Does ranting help? Would the threat of an in-column suicide galvanize people into action? Would it help if we all shouted out of our windows: I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore! Should we take a leaf out of Aristophanes’ playbook, and withhold some privileges from men until they see sense? To paraphrase:
LYSISTRATA: Calonice, it’s more than I can bear, I am hot all over with blushes for our sex. Men say we’re inferior.
CALONICE: And aren’t they right?
What has got me going again, in this seemingly never-ending battle for gender equity? Nothing unusual really, just a few things we’ve all come to accept without comment. But on this occasion they happened in the same month, and the combined message struck me forcefully.
First, I opened the brochure we all received enticing us to the JSM in Montreal. Scanning the page headed “Keynote Speakers”, my heart sank. I saw no fewer than 15 faces, and just one woman: the ASA President. Apparently the IMS—our IMS—can nominate seven Medallion Lecturers, one Rietz Lecturer, and one Wald Lecturer, to join our President, who will give his Address, and not notice or not care that there isn’t a single woman among them. I thought back to the Barcelona meeting ten years ago, where we fought hard to include a statement of principle preventing this from happening, and I re-learned the lesson that fine words are not enough. We have no enforcers of our resolutions, and no matter what we agree upon, it can and will be ignored when we want to ignore it. Women notice, have no doubts about that. Should it pass without comment by men? For the record, there were no women at all in the line-up of keynote speakers at the San Diego JSM in 2012, and I didn’t notice until it was pointed out to me—by a woman.
But wait, aren’t things supposed to be getting better? Haven’t people been banging on about gender equity for a couple of decades now? Well, yes and no. This year the US National Academy of Sciences elected 84 new Members, including 21 women, while the Royal Society of London elected 44 new Fellows, and among them nine women. But my learned society, the Australian Academy of Sciences, elected 20 new Fellows this year, and every one of them was male.
What are we to conclude? That the IMS is a society with so few capable women members that it could not find one worthy of joining its male President in giving a keynote lecture at its annual meeting? That women in Australian science are so weak relative to men, in comparison with their counterparts in the US and the UK, that there is not one woman scientist in that nation whose case was as strong as those of the 20 men who were elected? Can’t we do better?
My third and fourth incidents for the month came from a post-workshop dinner, where I was lucky enough to sit with two outstanding women scientists, both active on the gender equity front. One was from a prominent US college of medicine. She had made inquiries concerning the appointment levels and pay of women and men at her institution. Following her request, someone had kindly provided this information, and it was dynamite. The pay disparities were dramatic. She complained, but nothing has been done. Equal pay for equal work in the academy in 2013: forget it!
My other dinner companion was a senior professor in a medical centre in the Netherlands, and chair of her centre’s gender equity committee. Her story was all too familiar. No significant recommendations from her committee ever got acted upon, because the dean of her centre was unsupportive. Her committee was a sham.
In many places around the world, including my own institute, gender equity is in the hands of the powerful men who run the show. If they are supportive, great strides can be made. Please don’t get me wrong: I like this! What I don’t like is the fact that when these men don’t agree, nothing happens. There is as yet no groundswell from the large body of men receiving inequitable, but favorable, treatment in their professions, towards redressing these gender-related imbalances. Most men, in my institute and my dinner companion’s centre in the Netherlands, in the IMS, and elsewhere, are content to leave the matter to their directors, deans or presidents. If these senior men don’t care about gender equity, nothing happens.
This started as a rant, but ends with a call to arms. When will you—all you men out there—join the battle for gender equity? Don’t just leave it to women to challenge the men who rule their lives.
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