Category Archives: feminism

Late to the party but I am #standingwithDNLee

As Dr24hours said: “If you haven’t been under a rock the past couple days you already know about this”. I wasn’t under a rock, but I did not have time to switch on my laptop this weekend and I haven’t mastered the art of posting something from my phone without getting too annoyed trying to cut and paste links.. What happened is this: DNLee, a scientist who writes a blog called “The Urban Scientist” and who happens to be female and black was asked to blog for Biology Online. When she asked how much she would get paid and the response was zero dollars, she declined and then the guy from Biology Online CALLED HER A WHORE…. You can read the whole story here because her own blog post at Scientific American got taken down
I’m sorry that this happened and I agree with the numerous other people who posted about this that the one thing that can help here is to create awareness about what happens to women and minorities. Even if it happens a little late….


1 Comment

Filed under feminism, women in science

Neuroscientist Dick Swaab says gender specific toys are a natural consequence of brain development

My homecountry is getting ready for Sinterklaas, which means lots of people need to buy toys and the large toy stores send these big books full of ads to people. Bart Smit, a large toy store in my homecountry, sent a book full of ads containing this one:

Translation of pink text:”You want to be as good as mommy!”

Indeed, not very gender neutral, and it gets even worse when on subsequent pages all the sciency toys are advertised with just boys.
Last night this was discussed in one of my homecountry’s late night tv shows “Pauw & Witteman”, where one of the guests involved in this discussion was Dr. Dick Swaab, a neuroscientist and former head of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. You might think that a scientist is well aware of all the sociological science showing that when girls are presented with stereotypes like this (pink vacuum cleaners, women being the ones doing housework while men do science), they perform worse on things like math and science, and that therefore it would be good to try to get rid of these stereotypical images. On the contrary, Dr. Swaab stated that both research on monkeys and his own experience with his son and daughter (yes, n=1) showed that girls like to play with dolls and boys like to play with cars. He literally said that the only time when this is not the case, is when individuals have been exposed to toxins in utero. So according to him, it was totally justified to show people these stereotypical images of girls doing housework and boys doing science, because that was what they were programmed to do anyway. Yay neuroscience…. Perhaps not surprisingly, at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience, out of the 20 research team leaders, only three are female. I could not find on the website how many of the people that clean this institute are male and female for comparison…


Filed under attachment parenting, feminism, neuroscience, toys, women in science

Do I suck at feminism?

You know how sometimes it takes so long to form an opinion that it’s almost not worth voicing it anymore? That’s what happened after I read this list of tips for male academics on how to deal with women on TenureSheWrote. My first opinion was:”If we (women) are telling men how to behave, isn’t that exactly what we don’t want to have happen to ourselves?”. Isn’t the idea of feminism that we (men and women) are all treated equally and that therefore neither men nor women should tell the other sex how to behave?
It is not that I don’t agree with the list; I’ve had many of those things happen to me and I think that sucks. But after seeing the amount of anger and annoyance when people commented on this exact issue, I didn’t really dare to voice that opinion until I had thought about it a bit more. Because the reactions on twitter and in the comments made me doubt:”do I suck at feminism?”. Am I too privileged with a grandmother who had a job and a grandfather who walked behind the stroller? Am I too privileged with two parents who have PhDs? Am I too privileged because my mom always treated my brother and me the same? Am I too privileged because all my life I had this knowledge instilled in me that I could become anything I wanted if I just worked hard enough for it? Even though I get comments on the way I’m dressed and the amount of children I produce or the fact that I look way too young to be where I am in my career, my first thought is:”You can say that, but I have every right to be here and be as awesome as whoever just gave me that comment.”
But this upbringing also makes me think that everybody thinks the same way. And that maybe even though a man may comment on my outfit, that does not make him think less of me in a scientific way. This is where I probably go wrong. Perhaps my idea that if we all work together we can create a happy society where nobody needs to tell the other sex how to behave is a bit too optimistic. Perhaps it is necessary to tell each other how to behave in order to create more equality. Not just in science, but for everybody who needs feminism.


Filed under feminism, role models, women in science

On gender-neutral toys

I really appreciate that my parents tried to raise us with gender-neutral toys. My brother and I both had a doll (my brother had a boy-doll and I had a girl-doll, with actual boy and girl bodyparts!), we both had legos and we both had musical instruments. Of course this only worked up to a certain level, because my brother liked building things with legos, while I like playing stories with the lego-people (and later I really liked my barbies). But I’m really grateful for the message that you can do the same thing whether you are a boy or a girl.
I think this was easier back in the 80s, judging from the type of legos adds you had then.
I think this add is awesome, it instantly makes me want to play with legos!

Nowadays, in some stores it seems that gender-neutral toys are non-existent in some stores (check out  this post from Dr. Isis for example). However, we do try to give BlueEyes the notion that you can play with whatever you want. He has a doll, pans to cook with (but in our house cooking is not necessary a women’s job anyway), and trains and cars. 
But last weekend we went to get him a helmet for on his balance bike. At target they only have helmets with Disney princesses or with cars. And BlueEyes liked the pink one with Disney princesses the most. On the one hand I wanted him to be free to choose which one he wanted, but I was also a bit afraid about the judgment from the older kids in our neighborhood and the kids at his daycare. So in the end I persuaded him into thinking that the blue helmet with a car on it was more comfortable than the pink one with the Disney princesses and he happily agreed. But I still feel a bit bad about forcing him into society’s strait-jacket of gender-marketed toys. Where are the gender-neutral helmets, Target??!


