Sotomayor

Jun. 5th, 2009 09:14 am
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Why is it that Supreme Court nominees are suspected of being racist when only when the nominee herself is a minority?

On the other hand, why is it that being a mysogynist is not a disqualification for the same Court?

The Republican Party ought to rename itself the Party for Insecure White Men and have done with it.
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[livejournal.com profile] ayekamn has a great post about a recent study's findings on why women leave science. To quote from the article, "The reported contributing factors to this disparity fall into two categories: family responsibilities and self-confidence."

As [livejournal.com profile] ayekamn notes, there's no mention of institutional barriers that block women - the old boys' network, biased hiring practices, or even outright hostility to women in the workplace. Maybe that all falls under the category of "lack of self-confidence," as if all we had to do was fix the women and all would be well with the world. Well, I have news for you: all the self-confidence in the world isn't going to help you if you're still constantly judged as being less competent simply because you lack the smallest chromosome in the human genome.
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Caught sight of this item over at Thus Spake Zuska. Apparently, the journal Nature reprints its original mission statement in every issue. Said mission statement includes the line,
"to aid Scientific men themselves, by giving early information of all advances made in any branch of Natural knowledge throughout the world, and by affording them an opportunity of discussing the various Scientific questions which arise from time to time."

Recognizing that the phrase "Scientific men themselves" might be objectionable in the 21st century (if not the preceding 1.38 centuries as well, really), the editors announced a change in the wording in an editorial in yesterday's issue. The new improved wording will be... wait for it...
"Scientific men [sic] themselves".

hmphf. Personally, I agree with Zuska, that it's a big cop out.

Nature likes to thinks it's on the cutting edge of science research, but it's more like the bleeding edge - I'd estimate that half the results published in it get quietly retracted within a year, at least in astronomy. Maybe by being behind the times in gender equality, it balances out?
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I can't recall if I ever got around to posting a review of the book "Women Don't Ask" by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. It's very good reading, looking into how women are conditioned to avoid negotiation, and end up losing out because of it. It's a strong driving force behind the gender pay gap.

One would think that the solution would be to encourage women to stand up for themselves, be more assertive, and go out of their way to get what they want. But you'd be wrong.

This article from today's Post refers to a new study that shows that when women do ask for more, they get penalized for it. This conclusion shouldn't be terribly shocking - it's the same old saw about assertive women being perceived as bitches, even though the exact same behavior in men is not only accepted, but rewarded. However, it certainly helps explain why women are reluctant to ask for more in the first place.

It's evidence like this that shows that it's not women's fault that we aren't getting ahead - there are serious cultural hurdles that we need to overcome in order to be successful.
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My friend, M-Lo, likes to gripe about how faculty search committees tend to look for "rock stars" - splashy, self-promoting, and usually male.

As [livejournal.com profile] ukelele informed me, sometimes they really are rock stars.

I also recently read that Danica McKellar (Winnie from "the Wonder Years") recently wrote a book on math for middle schoole girls called "Math Doesn't Suck." She apparently also has a Bacon-Erdos number of 6.

I'm clearly going about this academia business in entirely the wrong way - I ought to be developing my singing/acting career first. Good thing I've recently been cast in the musical "Carousel." It's only a chorus role, but as much as I would have liked to get a bigger role, I can't really afford that kind of time commitment. But it ought to look good on the CV anyway, right?
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Last night's Marketplace show on NPR included this item about dual career couples and the problems they face -- the two-body problem, as it is referred to among physical scientists, because we're geeky that way. Some quotes that resonated with me:
"We have a number of friends who were academics, who cheerfully, one half — but wistfully — would say OK, you know, we want to be together, and so one of us will actually stop being an academic. And I think for us, that would really breed a resentment. You know, how can you ask somebody to give up what they do when that's such an integral part of who they are?"

Almost a third of all faculty and staff in higher education are partnered with other academics. They face huge hurdles when it comes to getting jobs in the same place.

