A Modest Proposal: Remember The Men

Absinthe has an announcement on her blog about a new online support group for junior female particle physicists.

There is a new online discussion group aimed at junior female particle physicists (up to and including the postdoctoral level). The group allows junior females to talk openly and anonymously with other junior female particle physicists from around the world about career issues that are important to them. Most particle physicists at the junior level are based at large laboratories in Europe and the US. The unique work environment at these labs can lead to workplace issues and problems not normally encountered by other types of physicists…Support groups for females who make it to the tenure-track level are not uncommon, but global integrated support groups for junior women in the field are virtually non-existent. This lack of support groups for these women is perhaps associated with the leaky pipeline phenomenon that is so well documented in the field…On a final note, this group is not affiliated with any professional physics society. This group has no political agenda whatsoever. The only purpose of this group is to provide a free forum for junior women in particle physics to discuss whatever they feel is important to them.

Members’ identities will be known only to the group moderator, and the group is open only to women.
Interestingly, Absinthe has received a rather angry email from a senior woman particle physicist who questions the need for an anonymous forum, and for a group for junior women only.


It’s discouraging to see a senior woman express such hostility to an effort on the part of junior women to build a support group. What does she think is going to happen – they’ll say mean things about her behind her back? Or they’ll be mean to the nice, nice men? Yes, that’s it! She’s worried about the men!

who says that only young women are facing problems? I see also a lot of young men which are running into similar problems…who says that only the ‘men’ are the reason for career problems for young female scientists?

Oh god, let us never forget the men and their problems.
No, I say to you, not for a minute. Let us not turn our attention away from the important and meaningful issues that confront men, let us never fail to devote our energies to aiding men in bettering their lives, let us always ponder ever more ways in which we can be of aid. Ladies, do not shirk your duties toward the men in your lives – any men, really, anywhere, at any time; and certainly not for the pitiable excuse of gazing at your own navels. There are more important issues at hand. Namely: what do men need? And: how may we provide it?
Ladies, do you really suggest that “men” are “the reasons for the career problems for young female scientists”? Young ladies, this is the height of irresponsibliity and is in very poor taste! Surely you cannot be implying that there are men who hold positions of institutional power and decision-making ability; that there are men who sexually harass and discriminate against women. In any case, even if the simplistic statement “men are the reason for the career problems for young women” is not exactly how you, personally, would formulate the very complex problem of gender issues in science and engineering, you must certainly agree that merely by announcing your desire to associate with other women for the purpose of discussing career issues, you are essentially proclaiming that is what you believe. You, young lady, by virtue of wanting to talk with other women, have declared yourself to be anti-men. Why do you hate our men?
I can hear you shaking your heads and murmuring among yourselves. You may be tempted to refer to the recent X-Gals column and conclude that I speak as a Condemning Wo/man, but that’s only because you hate men. Now stop reading this post, because it was written by a woman, and start thinking about what you can do today for a man near you.

  1. absinthe
    July 31, 2007 at 11:15 am

    Thanks for the plug about the chat group. I don’t know if other similar chat groups exist for junior females in other science disciplines. I would be interested to hear about any if there are.
    There is one aspect of this that I will soon blog about, but that I’ll also mention here…the response of the Women In Physics (WIPHYS) group of the American Physical Society to the announcement of the formation of this group has been very discouraging and depressing; I am a member of the group and asked them to post a notice about the new chat group on their online news bulletin board. That was over a week ago, and they came out with their weekly posting today with no mention of the chat group on it. I have had unsettling experiences with WIPHYS before…the group moderator appears to be charged with the task of ensuring that no messages get posted to the WIPHYS bulletin board that paint the field as anything but peachy keen and “getting better and better all the time!” for women. This isn’t the first experience I’ve had where they have refused to post one of my messages (not that there have been that many, which is even more depressing)…one of the messages that I asked them to post a couple of years ago was a link to the web page that I had set up that gave the responses of a survey I had given to females who had left academic physics, asking them *why* they had left academic physics. I guess the moderator felt that a post to the WIPHYS message board pointing to the stories of a whole bunch of women who had left the field (largely in disgust) was inappropriate material for other women in physics to be reading. Their unwritten censorship policies literally make me feel kind of ill.
    I dunno…does starting an online chat/support group for junior females in the field really make me sound like a shrill crazy man-hating harpy? Does the announcement for the chat group (as seen on my blog off of the link above) sound like something that *must* be censored for the good of the field, and that women in the field must not be exposed to something like that?
    I’ve gotten a lot more cynical about groups like WIPHYS in recent years, and have come to realize that they are run by a professional organization that has a vested interest in ensuring that they paint a rosy picture of the status of women in physics. Even though I am aware of the fact that they censor pretty much anything that doesn’t fit their party line, it still depresses me that they would censor something that is as positive as this group is meant to be.

