Beyond personal


I am not a big fan of all the various International days, but I know that sometimes it’s good to remind people about different issues that occur. The 8th of March is the International women’s day. You can find interesting facts about it on the related Wikipedia page. I definitely know people who believe that this is pointless and that there is no reason to celebrate such a day. Also, some suggest that similarly we should celebrate a men’s day. Maybe we should, but I believe women’s day is more important. I know that we cannot change everything in one day or for one day, but reminders and awareness are very essential for things to be changed.

Throughout my research time, I met people who are not interested in changing the situation for women or that believe there is no issue to be addressed. Some of them are women. Interestingly, they support the idea that all is fine and that they never experienced any difficulties. Even when they are lucky enough for this to be true, I believe it’s very selfish to deny that there are women who struggle and face problems every day around the world. I believe it’s very selfish not to want to contribute to the efforts to make the world better for everyone. Even when the problem is not yours, but you know it’s there.

I met people who told me that they deliberately give wrong/false information or refuse to take part on surveys and studies, just because they don’t face challenges and obstacles personally, and they don’t understand how important this information would be. But they have to realise that this is beyond personal. It’s not only about you and the bubble that you live in. It’s about everyone. We can change the world, if we all just care a little bit and think things beyond personal. If you provide the real/right information and reply to a couple of questions, that can be another little piece in the attempt to change things that maybe one day you or your daughter will have to deal with – if not now. If you read the story of a woman facing problems in her workplace or if you attend an event about women in science, that could take your thoughts to a whole different level.

Women everywhere around the world deal with obstacles and challenges – sometimes particularly made for them – from unequal pay to unequal job opportunities, and even bigger issues like forced marriage, banning of the abortion right and so many more. If you don’t face such issues, you are lucky. But at least one day of the year, think about what women go through, and if there is really nothing that bothers you and want to change, then fine, don’t celebrate the International Women’s day.


Dress coding

Recently, the issue of how women should dress at their workplace got a lot of publicity, because a certain someone mentioned that he wants them to be ‘dressed like women’. This issue, though, is an issue for me and many women in our everyday life. Especially, if somebody works in particular environments, like extremely male-dominated ones. Of course, questions like ‘who is suitable to judge our clothes?’, ‘what does ‘dress like a woman’ mean?’, ‘does anyone care what men wear?’ etc filled my head and I am desperately trying to answer them.

I love clothes. I spend time to buy clothes and find what I should wear in different occasions. I don’t expect and I don’t think that all women do. I do feel like I have a good taste, my own style and I mostly wear the ‘right’ clothes. And yes, sometimes I do judge the way people dress. And because I spend most of my time in academic and scientific environments, I have quite a lot of experience on how people choose to dress there and what is supposed to be ‘acceptable’ or not.

When I was working in a lab though, many times I felt that I wasn’t wearing the ‘correct’ clothes and that was causing problems to both me and the other people in the room. I felt I was probably too ‘dressed like a woman’ than I should. Wearing skirts or dresses or even a t-shirt with a slightly open back while working in a -mostly male dominated- lab is not the correct decision. But what if that’s the way I like to be dressed? Why do I need to change my style for someone else’s sake?

Another thing that I very often experience is the -what I call- ‘conference look’. I am suddenly in a room with many awkwardly dressed women, who try to keep the image of the ‘professional’ woman together with a non-provocative ‘dressed like woman’ attitude, losing any sense of their personal style, if any. To make it easier to picture it without using photos, I am talking about the random colourless, odourless, tasteless midi dress with the cardigan and the ballerinas, the grey suit with no identity or the famously known black trousers/skirt and white shirt . And, yes I know, not all people have taste or interest in clothes, but every time I am at a conference, I feel like these women, who usually don’t have spare time, actually spent some time (and money) to find these clothes and put them together for this particular occasion, and that there was a real effort from their side to please the public opinion on how a woman should look at a conference.

So, I am quite confused of what the expectations are and how well women do when it comes to ‘dress coding’ in workplace. I guess there are some people who would like to see women dressed nicely and in a more feminine way more often. I am one of them. I am not happy with women oppressing their style and appearance just because they work in an uncomfortable environment, and trying to fit in by losing their identity and uniqueness. But, I am not happy either with women who have to be constantly ‘dressed like women’ and have a flawless appearance just because it’s their boss’s/company’s ‘policy’ and they have to please their eyes.

Are we ‘special’?

All this time during my research on gender equality in science, I have come across so many different views and opinions. Endless discussions about why there aren’t more women in the various scientific fields, how society affects this and what it needs to be done. So many reasons and ideas for a change.

What occurs to me more the last few days is the view of themselves that some of the women, that are already  in scientific environments, have. It seems that they treat themselves as ‘special’, even though they ask not to be treated as ‘special’ by the others. They want equality. They want to be the same as their male colleagues. However, they already have put the ‘special’ tag on themselves, probably because it seems so unusual for women to want to be scientists. This attitude though makes me wonder if it’s a likely reason for the ‘different’ behaviour towards them from the male scientific population. Or could it be a self-defence attitude? Or even, is it a way to explain the whole gender equality matter in science?

But what is ‘special’? What does it mean for women and what for men? Let’s start with the male perspective. So far in my research, some men believe that women in their workplace (mostly scientific environments) are treated ‘specially’. Many times the word ‘specially’ is replaced by the word ‘differently’, which I believe is their definition of the word ‘specially’. Now, if I try to really define the word ‘differently’, I can come up with various ways to do so. Sometimes, it’s ‘nicely’ and ‘politely’, and sometimes it just means in a vaguely ‘different’ way, not necessarily bad. Few times, it means that women have advantages because of them being women. However, neither ‘specially’ or ‘differently’ is used when men want to describe an attitude as negatively discriminating towards women.

Some women, on the other hand, tend to call themselves ‘special’, usually when they want to emphasize the fact that they are rare in  the STEM environments. They think that their choice to become scientists and stick to science, research or academia makes them unusual and unique. They feel that they are ‘different’ from the other women, whatever that means.. But when it comes to gender equality matters, they want to be treated equally and in the same way as the rest of the people, not as something ‘special’ or ‘different’, whatever that means..

So, I can’t help but wonder: are we ‘special’? Are women in STEM ‘special’, and what does this mean? And if yes, do ‘special’ people need ‘special’ requirements? Or shall we treat them in a way that in the end they will gradually and naturally integrate into the scientific world? Does the image of being ‘special’ make women unappealing to the others and does it push the others to behave ‘differently’? What if we remove the words ‘special’ and ‘different’ from our vocabulary when it comes to gender equality matters?