Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Can Scientists Cry?

There has been an interesting discussion around the blogs on whether women can cry in a professional setting.

Jenny F. Scientist began with her post A Natural Scientist - Only (Weak Unprofessional Emotional) Gurrrls Cry

But here's the thing: I could not under any circumstances cry in front of my advisor, or any of the male professors; they would never take me seriously again. This is true of some of the female professors, but on the whole, I would expect it to be less career-destroying.
She then goes on to discuss why that might be so (and asks for comments).

Am I a Woman Scientist then added her experiences with That little sucker just saved your life. She points out that, in her case, crying was an emotional release of anger.
I have cried once in a professional setting, and come close to crying twice. All three times, it was a stress release, because I was quite close to punching someone in the mouth.
I suspect that a man in the same situation would express his rage by punching a wall (or something else inanimate).

Tara at Aetiology points out that There's no crying in academia.
I don't have any answers here, alas. I do think it's a problem that these displays of emotion are looked upon so poorly and feared by so many, especially with stories like Eleanor's, where she was too afraid to even mention her miscarriage because she thought she'd break down and cry when discussing it. Academia (and other high-pressure,high-stress jobs) is enough of a pressure cooker as it is; punishment shouldn't be feared when we release some of that steam in a healthy way.
Jenny F. Scientist followed up with Men Mustn't Cry? Down With The Dominant Paradigm!
Crying reinforces one's sterotypical femininity and, therefore, associates one more strongly with the feminine category. Feminine traits are dismissed as unscientific, because the pardigm is polarized. That is: by displaying traits other than the stereotypically masculine emotionless-analytical-scientist, we as either women or men remove ourselves from the categorization of good scientists. There is no paradigm of lacy-skirt-wearing kick-ass female scientists. And there is no paradigm of male scientists who come home early to cook dinner.
She points out the current stereotype of a "masculine" scientist ends up hurting men as well as women.

Be sure to read the comments too!