The other day my new lab had a happy hour to ring in the new year. I have also just landed a new grad student (WOO HOO) and also convinced a super-awesome high-level research scientist* to join my group. I'm seriously psyched. 🙂
While my newly-expanded group was all sitting around a table I realized all of the sudden that we are overwhelmingly female. Including undergrads and rotation students right now we are 7 women and 1 man. Weird! When I first started my lab we were pretty close to 1:1 but when numbers are small it is easy to fluctuate pretty quickly, I guess. I'm really happy with my group right now. Everyone is engaged and works together really well. I don't really care how many X or Y chromosomes we have.
Shortly after noticing that my lab had skewed in one direction someone on twitter made a comment about how the gender distribution of their lab was skewed (I'm not sure who started the thread-the first one in my timeline is @27andaphd). As expected with low n numbers, there were labs that were mostly male, and some that were mostly female. No big deal, right. But then the conversation took a weird turn. Someone* mentioned that they were in a male-dominated group and that this was good because they don't like to work with women because "I'm a hard ass". This was followed by @agreenmonster who tweeted:
I have a big problem here. This is an idea that gets kicked around a lot. The idea that women who are faculty are somehow not as rigorous as their male colleagues. And the ones that are competent are mean or psycho or evil and "pull up the ladder" because they don't want junior women to succeed.
I CALL BULLSHIT.
Yes, there are some women academics that are assholes. There are also men down the hall that are assholes. Sometimes, people are just assholes. It has nothing to do with their gender. But there is a common stereotype that women are worse than men. And THIS is the kind of attitude that makes it hard to be a women in the sciences. If you get along with everyone you are "soft" and probably not rigorous. Maternal, maybe. But if you are a hard-ass then you are a "psycho" that is "pulling up the ladder". This is a ridiculous double standard. If this is what you expect from a woman scientist, then this is what you will perceive. It will be a self-fulfilling prophesy And it is FUCKED UP.
There are some shitty mentors out there. Some of them are women. But not all of them. If we only highlight the women that are assholes this leads to a perception that women and men are different. This sets the bar for all women, and it makes the whole academic situation harder. Because now, if you are a woman in academia you might try to behave in such a way that everyone won't think that you are "psycho". Maybe you try not to be aggressive or "bitchy" (the feminine of aggressive, to some). Now you are perceived as less rigorous or engaged. You can't win.
We have to stop this. If you hear this kind of bullshit, call it out. The twitter conversation about this topic ended with everyone agreeing that assholes gonna be assholes. And hopefully convinced some folks that they can't let these kinda statements just fly by without comment.
There is no such thing as a "male" way to do science. There is just culture and the way groups interact. I'm kinda a hard-ass, myself. I've been told that my lab has a pretty "male" culture**. In my group, I expect a lot of people. It's OK to be wrong, because if you are never wrong you are Doing It Wrong. But you have to be willing to defend your ideas and recognize when your arguments fail. Sometimes discussions get pretty animated (even aggressive). But we all understand that, while it is OK to be wrong, it is not OK to be disrespectful. You can tell someone their idea is full of shit, but it's not personal. Attacking ideas is expected, attacking people is not tolerated. There is nothing "male" about that. It is just kick-ass science.
*since they have a protected twitter account I won't list them by name here.
**don't worry-I also make sure the person that said this knew how fucked up it was.
NOTE ADDED IN PROOF: Hermie totally scooped me!!! Make sure that you go and read her views on this, which are spot-on.
[edited to remove my html cheating]