Feminism | Posted by Cicutae on 08/3/2010

Sexism in Science

but...i built the rocket...

but...i built the rocket...

You know what makes me angry? The fact that I apparently can’t do science because I have a vagina. Now, I didn’t think that my gender was damaging my math and science skills, but I guess having breasts means that engineering isn’t for me.

I went down to a NASA space flight center earlier this year as part of my Rocket Club team. We were participating in a competition sending 10-foot-long rockets a mile into the hot Alabama air. There was a “rocket fair” where we displayed our rocket and experiment for NASA employees and the other teams to peruse. I stood proudly in front of our display and tried to engage the passing engineers.

“Do you have any questions Sir?” The response was almost always the same – a glance at me, a cursory “Yeah.”, and then they would turn to one of my male colleagues and direct the question to one of them.

I don’t blame my co-workers. They clearly know far more about the rocket than I do. I mean, they have penises. All I have is the fact that I was the one who designed the damn rocket. *sigh*

It’s the sheer unfairness of it. I’m knowledgeable, friendly, dressed professionally, and I’m ready to answer your questions, but just because I’m a woman you assume that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Is my being a woman really that big a handicap? Do my ovaries impair my ability to work out an equation? Is my uterus stopping me from thinking critically? I just don’t understand it. Prejudices do nothing but hurt. When you assume that I am stupid because I am a woman, you not only disrespect me, you deprive yourself of the skills I have to offer and the insights that I might have.

All I want is equality. I don’t think I’m asking for too much.

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  • Alex Catgirl @ at 1:37 pm, August 3rd, 2010

    Don’t let them get you down Cicutae, NASA employees they may be but do they have strings of letters after their names?

    I’m a biomedical student, sure there are sexist arseholes out there, but most of them are technicians, NOT scientists. We are judged by the company we keep and by those who fight with us.

    While third tier researchers at a fourth rate schools out in Hog Holla continue to publish pseudo-scientific gibberish that attempts to make us appear mentally inferior, the world’s best call them out for what they are – cretins pushing an agenda.

  • The Raisin Girl @ at 4:10 pm, August 3rd, 2010

    God, that sucks.

    I am glad to say that I have never experienced sexism in my workplace or classrooms, even though I work in a male-dominated profession (IT), and attend school in the conservative south. I guess I’ve been lucky there. But I DID used to run up against this “girls are good at art and English, boys are good at math and science” thing. It was presented to me as an unbiased statistic. How insidious.

  • Dia @ at 4:23 pm, August 3rd, 2010

    Scientists love thinking it’s up to them to decide who’s capable of doing their job and who isn’t. Don’t worry about it. Them not giving you credit won’t go back in time and stop you from designing the rocket.
    I’m not surprized though because everytime something happens that scientists say can’t happen they often critize or ignore the event entirely. Besides I know plenty of guys who could barely put a simple rocket together to do a water pressure project in highschool.

  • Kite @ at 2:24 am, August 4th, 2010

    That’s really outrageous. I’m so angry on your behalf.

    I remember for Year 10 work experience, when requesting a science placement, as a female being sent to do typing and scanning for the week at the Bureau of Meteorology. I was a little puzzled. I would have been outraged had I known at the time that the work experience males there had been sent to the roof to play with cool instruments all week.

  • Steph L @ at 4:12 am, August 4th, 2010

    Stick to the engineering, and stick it to the sexist pigs when you get your first class degree. I had this same crisis as you (engineering student too) after a particularly sexist attack, wondering what is the point of trying so hard when it will never be appreciated. But change doesn’t happen because you wish it, change happens when you do something about it. So keep building the rockets :)

  • Theril @ at 6:08 am, August 4th, 2010

    If I were you, I would blame your co-workers – unless, at least occasionally, their response to the idiots was something along the lines of *indicating you* “Well, she knows more about that than I do, so…”

  • Randolpho @ at 10:37 am, August 4th, 2010

    As a male working in the tech field (although nothing as exotic as rocket science), I can attest that you’re likely to run into this a *lot*, but I can offer a glimmer of hope: not *every* man is that way.

    Just an unfortunately large number.

    In their defense, they (being nerds) were probably more afraid of you than anything else and were worried they’d leer at you if they interacted with you for anything more than a microsecond. Still… it’s an unfortunate fact: you’re in a guy dominated field. Most of the guys you meet professionally will be intimidated by you and will react in one of three ways: by hitting on you in a sleazy way, by ignoring you (in many cases secretly wanting to talk to you), or by attempting to attach themselves to you by the hip.