Filed under feminism, parenting, toddler, toys

On parent-friendly science

So a lot of people, for example Erin McKiernan and TSZuskashare my opinion that the recent piece in Nature kind of misses the point in trying to show that it is a piece of cake to combine a career in academia with being a mom. However, when I talk about this with friends or with my husband, their comment is often:”So who cares when women quit science because they want to stay home with their kids? What if these women don’t want academic careers, but they just want to be a stay-at-home mom?” I find it hard to formulate a good answer to this, because sure, if women want to stay home then that’s their choice. But I think that often it is not their choice to leave academia, but it is the academic culture that makes it incredibly difficult to pursue an academic career as a woman/parent/both. 
As Zuska says:
  But every time we devote words and energy to discussing How Women Can Be Mothers And Scientists Too! we are not discussing What The Hell Is Wrong With Science And How Can It Be Fixed.
So let’s move on to what I think can be done to fix this.
First off, it would be great if having babies and putting those babies in daycare would be easier, especially when you’re a post-doc and you don’t have all the money to arrange help in any way you would want. But this is not really changing science, it is just changing the environment around us a little bit.
What would also be great is if you could be a scientist also if you don’t love insecurity about your job. It would be awesome if there were more research associate/staff scientist type of positions for those of us who LOVE to do science but who HATE the fact that science can only be done on a short-term contract OR on a super-hard-to-get tenure track position that in itself means tons of insecurity in terms of getting grants. Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a science job that doesn’t come with tons of disappointment…?
Next, it seems like right now it is impossible to take some time (i.e. few years) off to take care of children when they are very little. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could do that and then be able to come back as an academic scientist? I sure would consider it. Or work part-time for a bit when your children are little.
Finally, for women it would be beneficial if grants and papers would be judged either anonymously or with only your last name on it. In comparison with the two items above this seems like something that can be pretty easily implemented right?
All this is coming to you from a disgruntled post-doc who just heard that she didn’t make the cut to be interviewed for a TT position in the home country and who is in a lab where funding is running out, while desperately trying to find grant money to support myself. I’m going to go dream about this fairytale land where you never have to worry about grants and you can do science with the unicorns.


Filed under academia, daycare, disgruntled postdoc, feminism, finding a job, grant writing, postdoc, working mom

When role models are super models

This week, Nature has a special section about women in science. Wait, aren’t we all just scientists? And is Nature going to have a special issue about left handed scientists next week and about Greek orthodox scientists the week after? Just kidding, I think it’s great that Nature explores how women are doing in science, in terms of salary, funding and getting tenure. Also, they have an article featuring four successful scientist, who are not only women but also have children. Awesome, you would think, to see role models that we can all look at for inspiration.
One of the women featured in this article is @kaymtye. She is an amazing kick-ass scientist who has her name on 6 (six!!) Nature papers, and now holds a position as assistant professor at MIT. Also, I learned in this article in Nature, she’s expecting her first baby. I don’t want to say anything bad about Kay, because she does great research and made an awesome career for herself (and is a break-dancer too apparently!), but what is Nature doing here?? Are they showing that sure, you can be a woman scientist and have a baby, but only after you had a decent amount of Nature papers and a TT position at a top institute? I like to look at role models around me, especially when they are female and have children, to see how they have done things, but this story makes me feel kind of incompetent and it makes me wonder whether I’ll ever get to be a kick-ass scientist without all those Nature papers before I had a baby. Am I just being jealous you might wonder? Yes, a little bit.


Filed under feminism, life in the lab, role models, working mom

How to dress as a woman.

This morning I wrote about how some women choose to dress in a style that I would call ‘sexy’ while they present their poster at a scientific meeting. I choose to ask it in a provocative way in order to get people to read and think about it. Understandably, this rubbed some people the wrong way.

So I said I would write another blog post about it, asking the real question. But is the real question: “why do women feel they should dress sexy for science?” or is the real question: “why is it so much harder for women to choose the proper outfit?” I guess the answer to the latter question really answers both.
Let me start with telling you about my own experiences:
My mom has a PhD in chemistry. When she was an undergrad, she was one of two women in her entire chemistry class. She made a point by showing up in miniskirts and cute dresses to show that she was a woman.  She even wore a lab coat with short sleeves, because she felt that that looked more feminine. That vanity has cost her the skin on one of her arms, because one day her distillation setup caught on fire and she had third degree burns on one of her arms. You can see exactly where the sleeve of her lab coat started on her upper arm. I was brought up with the price you can pay for looking feminine. And even thought my mom told me about how she wore miniskirts to her lab classes during undergrad, she told me multiple times how it was important to dress professionally, and to not have people think that you got somewhere because of your looks, but because of your brains. 
When I was taking my high school exams, we had a couple of oral exams and it was custom at our school to show up in suit. All the girls in my class wore skirts, but I choose to wear a suit with pants, because I didn’t want to be different from the guys. I did however wear high heels under my pants.
Fast forward to now: I like to dress feminine most of the time; I wear dresses and skirts, and wear a bit of make-up every day. I like to innocently flirt with people to make the day a little happier. But I also like to be able to just wear jeans and sneakers to the lab. Since I already dress pretty professionally I don’t have to think too much about what to wear to a conference. But I do realize how unfair it is. How as a woman, it is almost normal to be catcalled. Especially back home that happened on more than a daily basis (I guess Americans are more polite maybe?). And it’s unfair that for example Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton are judged about what they wear way more than their male counterparts.
So why is this?

Yes, I guess this is why. And I admit that I’m not helping by calling other women sluts. Or that the EU is helping by making the “science it’s a girl thing” video. Will this unfairness change now that more than 50% of neuroscience graduate students are female? Or do we need more than that?



Filed under feminism, outfit, science