The article also says that universities are actually responding, and trying to find solutions to the two-body problem with HERCs: Higher Education Recruitment Consortiums.
HERC members hope that by collaborating, they'll be able to hire their top-tier candidates by luring them to the region, rather than placing the burden on only one institution.


This morning, I see this on PhD comics:

click here to see full strip )

Personally, I've been lucky enough to not have a significant two-body problem. My husband does not face the same hurdles finding employment that I do. When it came time to move for my postdoc, knowing that my husband would be able to keep his job saved me a lot of angst. But so many of my friends do face the heartache of having to decide between their career and their relationships. This includes many readers of this here little blog -- you know who you are. I earnestly hope that things change for the better, for all of us.
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The Supreme Court has decided to make it easier for employers to discriminate against women. I guess the wage gap doesn't bother them in the slightest. Perhaps it's only coincidence that this comes soon after I read this article* about pretty blatant sex discrimination against an assistant professor at UCLA, where "it was discovered during court proceedings that her UCLA department had a secret reserve of money that they used to supplement the salaries of male faculty members only." So if your employer does something behind your back, and you don't find out about it until more than 180 days afterwards, does that mean you don't get to file suit against them? If your employer systematically gave you smaller raises than your male collegues over the past 19 years, it's not a valid claim? Oh right, that is what they ruled.

I used to be pretty naive about sex discrimination - I never really experienced it myself, so I thought. Up through grad school, I felt like I was treated pretty much the same as my male cohorts. Certainly my grades showed that I was as good as them. But as the criteria for success becomes more and more subjective, I'm feeling it more and more. It's nothing truly blatent, just the thousands of tiny paper cuts ("You'll have no problem getting a job, you're a woman." "Did having children in grad school make you take longer?") that bleed you to death. To have the Supreme Court, of all entities, make it harder for a woman to fight discrimination, that makes me all the more paranoid about my chances for success.

What with this and the "partial birth abortion" rulings, it seems pretty clear that the majority of the Supreme Court hates women. I share Ruth Bader Ginsburg's frustration and anger. The end of Bush's term in office and the accompanying chance to rectify the makeup of the Supreme Court can't come soon enough for me.

*seen at Bitch PhD
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I'm a bit late to this news tidbit, but there's this study that's been recently published about how working mothers fare in the job market. It seems that you can draw up the perfect resume for a woman, but if you insert a single line in it, about being a PTA officer, suddenly you don't land the interview or get the job or earn as much money as you would have otherwise. (see also.)

Relatedly, having children can be a real liability for women hoping to get tenure, whereas it seem to be an advantage for men.

Consider, also, that astronomy is small enough a field that pretty much anywhere I apply, there will be at least one person who can say, "Dr. Nomer? Yeah, I hear she has two kids." So really, there's no sense in hiding the fact that I'm a mother, even if it doesn't show up on my resume. I also wonder how much of that factors into my big, fat, and growing pile of rejection letters.

I wish I could change these things. You know, shake some people up and make them aware of their unconscious biases, maybe slap them around if they're conscious (the biases, I mean). But at the same time, I don't want to create bad feelings, because it really is such a small field and my position in it is precarious enough as it is. Raising a ruckus will probably just grant me a "shrill feminist" label, and who wants one of those in their department, spoiling the good-old-boy atmosphere? I guess I'll just have to be a quiet, bitter feminist until I get tenure, then all hell can break loose.

EDIT: You can find the study by Correll et al. here (p. 1297), but I don't have permissions to see it.
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The Boston Globe has an interesting article today about a study done by the MIT Workplace Center (yay, MIT!) the difficulties in retaining female lawyers until they make partner. While this isn't exactly about women in science, the parallels to retaining women in many professions are analogous.


Of the 1,000 Massachusetts lawyers who provided data for the report, 31 percent of female associates had left private practice entirely, compared with 18 percent of male associates. The gap widens among associates with children, to 35 percent and 15 percent, respectively -- reflecting the cultural reality that women remain the primary care givers of children and are therefore more likely to leave their firms for family reasons.