    I don’t know what else to tell you other than to keep standing up for yourself against crap like this. You didn’t mention how you reacted to their ignoring you: if you didn’t step in right then and say “Hey: *I* designed this damn thing, do you have any questions for *me*?” then you might need to learn to do so.

    Make no mistake: you shouldn’t have to. But until the world *really* changes, you might *need* to for yourself and for your gender.

  • Ryan @ at 3:13 pm, August 5th, 2010

    Why don’t women participate in car mechanics, electrician work, carpentry and other fields? To be quite honest, if I had a question for a crew of car mechanics I’d ask a man. In general I find that males like to know how things work and know how to build and fix things. Interest usually indicates skill and tallent.

    This is not to say that a female can’t but they generally don’t have interest. A woman in all build and fix fields of work is quite rare. There are jobs and skills I think women are better at as well. For these things I’d ask a woman.

  • Ryan @ at 3:16 pm, August 5th, 2010

    I work in IT and there are literally no women at all. This is not because men keep women down it’s because in general they like different types of work.

  • Steph @ at 7:23 pm, August 5th, 2010

    Ryan @ at 3:16 pm, August 5th, 2010
    I work in IT and there are literally no women at all. This is not because men keep women down it’s because in general they like different types of work.

    Um, no, dude. There’s a lot of factors (societal pressure to avoid the field, difficulties in dealing with the impressive masses of privilege that, because of the low numbers of women, rarely go unchecked, dismissive attitudes like the ones Cicutae mentioned), but lack of interest in the field is NOT a factor. I built my current computer. I count Python as one of the four languages I’m fluent in. I’m a gamer. As politely as I can possibly say this, get your head out of your ass and open your eyes.

    “There are jobs and skills I think women are better at as well. For these things I’d ask a woman.”
    and what might these be? Cooking and cleaning? Seriously, DUDE. Not cool.

  • Cicutae @ at 11:46 pm, August 6th, 2010

    @Steph – THANK YOU. That is exactly right. You’re awesome. *high five*

    @Theril – They did actually do that. It was very nice of them, but should not be necessary.

    @ Ryan – From the second we’re born we get put into these gender roles and encouraged to do “feminine” activities. Plenty of women are interested, but they get dissuaded by societal pressures, and if they manage to keep their interest they end up having to compete against stereotypes like “Women just aren’t interested in mechanics.” I know most people don’t do it on purpose, and I know that it isn’t just men that are prejudiced, but every time that someone looks surprised when a woman says that she likes carpentry, and every time that someone assumes that a man will be better at fixing something than a woman, it makes it that much harder to make it in an already male-dominated field. Female children are bombarded with stereotypes about how women can’t be engineers, can’t do math, can’t be construction workers, etc, and they end up not being interested because they’ve developed an understanding that women just don’t do those things.

  • blakerivers @ at 8:22 am, August 7th, 2010

    Yes, well, in response to Ryan’s comments that “In general I find that males like to know how things work and know how to build and fix things. Interest usually indicates skill and talent,” I would agree that, yes, this is how things have been for the past hundreds or even thousands of years. But it is important to understand that this pattern is not necessarily indicative of innate ability or preference, but is instead the result of social factors which have been constant throughout history…up until modern times.

    For the first time in human history, we are living in a time when women have the opportunity to join the ranks of traditional male vocations. But, although opportunity can change relatively quickly, social norms may take more time. Just because a women CAN equal men in whatever field does not mean that she will be encouraged to do so. No, traditional gender expectations still steer people’s life experiences.

    The power of subconscious suggestion must not be underestimated. Girls and boys are conditioned since birth to associate “male” with some activities and “female” with other activities, and it is not until late in her development that a female can consciously choose to subvert this conditioning. But by then it may be too late; if you don’t develop your spacial reasoning by age 6, you may never be as good as the boys that do. It’s just an example, but it serves to show how the way young children play may dramatically affect their adult life.

  • blakerivers @ at 8:31 am, August 7th, 2010

    I suggest the following articles. The first two are about females and mathematics and the relevant fallacies stereotypes. The second two are my own posts about biology and gender differences.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/01/100125172940.htm

    http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2008/07/24_math.shtml

    http://blakerivers.wordpress.com/2010/06/19/pseudoscience-brain-gender/

    http://blakerivers.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/pseudoscience-biology-and-behavior-in-gender/

  • Shanmin @ at 3:59 pm, August 8th, 2010

    Ew. This post made me so angry— Cicutae, that just sucks. People would like to think that feminism isn’t necessary anymore, but it’s this kind of shit that proves that the battle is far from over.

