This past week I was traveling for a work conference, and boy, was it an experience (as a result of my trip, I forgot to post on Wednesday – whoops!). I’ve talked a bit about my experience as a woman in science before, but I received another crash course in the huge disparity in my current field.
My training is in the physical sciences, which is a fairly male-dominated branch of the sciences, and so I’ve been known to be the only woman in a room, especially at conferences. Though, sometimes it is nice to see someone like you just to prove that women with similar career goals as you have made it, I never felt discriminated against – just that I was visibly different than everyone else in the room.
While my previous field was very male-dominated, my current field is male-dominated and much rougher around the edges. But I was offered to attend the conference as a professional development experience, and also as a way to make a few connections, so I whipped out my business cards and got to work networking. As an aside, is anyone else business card happy, where the first time you have your own to hand out you feel giddy to slide the card across the table?
Over the course of the week, I felt very female. I wasn’t the only woman there – that’s obviously hyperbole on my part. If I was the only woman there in over 25,000 attendants, that would have been an absurd situation. But the ratio was definitely skewed. Pictures from the conference site has a sea of men in suits, with one or two long-haired people there – they might just be businessmen with long hair, who knows.
But there were a few instances that made me very aware of my gender. The first being when I was having a conversation with my bosses, a coworker, and one of my bosses connections (let’s call him Jim). They were talking about another person in their network, and started talking about how attractive she was, and how they’d rather deal with her than Jim’s ugly mug.
I then got patted on the arm, got called “ma’am” – I’m 28, and Jim was 60, by the way – and apologized to as if I am a delicate flower. It’s like when men won’t curse “in mixed company” and if it slips out they apologize profusely for burning my virgin ears. I’m not that meek. That being said, I don’t think the attractiveness of someone should really come into the discussion of their business dealings.
One night we went out to dinner, and local spouses were invited along. It ended up being a dinner party of eight, four men, and four women. The table was a rectangle (4 x 2), and can you guess how the table got divided? The four men were down at one end (2 x 2) and the women were at the other (2 x 2). The two wives that attended intentionally placed themselves at one end away from the business talk because they wanted to catch-up, but I was in no-man’s land (pun intended).
When business started to get discussed, as it invariably always does, the four men all turned inwards, and I wasn’t included in the conversation. The thing is, I am more senior than one of my male colleagues that was sitting there in the thick of the business talk. I tried to break into the group, but when they’re mumbling with their shoulders slightly turned out toward me, I recognized I was fighting a losing battle. I ended up relegated to the spouses (wives) discussion on meditation.
I don’t know how many times I’ve had comments like “but oh is she smart..!” with the unspoken ending hanging in the air of “… for a girl”. Or, again with the terminology, when I am called “good girl” and my male colleague is praised with “good man”. I doubt he’d stand for being called “good boy” – that infantilizing never seems to happen to men.
During one of my meetings I had to negotiate with my bosses regarding my salary (that’s a post for another day) but although I was calm, I was being firm, and direct. They were taken aback, and expected me to cave and not be as prepared as I was. Yet I feel that if I was male perhaps I wouldn’t have been seen so negatively. Men are driven, women are bitchy.
I recognize that many people believe some women (me in these cases) view these events with an expectation of seeing misogynist behaviour. I also know that there is a difference between being in a male-dominated field that is actively discriminatory, and one that just happens to be imbalanced. My research field for my PhD was imbalanced, at least in my experience. My new field is much more active in its separation and comments.
Have you experienced misogyny in the workplace? Do you consider yourself a feminist – and if so, do others through the word at you like a slur?