Friday, July 1, 2011

Working with Men

As I've mentioned before, I make my living as an astronomer. This is a highly male-centric field -- especially in theoretical astronomy, which I do. Overall, there's about 15% representation by women, so it'll often happen that I'm the only woman in the room.

Our roller derby team, in contrast, is made up entirely of women except for the referees. Thus, I go from a nearly all-male environment during the day to a nearly all-female environment at night. As a result, I have a great opportunity to compare and contrast the two.

So, what differences have I observed? The only significant one is that my derby teammates are much more polite and encouraging than my colleagues. I hesitate to ascribe this difference to gender, though, since scientists are notoriously socially inept and one's teammates will be motivated to be encouraging for the sake of morale. Other than that, the set of behaviors are not noticeably different to me.

What does surprise me is when someone (usually a woman) will comment on how unpleasant it is to work with a group of women, usually with a comment about how much drama women generate. I'm sure that's not easy, but let me tell you, working with men is no picnic, either. They can be rude to each others' faces -- what would be called bitchiness if they were women. They'll complain or share information about each other behind their backs -- what would be called gossiping if they were women. They'll snipe at each other and carry grudges -- what would be called cattiness if they were women. Sometimes they'll struggle to be polite to those they dislike -- what would be called passive aggressiveness if they were women. And occasionally they'll have big blow-outs -- what would be called drama if they were women.

I think you get the idea; it's the same set of behaviors, different labels. Any large group is going to have difficultly getting along all the time, and I really don't think the two genders handle things all that differently.


  1. OT question: theoretical astronomy? Sounds fascinating! Can I ask what exactly that involves?

  2. I'm going to decline to get into it here because I don't want to derail the post topic. But Jess can probably point you to my professional website and/or email if you like :) I'm always happy to answer research-related questions.