Women in Science

I am a feminist

Let’s face it: this blog title sounds a bit odd. It does to me. Aren’t feminists those people with hairy armpits and heavy boots?

Let me correct myself straight away: no, they’re not necessarily.

Being in a lab with 11 men and one other woman is to say the least interesting and for our lab meetings 3 more men are added to it from my supervisors wife’s lab. Before coming here, I’ve never really thought about women’s rights or feminism – lucky me! Boys and girls go to the same schools, can do the same sports, have similar opportunities and are equal really, or so I thought. At least in my home country, the Netherlands.

But then small thoughts started nagging. Like last conference I went to, why was clothing so much more of an issue for me than for my male companion? He just put on his same old trousers, t-shirt et voila. Ready to go. But I, who usually just grabs whatever is on top of the pile of fresh but not yet sorted laundry, spent a significant amount of time wondering whether this dress would be too sexy, this shirt too businessy, and can I actually walk on those pumps?

Or at lab meeting, where I point out that nobody but me seems to care about deliveries to the lab. My PI may think he is supporting me as he says “yeah guys, you should help her, especially with the heavy stuff”. I replied to him that I can lift heavy things just fine and don’t need help, but that people ought to take their share of responsibility. It’s not my job to sort things out for everyone, but I inevitably end up doing it if nobody else does. Afterwards, the other female came to me to say she was really happy I countered that comment because she thought it was sexist and missed the point I was trying to make. Sadly, only one of the men remarked the same. Or after going on a little trip with three of the men, after which we got the comment “you’re three boys but let the girl drive?” to which I simply replied I enjoy driving and don’t see the point he’s trying to make.

On a more personal level: there’s a woman at work not wearing bras. I must admit I didn’t even notice. But others did and felt the need to point it out. Why?? Why should it matter to others what underwear we wear? If she doesn’t want to wear a bra, fine! Why did someone point out I have a “moustache”? Yes I do have some hair living there, I know, but I really can’t be bothered to have myself tortured with hot wax every two weeks for something I don’t see, feel or hear. It doesn’t interfere with anything, so why bother, why invest time & money? I’d rather spend those resources on something enjoyable or useful.

Being on my own for a while has been good to think about these things. I got caught up in an automated life, trying to squeeze into the woman society likes, including getting rid of moustache & beard, cooking, baking, letting myself be driven by my partner, you name it! I feel like I’m slowly shaking off those shackles and get to enjoy doing whatever I want. This Sunday, I’m going to play paintball with a bunch of men and I’ll again be driving. For only one reason: I want to. I didn’t cook anything all week, because I didn’t want to. Instead, I was out there having a beer, playing board games and enjoying life.

For me, feminism means the right for every woman to determine every little detail of her life herself, just as men can. As long as there are things where I’d ask: “would a man do this too”? and the answer is “no”, we’re not there yet (with a few obvious exceptions such as questions concerning specific things like periods…). I’ll not go as far as to step onto the barricades shouting out that I’m a feminist, but I will keep pointing out sexist remarks and trying to show people it’s okay for me, a woman, to do what I want. Maybe that might inspire others to try too.

There is one thing I haven’t decided on yet though. I love swimming and usually go 3-4 times a week at a local swimming pool. I’ll be going on holidays with some of the men from the lab next week. What I can totally see happening, is that I’d like to wear a bikini on the beach instead of swimming suit but then get fed up with the upper part being unstable whenever I try to actually swim. Referring to the paragraph above: a man wouldn’t have to put up with this. Should I ‘free the nipples’, like they do? We’re going on a trip together as friends, not colleagues, so it shouldn’t matter. I’m pretty sure they would be plenty uncomfortable if I were to free the nipples, but is that my problem or theirs? I’ll probably end up not doing it, which means that despite all of the above, even for me women are still not as equal to men as I thought and there’s work to do…


Sorry I’m in the lab instead of the kitchen!

I’m still fuming. I can’t believe how ignorant some people are.

This morning when I entered lab, I was greeted with “you look funny”. Not in a bad way – probably meant to comment on the fact that I went swimming before work and my hair was still a mess. Still, I told the guy that even IF I look funny, it’s not really the right place to talk about that.