The dropout rate among women lawyers is overwhelmingly the result of the combination of demanding hours, inflexible schedules, lack of viable part-time options, emphasis on billable hours, and failure by law firms to recognize that female lawyers' career trajectories may alternate between work and family, the report found.

...

Nearly 40 percent of women lawyers with children have worked part time, compared with almost no men, even though men in the profession have more children than women, on average.
(Emphasis mine)

It seems like there's no getting around the fact that women are still expected to be the primary caregivers for children, regardless of our own career ambitions and no matter what lip service is paid to gender equality. And then employers choose not to make allowances for that and, in fact, often penalize women for demands for flexibility, hence fewer women at the upper echelons despite growing parity in numbers at entry levels.

This is why I don't believe any of the arguments about intrinsic differences between genders leading to differential career success. Social conditioning and institutional inflexibility have much more to do with it. In scientific terms, I would say that social, cultural, and institutional forces are first order effects, and intrinsic differences are second order. And any good scientist knows that dealing with lower order effects is more important.
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I like to read Leslie Morgan Steiner's blog at the Washington Post, called On Balance. She talks about many of the issues facing mothers these days, but primarily those of working parents. And while I don't agree with everything she says, she was spot on in her post yesterday, where she tore into a New York Times article with the headline, "Poor Behavior Is Linked to Time in Day Care". She writes,
What the New York Times did not emphasize on its front page yesterday: that the increase in problem behaviors is extremely slight, reflected in a one percent higher score on a standardized assessment of problem behaviors for each year spent in a day-care center. ... That the research showed time spent in high-quality day-care centers is correlated with wonderful results such as higher vocabulary scores through elementary school.

And her explanation for the sensationalist nature of the headline:
The Times' primary reader audience consists of elite, well-educated, wealthy men and women, people who have a choice about what kind of care their children receive. These are the moms most conflicted about day care, since guilt accompanies choices about whether to work or not.

She is so right. Enough with the guilt-trips for mothers who choose to work. Stop telling us that we are ruining our kids' lives by working oustide the home and that we should be blamed for anything bad that does happen. And to those who say, "oh, don't listen to them, you can just brush the naysayers aside," well it's pretty darn hard to do that when you face the naysayers everywhere you turn, including the front page of the New York Times.


In other news, I took my car in for a carwash yesterday morning in celebration of 80-degree weather. They even vacuumed the floors and wiped down the interior windows. Yay, sparkly car! Then I made a quick stop for coffee and a scone. And wouldn't you know it, some bird thought that my car was much too shiny and left a splat on the driver's side window. Fortunately, the weather was too nice to let that ruin my mood.
astra_nomer: (cecilia)
That's right. I started cleaning my office on Thursday, and now I'm finally on the last bit of going through Giant Mountains of Papers, sorting them, tossing out duplicates, and filing them away. And then maybe I can do some Real Work again.

In the meantime, here are some interesting articles I came across on the internet today:

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"Children are more likely to suffer development problems if their fathers do not take paternity leave or spend enough time with them when they are very young."

So yes, gentlemen, take your paternity leave. Besides, if you take it, perhaps parental leave and childcare issues might stop being considered solely a women's issue. For both these reasons, I am a proponent of equal maternity and paternity leave benefits.
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The "leaky pipeline" metaphor is explained in this article as:
In corporations, women tend to talk about a "glass ceiling." In academia, the more commonly used metaphor is the "leaky pipeline." The flood of women in graduate and professional schools gives way to a trickle at the highest levels in many fields.
And as with many articles on the subject, it cites having children and trying to balance career and family as one of the biggest obstacles to keeping women in science. And look, a way to tackle the problem!
Grant won a Claflin Award. It was only a modest prize -- $60,000 over two years, offered since 1997 to select Massachusetts General Hospital women trying to balance their medical research with young children. But, she says, it made an enormous difference: It not only paid for staff to help on her research, it gave her "the positive feedback you need when you're overworked and exhausted to kind of keep in the game."
I'm a huge fan of grants programs like this that give women scientists a hand up when they have children.

