Thursday, 22 March 2007

I'm going to just take a page out of the Cosmic Variance book and just quote this other blog:

Discussion at a faculty meeting:

Department Chair: Some of you may be interested in an upcoming visit to the university by a group from University A to share information about their program to increase the participation of women in science, engineering, and math. [hands around an informational memo, including the list of names of the visitors]

Young Male Colleague: Hey, I know X! [mentions name of one of the visitors]. What is HE doing going around talking about women’s issues? He’s a real scientist! And a guy!

Me: Men can be involved in helping solve the problem of the underrepresentation of women in science, engineering, and math.

Young Male Colleague: No, I mean, this guy isn’t effeminate or anything. He’s really a.. a.. a.. a guy!

Senior Female Colleague: Perhaps he is transgendered.

Young Male Colleague, missing the obvious sarcasm, and offended on behalf of the Real Guy: I can assure you that he is nothing of the sort.

Me: He must be a eunuch then.

[Chair steps in and changes the subject]

I've mentioned gender before, in the context of the history of science, and although I should know better, I must admit that I am always surprised when I hear of occurrences like this. Without reminders like this, I tend to assume that whatever remaining gender iniquities we have are hidden, systemic, and slowly being squeezed out. This despite my undergraduate experience as an electrical and computer engineer with about 50 other men and 3 women in my cohort. I assume that much of my naiveté is due to my, well, being a man.

After a recent philosophy of science colloquium at my department, several of us found ourselves sitting around a table wondering why there were no women among us. Could it be that we were all secretly misogynists? That we were androphiles? Our collective impression was that roughly half the students in our department are women (the other half are men, for those slow at math or unwilling to make assumptions about the entrance requirements of my institution). A majority of the women are historians, we thought, while more men must be philosophers. For this reason, then, along with a flu that struck low two of our outstanding philosophical women, and not for some hidden misogyny, were we all male sans fe-.

For numeroholics, it turns out that our department actually has 27 women and 18 men. Many of us describe ourselves as both historians and philosophers. Philosophy is the primary interest of just 12 of the 45. Proportionally, about 1/3 of men are philosophers while 1/5 of the women are. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to draw conclusions from this.

As for me, I will continue to insist that "women's issues" are generally "human issues"--although not always. After overhearing my central role in a conversation about women's jeans sizes, Sex and the City, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and exfoliation, a friend told me I ought to hang out with guys more. He may be right. But then, I was the one sitting around the table with six women.

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