Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

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Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#1  Postby maiforpeace » Aug 12, 2012 9:19 pm

I have no idea what category this best fits under - Mods, please feel free to move it.

He, Once a She, Offers Own View On Science Spat



By Sharon Begley

Ben Barres had just finished giving a seminar at the prestigious Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research 10 years ago, describing to scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard and other top institutions his discoveries about nerve cells called glia. As the applause died down, a friend later told him, one scientist turned to another and remarked what a great seminar it had been, adding, "Ben Barres's work is much better than his sister's."


There was only one problem. Prof. Barres, then as now a professor of neurobiology at Stanford University, doesn't have a sister in science. The Barbara Barres the man remembered was Ben.

Prof. Barres is transgendered, having completed the treatments that made him fully male 10 years ago. The Whitehead talk was his first as a man, so the research he was presenting was done as Barbara.

Being first a female scientist and then a male scientist has given Prof. Barres a unique perspective on the debate over why women are so rare at the highest levels of academic science and math: He has experienced personally how each is treated by colleagues, mentors and rivals.

Based on those experiences, as well as research on gender differences, Prof. Barres begs to differ with what he calls "the Larry Summers Hypothesis," named for the former Harvard president who attributed the paucity of top women scientists to lack of "intrinsic aptitude." In a commentary in today's issue of the journal Nature, he writes that "the reason women are not advancing [in science] is discrimination" and the "Summers Hypothesis amounts to nothing more than blaming the victim."

>snip<

"Female scientists who are competitive or assertive are generally ostracized by their male colleagues," he says. In any case, he argues, "an aggressive competitive spirit" matters less to scientific success than curiosity, perseverance and self-confidence.

Women doubt their abilities more than men do, say scientists who have mentored scores of each. "Almost without exception, the talented women I have known have believed they had less ability than they actually had," Prof. Petsko wrote. "And almost without exception, the talented men I have known believed they had more."

Which may account for what Prof. Barres calls the main difference he has noticed since changing sex. "People who do not know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect," he says. "I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."


EDITED to comply with Rational Skepticism's rules about quoting entire articles - thanks for the explanation of this THWOTH. :thumbup:
Last edited by maiforpeace on Aug 13, 2012 5:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#2  Postby Gallstones » Aug 12, 2012 9:39 pm

Interesting.
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#3  Postby ScholasticSpastic » Aug 12, 2012 9:45 pm

I think it's a situation which has changed in just the short time since Prof. Barres noticed the problem, and will continue to change given that more females than males are now entering post-secondary education.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/14/AR2010091400004.html
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#4  Postby Rachel Bronwyn » Aug 12, 2012 11:28 pm

So long as it's females serving as the gatekeepers of the sexism that holds them back, unlikely.
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#5  Postby ScholasticSpastic » Aug 13, 2012 4:55 am

Rachel Bronwyn wrote:So long as it's females serving as the gatekeepers of the sexism that holds them back, unlikely.

Did you mean to say "males" where you say "females?" Because the sentence makes little sense to me as written.

Assuming you meant "males," you're still wrong. The disparity between male and female enrollment has become so great in some cases that some colleges are being accused of favoring male applicants to try to appear to have more balanced enrollment. There may be male gatekeepers and they may be sexist, but they absolutely rely upon a steady flow of graduate students to survive as researchers. When a sufficient number of graduate students are female, there is no amount of sexism in the world which will be sufficient to convince a researcher to sacrifice their career rather than work with female graduate students.

This trend, plus time, is sufficient to completely change the situation without any further effort.
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#6  Postby maiforpeace » Aug 13, 2012 4:13 pm

ScholasticSpastic wrote:
Rachel Bronwyn wrote:So long as it's females serving as the gatekeepers of the sexism that holds them back, unlikely.

Did you mean to say "males" where you say "females?" Because the sentence makes little sense to me as written.

