Tag: gender

Looking to the future: talk 11/8/16

What follows is the slightly edited text from a talk I gave on Thursday the 11th of August, as part of an event between WISE and ExxonMobil.

“It’s such an incredible pleasure to see our members here with brilliant women from ExxonMobil. My talk will be slightly aimed more towards the students, but it will hopefully include ideas everyone can get behind.

For the students among us, we haven’t really entered the real world yet. We’ve completed high school and suffered all the injustices that your teenage years and early 20s provide and certainly we can enter bars (mostly) and gamble and get our democracy sausage  but universities are often a small-l liberal bubble – the large-l liberal youth branch notwithstanding.

What kind of issues exist within this small l liberal bubble? Well it’s things like the informal mentoring and sponsorship that men often benefit from. It’s how men assume they’re smarter than their female classmates. It’s the social pressures that mean the involvement of women in undergraduate computer science degrees peaked in the eighties and has since declined. Women made up 37% of comp sci undergrads in 1985. In 2012, that was 18%. It’s the social pressures that means I first got the Grandchildren Talk at 20. As a queer woman, I’ve had precisely zero role models for the bulk of my scientific journey but if you’re a white man you’ve got a glut of them.

Having said all that, this is a bubble – we are safer and more respected within this space and it’s associated with our ability to choose the spaces and people we interact with. You’ve chosen WISE, which was a great start. That isn’t a luxury that’s necessarily available or encouraged when you get straight out of university. We all know how bad the job market is – who here is confident of getting a job when we graduate?

There’s a feeling that you have to take what you can get and keep your head down. It’s a big jump into the workforce from university and nobody wants to make a splash. Because after all, it’s one thing to be a woman in a STEM degree. It’s another thing to be a young woman in STEM career.

There are ways to bridge that gap. Workplaces will have an HR induction that should clearly detail things like complaints policy – and you’re never so far down the pecking order to invalidate your complaints. It often feels like there’s a pressure to call out sexism or feel like we’ve betrayed the sisterhood. This pressure can fall on young women, with ideas like the “generational shift in thinking” which is meant to incrementally close the pay gap at some point around 2075. Or, if you’re staying in Australia, the gender pay gap increased from 15 to 17.5% between 2005 and 2013, and this year according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, it’s 19.1%. That’s ridiculous.

Young people need to be more politically engaged, young women need to be more outspoken, we need to ask for more, actively seek out mentors, surely we can just lean in – I’m sure so much of this room has heard a variety of one or all of these. But sometimes calling out sexism, or working yourself to the bone, or being an activist is honestly not worth it. The entirety of women’s rights doesn’t rest on our shoulders and sometimes we’re not safe or able to call something out without risk. Never compromise your safety for ideals.

Having said that, I do enjoy calling out sexism. Some of my favourite ways involve being a bit sarcastic, maybe leaning back and going “is that… is that right?”, “huh”, or “That sure is an opinion, and you definitely have it.”

But in all honesty, transitioning to the workforce isn’t just being punched in the face with sexism, homophobia, and racism – things which during my brief foray into the working world I have watched or experienced, and that’s in New ZealandNew Zealand is like a less terrible Australia. But it isn’t just that – it’s things like finally having money, not having homework (unless you do law which, why did you do law), it’s cool older friends, working out what you want from life, and maybe starting to take a multivitamin like a real adult. It’s fun!

It’s just scary, and that applies to an extent to all changes you make from safety to newness. It is confusing the first time a colleague queries borderline aggressively into your personal life, and colleagues of mine now get subtly asked if they’re planning a family soon. I get the added difficulty that it’s likely my partners will be female so talking about personal life is this balancing act of trying to work out if you’re homophobic before letting anything slip.

But what are we likely to face in our future?

  • We’re likely to face jobs that aren’t necessarily in STEM. There was a recent news article about how science degrees were not great degrees, which realistically read like someone bitter that their law degree didn’t handhold them right into a partnership. STEM degrees qualify us to research effectively, to problem solve, and to think critically – and that’s applicable far beyond strict STEM careers.
  • Unless something dramatically changes, we’re not likely to see equity in parliament.
  • We’re probably going to continue to be higher-qualified and get better marks than men.
  • Amazing trailblazing women are going to continue to push for pay transparency, because that will be the easiest way to get paid the same as men very quickly.
  • The discussion about feminism will becoming increasingly mainstream. The difference even since 2009 in how easily feminism, the wage gap, gender-based issues will be discussed as a real issue rather than relegated to extremist, bra-burning lesbians.
  • Beyoncé will continue to be a beautiful feminist icon.
  • We’re going to have way more female astronauts – the groundwork is already there to fill space with women.
  • The rates of reporting of sexual violence will likely continue to increase. That means we won’t really know if the actual rates are going up or down – which is beside the point because they’re disgustingly high – but reporting might mean that things change.
  • We aren’t likely to have long-term jobs. The average job length for a millennial is 3-5 years. This means if you have a bad work environment, or boss that’s not good, you can shift jobs and that’s becoming normalised.  We’re also likely to change careers a lot, so you can chill on that immediate post-university choice.
  • We’ll have more control of our fertility and bodies than ever before (unless you go to the USA).
  • Thanks to the connectivity of the world and the democratisation of storytelling (thanks, twitter), we’re going to have more access to inspirations, mentors, and women who accurately reflect us. We’re not going to have to fight the way people even 30 years older than us did.

