You’ve been accepted to graduate school! Now here are some sexist comments

On my computer desktop, I have approximately a bagillion post-its. Some feature inspiration quotes, others a list of songs I need to get around to downloading, and a few lists of books I’ve been meaning to read. In the center of the screen, there is a large post-it reading “Move to NOLA Countdown 84 Days.” I haven’t had a countdown like that since high school. During the final semester I was so completely miserable, mostly because I disliked my classes and I wanted to just get on with my college life already. My current countdown started for several reasons: I’m super excited, I’m ready to get my academic life started, I’m tired of living in this tired town. The main reason, however, is a little more straightforward. If ONE MORE PERSON asks me when I’m settling down, getting married, or having babies, I may scream.

Since accepting an offer to join the graduate program at Tulane, there has been this subtle shift in how some my peers treat me. Notice how I used every font emphasis on “some.” I am completely taken aback, surprised, befuddled, and irritated by some of these comments. Comments came from both men and women. Some of my friends said the comments were made due to insecurity and jealously. Others said I was reading too much into what people were saying. I think the meaning behind these comments is a little more sinister. A little more sexist. I wonder if all women, beaming with joyous success, filled with a sense of accomplishment having just achieved the near impossible, heard these comments when they told their friends, family, and peers their wonderful news. I wish I could say that I was able to write off their comment as snide and uninformed, or even come back with a witty retort, alas, I know myself better: if I didn’t walk away or ignore the comment, I would descend into a rage-filled tirade and probably punch someone in their sexist mouth.

So to you women who are planning to begin the arduous journey to Phd-hood, expect to hear some obnoxious comments from your jealous, immature, sexist peers. In the last month, here is what I’ve heard so far:

“Now that you are starting your PhD, now let’s find you a husband so you can get married and settled down” Oh thanks for reminding me! The whole publishing, research, dissertation, having fun being single thing was getting in the way of what my true goals are!

You got into your top choice? Well, then that’s SUPER WEIRD that *insert male’s name who has less experience than you* wasn’t accepted ANYWHERE. You got in because you went to a good school.” Yeah it had NOTHING to do with EXPERIENCE or GRADES.

Me: “So I’m moving to NOLA” 
Unhelpful person:”That’s going to be a lot of work. If you had a boyfriend with a pick-up truck he could help you move.” Because in 24 years of living, I never learned how to pack and move a box. Is it like tetris but real life?

Former high school teacher: “It’s so great to see you! What are you up to now?”
Me: “I’m starting my PhD at Tulane in the fall!” 
Former high school teacher’s follow up question that wasn’t relevant, like what program are you starting or where do you work now: “So are you seeing anyone?”
Me: “No”
Former high school teacher: “Well don’t worry you’ll find someone”

And, this gem, occurred during an awards ceremony, where I was presenting an award to a student on behalf of scholarship program.

Student’s farther: “So where did you go to school?”
Me: “I got my BA from Vanderbilt, and now I’m starting a PhD program at Tulane in the fall”
Student’s farther: Says nothing

Teacher announces that the complimentary dinner is ready
Student’s farther says to me: “How about you go make me a plate”
Is that your subtle way of letting me know that no matter how educated, poised, and well-spoken I am, my main job is to provide food to the helpless male masses? Oh okay, good, glad I didn’t misinterpret that.

I have been told by a few very wise and very sensible grown-up, mentors, and friends that these comments will never end, especially for women in a “boy’s club” academic field. Some people will never change, but the trick is to let people know, early on, that comments like these are NOT okay. For now, my goal is to set these people straight and let them know that I won’t put up with such nonsense.

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2 comments

  1. I defended my dissertation last week. At the celebration with my group after, my mother essentially said “Great, now that that PhD is out of the way, you can go make babies.” Thanks, Mom. You just pushed my professional successes, achievements and credentials right out of the room and replaced me with a failed baby-o-matic.

    So I’m sorry to say it’s not likely to get any better on the other side of the PhD.

    Congrats on starting grad school. Best of luck to you. Don’t take the sexist crap. Just go be awesome.

  2. During my candidate interviews with faculty, I was told by *more than one* professor to reconsider grad school and start my family instead. One even told me (seriously, this is a quote) “Your ovaries aren’t getting any younger.” I was too stunned to reply, and unable to report him since I was still trying to get into the program. Once in, I still didn’t feel like I could report him because of his seniority. Ugh.

    After my grueling first year a post-doc pulled me aside specifically to tell me that second year is the perfect time to start a family, and I’d better get a move on or I’ll regret it. (I *have* my family already, and they have 20 furry paws, thankyouverymuch.)

    So, yeah, it just keeps coming. I found a great organization for women in science (Sigma Delta Epsilon) that has really made me feel supported, and my university also has a “University Women” group with all levels of academia represented. I’d bet Tulane is big enough to have at least one group. Keep on fighting the good fight!

    Congrats on getting in!!!

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