Monday, June 13, 2005

Subconscious Sexism

Today, I was chatting with S, a grad student in the lab, when she mentioned to me the lab safety training course we're all expected to take before actually working in a laboratory setting. It warns people against the usualy stuff -- don't over-heat an agarose gel in a microwave and end up exploding the microwave. Make sure the centrifuge is properly balanced so you don't explode the centrifuge. Don't drink ethidium bromide. Stuff like that. Funny thing -- I took this course twice over my time at Cornell, and the last time was two years ago. Both times, I didn't notice the one thing S did her first time taking the course: in every single dramatized lab accident shown in the various videos, the accident-committer/thing-exploder/dangerous-chemical-drinker is a woman. Coincidence? More like subconscious sexism. And the funny thing is, that kind of perception is so deeply internalized, that most people, like myself, wouldn't even notice the message that is being unconsciously perpetuated. Gotta wonder where else institutionalized oppression has the layman fooled...


Blogger Karlos said...

I'm curious: How many videos, and how many different people per video?

Just a thought (not saying you're wrong; i haven't seen the videos; i'm just curious):

If a video contains, like, 10 different people in these scenarios, and they're all women, that's pretty strange. If each video only contains one or two lab workers, though, and they were female, could each video have just been trying to avoid the stereotype that scientists are male? If it's, like, 10 different videos, though, that's still quite a coincedence...

6/13/2005 05:58:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

You want to see subconscious sexism? Try dealing with progressive activists over time. No matter what, you'll end up with lots of giggly girls who defer to obnoxious guys anytime a question with relevance is asked.

And I think it's more likely that the video shows women commiting dangerous lab safety mistakes out of a overriding belief that women don't belong in lab science activities more than anything else. So keep proving the haters wrong Jenn!

6/13/2005 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

many many videos... at least four. many accidents are dramatized in each video -- remember, this is like a four hour course and only about one hour is spent with the lights on. different actresses dramatizing different acidents.

6/13/2005 08:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, we don't have a video course on lab safety, just an "alara"-style lecture 2 hour course resembling that done for radiation safety. However, of the several grad and medical students I have had rotating through the lab., the most hair-raising was a male mainland Chinese first-year grad student who attempted to load sequencing gels with the juice on, and couldn't quite understand why I was so hot and bothered about it. (yeah, I know this dates me). I took his key away, and made sure he did nothing without someone directly observing him. I swear he got the good undergrad transcript and the visa by being a child of an important party member or else a spy on other mainland Chinese students.


6/14/2005 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

nancy, i chuckled when reading about your story of the grad student who tried to load a gel with the voltage on -- deathwish perhaps? thanks for sharing!! i've had an undergrad do a similar thing a couple of times. ^_^

however, this statement:
"I swear he got the good undergrad transcript and the visa by being a child of an important party member or else a spy on other mainland Chinese students."

made me a little hot and bothered....

6/14/2005 12:39:00 PM  
Anonymous tekanji said...

James said: No matter what, you'll end up with lots of giggly girls who defer to obnoxious guys anytime a question with relevance is asked.

I'm not sure if you intended that, but it sounded to me like you were heaping most of the blame on the "giggly girls." There is a dual social conditioning going on there - women being conditioned to defer to men, and men being conditioned to ignore or undervalue a woman's opinion.

The easiest example of this would be the whole crap going down at dKos about the pie commercial and Kos' dismissal of women's issues as "unimportant." You can find commentaries all over the feminist blogsphere, but I highly recommend going to Feministe for the breakdown (Lauren cites many good links).

Another article you might want to check out on this phenomenon is on an online magazine/journal called xy. This article is one man's personal experience and struggle with the phenomenon you described.

Please remember that language is a powerful thing, and by putting the women in the place of "power" (they "defer" rather than men "overriding" or some vocabulary like that), you're verbally heaping the majority of blame onto them. In a case like this (where both genders are socialized to this dynamic), a qualifer about how men are conditioned to dismiss women's opinions would have helped to balance the scales a bit.

6/14/2005 03:54:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

hmm, tekanji, i can't speak for james, but it sounds to me like he was speaking of the subconscious sexism all around -- he referred both to the submissive "giggly" girls and the chauvanistic "obnoxious" guys...

that's how i interpreted his comment, anyways.

6/14/2005 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger Karlos said...

No, I think that, clearly, James is a bastard. Get him!

btw, J, how's NYC (and, more importantly, the NYPD) treating ya?

6/14/2005 06:31:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

Hey Tekanji, thanks for commenting!

It was not my intent too place most of the blame on the 'giggly girls', but I understand how you could have come to that conclusion.

Dual social conditioning is the starting point factor, I agree. However, personal choice plays the major role, in my opinion. If I, as an African American male, walked into a room full of forty White people (as I did to begin my weeklong grassroots organizing training last week) only to sit down and shut up upon the first sight of all that White liberal education, I would have played into 'dual social conditioning' while becoming quite complicit in my own oppressive silence.

Women are encouraged to be seen and not heard by the Westen society that considers them incapable of complicated lab science work, but I don't believe that women escape blame when they succumb to societal pressure. If I can stay away from drugs, gangs, and guns, the giggly girl can contain her laughter to speak intelligently on a political issue amidst men.

6/14/2005 09:13:00 PM  
Anonymous tekanji said...

James, I totally hear you. I'm fully behind the idea that both sides need to carry their half. Having a room full of men give a woman's opinion their attention and respect does nothing if the woman doesn't do her part and say what needs to be said.

6/14/2005 10:30:00 PM  

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