It’s SO Not Fair For You Women To Hang Out Together!
Jenny F. Scientist reports the following:
Recently, three women joined my lab, more than doubling the female population. (Just in time for me to leave.) There was instant bonding, which I had only seen before among married postdocs or among single grad students. But it is lovely to have other women about. We go to lunch together; every couple weeks we all go out together for drinks or dinner. (Which I love, by the way.) Every so often one of the men comes along- we are outnumbered about 3:1- but mostly, not.
Dr. S argues that this is discriminatory of me. What if the poor dears fell left out? I felt left out for years, I said. That doesn’t make it right, or nice, he said.
She then asks, “So, are we mean? Or are we apathetic? Or both.” Neither, and I’ll tell you why.
Dr. S has made the same misguided critique that gets lobbed at people of any marginalized group whenever they gather together for comfort. “Hey, not fair, you’re being exclusionary!” You will struggle mightily for years to get people to see the exclusionary practices that permeate in-group culture. But just let two or three of the out-group gather and voila! the pangs of exclusion become unbearable for the in-group members.
What’s missing from the picture is an acknowledgment and analysis of the power differential that exists between the two groups. Jenny F. Scientist and her gal pals don’t have any power, by virtue of membership in the out-group females, to exclude men from the power centers of science, to keep them out of the conversation, to sabotage their careers or pass them over for coveted opportunities. Their gathering does not function in an exclusionary, harmful way, but in a reparative manner. That is, by gathering together, marginalized group members can help each other manage and minimize the pain, anxiety, stress, and loneliness of existing in marginal status in a less than welcoming environment.
Cynthia Burack and I wrote about this in our article Telling Stories About Engineering: Group Dynamics and Resistance to Diversity (in NWSA Journal v. 16 No. 1, 2004 (Re)Gendering Science Fields). It is worth quoting at length from that article here.
Related to the belief in and expression of intellectual superiority is the threat presented by self-segregating practices such as the establishment of institutionalized programs for women and minority students as well as lectures, classes, and other events directed at out-group students. In her whimsical definition of “womanism,” Alice Walker indicates that the womanist is “not a separatist, except periodically, for health” (Walker, 1984:xi). Walker’s concern with the availability of separatism to people of color “for health” can be generalized to the situation of out-group members in engineering. The unconscious group culture of engineering and its social residues can be difficult for women and minority males to negotiate without the ability to appeal to segregated spaces and the interpretive possibilities they hold. Unfortunately, when minority group members get together even in informal ways, they are likely to be labeled by in-group members as “self-segregating” and to arouse suspicion as to their motives. This happens in a myriad of ways, both small and large, creating a form of “death by a thousand paper cuts” (Knight Higher Education Collaborative, 2001:2). Examples are not far to seek:
- Women are standing in public spaces (hallways, campus sidewalks) engaging in conversation with other women faculty or administrators. Men who know the women conversationalists comment as they pass by: “Say, no self-segregating here!” “What are you three up to?” “What are you two plotting now?” Groups of two or three men engineers gathered in public spaces for conversation are unlikely to be assailed by similar comments from either men or women.
- An announcement for a pizza-party for women engineering students is vandalized, and male students complain to their female classmates about their exclusion.
- In a set of office moves on campus, the space for a multicultural student study lounge is eliminated. The story circulates that other space needs had priority and that multicultural students should be encouraged to mingle with white students, and not to self-segregate. The need of those students for a place within their very white educational world that they could call their own is not recognized.
In-group members often complain: “we don’t have a special lounge (or program, or scholarship) for whites (or men, or whoever the in-group members are), so why should they get one?” These group members are unable to see how all of the institutional structures and spaces they occupy and learn within are already their own – this is as invisible and unremarkable to them as the air they breathe. They are unable to see how those structures and spaces exclude and disadvantage out-group members, because they themselves are so very comfortable and welcomed within them.
How can leaders in engineering acknowledge the need of minority out-group members for “safe” space while achieving the goals of integration, team-work, and mutual respect? First, leaders must be persuaded of the benefits to the program, department, or team as a whole of voluntary and temporary self-segregation. This self-segregation may work to interrupt malign group processes that marginalize or stereotype those who represent minority social groups. Those who would offer safe spaces and special programs to women and underrepresented-minority men must defend many fronts at once. They must articulate the need for such programs to those who control access to resources, while simultaneously addressing stereotypes about the unsuitability of these groups for engineering. When someone asks, “why special programs for women?” the answer must be that women and underrepresented-minority men do not need special help to be good engineers, but they do benefit from assistance in dealing with engineering culture. Thus, the special programs are not for them so much as they are for engineering. It is engineering education, as it is currently constituted, that cannot effectively welcome out-group members, and that needs an array of programs to help counteract the conscious and unconscious dimensions of science and engineering culture, practice, and pedagogy that squelch the interests of those who are different, and ultimately drive them away.
Jenny and her friends are getting together without the guys precisely because science is unable to welcome them on equal footing with those guys. If the guys feel excluded from the conversation with the women, they shouldn’t whine about how bad they feel. They should instead think about how they can work to make their neck of the science woods a more welcoming home for all women, to redefine in-group membership in a manner that includes women. Then women’s safe spaces will be the same as men’s, and the men needn’t worry about feeling left out anymore.
References cited in the quoted text:
(The) Knight Higher Education Collaborative (September 2001). Gender Intelligence. Policy Perspectives, 10(2), 1-9.
Walker, A. (1984). In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. New York: Harvest/HBJ.
Bunny Rock in Zuska’s Garden
Zuska is the kick-ass alter-ego of Suzanne E Franks. When not dispensing Zuska's wisdom, Suzanne can often be found gardening, reading, or having one of her thrice-weekly migraines.
- rentals on Beach Wheelchair
- Geoffrey on How to Feed 4 On a Food Stamp Budget
- อาการปวดหลัง on Juniorprof’s #painresearchmatters Campaign
- hay day hack ifunbox on Nifty Free Media Tools at Fairer Science
- win mobile games on Nifty Free Media Tools at Fairer Science
- airtemperaturespecialists.com on How Not To Sell Me Your Fancy HVAC System
- elm327 on PZ, You’ve Seriously Disappointed Me
- hntvzyjs.com on Nifty Free Media Tools at Fairer Science
- John on How Not To Sell Me Your Fancy HVAC System
- Richard Henderson on How Not To Sell Me Your Fancy HVAC System