Ambassador for the engineers May 22, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, humor, work.
Tags: conference, feminism, sexism, trade show
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After writing about my experience manning a booth at a conference (geez…even how you work a booth at a conference can be phrased in male-centric terms), it has slowly dawned on me that there is another way to view the experience. I was rather frustrated that people seemed surprised when they found out I was an engineer. I have realized, however, that I need to look at it in a different light: such a reaction, when not accompanied by an obvious derogatory or sexist statement (as has happened), could potentially be viewed as a compliment. Maybe in expressing surprise that I’m an engineer, what they were really saying was: “Oh my! You can talk to me without using technobabble or looking at someone’s shoes! Nor do you have male-pattern baldness!” It’s a good thing to go out and destroy those stereotypes, right?
Booth Babe May 3, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, work.
Tags: conference, feminism, sexism, stereotypes, trade show
Last week, before leaving for a conference, I posted the following on Twitter:
So if I’m working our booth at the conference, does that make me a booth babe?(That IS a joke, BTW.)
Now that I’m back, I realize that comment should’ve been taken as a bad omen. I actually didn’t expect there to be booth babes (and if you’re not sure what I’m referring to, please read this), but I was very wrong about that. There were, in fact, booth babes at the show.
I went to this conference because I was invited to give a talk about my research. However, my employer said they would provide my room and board for the trip if I helped work a booth at the trade show promoting our services and capabilities. We frequently work with private industry, and it was assumed that having a handful of intelligent people showing what we could do is good for the bottom line. I’m in favor of having an income and love talking about my work, so this seemed like a reasonable deal for me, as well.
But back to the booth babes, I’m sad to report that this was not the most disturbing part of working our booth. The most disturbing part was interacting with some of the people who came to visit us, many of whom apparently have interacted with them. I was chatting with a fellow, and toward the end of the conversation, I gave him my card. He read it and said, “Oh! You’re an engineer?” I responded I was, and he then asked, “And you actually work at the center?”
Then there was one person who was talking to a colleague about one of my demo projects at the booth. When the guy asked this colleague for a card, he said he didn’t have any but said it was my project. The visitor looked at me for a moment, open mouthed, and said, “This is YOUR project?” I nodded and introduced myself, and gave him my business card. He looked back and forth between myself and my colleague a few times, looking like he wanted to give me back my card. Then he said thank you and walked away. He apparently didn’t want to have a conversation with me.
Admittedly, these were some of the worst cases, but it was obvious that about half of the people who came to talk to us had no desire to talk to me, asking to talk to someone who was “in charge.” Others, when I approached them while they were reading our posters, would say they were waiting to talk to an engineer or faculty.
One colleague, when I complained about the situation, said I need to just “prove them wrong.” I agree that this is the right spirit to have, but it is overwhelmingly frustrating when you’re sitting there, and someone obviously comes to the conclusion that you’re an idiot by virtue of your sex while the people around you are obviously competent for the same reason. It’s a horrible experience, and I seriously doubt most men really understand how hard it is to be motivated to ‘prove them wrong’ when you have to do it with every single person you meet. Men, in similar circumstances, are accorded this respect simply by breathing. It certainly doesn’t require the equivalent effort a female would have to put forth.
I will say that it is somewhat understandable that people would make the assumption that I’m a salesperson given that most of the women on the trade show floor were, in fact salespeople…or booth babes. In many cases, it ended up that once people got over the surprise that they were talking to a living, breathing, female engineer, we were able to move on and have some extremely interesting conversations. Unfortunately, the shocked look every time I was introduced as a researcher got old very quickly.
You know what they say about assumptions… March 29, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, societal commentary.
Tags: feminism, sexism
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This past week, Mike and I had a meeting with some people on a project that I had run. One of the people was someone I’d met before as we’d interfaced on another project. As we all sat down and finished up our introductions, this person faced Mike and started asking him questions about the current project. After a couple questions, it was pretty clear that he thought Mike was in charge of things. I sort of inwardly sighed and waited. I’ve had this happen more times than I care to recall.
After about the third question, Mike said, “Well, Cherish is actually the one who came up with the idea, so I think she’d be better at addressing these issues.” From that point on, things were a lot more balanced.
I spoke with Mike afterwards, and I asked if he noticed this person focusing on him initially.