On the other hand, this item bring up an important point. Why is childcare always considered almost exclusively a woman's issue?
Most men in corporate, political, judicial and non-profit positions of power -- Democrats, Republicans, independents, apoliticals -- don't have childcare as a national problem anywhere on their radar screens. It's a "woman's issue." A special interest group concern. Their wives' problem. Despite the fact that, obviously, men have something to do with creating children.
And I totally agree. Which is why DH and I do our best to share childcare duties.

This begs the question, why not make the grants programs cited above open to both new mothers and new fathers? To which I say, fine, if the father is actually doing the bulk of the work tending to the children -- which is just not the case in most families. But that involves a huge cultural shift, as evidenced by the second article. And maybe if men in positions of power did pay attention, then special help for young mothers in academia would not be necessary. So until that happens, I'm fine with giving women an extra hand up.
astra_nomer: (geekchic)
This is a very interesting article, but I really should be working on finishing up this paper so just a few brief comments. Some quotes:

Read more... )

A lot of this stuff resonantes with me. It's especially interesting to me to read about the job-hunting advice since that's foremost on my mind at the moment. Enough. Go read the article yourself.
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I've posted about stereotype threat before, but I found this article particularly interesting. Basicially, stereotype threat is the self-fulfilling prophecy that can lead to women and minorities underperforming, by simply reminding them of their minority status. The article cites a study that looks at extremely subtle triggers that invoke the stereotype threat, like subliminally flashing the words "doll" and "lipstick" at women to cause them to favor arts over math, or the presence of a US flag causing an uptick in math scores among whites.

Boy, who knew this sort of thing could be so insidious. Imagine you're the only woman on the faculty of a science department. Not only are you very isolated in your position, but you have all these constant reminders (like the faces of the others in your department) that you are a woman in science, thereby invoking the stereotype threat. It makes me very leery of applying to some of these all-male departments.
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Here's a radical idea: freeze your eggs so you can have your career now, and family later.

I can see why this could be appealing for a competitive career like science, where you're expected to work like a dog until you get tenure. At the same time, is it really healthy for a mother to undergo pregnancy and labor in her 50s? or even 60s? Besides, if you're a downtrodden postdoc, you're unlikely to have the money to extract and freeze your eggs anyway.

Is it really so hard to balance family and career that you have to resort to such extreme measures? Possibly. But it shouldn't be that way.
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I feel like I should feel guilty about delighting in schadenfreude at the misfortunes of others, especially prominent leaders of ginormous megachurches. But they're such easy targets.
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North Korea's nuclear test has me very distressed.

Really, any time you have an egomanical dictator in charge of a nuclear power, that's trouble. But I could have told you that in November 2004. Kim Jong Il is particularly worrisome. North Koreans have literally been starving to death because of economic sanctions placed upon the country. KJI hasn't personally suffered, though. And now he has a nuclear weapon. Considering his lack of empathy for his own people, I think he's a serious threat to world peace.

George Dubya Bush isn't really known for his diplomatic skills, either. I can't say that I trust him to understand the nuances involved in dealing with North Korea, since he seems to have a very simplistic view of the world.

It makes me feel defenseless, and makes me realize that I'm completely unable to keep my children from harm. And really, who's bright idea was it to move our family to the nation's capital, anyway?? Oh right, that was me...

In order to keep myself from despair, I bury my head in the sand, and try to protect myself and my kids from day-to-day dangers -- I try to drive safely and teach them to looks both ways when they cross the street and get them to eat their vegetables. Because life goes on, and I'm too busy to let gut-wrenching despair ruin my life.

In the mean time, perhaps I should consider job-hunting in areas outside of major urban centers. I hear that University of Saskatchewan is hiring...
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2003 UB313 has an official name now.

It will be called Eris, after the goddess of discord. Its moon will be called Dysnomia, after Eris' daughter, the spirit of lawlessness.

Doesn't have the same ring to it as Xena and Gabrielle, but I think the names are appropriate. There's even something to appease the fans of Lawless-ness.

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