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AWIS in Action! February 2013 - M3
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AWIS In Action!

 Advocacy & Public Policy Newsletter   ~   February 2013
In This Issue

 M3 The Maddening Monthly Mention
 
 * Lowering the Bar for the Ladies *
 
Charlotte Whitton, the first female mayor of a major Canadian city, famously quipped, "Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” Qualifying women’s achievements as something separate from what the men achieve or are thought capable of is obviously nothing new. In fact, the frequency with which that old trope is recited is thoroughly depressing. Why is it any time we talk about including women and minorities, people fret about the idea that somehow the bar is being lowered. Excuses are made, threats to individual or national security is cited, and it is generally implied that women are just not good enough.
 
Allow me to enter Exhibit A into the conversation. The National Academy of Engineering announced its new inaugural class this week. A whopping 6% of its 80 new fellows are women, and 1 of the 12 winners of specific NAE awards was a woman (and part of a husband and wife team). When we called them out on Twitter, they gave us the proverbial shrug and told us that they are currently taking nominations. Apparently "canvassing committee” isn’t in their vocabulary. Exhibit B: A study released last month examined retracted scientific articles and found that men are more likely to be guilty of academic fraud than women, particularly in the upper echelons of life sciences academia. In fact, a staggering 88% of faculty members that commit fraud were male, within some of the scientific disciplines in which women are best represented. Take women in combat as Exhibit C. Last month when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that women would now be allowed in combat, people fretted about women’s mental and physical capacity for such work.
 
 
Cultural shifts have made it less acceptable for people to openly accuse others of lowering the bar if women are included, but that hardly means the comments have gone away. One need only read the comments after any article about the advancement of women, often posted under a pseudonym, or strike up conversation with a stranger at a cocktail party to hear that same kind of rhetoric. The reason for the old boy’s clubs is that back in the day, men were the ones in charge. Therefore the standards "they” developed became the perceived barometer for what was "quality”, who was "the best and brightest.” This means that men are perceived as being "better” at things because they were, for a very long time, frequently the only ones with access and opportunity to do those things. Study after study reinforces that no one is immune to these influences, even in academia. Those ideas are a part of the culture because men still heavily control media as well, which generally still portray women in stereotyped, limited roles rather than as characters with multiple dimensions. Thus the minute we start talking about making opportunities available for qualified women or other underrepresented groups, people start whining about how they will have to lower the bar. Sometimes even women within the elite complain about this, though they apparently don’t think the bar was lowered for them.
 
As Gail Harris, a retired Navy Captain who has received several decorations for her distinguished service in combat units, points out, "Outstanding job performance trumps criticism.”  Other studies have proven that women’s contributions in science are just as meaningful as men’s, such as the one that examined the impact factor of life science faculty, which found that women score higher than men on average in terms of journal impact factor. The challenge of changing the cognitive disconnect between our ideas about what women can do and the reality of what they are already doing remains and it is certainly a slow battle. But to suggest that women can only be allowed to participate if standards are lowered is a complete and utter outrage.
 
In This Issue
  
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