“Oh yes, that’s why I turned it over to you as quickly as possible and then left the room for a few minutes. If I wasn’t there, he’d have to talk to you.”
It was bothering the both of us, however, that we couldn’t tell if this person had focused on him because he knew me from this other project or if it was the stereotypical ‘the guy must be in charge’ assumption. Either way, I would have preferred if he had asked first which of us was leading the project rather than making assumptions.
Public shaming of men March 22, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, societal commentary.
Tags: adria richards, feminism, sexism, sexist comments, technology
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I’ve been reading the stories about Adria Richards…and reading, with abject horror, the comments on those stories.
The primary thing that irritated me were the comments saying that she shouldn’t have posted the pictures to Twitter. She should, in their opinion, have simply told them to knock it off.
Obviously these commenters have no idea what they’re asking. One of my first experiences where this occurred was in a college cafeteria. I was sitting with another woman and two men, both of whom were loudly ogling the women in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated (ETA: it was actually the swimsuit issue). The other woman asked them to stop. They ignored her and kept on. She repeated her request, and they glared at her before telling her that if she didn’t like it, she could go somewhere else…and then returned to their activity. When she got up angrily and left, there was loud muttering about what a bitch she was.
In the twenty years since this happened, I have never seen such requests, either from me or other women, have any positive outcome. In fact, they’re almost entirely replicas of the above conversation. Occasionally, there’s the, “Can’t you take a joke?” line thrown in, as well. And in the twenty years since this happened, I have encountered many such opportunities to try this tactic.
It doesn’t work.
My observation is that men who are stupid enough to think it’s okay to behave this way in public, especially in a professional setting, are also too stupid to realize that it’s sexist and that they should quit, even when told directly. Somehow it’s okay to make jokes at a tech conference that you’d never make in front of your mother. (There’s a bit of scientific evidence to back this up.) If you honestly think just telling them to stop actually worked, all of them would have stopped making comments like that a long time ago. There’s a website devoted to dealing with the issue, which would be unnecessary if just telling people to stop actually worked.
The only time I’ve seen any different outcome is when I did something similar to Adria: I publicly shamed the offender on the biggest soapbox I could find. You see, in the twenty years I’ve been dealing with behavior head on, I have learned that men won’t listen to me on the topic of sexist behavior as they ascertain that women aren’t good evaluators in this realm. Instead, if you want them to stop sexist behavior, you need to get other men to tell them to stop. In my situation, it actually worked. While I would like to think that the man making offensive comments suddenly saw the error of his ways, I think the reason he really apologized (albeit with a defensive remark at the end) was because other men and some women piled on and said it was out of line. I’m incredibly appreciative of all of those people, too.
It’s depressing, however, to find that there so many more out there who feel like Adria just needs to get a thicker skin or are clueless to the fact that making sexist remarks go away isn’t a simple feat. To me, this is a very clear sign that sexism in tech is still as much a problem as it was two decades ago.
(If, after reading all this you’re still frustrated, then cheer yourself up by reading this wonderful parody about how women should remember their place in science.)
Stereotypes are good because they’re true February 3, 2013Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, societal commentary.
Tags: feminism, sexism, sexist comments, stereotypes, women in science
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A couple weeks ago, I was talking with someone who mentioned an email about stereotypes of women. He apparently thought it was funny, and I made the quip that I hadn’t seen it because obviously no one would be stupid enough to send something like that to me. There was some effort at defending the email, but I said that stereotypes aren’t defensible because they cause you to judge all people who fall into a particular category the same way rather than viewing them as unique individuals who may or may not resemble the stereotype.
In particular, I talked about my experience when I first started going to college. A frequently overheard comment my first year or two of college is that, “Women are only accepted here because of affirmative action.” Dummy me, I started to believe it.
It was a couple years later when I realized it was bunk. I was working on a website for the women’s center, and I was asked to put up statistics that compared female and male admitted students. It turned out that the stats came from my particular class, and one of the things that I was putting up was a comparison between SAT scores of the two groups. I found it interesting that there was only about a 10-point difference between men and women. What really got me was when I found out that my SAT scores were actually higher than the average male SAT scores. I was livid. I’d been told for so long that I had only been admitted because of my uterus that I would’ve never believed it. That meant that my SAT scores were better than more than half the men in my cohort.
