"Gender Wars" in which women find themselves in conflict with other women....either directly or indirectly...regarding how to behave as a scientist or in life/work balance choices.
Possibly the most common conflict is related to philosophical differences. Those women who have chosen to "fit in" with their male colleagues have adopted masculine ways of thinking and working (ambitious, long hours, etc.) and may have foregone a family to ensure career success. Many women of my generation have invested a tremendous amount of time and effort and made sacrifices to gain recognition for ourselves and for female scientists as a group. We've succeeded during a period when we were actively discouraged from seeking careers in science, engineering, and math...mainly by sticking to a rigorous and professional work ethic. We had to work many times harder (and smarter) than male counterparts to gain grudging acceptance by our peers and to be considered by superiors for positions mostly held by men.
Things are different now. It's not unusual for a woman to hold a professorial or other high-level science position, and in many countries there are laws preventing outright discrimination. Gender bias is still there, but is not as blatant as it once was. However, women who had to work hard to gain a foothold in science are often critical of other women who are choosing more "feminine" approaches to science, i.e., not adopting the traditional male work ethic, putting family before career, or just working fewer hours. Younger women who choose a different path (from that of my generation) are often shocked and upset when an older female mentor is critical of their choices. Those choices may involve having children or not (or when to have children), spending more leisure time with family or in non-science pursuits, or selecting alternative career paths in science (as opposed to the academic or research path).
This can be a touchy subject, but one that needs to be explored so that we (women in science) do not end up hurting the progress we've made over the past decades. I've often had conversations with female colleagues (as well as male) about the apparent change in work ethic and sense of entitlement adopted by those now entering science fields (I'm talking about general trends; specifics vary from place to place and with the individual, of course) We worry about how this change will affect the success rate of women in science, if for example, long hours and high productivity are expected to gain tenure or permanent status in some workplaces, and a woman decides she doesn't have to meet this expectation. In the past, men had better options than women in terms of balancing work and family; they still have an advantage over women, on whom childcare and housework more often fall. The bias we've been discussing in this series may also come into play if a woman takes time off to have a baby, stops the tenure clock, or decides to work part-time for a period. She may be judged to be less serious about a science career than male colleagues.
This concern usually comes to a head when a young female scientist decides to start a family and seeks advice or encouragement from an older, established female. In many universities and science organizations, a high percentage of female scientists are childless (and also unmarried). This is the case where I work. Some of these women are highly critical of younger female scientists who decide to have a family at an early stage in their career. The reasons for this reaction are varied and not always rational ("I gave up having a family to have a career, so why shouldn't they?"). Others are concerned that women who ask for special treatment (e.g., stopping the tenure clock) will promote the stereotype that women can't succeed in science unless they are "helped".
These so-called "mommy wars" are harmful and unnecessary. The decision to have children is highly personal, and what worked for you may not work for someone else. My response to a request for advice from a young scientist would be to mainly ask questions to help them clarify what they really want and what is possible, given their circumstances. My only advice for a woman who wishes to maintain a career in science and to have children is to choose your spouse very carefully. Even if you don't have children, having a supportive spouse can make all the difference when you encounter obstacles during your career. That is certainly what sustained me (in addition to my drive, persistence, and self-confidence, of course!).
The Gender Bias Learning Project describes all four patterns of bias that I've covered in this series, and there are videos that illustrate each type of bias.