The women who went before us changed a lot of the world which meant we aren’t going to have to fight for the right to work while married, for the ability to do what we want. The future can seem stressful and bad but the world is changing – for the better. And that’s great.”

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The panelists at the event where this talk was given. Names above refer to panelists, right to left. Photo thanks to Jess Vovers.

Gender Equality: The Final Frontier

Last Friday, I gave a talk at the Final Frontier festival on gender equality in space. This talk focussed on two things: the unsung stories of women involved in space travel (from Margaret Hamilton to the scientists and engineers behind the Mangalyaan mission to Sally Ride, Mae Jemison and Valentina Tereshkova), and secondly, space menstruation and how we’re gonna deal with that when we go to Mars.

You can have a listen and watch below – unfortunately the only closed captions currently available are youtube’s automated captions, but I’ve asked if this will change soon (hopefully it will!). A link to this, any other media I’ve been in or created, can also be found on my “Other Media” page.


The tampon giveaway at the end has been described as “Oprah-esque” which may make it one of my proudest moments.

The power of storytelling to inspire and engage us is incredible – Mae Jemison is the fantastic example I flag in my talk, as she was inspired by Lt. Uhura in Star Trek – but it’s so important to have a range of role models and inspirations available so people can gravitate towards ones that most represent them rather than choosing the best of a bad bunch.

Recently I got the wonderful opportunity to speak to young women at the Spark Engineering camp (as part of a group from WISE) about amazing women who have changed the world, and a number of them said how nice it was to hear about the women doing this work. Telling stories only about men alienates women from areas where they could excel – and this holds true for when we only talk about white people, or straight people, or able-bodied people.

Not being part of a majority group isn’t a disqualification for being a good scientist, and we need to start reflecting that in the stories we tell.

 

A Post About Gender

Disclaimer: This post reflects my experiences and interpretation of gender. Yours, or people you know, may differ. It’s a social construct, so they’re allowed to differ.

Gender’s a pretty difficult concept for to grasp but there are some bits that aren’t too hard: misgendering someone is bad, there aren’t just two genders (because even if you claim gender and sex are inexorable then intersex people exist), gender is both how you are and how you interact with society and unfortunately society pushes girls into pink and transparent shirts and thin cardigans and boys get cheap chunky jumpers.

The idea that gender and sex are different things is a bit harder to grasp (sorry, Wikipedia, but you’re not correct this time) but I’m going to talk you through how I got there. It’s a bit choppy.

Basically, your gender identity is how you feel about your gender – a lot of people (that’s you, cis people) don’t ever click that their gender identity is right in line with what they were assigned at birth because it never makes them unhappy.

When I was a kid, I had short hair and hung out with the boys and had no pierced ears. I used to get told by my classmates that I wasn’t a girl, that I couldn’t be a girl because I didn’t fit in with what girls were. I got called “it” and “shim”. When I told a teacher in Year 7, I was told to rise above it and be happy with who I was. Because that’s how we solve bullying.

I spent a long time being angry about the fact that I was a girl. I spent a long time being bad at being a girl. I spent a long time having lots of internalized misogyny. But that’s why we grow up, right?

A lot of my problem was linked to the fact that I felt that because I was assigned female at birth, I have to be a certain way. Acting feminine isn’t the problem, the problem was that I felt that I needed some kind of inherent female-ness that I just… don’t have, a lot of the time. I used to joke about being 40% boy because the possibility of not being female was such a huge deal to me.

Occasionally such a huge deal to me. Some days it was pretty okay feeling completely constrained by the gender I was assigned at birth due to my anatomy. Some days it upset me so much all I could really do was lie in bed and imagine another life.

Separating gender from sex was one of the most important things I ever did. As soon as the concept that some kind of inherent femaleness was tied to my anatomy was destroyed then I didn’t feel like I had to exist a certain way, then gender was my own to play with.

This isn’t even about being treated by people or fitting in society differently. It was about how I relate to myself. I stopped feeling guilty whenever I referred to myself with male or neutral words. I stopped feeling that I had to push my thoughts into a box and that was like a weight had lifted.

For me, gender is incredibly personal. I present as female, I don’t give a shit what pronouns people use to refer to me and I totally understand that everyone is going to treat me and interact with me like I’m a girl. I’ve thought about this. I make a really cute girl. This is okay.

My identification as genderqueer is completely just that – the way I feel most comfortable interacting with myself. These days, I feel much more comfortable in my own skin, and a lot of that is feeling allowed to step out of the gender narrative that existed throughout a lot of my life.

It’s important to note here that what is true for me is not true for anyone else, and other people that identify as genderqueer might be fussier about pronouns.