Assuming you meant "males," you're still wrong. The disparity between male and female enrollment has become so great in some cases that some colleges are being accused of favoring male applicants to try to appear to have more balanced enrollment. There may be male gatekeepers and they may be sexist, but they absolutely rely upon a steady flow of graduate students to survive as researchers. When a sufficient number of graduate students are female, there is no amount of sexism in the world which will be sufficient to convince a researcher to sacrifice their career rather than work with female graduate students.

This trend, plus time, is sufficient to completely change the situation without any further effort.


I understood her to mean females Spaz. Her sentence made sense to me.

I agree with your assessment, to an extent. However I don't think it's quite as simple as you make it out to be.
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#7  Postby ScholasticSpastic » Aug 13, 2012 4:56 pm

maiforpeace wrote:
I agree with your assessment, to an extent. However I don't think it's quite as simple as you make it out to be.

I would say most of my simplification was more due to laziness than a rosy world-view. ;)

But, yes, overcoming sexism in any career field is really just as simple as overcoming gender imbalance. You can't have an old-boys club when the old-boys don't hold a majority anymore. Biology is currently producing more female PhDs than male PhDs in the United States. Other fields, like Engineering, physics, and maybe chemistry have lower ratios of female:male graduates. I don't think it's an accident that the more mathematically challenging fields are also the least gender-integrated. The pernicious myth that women don't have the same aptitude for mathematics as men is still biting us in the arse and may linger for some time. I know my Mother still buys into it even though she's actually very competent at mathematics. My fiance is more comfortable with mathematics than I am- and we'll do our part by raising children of both genders who are at least comfortable with and hopefully enjoy mathematics.

Academia and research are seeing a much more rapid decline in old-boy networks and a much more rapid integration than business has. I think this is probably because business positions have traditionally relied more on glad-handing and back-patting than the sciences. Business also has a lot more patriarchal mythology woven through it. Thus old-boy networks are going to die a lot harder in business than in academia. But in academia, at least, we can see that newly-minted graduates of both genders are obtaining equivalent salaries. That alone is a strong indication that whatever lingering sexism persists is much less strongly retained than in other fields.

I would also point out that some of what holds women back in any field is the tendency of women to buy into patriarchal mythology to their own detriment. I've noticed, at ACS (American Chemical Society) and ASMS (American Society for Mass Spectrometry) conferences, that many of the female presenters adopt dress and posturing typical of stereotyped males- possibly in an effort to be perceived as confident. If that's really the way they are, they should continue to be themselves. But the best-received female presenters when I attended were those who made no obvious attempt to assume any stereotyped gender role. People in an audience will pick up on assumed behavior and will interpret it as a lack of confidence in your work. I cannot help wondering whether Prof. Barres was more poorly received because he truly was less comfortable in his female skin and this came off as stereotyped posturing even though it was not. This would have colored audiences' perception of his "sister's" presentations and contributed to a negative perception of her confidence and assumed competence.
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#8  Postby ScholasticSpastic » Aug 13, 2012 5:01 pm

Rachel Bronwyn wrote:So long as it's females serving as the gatekeepers of the sexism that holds them back, unlikely.

maiforpeace wrote:I understood her to mean females Spaz. Her sentence made sense to me.

Parsing this sentence:
If female gatekeepers are holding anyone back, then the sexism being referred to in the sentence would be sexism by women against women. That's why I switched it to "males" in my head. Because most people don't complain as much about sexism against women by women unless we're talking about Southern Baptist Republican women. ;)
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#9  Postby maiforpeace » Aug 13, 2012 5:13 pm

ScholasticSpastic wrote:
Rachel Bronwyn wrote:So long as it's females serving as the gatekeepers of the sexism that holds them back, unlikely.

maiforpeace wrote:I understood her to mean females Spaz. Her sentence made sense to me.

