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Maybe divorce is the answer… June 10, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, family, feminism, research, science, societal commentary, work.
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I think I am going to change my name.  It’s very annoying.

My last name, anyway.

If I had it to do over again, the one thing I would’ve done when getting married is to keep my maiden name.  Hyphenation was not the best idea by a long shot.

This has been an issue (a lot) because I worked with my husband for so long.  I suspect it will die off as we are no longer coworkers.  However, one of the most bizarre things that has come up is that I recently received some reviews of a proposal that we wrote before he changed jobs.  One of the reviewers noted that as a co-PI, I had the same last name as the PI and so a conflict of interest was a possibility.


My university has a clear and very detailed conflict of interest policy, and I’m not clear how this applies.  As far as I can tell, this has nothing to do with conflict of interest as these policies are almost exclusively focused on outside financial obligations.  I checked with the funding agency, and that was all they had listed for conflict of interest, as well.

If he were supervising me or vice-versa (that is, one of us was a subordinate), such a scenario would violate internal policies to the university.  However, even if he is PI and I’m a co-PI, we both reported to someone else.  Further, a PI isn’t necessarily a supervisory role.  Do faculty members who collaborate on research supervise each other or collaborate?  (My experience says there are very few faculty who view their role as co-PI is that of being supervised by the PI.)

In any case, it’s a completely ridiculous comment to make on a proposal review because we could have been two completely unrelated colleagues who happen to have the same last name.  I can think about some of the areas of research I do, and I know of several groups of researchers, particularly in Asia, where many members of the team do have the same last name.  I never once jumped to the conclusion that there was a problem with this.

Of course, it’s obviously my fault for the name, so I should probably fix it.  Do you suppose it’s cheaper to go through the legal name-change process or to just divorce and quickly get remarried?

Responsive regardless April 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, feminism, research, work.
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NPR did an overview of a study showing that there is a bias in academia against minorities and women.  The study looked at response rates by professors to solicitations by potential students to meet.  The letters were identical except for the names attached.  They found that women and minorities received a different response rate than names that appeared to belong to white males.  They also found that the bias was greater when the faculty were at prestigious private schools or in fields that are more financially lucrative.

My response: “Well, Duh!”

In the comments to the article, some people were complaining about how many letters they get, particularly from Indian and Chinese students.  How could they be expected to answer every. single. one?!

While I admit I’m not inundated with such letters, I have gotten several.  As one of the other commenters mentioned, form letters are great for dealing with these, and I pretty much do that.  I also use an additional filter: “I currently don’t have funding for an additional student, but if you want to discuss what you’re interested in, we could look into avenues to fund such a project.”

It’s amazing how I never hear anything back.

But you know, I always do respond.  And I am hoping one of these days that I get a response back.


A manly woman September 19, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, societal commentary.
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I recently read an article about a woman, Norah Vincent, who went undercover to become a man.  It was very interesting, particularly the difficulties she had dating and the preconceived notions that were shot down in the process.  It sounds like the process was horribly stressful for her, though, so it should give us thought about how difficult it can be to actually *be* a man.  I’m impressed by her willingness to go through with the experience and try to see things from another’s point of view.

This got me thinking, however, about the fact that I spend most of my time around men.  I work with mostly men, my kids are both boys, and even a lot of my closest friends are men.

I came across a gender analyzer that looks at the text you write and tries to assess your gender.  (If you’re curious, it’s here.)  It’s interesting to me that every piece of my own writing that I analyzed ended up giving a male result.  In the notes below the analyzer, it said:

For example, a woman who has spent 20 years working in a male-dominated field may write like her co-workers. Similarly, professional female writers (and experienced hobbyists) frequently use male writing styles.

That makes sense…but it made me think about how, as an engineer, I have to pretend to be male in order to be accepted.  However, accepted and respected are two different things.  I often wonder if I would have better luck accomplishing the latter if I took notes from Norah Vincent:  maybe I need to get a buzz cut and start wearing a fake 5 o’clock shadow.

Making fun of Fix the Family September 13, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, religion, societal commentary.
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I came across a blog post on facebook.  It was one of those that’s so absolutely stupid that you simply can’t help but respond.  I realize I’m potentially feeding trolls here…but you have to see it to believe it.  The one redeeming value in this post was that, for once, it was actually worthwhile to read the comments.