Going back to the conversation, I became even more irritated when someone else jumped into the conversation, making the assertion that stereotypes are just fine. Apparently, in this person’s world, the people they misjudge are apparently acceptable casualties because “most of the time,” it’s true.
Sadly, I doubt this person would understand how their judgments impact other people. In fact, I think they’d be especially reluctant to agree with this article about how stereotypes are bad even when they’re good.
I admit to having caught myself assuming stereotypes of people. It’s something that I have to work on constantly. It’s disappointing, however, that there are still people who think stereotypes are a reasonable approach to human interaction.
Typical woman November 19, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, societal commentary.
Tags: feminism, humor, jokes, sexism, sexist comments
I was ribbing a coworker at a meeting, and his response could more or less be summed up with, “Typical woman.” I was completely expecting him to say that, and I laughed when he did. However, one of the other people in the meeting was obviously very uncomfortable with the exchange and quickly changed the topic, redirecting us back to our original focus.
After this exchange, I was somewhat troubled because I started wondering if I had some sort of double standard: in this scenario, my coworker was obviously kidding and I know that he doesn’t really believe that. (At least, I’m fairly certain he doesn’t. We have a very good professional relationship.) On the other hand, I know that if certain people did it, it would probably offend me as it would just cement my view that they have issues with women.
This left me wondering when, if ever, sexist humor is appropriate. Is it alright as long as the woman or women present aren’t offended, or ought there be a more universally applied standard? I know some people who feel it is never okay to make jokes like that. Or should it be situation dependent?
Telling women to smile on the internet October 7, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, societal commentary.
Tags: facebook, feminism, sexism
There’s an interesting phenomenon that many women have experienced: a random stranger off the street will suddenly come up to you and tell you to smile. If you’ve never heard of it before, just google “men telling women to smile” and you can read more about it than I have room to give you here. The general consensus is that it’s a control issue. Men can demand things from women (or feel entitled to) because of their privileged position.
The funny thing is that you can get this on the internet, too. Only there, I’ve run into it several times in the form of “you shouldn’t post that on your facebook page”. It’s happened several times to me:
I don’t want to see pictures of your kids. I want to know what’s going on with you.
I don’t want to see pictures of your dogs. They aren’t part of your family.
I don’t want to see your political rants. I want to know what’s going on with you.
Interestingly, that last comment came immediately after I’d posted something about how the president of our university mentioned my research in his state of the university speech. This same person never bothered to comment on that point.
And this leads me to believe that this is exactly the same phenomenon, as it always seems to be men who say these things to me. They somehow feel that they can exert control over what I choose to post and they feel I am not sufficiently entertaining.
I wonder how they would feel if someone said to them, in a conversation, “I don’t want to talk about what you’re interested in. Let’s talk about what I want to discuss.” Most of us think people like that are assholes.
After telling my husband about this latest comment, he responded incredulously, “It’s your Facebook page. You can post whatever you want!” And a few hours later, another friend posted exactly that on the conversation on Facebook. I was more polite than that in my response, but given this has happened multiple times, I think I’m going to use this as my response from now on: “Don’t like it? Don’t read it. I’m not here for your entertainment. Also, learn to use the ‘hide’ or ‘unfriend’ options.”
Of course, that would be rude. And women can’t be rude.
Men are clueless July 13, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in engineerblogs.org, engineering, societal commentary.
Tags: communication, feminism, sexism, sexist comments
I wrote up a post over at EngineerBlogs yesterday called Dating Advice for Women Engineers. (Yeah, I forgot to post a link here…) After I wrote it up and posted it, I reread it and realized that maybe a better title should’ve been something like “A Woman’s Guide to Dating Male Engineers”. And then I worried that I was going to get ragged on for making male engineers sound stupid or clueless. Fortunately, there have been no such responses, which is good because while some may assume that was the implication, that would be a false assumption.
Here’s the thing I’ve come to understand: many males, but particularly male engineers, aren’t clueless. I know that may come as a surprise to some. The reality is that I think engineers expect people to just be direct. And frankly, I really appreciate that. I like being able to just say what I think to my husband and not try to couch everything in terms that won’t injure his ego. And I know that if he says something critical, it’s not that he’s saying he doesn’t like me or anything, he just is making a point about something. It’s a lot easier for us to separate our personal feelings and feelings about outside issues. We can argue passionately about stuff we do at work, and it has nothing to do with whether or not I like him as a person.
