I’ve been thinking about recent events over the Tasman a little bit in the last week. I know very little about the difference between Julia Gillard’s and Kevin Rudd’s politics, and from what I can tell they are about equally well-behaved as politicians. But the recent sexist attacks on Gillard do add an additional level to the story.
I have read well reasoned comment from people who are delighted to see the back of Gillard, and the nature of politics is such that there’s no need for any sexism to account for that. But my problem now is the extent to which I can see that sexist outcomes occur despite a lack of directed sexism by individuals, simply due to the culture of the society that we live in.
Those who know the politics better than me will be able to form an opinion on whether the spill was sexist, or not. But I suspect there are few women who would rule it out completely: it’s one of the fun games you get to play as a woman, this second guessing of the way in which you are judged by others.
I don’t mean to suggest that self-doubt is limited to women, not at all. In fact, there is a lot being written now about imposter syndrome in science, and the need for openness about the emotional challenges we face, that is really reassuring. But there is a woman-specific aspect to this, even if the only cause of it is our own subconscious biases.
A recent example from politics in New Zealand was the reaction to Nanaia Mahuta’s complaint that long hours at Parliament were difficult with a baby needing breastfeeding. She got rather seriously slammed in the media for saying it, with the accusation being made that she was playing politics. How unwomanly. Using her family for political gain! I was reminded of this by a recent comparison of Australian magazine covers highlighting that Rudd had brought his daughter into the campaign to combat the effect of his opponent’s three daughters…
Ugh. What’s good for the gander is clearly not good for the goose.
I wondered about writing about this on this blog, which I am trying to reserve for thoughts directly relevant to the situation of women in science. While sexism in science has some similarities with the sexism experienced by women in politics, or business, or who work as professional cleaners for that matter, it is also quite distinct. But here’s the big thing that women in politics and science have in common: the regular and continual assessment of performance that scientists undergo in research funding applications, and politicians face in the polls, but more directly in the court of public opinion (whatever that is exactly). Both of these seem to me to be related forms of peer review: politicians have relatively massive peer bases, but the anonymity of the reviewers in both cases has the same effect.
If every single time you undergo one of these public evaluations you are playing the guessing game as to whether those evaluating you are sufficiently aware of the biases of the society that you live in, then… the playing field is not level, even in the absence of overt discrimination. So can we please get past saying that skewed gender ratios are okay because the women are choosing to leave?
To finish on a more positive note: a lovely analysis of Kevin Rudd’s suits, ties, and a couple of (tame) body parts.