Tuesday, October 03, 2006

News flash: Gender bias is alive and well

I wish I could blog about what happened to me today, but I fear the details would be too revealing. Suffice it to say that I attended a meeting today in which it was demonstrated that gender bias is not only alive, but kicking and thriving, in my department. (Think of every stupid, uninformed, biased comment you've ever heard uttered about women in CS, and it probably came up in today's meeting. And every single one of my colleagues was complicit in this. Every last one.)

I am so frustrated right now that I could cry. Sadly, I expected that the discussion would go exactly this way, and I was 100% correct. The most frustrating thing? No one in my department recognizes or acknowledges that hey, they might be part of the problem. How can you point out to people that they are being unreasonable when they refuse to acknowledge or even consider the possibility? Or when they accuse you of overreacting or being overly sensitive, and thus don't feel like they have to take you or your (perfectly legitimate) concerns seriously?

This is all so ironic, given that this happened on the eve of Grace Hopper. We have a looooooong way to go, people. And I'm quickly learning that, at least where I am, this might be a losing battle I'm fighting.

17 comments:

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Oh, gah. So sorry.

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

I believe you when you describe this scenario. And yet, my mouth is agape. Those f---ing little monkeys. I'm so sorry.

Wicked Teacher of the West said...

Even with no details, I believe you too. And feel your frustration. I hope the Hopper manages to fill you with peace and support.

Anonymous said...

I was at a place like this just 5 years ago. I'm a male CS prof, and was dedicated to trying to make my department better (there were lots o' things wrong, including the complete lack of women and minorities---in the faculty and student body). I was at a large state university in the central US. Initially in arts and sciences, but then the department combined and moved to engineering.

But a job opportunity came up at a small, all women's liberal arts school in the east. I was lucky to get the job, and now I couldn't be happier! I have been able to combine gender and educational issues into all aspects of my research.

I hope that you can make your department see the light (when do you become chair?) or find a place that you fit into!

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Oh, Jane, I'm sorry. That so, so, so sucks. I wish I had any brilliant ideas or advice, but I don't. Be well.

ScienceWoman said...

Oh, I'm so sorry. How about waving a copy of the new NAS report - beyond bias and barriers - in their faces. But they'd probably just ignore it too.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad that you feel this way, but have you considered that maybe you are being too sensitive? I'm also a woman in Computer Science, and after working in the professional and academic world for several years, I've found that most of the time what I feel is bias is truly just me being overly sensitive.

This isn't to say bias doesn't exist; might I suggest that you've been over-exposed, and now are hyper sensitive to even the appearance of gender-bias?

I'm always sorry when you turn from posting about the challanges you face and overcome as an educator, to bemoaning a situation where either (a) you can do nothing or (b) you choose to do nothing. I suspect it's A, considering your former posts and actions you've taken. Perhaps now is the time to ignore undesirable behavior and focus on other things...this road of rehashing the issue seems to be taking you nowhere, and it breaks my heart to see another woman unwilling to pick herself up from a less than perfect situation. Changing your circumstance doesn't always mean changing what other people are doing; sometimes it simply means changing how you choose to react.

This is not meant as an attack or to offend, and if it's taken in that light, I apologize. I only choose say somthing because I've been reading your blog since this January, and I have a deep respect for you and the work you do. Good luck.

Andy said...

*sarcasm*
Well we all know it is because women simply aren't good at math and science. Especially math they haven't the brain for it.
*/sarcasm*

Heh. Tell that to my MIS manager girlfriend and watch her hit the roof.

Sorry you had a cr@ppy day. If you ever quit and move on to a different Univ. you'll have to tell us where you work so I can be sure none of my friends ever send their daughters there unless by the time you leave you have managed to change their pig headedness.

Laura said...

To Anonymous above (woman in C.S.), I'm sorry but as another woman who's experienced bias in a technical field, it's not about changing the reaction; it's about changing the people. *They* (the men) don't think they're being biased. If we don't point it out to them, then nothing will change. Why is it that the victims are told that they're the ones who need to change and who shouldn't get their panties in a wad when faced with discrimination? Let's say this was race instead? Would you say the same thing? Is it okay in male-dominated fields to be sexist, but not racist? If you happened to be in the room, would you have sided with Jane or would you have sat quietly and hoped it would all go away?

