Saturday, May 31, 2014

Eons and ages ago...

I applied for grad school.

This was way back when sexism was slightly more rampant, I guess.

I met with a chemistry professor (actually he was the chair of the department) while interviewing and the conversation went something like this:

Me: "What classes would I teach as a TA?"

Him: "Chem 101 and 102."

Me: "Would I ever teach upper division chemistry?"

Him: "No. We have found that women aren't generally well received as TA's for upper division classes."

I wanted to leave right then. I knew I wouldn't go there and my lunch with grad students (the male student interviewing got to lunch with professors) shed light that this was not an isolated incident and that sexism was "rampant" in the department.

I ran the other way.

A few years later I heard that professors name and cringed. A woman I knew was leaving our grad program to go work for him. I warned her. (She never graduated.)

The guy's name has popped up randomly over the nearly 20 years since I was checking out grad schools and each time I shudder.

The group I am working with is awesome now. No sexism at all. I think my company is average. It hasn't been absent in my career over the last 12 years, but it hasn't been "rampant" either.

A friend of mine a few years ago made the comment that she had noted a distinct lack of sexism and poor treatment from her male colleagues who had daughters. And she is right. That's not to say that men who don't have kids or aren't married with wives working outside the home are sexist at all - right now I work with a totally awesome guy who is in his late 50's, never married and no kids - and he has all the same expectations for me as anyone else in the group. And maybe more actually. But some of the most patient and best mentors I have had along the way are dads of daughters.

That icky professor popped, once again, back into my life a few weeks ago. My colleague (who has a college aged daughter) and I are hosting a Workshop this summer. It is truly an honor to be running this thing and to be hosting the accompanying roadmapping session for all the leading agencies on US research investment in mass spectrometry. One of my duties is to invite people to attend and to respond to our client's requests to send invites.

I got one a few weeks ago asking me to invite jackass sexist professor. I cringed and wiggled and made faces at my computer. Then I sent him the canned invitation and didn't even write on it, "you probably don't remember me, but you told me I wouldn't be well received as a female scientist teaching upper division chemistry. Not only did I teach it at the University I attended, but I received both department and University wide teaching awards. And I went to work here and am now have a very successful career where my teams have won a number of awards. Jackass."

I sent the normal template and set to waiting. Then when out for drinks with my male colleagues where after a few glasses of wine I confessed what brought puke to the back of my throat and made me steam a bit at my desk the other day. They weren't shocked. We had an interesting discussion about sexism in the workplace. One of my contractors told me about his good friend who is dean of sciences at a very well known California school who confessed to him the number of struggles she STILL HAS with the old school professors. He is probably 70 years old and just does not understand how this could still be the case.


I got a reply from jackass sexist pig professor.

"Thank you for the invitation Dr. Nuclear Mom. I am so sorry that I will not be able to attend as I will be on vacation during that time. My best wishes for your success in this roadmapping session. I hope you don't mind that I sent your invitation to my daughter who is a graduate student in chemistry at X university and have recommended that she attend the Workshop portion of the week. I think she would enjoy it. Thank you again."


He has a daughter. In college. Studying chemistry.

I counted back. She was a baby or toddler when I sat in his office.

I don't have any answers. Still. But it set me back a little. Was it that she was a baby and he didn't see the possibilities? I am guessing he wouldn't tell his daughter not to expect a teaching appointment in upper division as she is a woman. Or would he? No. He wouldn't. Has he changed?

Do I care? Yes and No. And I can't really explain it. But maybe I have softened to him. This person I met once a long time ago who once said a really stupid thing that I couldn't let go.

And oh, his daughter did not decide to attend our Workshop. I kind of wanted to meet her. So I am slightly bummed.