Thursday, May 27, 2010

From the Center to the Margins

Previously, we read about the experience of Ben Barres, a scientist who transitioned from female to male when he was 50. Barres has compared living as a male scientist with living as a female scientist and, to briefly summarize, he believes that he is taken more seriously as a man in the everyday world and in the scientific community than he was as a woman.

Via Geek Feminism Blog, a recent article discusses Barres' experience and also the experience of male-to-female transgender scientist. In contrast with Barres experience of gaining some of the privileges of being male, a notable privilege of which is the authoritativeness people grant to the male voice, Joan Roughgarden had a different experience. After presenting a controversial scientific theory:

"At a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis, Joan said, a prominent expert jumped up on the stage after her talk and started shouting at her. Once every month or two, she said, 'I will have some man shout at me, try to physically coerce me into stopping …When I was doing the marine ecology work, they did not try to physically intimidate me and say, 'You have not read all the literature.''

'They would not assume they were smarter. The current crop of objectors assumes they are smarter.'"

Another privilege, more aptly labeled an ignorance, that many men possess is the belief that they are inherently and automatically more intelligent and knowledgeable than women. This sense of illusory superiority is the result of the tendency to grant more weight to the male voice than the female voice. If one is always treated as though one has Very Important Things To Say and notices that women are not granted this same level of deference, it is only natural for men to come to believe that they possess superior intelligence and ideas.

She continues:

"My own salary has drifted down to the bottom 10 per cent of full professors in the School of Humanities and Sciences, even though my research and students are among the best of my career and are having international impact, albeit often controversial.

You get interrupted when you are talking, you can't command attention, but above all you can't frame the issues. Ben has migrated into the centre whereas I have had to migrate into the periphery."

Welcome to the club, Joan.

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