I don't have a good way to fix this as I know it's a tough situation to be in. These people have control over your career so it would be tough to stand up to them. The answer might be to move on and then send a letter to the provost or the president about why exactly you've moved on. What about mediation? I know we have official mediators for stuff like that. Is there a possibility of hiring more women? A critical mass might help.

I don't mean to be so snarky, but I just hate it when people don't acknowledge that this is a real problem and not the fault person experiencing the bias but of a society that accepts these kinds of things as par for the course.

Anonymous said...

"This isn't to say bias doesn't exist; might I suggest that you've been over-exposed, and now are hyper sensitive to even the appearance of gender-bias?"

It's always difficult, with a comment like this, to figure out how much the author of the comment is being a pure-troll versus how hard they want to be taken seriously. How to judge such comments as this? How much weight to give them?

-- lawrence krubner

Jane said...

Thanks for the kind words, everyone! I love how supportive the blogosphere is. Being at GHC is making me feel better in some ways (and more frustrated in others---I would have loved for my colleagues to hear this morning's keynote, for instance). And distance from my department, I'm finding, is great for my mental and physical health.

Anon-now-at-womens-LAC: good to hear you got out of what sounds like a really bad situation and into a place where your work is valued! You know, the way my dept is set up, there's a good chance I'd become chair not long after earning tenure. I just have to try and make it that long!

ScienceWoman, I thought about sneaking copies of the NAS report into my colleagues' mailboxes, but my mentor suggested that might not be the best career move for me at this point. :)

Anon-who-thinks-I'm-overly-sensitive: that's a fair criticism in some respects, and lord knows I can be melodramatic with the best of them. But you know what? I've been in this field long enough to recognize what's minor and what's really, truly bad behavior, and there was no doubt about what side of the fence this fell on. I *do* feel powerless, because I work with people who will decide my future and they don't always (or ever?) get it, and so I really have to pick and choose my battles. And sometimes that means I grit my teeth and try not to scream and bitch about it here---because there are things I *can't* change right now, but that doesn't mean I can't put them out there and vent about them. Because I know that, unfortunately, other women are experiencing this too, and the more we talk about it, the less we should feel like it's something we should just "suck up and deal with"---because it's the only way we can see the patterns of behavior in this field. So I understand your point and concern, but I respectfully disagree with your assessment. :)

(Laura, thanks for making that point much more eloquently than I could!)

Jane said...

I should learn to proofread...

What I meant to say was this: "And sometimes that means I grit my teeth and try not to scream at the moment the event happens, and instead bitch about it here---because there are things I *can't* change right now, but that doesn't mean I can't put them out there and vent about them.

Laura said...

"panties in a wad" is eloquent? :)

meijusa said...

Jane, this must be very frustrating for you, especially as they have (tenuring) power over you. I've only been struggling with ignorant peers, at least in a group setting.

How can you point out to people that they are being unreasonable when they refuse to acknowledge or even consider the possibility? Or when they accuse you of overreacting or being overly sensitive, and thus don't feel like they have to take you or your (perfectly legitimate) concerns seriously?

I wish I knew. Do post when you come across a solution that works for you. Getting people to think about privilege, bias, and power one person at a time is easier for me than a whole group at once, but it's exhausting and sometimes I get so frustrated I can't think of all the good arguments and express them coherently. And frankly, even if that worked it would take a looooong time to get to all of them (or even a majority). Good luck!

Zuska said...

Jane: just a fantasy of mine: could you start gagging and choking in the middle of the meeting and after some particular egregious comment, just barf on the speaker's shoes? Sigh. I would so love to barf on all of them for you.

Jane, if you have a choice at all....do you WANT to be tenured in this place? Is there nowhere else you could go? Or could you get tenured and then send out feelers and go someplace nicer? I hate your colleagues and I don't even know them. But you could summon me to your side and at a moment's notice I'd barf on all their shoes for you.

Delaney Kirk said...

There has never been a female on the tenure committee in my College. Every couple years I bring this fact up and am told (by the male faculty) that since membership on the tenure committee is decided by majority vote of the faculty, it is a fair system. So when good ole boys vote for good ole boys, this is fair? And I can't seem to make them see my point. Any suggestions?

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