In the past few days, a lot has been said about women. In those discussions, I was particularly bugged by one of Armando’s responses. More than once he lamented how few women responded to diaries about Larry Summers’ foolish statements on women’s abilities in science, in contrast to the multifold reactions to the ad on DailyKos. I tried to explain, but he didn’t buy it. I also witnessed Catnip’s parting exchange as it unfolded. I wrote a comment when her efforts at explanation were rejected. I suggesting that women describe some of their experiences that might help the `scales fall from the eyes” of those who could not see why many of us are upset. So, making good on my own suggestion, here’s my first real diary.
When I got my doctorate in 1988 (ok, stone age for many of you, I know), virtually all of the faculty in my program were male. This was something of a problem, as half of the doctoral students were female, a change from long-standing tradition. Our program was evaluated every few years for national accreditation by the professional society. A few students had complained of sexism to the professional society, citing statements from the faculty, such as this: “How could you get the top score on this test? You must have lots of brothers, because normal females don’t do well in science”, or “I don’t care if you are the best student in our program. You are damaging your reproductive destiny by being in graduate study, you know. Sooner or later you will drop out and that means a male has been cheated out of a place in graduate school”, or “Nothing personal, I know you are a strong student. But all my Research Assistantships go to men. Men become faculty, women become faculty wives. Hey, hey, just joking. Except about the assistantship, that’s still a No.”, or “If you weren’t a female, there’s no way you would have won that prize.”

    The professional society began to worry about the women in my program. They told the faculty to hire some women, or else bring in a nationally renowned female scholar for an extended visit, to help mentor the women in doctoral study. After a bit, our faculty identified a woman that they thought suitable to come and stay for a couple of weeks. I was excited to meet her. She had an international reputation, lots of grant support and publications, and she taught at an esteemed national university. Two of us were asked to pick up this distinguished visitor at the airport and take her to her hotel. On the way back, my classmate jumped right into it, and asked the woman what advice she had for us as females, for advancing in our male dominated field. She smiled, and said proudly, “Use your sex.”

While I tried to avoid driving the car off the road, she continued, telling us how she, in graduate school 20 years or so ahead of us, had set her sights on the Chair of her department. She succeeded – by her standards – sleeping with him, and eventually marrying him.  He was forced to leave because of the scandal (he had a wife and teenage children), but it worked out fine. She told us that at their next university, she set her sights on the Dean. She concluded, saying “It worked out well, because I got tenure just about the time my looks started to go.”

    She stayed on our campus for two weeks, giving several talks. The scholarly content of her talks was excellent. This woman was and is very good at her work. At her first talk, I was still in shock over her personal advice. Nevertheless, I could not help but notice her dress. This woman wore a gauze dress and sandals. That was it. No other garments. The only parts of her body not clearly visible were her scalp and the tops of her shoulders. It was clear (no pun intended) that she had not altogether lost her looks!

    The faculty sat on the front row, as did most of the male. We were all literally open-mouthed as the visiting prof talked, moving around the stage, frequently standing at the very edge of the stage, with one of her feet stepped up on a chair, her elbow resting on her knee. I thought suddenly of Marlene Dietrich in the Blue Angel. As my friend said later, all our mouths were open, but there was a lot of drool on the floor at the front where the men were seated.

    Our distinguished visitor wore a similar outfit every day. She was quite popular with the faculty, but as the days passed, female students stopped coming to hear her presentations. Soon after she left, I was called in and questioned sharply about this apparent lack of interest on the part of the female students. The program director wanted me to tell the national Professional Society that the female students saw no benefit to having women faculty around. When I was not willing to say this, he wanted me to admit that I, like most women he had observed, constitutionally disliked other women and did not want to be taught by them. After all, he said, “You could not ask for a better role model.”  I tried to point out her “unusual” dress, which he claimed not to have noticed, rejecting my observations as more evidence of female bitchiness. He observed that this was a clear sign that women would reject other women. Which is why, he added, he did not ever want to hire a female faculty member.

    And how does this doctoral program fair now?  Almost all of the doctoral students are women. Almost all of the faculty who were there when I was a grad student are still there. Several faculty have been hired (and some retired) since 1988. One prof is a woman, all the others are men.

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