Life as an Extreme Sport

XX, or, chemical freedom I’ll regret in the morning

A few days ago, a comment was left for me in another blog’s comments section, saying Hope you’re well…your blog sounds awfully depressed lately for somebody who’s doing so well as a bioethics person in training!!! Which is a sweet and kind sentiment, although perhaps one that should have been left to me in my own blog, or email, or not the major blog for the field I’m going in to – but that’s being incredibly nitpicky towards a nice thought. Anyhow, the point was to not criticize the message, but answer it, at least in part, with something that I’ve been thinking about a lot since returning from Denver. In fact, I’ve promised to write something for the Women’s Bioethics Blog about it, and it’s being a woman in a field dominated by men.

This dominance starts in my department, which is a shift for me. While the faculty is pretty gender-balanced, the student body is not. There are five female graduate students actively taking classes. Of them, two have long term boyfriends that they spend their spare time with, and the other two have families. I’m the only single, childless girl in the department – at least of the students who’re there, and not ABD and thus who knows where. But on top of that, which is weird in itself (you have to remember that CHID was 60-75% female students) for me, they treat me differently. Us differently, I should say. For a while, I had thought it was just me, until I started talking with another new female student who confirmed the same thing was happening to her.

Being talked over. Having our ideas dismissed, and then hearing some other guy bring up what we were saying a few minutes later and hearing a great conversation build up around it. Being left out. They go out, you see, the guys. Beer, night’s out, poker, weekend parties at each others homes. The girls aren’ t invited. I thought it was me, then we thought maybe it was just the first years being left out – but no, the first year guys are all invited.

No girls allowed in the club. I had thought that idea had gone out of style a long time ago, but apparently not.

So you know, I move across the country, excited about a program that stopped existing a month after I got here. Excited about a nice group of people who seemed friendly and open and like my former department, except speaking my language…and then have to hear them talking, at the start of every week, over all the fun things they did over the weekend together. Things they did without including the girls in the fun, that they talk about in front of the girls.

It took me a while to realize that it was gender coming in to play. I really did just assume it was me, at first. I can be abbrasive, and I’m not one of them. I’m not a philosopher. I have this weird background that makes them cringe, and I think in such a different way than they do, they don’t know what to do with me. (Or, I think, why I’m there.) But then I found out that it wasn’t me, it’s not even that I’m new. It’s because I’m female, and that’s something I’ve never had to deal with before – and how do you? I mean, is saying “oh hey, you’re discriminating against me?” really going to do any good or change any minds? I don’t think so.

That aside, I noticed the gender imbalance while at ASBH, and I noticed how I end up having to act in those sorts of gender imbalanced situations: either very aggressive, which makes me uncomfortable, or wall-flowering in the corner, which also makes me uncomfortable. But it seems like I either have to scream to get noticed, or fade into the background, be ignored, and spend my time silently watching and learning. This is also not a familiar place for me to be – either ends of extremes of behaviour.

What I do need to do is ask a couple of the women professors here out to coffee, to talk, and just make connections with the women I’ll be working with. But it’s sad and frustrating that I’ve to do that – that the only way I don’t have to shout to be heard is if I’m talking with another woman.

One comment

  1. I can only begin to imagine how hard it is for women in the academy, especially in academic philosophy. Thankfully, second-generation bioethics was targeted relatively early on by people interested in fem theory and women’s studies, but there remains, IMO, a huge problem within bioethics of hearing and incorporating different voices. Several of my profs indicated that the gender imbalance used to seem much worse at past ASBH meetings. I don’t know how much progress has really been made in terms of practices (as opposed to theory).

    In any case, kudos to you for sticking it out.

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