    Also, you’re pretty damn rad for pursuing rocketry.

    And at Ryan: You are so wrong. You are so wrong you made my head explode.

  • Ryan @ at 8:04 am, August 9th, 2010

    With all due respect Steph you say you are a lesbian. You were born this way correct? Your brain is different than most women.

    It would be nice if lesbians did not predominate feminist leadership and attempt to speak for and dominate regular women who have little in common with you and the subjects you attempt dominate.

  • Steph @ at 12:25 pm, August 9th, 2010

    With all due respect Steph you say you are a lesbian. You were born this way correct? Your brain is different than most women.
    Ooh, ad hominem attacks. Way to dazzle ‘em, big boy! You’re sure to get your point across now. 

    It would be nice if lesbians did not predominate feminist leadership
    Not true, and even if it was, not relevant. 
     and attempt to speak for and dominate regular women
    I speak for myself, and I’ve never claimed any different. My beef with you is mine alone, not the entire feminist movement’s. Not that others might not have beef with you, but as it applies to our arguments? Mine and mine alone.  
    who have little in common with you and the subjects you attempt [to] dominate.
    Fuck off. Your arguments are getting weaker and weaker, and less and less coherent. The mark of a wise person is knowing when they’re spiralling out of control. Leave, and don’t come back until you’re ready to be an adult. 
     

  • Steph @ at 2:49 pm, August 9th, 2010

    And Cicutae, thanks! :highfives back:

  • Ryan @ at 4:47 pm, August 9th, 2010

    How is marriage and associated law and practice between a man and a woman relevant to you?

    I can agree that there are issues that are relevant to you but not so as to meet the successful end of negotiation, compromise and otherwise equality as it relates to the individual relations and social contract between men and women.

    You are a male to female lesbian transexual correct?

  • Ryan @ at 4:55 pm, August 9th, 2010

    By the way, I was not attacking you.

    I’m sorry for assuming you were biologically queer. In cases of a male to female transsexual lesbian you are affected by Gender Identity Disorder which is a medically classified affliction.

    Either way I’m sorry you took offense and understanding just what and who you are helps me to understand. I am only here to reach an understanding not to attack anyone.

  • Steph @ at 4:57 pm, August 9th, 2010

    How is marriage and associated law and practice between a man and a woman relevant to you?
    Because I might like to be married one day. Because all marriage is marriage, not ‘gay marriage’ and ‘opposite marriage’. Because what you’re saying is so mindblowingly stupid and offensive I have to respond to it. 

    I can agree that there are issues that are relevant to you but not so as to meet the successful end of negotiation, compromise and otherwise equality as it relates to the individual relations and social contract between men and women.
    So, what, I don’t know any men?

    You are a male to female lesbian transexual correct?
    It’s a bit more complicated than that, but more or less. I don’t really see what that has to do with this. 

    You still haven’t said whether there’s room for love in the world you live in. Is there? What does it look like?

  • Ryan @ at 5:07 pm, August 9th, 2010

    Also as pertaining to gender socialization, we have been diverting both public and private funding, Affirmative Action, Title IX, full ride women only scholarships and loans and a myriad of “encouragment programs” in an attempt to get women away from the biological, natural and human sciences and toward working with inanimate things, machines or anything of the like.

    All this effort and women are still choosing to study the former. It has barely made a dent. I work in an office for microchip design…..guess what there are still virtually no women but a handful or less than a handful.

  • Steph @ at 5:09 pm, August 9th, 2010

    I’m sorry for assuming you were biologically queer.
    I am. I’m biologically gay, and biologically trans. 

    In cases of a male to female transsexual lesbian you are affected by Gender Identity Disorder which is a medically classified affliction.
    Thanks, I didn’t know that!
     Not like I’m active in the fight to get it removed from the DSM-V, nosiree. 

    Either way I’m sorry you took offense and understanding just what and who you are helps me to understand. I am only here to reach an understanding not to attack anyone.
    I don’t mean to attack you either. That said, facts of the matter are that you are offending people, so it wouldn’t hurt to take a step back, for either of us. But when the MRM is founded on anti-feminism, and this is a feminist site, so there’s bound to be some conflict no matter how well-intentioned we are. You said some things which hurt people. This is a fact. I said some things back to you which I probably shouldn’t have said. That’s also a fact. Another fact is that what’s in my pants(or who I like taking them off) doesn’t really tell you about me as a person. Not like how I spend my time (reading and gaming or hanging out with friends, generally), what classes I’m taking next semester (conflict resolution, international studies and intensive Mandarin), or any number of other things about me. If you’re here to reach an understanding, and I have to believe you are, you need to be prepared that you might have to sacrifice some of what you believed before coming here. I don’t bear any anger toward you, but I do want things to work out. If you can’t accept that, this may not be the community for you. I hope it can be. 