What post is this? Six reasons not to send your daughter to college  Except it’s not six reasons: after posting, two more reasons were added.

Yeah, seriously.  Not only do people still believe this crap, they’re apparently stupid enough to post it in a public place for all to mock.  They begin the article by supposedly diffusing all claims that they’re misogynist and sexist (not to mention blatantly anti-feminist).  Here’s what they have to say:

  • You don’t believe in educating women.  Sure we do…as long as it’s to become a stay-at-home mother.
  • You believe in oppressing women. Bingo!  But we’re not going to call it that because we’re in denial about our position of privilege.
  • You believe in taking away opportunities for women and trapping them into a subservient role.  As long as she’s only subservient to her husband…cuz God says so.
  • God calls women to use their talents.  As long as those talents are raising children and keeping house.
  • A  woman needs to have something to provide income in case her husband dies, becomes disabled or leaves her.  But this never happens to people who are responsible.  If this is a problem, it’s because you stupidly didn’t take care of it when you could have, you idiotic woman.  Or you weren’t subservient enough to keep that dead-beat around.  Either way, you’re still stupid.

So now that we’ve established their real stance, let’s take a look at the actual reasons women shouldn’t go to college.  I tried to provide a translation to make the meaning more transparent:

  • She will attract the wrong types of men.  You see, college men are the wrong types.  They’re all lampreys, seeking the perfect woman to support them and take care of them while they sit at home and play video games all day.  Once they have the perfect woman trapped, they will inevitably give up their career goals and sit at home eating bon-bons all day while she wears the pants in the family.  None of them would consider actually being responsible, pursuing a career, or desiring to marry a woman who is actually an equal in the relationship.  Obviously, a man’s life goals are going to crumble in the face of that particular temptation.
  • She will be in a near occasion of sin.  You see, women are too inept to actually be able to handle sexual temptation.  They might find out they like having sex, and that’s not okay unless they’ve been duped into marrying someone.  Then it’s okay to like sex because it blinds women to mens’ faults (which is the only way to maintain a civil marriage), and more important, it makes teh babiez!
  • She will not learn to be a wife and mother.  College is useless, you see, because women are only there to raise kids and take care of their husbands (as long as they remain subservient to them).  So obviously it’s not teaching her the right skills.  If she wants to have the right skills, she must get hitched and start making babies immediately, obviously with a man who she meets at church because those college guys are just too lazy…otherwise she’s just wasting her life.  Baby bootcamp is the only way to go…and women should get there as soon as possible.
  • The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup.  You see, men are obviously worth more in the marketplace, so it makes economic sense for women to only take on menial labor tasks until they can find someone who has real economic value to take care of them.  Then they can do the job that they were meant to do: make babies!
  • You don’t have to prove anything to the world.  Women only go to college because of peer pressure.  In reality, fulfillment and independence really have no place in the decision.  The only fulfilling thing a woman can do in her life is raise kids.
  • It could be a near occasion of sin for the parents.  Parents are financially responsible for their children might not pop out as many babies as physically possible, so they’re just a bunch of sinners.  Parents should only be responsibly financial for their sons because girls don’t really need educations: they’re only going to be mothers, anyway.
  • She will regret it. Women may think they want to go to college after high school, but once they are a bit older, they’ll wish they’d made more babies instead.
  • It could interfere with a religious vocation.  If she doesn’t want to be a mother, she might want to be a nun, and college degrees are useless for nuns and may make them ineligible, as well.

I guess I’m lucky I don’t have any daughters and I’m not Catholic or I might be in a quandry right now.

The myth of the myth of the wage gap July 29, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, feminism, societal commentary, work.
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Someone made a comment to me this weekend that I found rather interesting: “Why are men judged more on their income level than women?”

I thought this was interesting for two reasons.  First, Charles Peters posted something related on Facebook…which I’ll get back to in a moment.  (Thanks, Charles.)  Timing is everything.  Second, I was going to respond that, given our society is given to traditionalist notions, it’s kind of hard not to.  In traditional roles, men are supposed to be the breadwinners…hence, their income level is the primary characteristic by which they’re judged.  Feminism argues that this shouldn’t be the case, that men are more than just breadwinners and should have the same options to be stay-at-home dads, and it’s catching on…but slowly.

Anyway, I understand why the question is being asked and I do agree that it’s unfair that men are judged this way.  On the other hand, there’s a level of silliness in asking the question when it’s obvious we don’t live in a society where men and women are completely equal.

