My Experiences With Sexism in Science

I think I have finally had it. I am sick of women being told to “put up with” sexist behavior because to speak up would be career suicide. I am sick of the defenders of academics who prey on students. I am sick of seemingly smart people spouting stereotypes that portray women as somehow different and less capable than men, from the President of Harvard’s 2005 comments that women are innately less capable in science to a Nobel prize winner’s 2015 comments that, among other things, women and men should be segregated. And, if being a woman in science is bad enough – the situation is even worse for people of color who are actively discouraged from careers in STEM. Most importantly, I am sick of people claiming that we are in a post-sexist, or post-racist, society when we clearly are not post anything. Many people simply do not know what women (or people of color, or people with disabilities, or any people who are different from the perceived majority) experience in their daily lives, including at work.

I have decided to speak my experience as a woman in science. I doubt I remember every gendered and sexist moment in my life, but here are some highlights from my career. I won’t bore you with the everyday sexism I experience out in the world – these are things that happened to me while I was out in the field WORKING, at conferences while I was WORKING, or in a university building while I was WORKING. From inappropriate comments to outright groping, here are three examples each from grad school, pre-tenure, and post-tenure life. Trust me, tenure does not make you immune:

As a Graduate Student:

1. The male graduate student who told me I only passed my oral exams because I am a woman.

2. The senior scholar who propositioned me in the field, verbally and physically.

3. The student evaluations that discussed my smile, body, and attractiveness rather than my teaching ability.

As a Pre-Tenure Faculty Member:

1. The senior female faculty member who asked me if I was going to quit my job when I told her I was pregnant.

2. The senior female faculty member who told me women shouldn’t have children until after tenure. She looked a little shocked when I reminded her that I had a toddler.

3. The junior faculty member who openly ogled my chest and talked about my “Magic Planets”. (Look up Magic Planet – it’s a real thing, and not at all related to my chest).

As a Post-Tenure Faculty Member:

1. The senior faculty member who asked me about my sex life and encouraged me to have a good one. Perhaps with him.

2. The department chair who told me funding was easy for me to get because I am a woman and work in an easy field.

3. The senior emeritus faculty who…this is a hard one to put delicately…Came up behind me at an on-campus retirement party, dropped his knees, and pushed himself up against me several times. Trust me – I had NO idea how to react, and recovering from that violation took me about 6 months.

That’s my reality of sexism in science. I can’t possibly be alone.