Parsing this sentence:
If female gatekeepers are holding anyone back, then the sexism being referred to in the sentence would be sexism by women against women. That's why I switched it to "males" in my head. Because most people don't complain as much about sexism against women by women unless we're talking about Southern Baptist Republican women. ;)


I'm getting impatient. I'm 55 years old and I want change NOW! Maybe I should resign myself to the fact that it wont happen in my lifetime. :lol:

What I will do is re-examine what I am doing to contribute to the problem of sexism - that's the obvious and first place to start.
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#10  Postby ScholasticSpastic » Aug 13, 2012 5:23 pm

maiforpeace wrote:
I'm getting impatient. I'm 55 years old and I want change NOW! Maybe I should resign myself to the fact that it wont happen in my lifetime. :lol:

:lol: I'd point out that you're getting the change you want. Just not at the rate you'd prefer. :cheers:

What I will do is re-examine what I am doing to contribute to the problem of sexism - that's the obvious and first place to start.

I enthusiastically commend re-examination of any set of assumptions on a regular basis. :grin:
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#11  Postby Rachel Bronwyn » Aug 14, 2012 5:03 am

ScholasticSpastic wrote:
Rachel Bronwyn wrote:So long as it's females serving as the gatekeepers of the sexism that holds them back, unlikely.

Did you mean to say "males" where you say "females?" Because the sentence makes little sense to me as written.


No. Much of the most disgusting sexism against women is perpetrated and condoned by women. These women are it's gatekeepers. I thought I was pretty concise.

Assuming you meant "males,"


I did not.

you're still wrong.


I'm not wrong. Women who commit and defend sexism absolutely perpetuate it. As long as women are guilty of sexism against their own gender, their presense in academia, a dimension traditionally reserved for men, will have no impact on the prevalence of sexism against women.

The disparity between male and female enrollment has become so great in some cases that some colleges are being accused of favoring male applicants to try to appear to have more balanced enrollment.


The fact female enrollment in post-secondary education is greater than that of males is not evidence of a lack of sexism in academia. Post-secondary education could be exclusively female and still sexist against woman. Sexism against women is not perpetrated by men alone. It is condoned and perpetuated by the women who make it OK for men to do it.

This trend, plus time, is sufficient to completely change the situation without any further effort.


This trend certainly hasn't resulted in that achievment yet and, as was my initial sentiment, less men =/= less sexism. Less sexism = less sexism. It's got nothing to do with any individual's gender.
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#12  Postby ScholasticSpastic » Aug 14, 2012 5:38 am

Rachel Bronwyn wrote:
No. Much of the most disgusting sexism against women is perpetrated and condoned by women. These women are it's gatekeepers. I thought I was pretty concise.

Thanks for clarifying that! :cheers: I'm sorry I misunderstood you. It just so completely failed to jive with what I saw, both within my institution and at conferences, that I tried to come up with something that might work.
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#13  Postby ScholasticSpastic » Aug 14, 2012 5:57 am

Rachel Bronwyn wrote:I'm not wrong. Women who commit and defend sexism absolutely perpetuate it. As long as women are guilty of sexism against their own gender, their presense in academia, a dimension traditionally reserved for men, will have no impact on the prevalence of sexism against women.

In the backward little corner of Utah where my regional campus was located, we did see this problem in terms of young women struggling with their Mormon families' demands that they give up on the idea of having a career, find a nice husband, and start popping out kids. But within the institution there was a very strong atmosphere of support for the young women who told their backwards mothers and fathers to fuck off.

Women in the sciences, to the best of my knowledge, encourage- not discourage- other women in the sciences. And a lot of us men do, too.
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#14  Postby surreptitious57 » Aug 14, 2012 6:20 am

maiforpeace wrote:
I'm 55 years old and I want change NOW! Maybe I should resign myself to the fact that it won't happen in my lifetime.