Going back to Charles, he posted a link to a video by Steven Horowitz that supposedly shows that women don’t actually make less than men and that this ‘supposed wage gap’ is actually a result of the fact that women go into fields where the income level is lower and also tend to work part-time.

Here’s the video, if you’re interested:

I love how, at the end, the Horowitz makes the comment that the wages paid “reflect the productivity of those choices.”  (And yes, I hope you’re getting the sarcasm here.)  Based on that comment, he’s ignoring the fact that, by his own argument, women having anything to do with raising children is completely unproductive.  Therefore, the real smart choice is simply to not have children.  (And, well, if you look at the women who tend to be highly successful in academia, it’s not a surprise that a good number of them don’t have children.)

So sorry guys (and maybe some gals): you have a choice between marrying a successful woman or having children, but don’t expect both.

Horowitz also glosses over the fact that there is a serious chicken and the egg question about the lower-paying fields.  Are they really ‘lower productivity’ choices?  Is a school teacher really less productive than an engineer?  According to the market, maybe, but is that really a good evaluator of productivity?  Personally, in my work, I don’t know that I work a whole lot harder than a school teacher.  In fact, I was part of a program in undergrad where I worked with school teachers and, after seeing what they go through, decided there was no way it would be worth it.  The question in my mind is whether these fields are undervalued precisely because they are women-dominated.  (And, in fact, there is research that shows this.)

And finally, there’s this notion put forward in the video that women aren’t actually paid less than men.  The Center for American Progress put forward a study showing that, if you look at the wage gap in each occupation, it turns out that 97% of jobs pay women less.  This flies in the face of Horowitz’s suggestion that the solution is to encourage women to go into higher paying jobs.

Of course, the second part of his solution is only marginally helpful: men need to help more with child care.  However, this is asking 1) that men do something ‘non-productive’ in terms of market and 2) doesn’t do anything about the lower salary in many women-dominated fields.

It seems like he missed another point: while women have made strides into entering male-dominated fields, the reverse has not been as true.  There is the possibility that, if men were encouraged to enter those fields, they may become more valuable.  On the other hand, men who do enter such fields tend to be promoted faster than women.

So back to the question of why women aren’t judged as harshly as men for their income levels: it’s because society still believes in traditional roles that women are really about making babies and their contribution to the monetary economy isn’t relevant because they aren’t as competent as men.

The Little Woman July 23, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, societal commentary, work.
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I’ve discussed both the drawbacks (and here) and benefits of working with my husband before.  Today, however, I’m feeling like discussing another drawback.

Recently, we were in a situation where we ran into a colleague we’ve known for a while.  This colleague (whom I shall call Colleague #1) had someone with him (Colleague #2).  (I know…I’m boring.  Maybe I should call them Bert and Ernie?) When Colleague #1 (Bert?) introduced us to Colleague #2 (Ernie?), Mike was introduced first with a mention about his work position.  And I…I was introduced as his wife.  There was absolutely no comparable mention of my professional attributes.

This is beyond annoying, especially when this person is someone with whom I only interact in professional settings.  I don’t mind so much when we are introduced professionally and then, as note afterwards, someone will mention we are married (although I’m not sure why this is necessary).  I even seem to vaguely recall one time when Mike was introduced as my husband, which was a bit amusing.  At least I can’t say it’s never happened.

However, the situation where I am introduced strictly as his wife is something that people ought to know better than to do.  This belittles my professional accomplishments and makes it seem like the most important thing I do is provide companionship to my husband and, probably, take care of his kids.  It ignores the fact that I am a capable engineer and makes it appear that I have nothing more to add to the conversation than perhaps the affirming nod here and there.

To his credit, there have been occasions where Mike has picked up on this and brought it up himself when the person introducing us to someone has failed to give me ‘equal due’.  Still, I’m irritated that it happens so often.  I’m surprised that I haven’t yet been introduced as Mike’s little woman.

(As a side note, just as I was about to post this, I noticed I’d already tagged another post ‘introductions’.  Wow…deja vu.  I think I need to stop letting people introduce me and start doing it myself.)

Ambassador for the engineers May 22, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, humor, work.
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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, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, work.
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Last week, before leaving for a conference, I posted the following on Twitter:

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, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, societal commentary.
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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, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, feminism, societal commentary.
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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.)


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