Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Odd (Wo)Man Out

At dinner the other evening, one of the women present described an experience she had as a student taking a course in a male-dominated field (forestry and wildlife management). She was not majoring in this field, but wanted to take the course. She was the only female in the class. No one provided her with advice about how to dress properly for field trips, particularly one involving a prescribed fire (in which an area is burned to promote wildlife, for example). She had worn the wrong type of shoes and her feet got somewhat hot/burned. Another dinner guest who had majored in forestry explained that this was the “culture”--to distinguish between those who are insiders and those who are outsiders. A favorite tactic was to fail to provide guidance in preparing for field trips and wait to see who showed up improperly attired.

I too remember taking a forestry course and being the only female. Several of my fellow classmates petitioned the professor to kick me out of the class because I “would slow them down on field trips”. I don’t know what he said to them, but they did not get their way. Of course, they proceeded to make my life miserable on field trips. On the last day of the class, however, the professor (who was a tobacco-chewing “good ole boy”) was telling the class how much he had enjoyed teaching us and said, “Oh, by the way, some of you were concerned about the “young lady” in our midst. You will be happy to hear that she has the highest average going into the final, including field exams.” That was one of my most satisfying moments.

Such “cultures” are rapidly changing, but some apparently live on, albeit in more subtle forms. Often, we are unaware of being the odd person out—that key information is being provided to our colleagues, but not to us; that our counterparts are being paid more or given more resources; that some colleagues are given the benefit of the doubt while we must prove ourselves again and again.


Anonymous said...

Great blog entry, I'm going to twitter about your blog to spread the message. Thanks, Wetland_Dave.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I run into this situation all to often, and my first reaction is to look at what I might be doing wrong, to take it personally. But in the end it usually isn't anything other than being a girl, and it is just reassuring to know that other successful and talented women in biology experience the same thing.