  • Ryan @ at 5:11 pm, August 9th, 2010

    We’be been trying to encourage women for the last 30 or more years.

    I have never seen so much as a female car mechanic…EVER, not one.

  • Steph @ at 5:19 pm, August 9th, 2010

    Actually, women mechanics date back to 1943, and the original Ford factory. There were, in the same year, dozens of women mechanics recruited by the US Army to keep up with demand.
    http://www.squidoo.com/Women-Mechanics

  • Ryan @ at 5:24 pm, August 9th, 2010

    Thank you, I feel that at very least we are able to understand eachothers position which is good. Whether we agree or not is a different story.

    I hope that we can on some things.

    You know, when comes to equality, I think the one limiting factor is women themselves. I’be seen the studies on female hypergamy, studies that were conducted by women even.

    The more educated a woman is the less likely she is to ever be married or have children, but why??? Is it really that “men are intimidated by monetarily successful women”? Is it that women do not see men that are less or much less monetarily successful than they are as adequate or attractive? Could it be a combination of both?

  • Ryan @ at 5:30 pm, August 9th, 2010

    Let’s just say that women are just as capable as men in certain skills. Less just say that the genders brains are exactly the same.

    The question is, women may be just as capable but are they just as
    interested? Could female interest account for different choices in occupation and what each gender finds fulfilling?

  • Steph @ at 5:34 pm, August 9th, 2010

    Ryan: it could also be reverse causation. Maybe women who don’t get married and get sucked into childcare and housework have more time for education?
    You’re saying that non-marriage is dependent on education, and you make a couple of plausible arguments. But if you flip the argument, the instant (likely) coclusion is that unmarried women have more time to get higher education. Not saying definitively either way, but correlation is more visible in the second scenario.

  • Steph @ at 5:36 pm, August 9th, 2010

    Could female interest account for different choices in occupation and what each gender finds fulfilling?
    that’s the feminist argument. Social pressure leads women away from the hard sciences and toward the soft ones. bakerivers’ links are really good at explaining this concept to those who may not be familiar.

  • blakerivers @ at 3:23 am, August 15th, 2010

    –Ryan @ at 5:24 pm, August 9th, 2010

    You seem to assume that all women maintain an equal desire to marry and procreate. Dubious. Could it be that more educated & successful women are less interested in the traditional family life?

    Also, Ryan, you proclaim numerous times that the sexual orientation and sexual identity of a person can be used definitively as an indication of their psychological characteristics, as well as their social/political interests and agendas. This is in error; in fact, it is downright prejudiced, fallacious, and unfounded.

    In trying to understand the cause for your illogical assertions, I suspect that you are attempting to site scientific evidence for gender-based differences in behavior as pertaining to genetics. Don’t be so easily misled.

    It is interested how common people can be so sure about scientific conclusions that the scientists themselves are not sure about, and never claimed to be sure about. Ignorance is surety, I suppose.

  • Linkspams don’t have what it takes (15th August, 2010) | Geek Feminism Blog @ at 10:03 am, August 15th, 2010

    [...] nerd Cicutae writes: “Do you have any questions Sir?” The response was almost always the same – a glance at me, [...]

  • Liz @ at 9:52 pm, August 23rd, 2010

    Coach your male co-workers or team members to redirect the asker to talk with you. Or just to burst out laughing, give a look of disbelief, and go, “So, why did you just turn to me to ask me the question when she was just talking to you?!”

    in short, they should back you up.

  • miriam @ at 5:07 pm, August 19th, 2013

    Well.. I worked for ESA (the European NASA..) and other comapnies in the same sector. It’s exactly like you describe. In all this years one equation has always been valid: stupidity=fear=sexism.
    But there may be an happy ending :) Once, during a meeting one gentleman asked a woman to take a note (as she was the secretary) and asked her male collegue to further detail that note to her. What a useless idiot he must have felt when he relised that the woman was effectively the Director and that man her secretary. Go on and be that woman! :)

  • miriam @ at 5:09 pm, August 19th, 2013

    What I do/say is: hi, you do not know me but I’m the responsible of ..etc. Is there a reason why you did not ask the question to me? Make them feel stupid and imbarassed. It work, they will not do tha again.

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