Helping the Minoritized Achieve in Academic Science

Chicks Be Crazy

CrazyLadyI wanted to call this post, “Bitches Be Crazy” but Robin told me that I shouldn’t swear so much.  I do try to limit my swearing here, and those of you who know me know that I have quite a potty mouth in person. But, to engender the positive, problem-solving atmosphere I try to create in this blog, I will try not to throw it in your face so much.

So, I called it “Chicks Be Crazy” and I will take time to explain what I mean by this. First, I wanted to use “Bitches” because in academic science, being a tough, but liked women is often hard. You get stereotyped as either a Mommy-type, a Whiner, a Push-Over, or a Bitch.  Of these, being a bitch is probably the most powerful, and is often the side to which successful women often error.

But, actually, it isn’t the word bitch that upsets me so much, perhaps because I am over feeling bad about it. Instead, I am more concerned with the word, “Crazy.” I call crazy “the c-word” (yes, I am aware of what the real c-word is). The problem with the word crazy is that it shuts down all argument in science because, whatever science is, it cannot be crazy. Crazy means illogical and wrong. Science is based on facts and cannot ever, ever be crazy. Yet, the c-word is something we often call women to describe their actions.

So, my first plea is that we stop using the c-word for other women. As I have said before, WOMEN ARE AWESOME! But, sometimes women are not awesome. We are all guilty of woman-on-woman crime of calling another women crazy when they are acting out about whatever issue is concerning them. So, let’s come up with something more specific and concrete to describe their actions instead of jumping to the c-word. If another woman is panicking and running around like a chicken with her head cut off about something, let’s call it stress or panic, which is what it actually is. If someone is disorganized and scattered, that is different. If someone is yelling or crying, then they are angry or sad. See, it is easy to avoid the c-word.

Also, I feel fewer people call men “crazy” even when they act out. If a man is mad and yelling, he is angry or pissed off. If a man is running around, trying to get things done quickly, he is stressed out. If a man is disorganized and a bad manager, what do we call him? Not crazy, just crappy, I guess.

As I look around my department or other departments, I find that the women who are more likely to be c-word are older women in male-dominated fields. I realize that these women have been driven c-word by their male colleagues. To put this in context, we have to do a little role-playing. Imagine if you will, you are a smart, driven, dedicated person. At some point in your career, you come into contact repeatedly with some person/people who do not listen to you, cut you off, undermine you, or otherwise put you down. These people are likely your colleagues in your department and avoidance is not an option when you must serve on committees with them, have meetings, and just run into them in the hall. Although this is a low level of being put down, and this person/these people may not do it all the time, you never know when you ideas and suggestions will be ignored or disparaged. Now, you are in that situation for 15-20 years. To make matters worse, when you go outside of your organization to give talks or attend conferences, you are successful, people listen and respect you, and you are often honored for your work and how smart you are. These praises from the outside are in stark contrast to the disrespectful treatment you get on the inside. And over time, you just get nuttier and nuttier, especially when dealing with the buttheads in your organization.

As one of my good friends and WomanOfScience put it:

I think this is all related to the phenomenon that I have seen which I call (for lack of a better phrase), “there’s another one, but she’s nuts.”  You meet a young female faculty member in a STEM department, and you say, “Oh great!  They finally hired a woman in (Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, etc.).” Then you catch yourself and say, “Oh no wait, there is that older female faculty member in (Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, etc.) but she’s not very active/bat**** crazy.”   It seems like many STEM departments have a young, energetic, fabulous woman and then an older woman who has made it through but is isolated, not very active, nuts, or all three.  It’s like there is this crazy old auntie staying in the guest bedroom.  She’s become so isolated that you forget she is there most of the time.

I know you are asking, as I am: What is the cure? I don’t want to be a crazy, bitter old lady in my department. Luckily, there is a treatment, and it is free. Your colleagues have to treat you professionally and with respect. This treatment may not be available in all areas, unfortunately. The solution is to move to an area where the treatment is available.The other solution is to not care at all, but most women in science aren’t so socially out of it that this is a true possibility. It seems that these are the only hopes of not becoming the department nutter.

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Comments on: "Chicks Be Crazy" (4)

  1. WOS, you really identified an elephant in the room (the one no one can really talk about). It is easy to write off those older batty colleagues, but not becoming one of them really does require either being insanely good AND lucky OR some institutional change. Thank you for working for institutional change.

  2. GREAT post! Thank you for provide some transparency to the situation many, many women face in their departments. I would add that there are also defined characterizations of women PIs with no gray area. If your sympathetic to your trainee that is having some personal issues or just a tough go of it your a push-over. If you establish clear expectations and call your trainee on it when they ignore these guidelines you are an unreasonable bitch. I’d say trying to escape these personality boxes and lead a productive, functional lab also contributes to the slow demise of our tenured female colleagues.

  3. […] be people who are trusted within the department (see this post). Talking about this with another marginalized woman in your department IS NOT GOING TO HELP YOU. I am sorry, but I am being frank. You need to get the […]

  4. […] women in cis-white male dominated fields, and they are written off as “crazy” (see this blog post). Further, despite the marginalized person being about as productive, funded, etc as other […]

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