Dr. Isis’s Feminist Awakening: Understanding the Patriarchy in Scientific Academia
This tale of zygotes and whoa begins about seven years ago when I was a Ph.D student at a major research university. I was in my late twenties in a department with relatively few women. Fewer than 10 percent of the faculty members were women, and only one had children. I had fallen into the trap that many women fall into in these situations. In order to fit in with the men, I thought I had to vanquish the feminine from my life. I went as far as to deny that feminism was necessary. Certainly the fact that I was there was proof that women could do anything if they were smart and driven enough…
What a naïve sack of estrogen I was in those days.
So, after four years of careful study and delusion, I found myself pregnant with my first child. I would love to tell you that I had a spiritual, Mother Earth-type pregnancy with one of those cute little basketball bellies, but that would be a damned lie. I am not a cute pregnant woman. No, I get Mariah Carey pregnant. I get huge, and swollen, and miserable, and I try to spend as much time as possible lounging around and asking people to fetch me things.
At about eight-and-a-half months pregnant, I began talking to folks in my field about possible postdoctoral fellowships. Being that close to delivery, I couldn’t travel. But, one particular scientist and potential future employer was coming to my university on other business and asked to meet with me. I could tell as soon as I walked in the room that he was made uncomfortable by the enormity of me. We talked for about twenty-five minutes. I showed him some data, talked about my future plans and interests, and he quizzed me a little about the basic physiology of my field. My legs fell asleep during our meeting and I had to stand to restore the blood flow to my feet.
At the end of our meeting he told me how much he like my work, and said that he was interested in discussing opportunities at his university for me. But he had one final question for me.
“Are you planning to have another baby in the near future or are you going to focus on your postdoc?”
Even now, years later, thinking about that question, I can remember the feeling that came after it. A feeling like having been struck in the chest with a pipe. Nothing I had done to disguise my womanly-self mattered when my shame so clearly protruded from the front of me and wiggled inside of me. I stumbled and stammered over an answer.
Something about how I was ready to really focus on being a scientist and how my husband and I were just trying to survive the one. I can’t tell you exactly what I said because I don’t remember it. But I do remember feeling like a whore…
We parted ways minutes after that. He shook my hand and congratulated me on my work. I ran to the bathroom — the same bathroom in which I’d learned I was pregnant — closed and locked the door, and sank to the ground and cried. Big, angry, frustrated tears. I had so truly believed that I had done everything “right.” I hadn’t accidentally gotten myself knocked up. I had dreamed of and wanted this baby so badly. I was at a responsible age. Financially sound. I was married and had timed the birth to coincide with writing my dissertation as to not disrupt my work. Yet, despite my well-laid plans, here was a man who was concerned that I was going to absorb all of the training and goodwill of the scientific community and throw it away in order to professionally squeeze people out of my vagina. That he was going to give me a gift because I had some potential, and that I was going to squander both in order to be a full-time womb.
I got it together, wiped my runny nose on my sleeve (I’m not a cute crier either), left the bathroom and walked down the hall. I saw him at the end, talking to a colleague, and the rage in me became palpable. I walked up to him and told him that I might have six or seven babies and he could “take whatever opportunities might exist at his university and go fuck himself with them.”
The look of shock on his face was clear. It had never occurred to him that the question of my future reproductive plans was neither normal nor appropriate.
The veil was lifted that day and I was made open to realizing that there were ingrained, patriarchal norms in the culture around me. I was open to seeing the way that the women I had ignored to try to “fit in” were being treated. This unveiling established the environment for the internet diva/persona/phenomenon “Dr. Isis” to be created and for my feminism to grow and develop.
I could tell you more about all of that, my darlings, but then Arikia will have to invite me back….