I had to give a talk last week about my research on gender discrimination. The audience was made up of business leaders from the region and academics from my university. The topic is always a bit controversial, especially because you run the risk of alienating people if they think you are accusing them of being sexist.
But, by the end of it, I thought I was doing OK – achieving that balance between being political (and feminist) and being an objective scientist. I made all the arguments about how subtle discrimination can be, and demonstrated the role of stereotypes and gendered expectations.
There was lots of head nodding – so I thought I had made my point. That was until the end when people came to chat to me afterwards. One guy, a business leader, came up to me and said that he found my talk all very interesting, but that I had left out the main reason why women weren’t achieving leadership positions – hormones. He argued – straight faced – that women were never going to be successful, because they were so unpredictable – you just talk to them one day and they snap at you.
My instant reaction, even though it wasn’t ‘that time of the month’, was to snap at him. But instead I reminded him that this was an argument that had been made for a long time (remember the old cold war argument that a women could never be president as she might launch the bomb in a fit of PMT). I also asked him if he was worried about men’s hormones (that testosterone has been linked to aggression and sexual drive, you know). He wasn’t too convinced (I was only a women after all) – but it made me realise how far we have to go to convince some people that women deserve to be treated as equals. I wonder whether this guy realises that the reason that women keep snapping at him is not because of their hormones – but because he is a bit of an idiot.