What I will do is re-examine what I am doing to contribute to the problem of sexism


Change will not happen as quick as you want it to Mai, unfortunately. I am only seven years younger than you and my attitude to life in general is that we are just passing through, and when you are in the autumn of your years, it is time to start letting go. This philosophy works as a natural default position. However, while you are in the here and now, so to speak, you could refer to the Golden Rule for guidance on how to relate to others and eliminate any prejudice on your part. Not always easy to put into practice, but that is no reason not to try however. So treat everyone as identical, at least from a moral perspective. Avoid anger and be non judgemental, too. I have a self imposed life time which forbids the latter under any circumstances. It does not extend to the subconscious, but that notwithstanding, is an effective methodology towards moral rehabilitation.
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#15  Postby maiforpeace » Aug 14, 2012 7:50 pm

Wise words surreptitious57. :flowers:
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Re: Transgender Perspective of Sexism in Academia

#16  Postby Edpsy77 » Sep 30, 2012 7:16 pm

ScholasticSpastic wrote:
maiforpeace wrote:
I agree with your assessment, to an extent. However I don't think it's quite as simple as you make it out to be.

I would say most of my simplification was more due to laziness than a rosy world-view. ;)

But, yes, overcoming sexism in any career field is really just as simple as overcoming gender imbalance. You can't have an old-boys club when the old-boys don't hold a majority anymore. Biology is currently producing more female PhDs than male PhDs in the United States. Other fields, like Engineering, physics, and maybe chemistry have lower ratios of female:male graduates. I don't think it's an accident that the more mathematically challenging fields are also the least gender-integrated. The pernicious myth that women don't have the same aptitude for mathematics as men is still biting us in the arse and may linger for some time. I know my Mother still buys into it even though she's actually very competent at mathematics. My fiance is more comfortable with mathematics than I am- and we'll do our part by raising children of both genders who are at least comfortable with and hopefully enjoy mathematics.

Academia and research are seeing a much more rapid decline in old-boy networks and a much more rapid integration than business has. I think this is probably because business positions have traditionally relied more on glad-handing and back-patting than the sciences. Business also has a lot more patriarchal mythology woven through it. Thus old-boy networks are going to die a lot harder in business than in academia. But in academia, at least, we can see that newly-minted graduates of both genders are obtaining equivalent salaries. That alone is a strong indication that whatever lingering sexism persists is much less strongly retained than in other fields.

I would also point out that some of what holds women back in any field is the tendency of women to buy into patriarchal mythology to their own detriment. I've noticed, at ACS (American Chemical Society) and ASMS (American Society for Mass Spectrometry) conferences, that many of the female presenters adopt dress and posturing typical of stereotyped males- possibly in an effort to be perceived as confident. If that's really the way they are, they should continue to be themselves. But the best-received female presenters when I attended were those who made no obvious attempt to assume any stereotyped gender role. People in an audience will pick up on assumed behavior and will interpret it as a lack of confidence in your work. I cannot help wondering whether Prof. Barres was more poorly received because he truly was less comfortable in his female skin and this came off as stereotyped posturing even though it was not. This would have colored audiences' perception of his "sister's" presentations and contributed to a negative perception of her confidence and assumed competence.

I have a question. Do you believe that major components of Trivers' parent investment theory is used as justification of sexism in the sciences? I do. The notion that women's primary fantasy is to have a baby that it can invest most of its being in, is where all sexist beliefs start. The notion that it is biologically determined that women will invest more during pregnancy and after pregnancy inevitably posits that such women will invest less time than men in career fields. After all men are not genetically programmed to provide intensive direct care to offspring they are programmed to provide indirect care to offspring by playing the role of the provider. Trivers' theory was used to validate why male promiscuity is normal while female promiscuity is often subnormal. Trivers' did intentionally develop the theory in order for it to be applied to justify female underrepresentation in the scientific field. However, the general theme behind the theory is the source of justifying sexism in scientific occupations and sexuality. I disagree with the attitude of sexism and the parent investment paradigm does not validate female underrepresenation in science and double standards regarding sexuality.

Parent investment theory is explained at the following link:

http://beheco.oxfordjournals.org/content/16/1/57.full
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