I’ve never been good at the whole ‘dropping hints’ thing. That’s probably a good thing because I have also observed that a lot of guys think that when you say something doesn’t matter, it really doesn’t. Being subtle and dropping hints have never been terribly effective means of communicating what you want, despite the fact I see people doing it all the time. When I do see someone trying it, I seem to pick it up sometimes, but I usually roll my eyes and think, “Just spit it out already!”
Anyway, the point of this was that I think people ought to just be more direct. Tactful is also appreciated and ought to be used liberally…but not to the point where it obfuscates your message. And if someone doesn’t get what you’re saying (especially if it’s a guy), it may be because he’s clueless, but it’s also worthwhile to see how clearly you’re communicating.
I might be *gasp* a role model March 15, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, feminism, gifted, math, societal commentary, younger son.
Tags: feminism, girls, math, nerd girls, role models
My younger son is in chess club, and one of the girls, whom I’ll call K, is in his class and also in the club. K is a pretty bright cookie as she has won things like spelling bee and chess tournaments. I was picking him up from the club on Tuesday when K said hi as she walked by. A couple seconds later, K came back to ask me if I would be coming to their class for our weekly math lesson this week. I said I would, and she cheerily went on her way.
I went in for our lesson earlier today, only to find that the teacher was sick. Rather than work with the smaller group of kids as planned, I offered to read the whole class a math story (which I’ve been doing every other week). So I read Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter. They were all very excited, and there was a lot of discussion about the story.
At the end of the session, one of the girls came up to me (whom I’ll call F). F isn’t in the group I work with regularly, so I don’t know much about her other than she’s not as advanced in math. (I assumed that meant she wasn’t all that interested in it.) She’d been in the restroom and had missed the first page of the story and wanted to see it. I said I could leave the book with her to read. She was very excited. Then K came up and gave me a hug, and after she was finished, F gave me a hug. I was rather shocked, though certainly not unhappy about it.
I’m trying to process it, though, and it seems interesting in light of a couple semi-related things. First, I came across an article about how reducing academic pressure helps kids succeed. Given the younger boy was having huge difficulties with perfectionism, my response to this was, I admit, nothing more than, “Duh!” We’re helping him to deal with this by using his math program. Some days he does very well, other days, he’ll get somewhere between 75% and 80% right. I try to tell him that I appreciate his hard work, and that if he doesn’t get it right, it only means he needs more practice. He’s also learning that he almost never gets 100%…and that is making him okay with doing things wrong. Yeah, he still gets frustrated, but he’s not so scared to try anymore.
However, I realized that I’m kind of doing this with the kids I’ve been working with at school. I’m doing stuff with them that I don’t completely expect them to get, but I also don’t get upset if they get it wrong. And there’s no grades. We’re doing it to have fun and to learn, and I think the kids really like doing something just for fun.
Another recent event was when a coworker started lamenting to me how his daughters, who are middle school aged, seem uninterested in math. Being an engineer, he’s very disappointed, especially because they seem to be quite good at it. I suggested he get the books written by Danica McKellar and give them to his daughters.
Now, I have to say that I can’t imagine myself reading those books when I was that age (of course, I could very well be wrong – although I had some unusual role models). On the other hand, I figure that if there are bright girls out there who are eschewing math and these books get them interested, then I’m all for it. It turns out that my coworker did give them the books and, even better, they really seem to be enjoying them. Maybe they won’t turn into math majors, but he seems a lot happier, and they may be enjoying math more.
I’ve talked about efforts like Nerd Girls in the past, and I have to admit I felt it was stupid to try to ‘girlify’ engineering to attract women. On the other hand, I’m obviously the kind of woman who wasn’t very stuck on social messages about women in science or engineering. It’s not hard to imagine that there are a lot of young, intelligent girls out there who feel social pressure to avoid technical areas because they lack role models. Maybe some of those girls really need things like Nerd Girls and Danica’s books. I don’t have any daughters, so I can’t really say much based on experience. After my experience today, though, I’m wondering if female role models are far more important to some girls than I ever thought.