Later on, we were discussing a birthday present. The lab has 3 girls and and 13 men, but during this discussion I was the only girl present. Naturally, I should be the one to buy it, because “we” are better at that. I corrected that and told them I’d be happy to get the present, but then it’ll be just beers and nothing else, because I DON’T like shopping.

I brought up a sensitive topic with our boss, because the others were too chicken to do it. Which got me an “odd that a girl has more balls than all the men in the lab” as a thank you.

Which is all, I hope, not bad intentioned unconscious prattle, I can deal with that. But during an afternoon coffee break, I almost wished murder is legal. For some reason, we were discussing obligatory military service. The fun started when someone remarked that that is so much easier for us girls, as we don’t have to go into the army (and come on, in most countries the boys don’t have to either!). But – in Israel the girls apparently do (haven’t checked whether this is true). Which one of them found quite funny, just “imagine an army of girls”. Which got me on edge – why exactly are we supposed to be less good at firing a gun or flying an F16?

The reply I got made me explode. “Anywhere with too many girls isn’t good, I’ve been in this pharma lab where there were ONLY women and it was bad, you need some men or it’ll be chaos”. So you are saying that we need men to keep us in check in anything we do? Are we too stupid to think? To which he had the guts to reply that “women are better at certain things, you know, cooking, kids”. I still can’t believe he actually said that. So you’re saying you think I shouldn’t be in the lab?

It was all I could do to get up and leave instead of hitting him or something. Luckily, it’s only this one guy. One of the others stepped in and said something starting with “you know, that was really sexist…”. Because I was on my way out, I don’t know how the conversation ended.

I mean, how thickheaded can you be?! The thing is, whenever I talk to him, I end up fighting him within seconds. Always about things that involve women doing things they shouldn’t do or can’t do as good as men. No matter what we discuss, he always knows better than I do. He even knows that my hormones will change once I hit 30 and at that point I’ll wish I wasn’t as reserved as I am now because I’ll want kids and to cook for my man. Apparently, he fancies me and asked almost all of my colleagues what I’m upset about, why I’m so unfriendly with him. I’ll tell you, even if he was the last man on earth, not gonna happen.

I was really relieved that one of my colleagues told him off, even though it probably won’t do much good. But please, if you witness any stupidity like this, please intervene. Humanity will be grateful. I suppose it’s nothing compared the threats some women got on Twitter in response to their objection to Matt Taylors shirt, but these *minor* things are happening every single day and we need all the help we can get to counter it.

What to wear at a conference

Next Saturday, I’m off to a meeting. During this meeting, I’ll present a poster (I didn’t get a talk! @#%$$#) and there’s going to be a wine & cheese party.

I decided a little while ago that I should start getting rid of the Disney shirts and old jeans, even though I still feel happiest in those. I found a lovely brand, PeopleTree, which sells fairtrade clothes. Just the thing I was looking for, as every time I buy something from H&M and the likes, I am reminded about this:

My solution has been simply not buying anything (I hate shopping anyway). However, last weekend I went home and my boyfriend asked me whether it wasn’t time to throw away the ragged thing I was wearing. Slightly more subtle, my mum asked me whether that was the same sweater I already owned in highly school. Ehm. Yes. So, PeopleTree it is!

But now I’m uncertain what I should wear at the conference. For the party, I thought about this dress I got last week from PeopleTree, maybe with a blazer.

And for something ordered online, it fits like a charm. But I feel so damn uncomfy wearing something like this… For me, this feels completely overdressed, but I guess it isn’t, right?!

For the poster session, I’ll definitely go for some semi-chique look with nice jeans or if I feel particularly daring a skirt, a non-Disney top and blazer.

It’s crazy, I’ve been thinking more about appearance than the actual science part of the meeting. But I’m not the only one worrying about what is okay, what is underdressed and what is overdressed, more information for example on TenureSheWrote and by the Cobb Lab. All this thinking about should-be-irrelevant stuff reminds me of this:

Which means that basically, I’d love to walk around in whatever I feel comfy in, but every now and then I think it is necessary to put that aside and dress to impress. In fare trade goods to ease my mind about buying new clothes…