Thursday, December 22, 2005

Feelings of Fraudulence

Christine Overall, in "A Feminist I: Reflections from Academia" does a very good job of describing the feelings of fraudulence that I mentioned in my last post. DC questioned that it's not just women who have these feelings, but men as well. I totally agree, but I failed to mention it in a post titled "Real Women." Let me summarize Dr. Overall's description here.

She says that these feelings of fraudulence in academia stem from many things. Foremost, for professors, there is this notion that you have to stand up in front of a classroom and teach and pontificate intelligently about topics in which you may not feel strengths. As graduate students, teaching assistants, research assistants, we experience this as well. We do research. We teach students. We are supposed to know this stuff, but we never feel that we know it as well as perhaps we "should." Thus, men and women can both feel this way. They all say to themselves, "Any minute now they'll figure out I don't belong here."

But consider what emwc notes. Women are leaving at faster rates. This is, in part, due to an even greater feeling of fraudulence. There's not one thing that causes this feeling. It's not like the head of my department approached me at one point and said, "You don't belong here. You should leave." It's the thousand paper cuts that I've discussed before. It's the professor that hits on her, the advisor that treats her like a secretary, the high school counselor that advises her against calculus, the stupid jokes by stupid guys about dumb women in front of her, that contributes to a woman's decision to leave computer science. It's a culture which favors the stereotypical geek male that posts comments like this on slashdot. It's a culture to which I've had to say many many times, "Fuck you."

Most recently, I've been thinking about bathrooms. At my old campus, the school was originally an all boys school. The engineering building had only men's bathrooms, and a women's bathroom resulted from repainting the sign on the door. The urinals were still there, which were admittedly a little startling the first time I saw them. This goes for some of the other engineering buildings on my present campus. The only reason there is a women's bathroom is because someone taped a "Women" sign over the "Men" door. The urinals are still in there. In my own building, there are no machines for feminine hygiene products, and I've received many a quiet IM from my female friends imploring me for any tampons I might have. I don't think anyone is intentionally leaving out tampon machines or leaving in urinals to make me flee science, but it's just one more thing I have to ignore.

I don't want to get in a discussion about who is better or worse off, because that is a very stupid discussion. If you look at all the stereotypes in which we are all raised, all genders arrive to computer science and graduate school with some baggage that could be very disabling. I'm just talking about my own experiences; as a female cs grad student. I don't mean to make the male reader, the transgendered reader, or any other reader feel marginalized because I'm not talking about everyone's experience.


pjm said...

I recently posted about a talk Maria Klawe gave at our school, where she mentioned this (she calls it "impostor syndrome.") She noted, as you do, that men feel it too (I have,) but she thinks the difference is that women are more likely to take it seriously and follow up on it, whereas men are more likely to just put their heads down and fake it. ("More likely," of course, doesn't mean "always," or we'd have no women in CS at all, and a bunch of fraudulent men. That may be close to the truth, but it's not The Truth. And anyway, this is all Klawe's interpretation.)

It sounds like you're in a particularly ugly department that way, though... my department is 8/7 female/male in faculty, and they say 50-50 for grad students but I haven't counted. (The undergraduate balance is still pathetic, unfortunately.)

It frustrates me that people just shrug about the gender gap, though.

DC said...

Thanks for the followup

element said...

it's funny, but it never really bothered me when i was the only girl in a science class.

now that i'm out of school, what i've noticed is that what guys really hate is seeing women get promoted over them.

in school it's more about individual achievement, and it is possible for everyone in the class to get an A if they all answered the same questions correctly.

but when it comes to getting jobs, there's only so many to go around, and deep down men really have no problem with discrimination if it means getting the job for themselves.