a couple of small businesses. All of this is to say that I've had the opportunity to see many organizations from the inside and to observe and be entertained by the human parade. Of it all, I've been happiest in higher ed because there is, aside from the inevitable petty nonsense, an underlying feeling of hope and honesty. My belief, and what keeps me going to work every day, is that this comes from the fundamental purpose of shaping the minds of the next generation (never more challenging than today), and the relentless pursuit of knowledge. It is a noble thing, one I'm happy to associate myself with.

I have experienced the same dismissive and-- dare I say, supercillious or pompous--attitudes from academics as FSP and others, though, merely because I am not on the academic side of the house. I'm not complaining (well, not much), but would suggest that we humans sometimes fail to listen to the better angels of our nature.

I admit that it used to bother me more; maybe approaching decrepitude has its advantages. After all, we all end up in the same place, and the vastness of history will sweep along quite well without any of us, no matter how accomplished we might be.

FSP seems to have come through intact, and with a sense of balance and integrity as a person quite intact. I salute her.

40. biosciprof - June 28, 2010 at 01:11 pm

My experience as a female science prof exactly tallies with FSP's. Staff thinking I must be Dr Biosciprof's postdoc or secretary; in my youth,hearing male postdocs in neighboring labs comment that I must have my job because i"m a woman. Senior colleagues who were obsessed with my sex life and asked incredible impertinent questions. There's some relief now that I'm older but still a very apparent double standard.

Or my personal "favorite", still in play in my 40s: being paid less than male colleagues who are years my junior, who have fewer grants, and fewer publications, who teach less, who do less service. But who remind the chair of himself, or something.

Of course, plausible deniability leads to them accusing us of being thin-skinned or unable to take a joke. Same thing for any minority group, really--trying to make it our fault they treat us differently.

You only do this job because you love the research. But I have to say the constant lack of any positive reinforcement and constant negatives have pretty much burned me out on it. These days, I'm happy to see my students go to biotech, where there is less of a glass ceiling and more equality.

41. footbook - July 05, 2010 at 04:42 am

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