Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Invisibility Factor

I was catching up on blog reading and came across FemaleScienceProfessor's post about being an "invisible female scientist". I have run into this situation many times in my career. Just some examples:

At University 1 where my husband and I both had academic positions, we would routinely run into Professor A in the garage elevator. He would ALWAYS say hello to my husband, have a short chat and then exit the elevator with us. Yes, he knew me but clearly didn't feel it necessary to acknowledge my general presence in these situations. Other than being just plain rude, it showed his lack of respect for me as a faculty member.

At the Institution following this University, a promotional video was being produced and all faculty in the particular program to be discussed were asked to be available on a certain day for taping. There were 4 research faculty. Oh did I mention that no one bothered to tell me about it? In the end, I was asked to stand in when they interviewed my husband and they asked me a few questions. I couldn't gather enough energy to bother answering them in any interesting fashion because I was so pi#@ed off. I landed on the editing room floor.

At my current Institution, I'm sure that I have taken on a wispy, ethereal appearance because I can be walking past people that I have been introduced to several times and they pass as if they've never seen me before or actually DON'T see me! I'm the kind of person who will at least give a passing hello if I recognize someone. I can stop and see my reflection in the windows so I know that I exist. It fascinates me how often this happens. And this is probably one of the biggest issues I have with my current position. The issue of invisibility. I was prepared to give up some level of visibility by going part time, but I wasn't prepared for the lack of respect from my colleagues and almost complete invisibility to my Chairman and Institution.

I agree with Zuska though that not only to we as women have to speak up for ourselves but those male colleagues who are there in the moment these disrespectful interactions occur, also have to speak up. If they don't (and if we don't) then all of us remain part of the problem. (On a side note, the comments following Zuska's post are well worth the read. I laughed, I applauded, I got angry, and I asked myself why so many times I didn't speak up).

While I was writing this post, I remembered that when this used to happen to me in my younger days, I would make an effort to speak a bold "hello" or nod while vocalizing "Dr. X"'s name to those that liked to ignore my presence- just to force them to look up, maybe speak, and but mostly make them aware that they were lacking in social manners. I guess I've lost a bit of my edge with age but now that I've written this, I think I'm going to start up again.


jo(e) said...

I work on a science campus (although I myself am a literature professor, which adds another layer of invisibility), and this is the kind of thing we talk about at our women's caucus meetings. I agree with you that both female and male faculty need to work to change this.

Abel Pharmboy said...

Agreed..and we men in science need to speak up when we witness it.

BTW, I've really enjoyed your previous posts that chronicled of how you guys got where you are now. We are here because of my wife's career, so I am perhaps the unusual guy scientist who can empathize with your situation.

And, yes, Zuska rocks - I just met her in person a few weeks ago and she's just a great person.

Keep up the great writing and the comments will come.