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The other girl in the group

January 27, 2012

The physics lab often has visiting scientists stop by for a seminar and stay for day or two when they find themselves in the area – sometimes taking a desk or an office for the time that they are around.  I think it is fantastic.  In this lab, simply because of the length of the career of the PI, visitors are not only the recently-departed but also established scientists.  Especially since my travel has been rather limited, these visits have been an excellent opportunity to get to know the people in the field.  I particularly appreciate that visits are announced to the whole group and the visitors are expected not only to meet with the PI, but also with all of the members of the research group as a whole, typically in small groups based on interest.  Often, the PI takes care of introducing new members of the group to the visitor after the seminar.  It feels very collegial and old-timey academic in a good way.  In an inclusive way.

Since my training is in a different, though related, physics field and my official appointment is through the biology lab, I’m a bit of an intellectual outsider.  Then there’s demographics.

Sometimes schedules are such that the PI-mediated introduction doesn’t happen, particularly with someone that most of the group knows.  It was in such a situation that I was introduced as I stepped into the elevator filled with a mixed group of grad students and post-docs, simply as “this is the other girl in the group”.

“Hi. I’m the other girl in the group!  Nice talk.”  I say as we shake hands.  Everyone laughs, well-meaning dood is a little sheepish.  I give my elevator speech (in an actual elevator!) and I’ve been subsequently introduced as zwitterionique, (post-doc extrodinaire).  Consciousness raised.

But this episode continues to bother me because it was a backhanded compliment that illustrates just how subtly rotten sexism is.  Let’s just gloss over the problematic use of “girl” (puberty was *ages* ago).  Let’s not delve into my gender being a better descriptor than my name.  No.  The thing is, d00d was incorrect.  There were more than just two women in the group at the time.  And most of the other womens’ primary (and/or only) affliations were with that group, unlike mine.  But that’s irrelevant because everyone knew who the other “other girl” was.  What he was saying was that there were only two women in the group at the time that had proved themselves scientifically and therefore could be considered to be in the group.  Men, of course, don’t operate under a probation period.

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