The Invisible Woman

I wrote this in October and somehow didn't manage to post it then.

I know a professor – a youngish white guy who looks older than he is – who wears a suit an tie to every class because, he says, he wants to command authority in the classroom. He doesn’t need to dress up for his students to think he’s the one in charge. All he has to do is feed their assumptions.

I work with another professor who told me during my interview that, as a middle-aged white guy, he knew he could be intimidating, and he’d rather that the subject be the scary part, not him as the instructor. He wears Hawaiian print shirts and makes goofy memes. He makes himself approachable.

And I? I am small and young and female. I want to wear skirts, but I’ve opted for khakis. They’re somehow safer. A friend of mine, who also teaches chemistry, recently told me she had finally “dared” to wear teal tights while teaching. We worry—and I think rightfully so—that if we present as too young and too feminine, that we won’t keep enough of our authority.

I like to be informal with my students. I want them to be comfortable asking questions without fear of looking stupid. But I insist on Dr. Haas. I need to be their professor more than their pal.

Since August, three women in gaming have left their homes and changed their speaking plans in response to rape and death threats. Ostensibly this is in a fight over ethics in video game journalism. It’s been reported as a “controversy,” as if there are two equally reasonable sides. But there aren’t two sides here. People are making threats of violence against women. That is wrong. Full. Stop.

In recent years, more and more women in tech & gaming have been targeted simply for being visible. For speaking up. For expressing opinions. For existing in a "male" space.

Science can be a pretty male space, too. Women in science – thankfully – aren't getting the kind of abuse women in gaming are, but that does not mean science is always a welcoming, egalitarian place.

The Nobel prizes in physics and chemistry were announced earlier this month and yet again a bunch of men won the prize, the recognition, the press, the attention, the praise, the legitimacy. There have been two female laureates in physics, and four in chemistry. And that’s not even a total of six women because Marie Curie won both a physics and a chemistry Nobel.

Five women. One hundred years of awards, up to three people each year, and only five women.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the blue LED is wonderful. I’m delighted that my own field, single-molecule microscopy, has been recognized. I think all the men involved are smart and talented and deserving of recognition. I just think we are way past due recognizing women for their works and listening to their voices.

We need to make women more visible. We need to change the norms so that is no longer remarkable to have female scientists or female gamers or female developers or female anything else. When few women stand out, they are seen as anomalies, rareities, and exceptions. Instead of individuals, they become symbols, whether the penultimate female scientist to gather the sisterhood behind or the feminist nail MRAs believe they must hammer down.

My heart is full. I am applying for jobs and I doubt myself so strongly sometimes. I worry that my voice will not be heard. That my science will not be recognized. That if I shout into the void, no one will hear, or worse, the darkness will come roaring back at me.

A week or so ago I spent multiple hours trying to write a short reply to a simple email. Sometimes I have opinions that I am afraid to express. I want things I am afraid to ask for. I am so fully aware that men who ask for more are seen more favorably than women who request less. I watch my words like I choose my clothes. Carefully. Weighing consequences. Debating if it’s even worth expressing my preferences, using my voice, making myself more visible.

I know the price of silence. I just worry at times that the price of speaking is greater.