Monday, February 12, 2018

Researching the Hidden Side of a Science Career

Note: All photos in this article were taken right before the described events.

I think who I am can best be summed up in a text exchange with my friend concerning the book Daring to Drive:

Friend: Why did u get that book *laughing emojis* 
Me: Because I love reading about strong women activists! :D
Friend: Nahh ure just a feminist *laughing emojis* 

To all those who see feminists as bra-burning, man-hating, hairy creatures of vengeance, there are just as many feminist defendants who believe all men’s rights activists* are misogynistic, patriarchal, suppressors of female freedom. I would like to point out to both groups that, just as there is no such thing as a magnetic monopole, the extremists in each group do not represent that whole identity.
*For those decrying men’s rights activists, look up MensLib on Reddit to see their take on the term

What does any of this have to do with my journey through the SciComm program? The answer to that question is…

My thesis topic

As a feminist, I am very interested in the societal factors that place undue demands on disadvantaged groups, keeping them from fulfilling the romanticized quote unquote “American Dream.” This is especially true in academia because of the ‘filtered pipeline,’ or the challenges faced by groups like women and non-white persons that keep them from reaching the ranks of the elite at the same rate as white, straight, cisgender males. One of those challenges in particular is what my research focuses on: harassment.

Women’s mental capacities are biologically different than a male’s. Women cannot perform mathematics and science to the same level as men. - Told to me by a male colleague during my third year of physics research (Glass & Optical Materials Division Meeting 2016).

One reason women become science communicators is because they are exhausted from handling the hostile work environment many females experience in a traditional science career. But do they really escape that by switching to science communication? Ever since the #MeToo movement of 2017, people started realizing that the issue of harassment and assault extended to all corners of society, from Hollywood to news rooms. While harassment is certainly more evident in certain job fields than others, where does the field of science communication (scicomm) fit into that equation? And if it is a problem for scicomm, does that affect the way science communicators communicate science?

Nice cleavage - Told to me by a master’s student in science who had just denied the existence of sexual harassment (walking home from a workout at the gym).

I did not switch to science communication because of harassment in physics. I have wished to be a science communicator ever since I was 14 years old, and I pursued that goal by majoring in physics and communication during undergrad. The physics professors at my college were strong, supportive, feminist males who worked hard to encourage all the women in the department, and they would come down harshly on any males who voiced views against having women there. Despite this, I can still count on more than two hands the times I’ve been harassed, from the snide “inferior women” remarks to more serious offenses.

Sorry *giggle* I’m drunk - Told to me after a woman reached under my dress and grabbed my ass (Physics internship-sponsored dinner cruise).

Harassment takes many forms. It can be hostile toward a certain gender, like the experience with my male colleague. It can be uncomfortable, unwanted suggestions, like the master’s student who commented on my cleavage. It can even be inappropriate physical interactions, like the woman on the dinner cruise. Regardless of the form, harassment of any kind takes its toll, especially if it is experienced day after day. But by recording the ways in which people react to harassment (like by wearing baggier clothing and speaking up less in group settings), we can create a list of behaviors that indicate a certain situation may contain harassment. If we identify these situations and confront the harassment, we can create a safer work environment for everyone.

That is why I wish to dedicate my year at Laurentian to researching this topic. Harassment is greater than just myself, my field, or my country. Harassment is a part of society the world over, and I am proud this program gives me the chance to contribute to the ocean of research necessary to combat this societal ill.

- Lisa McDonald

1 comment:

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