Thursday, June 20, 2013

Genes, dependent-leave, and benevolent sexism

I've been too busy working on my work-life balance to write about fun stuff here.

A few things to highlight since I've been offline:

- The Supreme Court decided that Myriad cannot patten genomic DNA, but their misunderstanding of science still leaves something to be desired. Rasmus Nielsen has a good summary of the ruling, and what it should mean for funding basic science research. Basically, you can't patent genomic DNA, but cDNA is still up for grabs because it isn't "naturally" occurring. I don't think many scientists would agree with this, but I'll write a longer post explaining what cDNA is, and why it should not be considered patentable.

- We learned (again) that being a parent negatively affects women's academic careers, while being a parent can be positive for men's academic careers. Mary Ann Mason discusses the baby penalty. Acknowledging this trend means we can start to work towards policies for correcting it. But, if the problem is that academia is simply not family-friendly (or two-body family friendly), the changes will need to be made on the ground level so that women decide that academia is worth a shot, instead of writing it off.

- The National Science Foundation, NSF, released an amazing, comprehensive dependent-care leave supplemental funding request policy for NSF graduate fellows. This gender-neutral policy allows any NSF grad student fellows to request up to three months of funding to support themselves, their research program, and fringe benefits to allow them to care for a dependent (can be a child or parent). Well done, NSF, well done.

And a couple older articles I want to mark down for later discussions:

- What Does Modern Prejudice Look Like? Shankar Vedantam, discusses how favoritism shapes our treatment of, and by, others. We can't help connecting with some people, but should keep in mind how our personal connections might affect interactions.

- Benevolent Sexism by Melanie Tannenbaum. This is, as she quotes:
[Benevolent sexism is] a subjectively positive orientation of protection, idealization, and affection directed toward women that, like hostile sexism, serves to justify women’s subordinate status to men (Glick et al., 2000, p. 763).
I had to speak to a colleague about this at the conference I was just attending. There were eight speakers, six males, two females. We are a pretty interactive audience, and given the intimate structure of the conference, the speakers are often interrupted. Speakers are prepared for this, and it actually leads to very fruitful elaborations or tangential discussions. However, the emcee for the conference did something that ruffled my feathers. The audience interrupted all speakers with similar frequency. The emcee did not interfere once with any of the male speakers, but for both of the female speakers the male emcee interrupted the audience saying something similar to, "Okay, I have to interrupt now to protect you (the speaker) from our audience." These two professional, established, brilliant scientists did not need any protecting. I understand that he felt he was being kind, but this is exactly the kind of benevolent sexism that reinforces subordinate roles for women. I took it upon myself to mention this to the emcee during the break. I think that he was surprised to realize his behavior, and apologized to me. I hope he also apologized to the speakers.

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