  2. July 31, 2007 at 11:17 am

    You know, when my husband and I moved in together, I told him he’d have to do his own damn laundry. Frankly, this is how I feel about what this woman has to say about men’s problems. They can do their own damn laundry.
    I’ve never really understood why it is that by declaring that some people have problems you must also be declaring that nobody else has problems. Of course other people have problems–they’re just different problems.
    I think a lot of this negative feeling from Older Women in Science has to do with resentment. “I had to go it alone, so you should have to, too!” I see this all the time, even just at the grad student level. It’s really quite disheartening.
    But here I am talking about women again. I forgot, I’m supposed to be worrying about men.

  3. July 31, 2007 at 11:53 am

    Men do, obviously have problems and pressures and stress and so forth. In particle physics, a lot of those things are the pressures that transcend gender. And, it’s worth thinking about and worrying about that.
    But anybody who’s been paying any attention recognize that there are pressures that come from being a woman, and there are pressures that come from being a junior woman, that neither men nor senior people have. What’s more, it will be far easier for junior women to talk about those issue in a support group that doesn’t include the men. Just because you’re supporting group A doesn’t mean that you don’t have to support group B. So, by all means, support the men, support junior and senior people in general, but it doesn’t make sense to do that by tearing down support for group A.
    I guess one thing I would hope that comes out of this is for the women in the group to feel comfortable about publicizing their experiences and the stresses they go through — even if just anonymously. There is too much of a “shut up and put up” ethic for everybody in the academic field; we mutter back and forth amongst ourselves, but most of us have this impression that we are the only ones going through what we go through. And, I know from talking to female graduate students at Vanderbilt that a lot of the women who suffer woman-specific issues often feel likewise. More public acknowledgement and sharing of the specific issues and stories that people have might help not only other women realize that they are not alone, but might help men realize what female-specific issues there are out there.
    -Rob

  4. July 31, 2007 at 11:53 am

    Men do, obviously have problems and pressures and stress and so forth. In particle physics, a lot of those things are the pressures that transcend gender. And, it’s worth thinking about and worrying about that.
    But anybody who’s been paying any attention recognize that there are pressures that come from being a woman, and there are pressures that come from being a junior woman, that neither men nor senior people have. What’s more, it will be far easier for junior women to talk about those issue in a support group that doesn’t include the men. Just because you’re supporting group A doesn’t mean that you don’t have to support group B. So, by all means, support the men, support junior and senior people in general, but it doesn’t make sense to do that by tearing down support for group A.
    I guess one thing I would hope that comes out of this is for the women in the group to feel comfortable about publicizing their experiences and the stresses they go through — even if just anonymously. There is too much of a “shut up and put up” ethic for everybody in the academic field; we mutter back and forth amongst ourselves, but most of us have this impression that we are the only ones going through what we go through. And, I know from talking to female graduate students at Vanderbilt that a lot of the women who suffer woman-specific issues often feel likewise. More public acknowledgement and sharing of the specific issues and stories that people have might help not only other women realize that they are not alone, but might help men realize what female-specific issues there are out there.
    -Rob

  5. July 31, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    Well, I suppose that the fact that there are enough junior female particle physicists to warrant a support group is, in a perverse way, somewhat encouraging; I would have thought that was a pretty small population to draw from.
    It always strikes me as ironic how discriminatory attitudes can survive in the so-called ‘hard’ sciences like physics and astronomy, which are supposedly the epitome of evidence-based science with theories verified out to the nth decimal place…
    BTW, the little “#” at the bottom of the post has the unique entry link.

  6. bsci
    July 31, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    My response is very simple. Someone decided there is a need for an anonymous partical physicist support group for women and decided to set up a group that isn’t sponsored by any larger organization and costs no one anything. It if fills a unmet need, people will join and benefit. If it doesn’t, it will disappear. Is there a need for a similar group for men or men and women together? Perhaps, but that’s not what absinthe wants to organize. If this complainer thinks another group would be useful, organize it and see what happens. I suspect the real issue here is the complainer wants neither to exist and pulls out a staw man example as an excuse.

  7. July 31, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Thanks for pointing me to the “#” sign; I fixed the first link to be direct and changed the second link as well, and deleted some consequently unnecessary text.

  8. August 2, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    *sigh*
    Zuska, you are so dreamy! Marry me!
    That is all I have to add.

  9. August 3, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    Oh, Signout – I’m all verklempt!

  10. absinthe
    August 3, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    Sorry Dr.Signout, I proposed to her first quite some time ago. Get to the back of the line.

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