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The fight is far from over

(26 Posts)
GrandMarmoset Fri 20-May-16 11:08:26

Long rant alert. As a single mum with one daughter, I brought her up to believe she could be anything she wanted to be. She had to overcome terrible setbacks in her life, but despite all, she persevered and got to read her chosen subject, physics at uni. Her year comprised 282 boys and 5 girls. From day one, it seemed the majority of the boys were of the geeky type, who lack social skills and do not understand boundaries. She and her friend were daily subjected to gawking and downright obscene suggestions. They opted to ignore the behavior. In labs they would ask a perfectly reasonable question of the lecturer. He would roll his eyes and walk away to a group of boys who would ask the exact same question. He would then respond by sitting down and discussing it for half an hour with them. In her first year a boy asked if he could look at her assignment to see what was required. He plaguerised it making some changes but was rumbled. He'd got 52%, she got 81%. He had lost marks where he had tweeked it to sound like his own work. They were both called before a board and penalized by both behind dropped to 49%, meaning he lost3% and she lost 32%. He cheerfully agreed that it was fair enough. She did not but through the entire meeting, none of the board acknowledged her, made eye contact with her and when she attempted to speak, the spoke over her. She was furious so went to her personal tutor. When asking his advice on how to deal with it, she was told she could complain, but the most likely outcome would be that she would lose her remaining marks and her the rest of her time there would become very difficult. In other words, put up and shut up. Rightly or wrongly she did, intimidated by the patriarchal set up. The sexism continued in insidious and overt ways through her entire degree. Now she is at the end and despite all, when she got results back yesterday, looks like she may be on the path to a first or 2:1. The results came through whilst she was in the library with 30 male students. She's the only girl left. One announced very loudly that she only got the marks she did as she was a girl and they'd felt sorry for her. It was the final straw and after a cutting reply she turned heel and stormed out but wept tears of rage all the way home. The world needs more scientists but the bastards have finally broken my strong girl and she is swearing she will never work in physics. After all she's endured, it makes me so angry. I can't believe that after all these years of fighting for equality, our daughters still have to experience these attitudes. We may have the right to fight discrimination, but if we are in a male field, it can ruin our professional lives and why the hell should we have to? Sorry this is so long.

80schild Fri 20-May-16 11:18:34

So your very talented daughter has decided to quit? She can't give up now, she's got to finish.

Yes, they have been tossers but it is people like your daughter who are able to change things. Please try and encourage her to keep going.

Felascloak Fri 20-May-16 11:19:36

Fucking hell.
I thought all this shit stopped years ago. I have a first class degree and PhD in a masculine field, I experienced very similar when I did my qualifications but that was 20 years ago! FFS.
I think she needs to name and shame, there are lots of initiatives to get more girls into STEM with physics acknowledged as a target area, maybe she could approach one of them and get them to speak to the uni. It's not on.

HouseOfBiscuits Fri 20-May-16 11:22:29

Congratulations to your daughter on completing her physics course, despite so much sexism from various directions sad angry She sounds like an intelligent and strong person and it must have been very challenging to persevere to the end of her degree.

The thing that springs to mind is that in many workplaces she'd be a fantastic addition to the team, whereas the sneery but less capable sexist dinosaurs would not be tolerated. Obviously the sexist workplaces exist too, but I hope that whatever your daughter decides, she finds somewhere that she can be truly valued.

Felascloak Fri 20-May-16 11:22:32


When I was at uni our NUS reps also went to management meetings with the Chancellor so she could raise it to them too and get some attention from higher up.

SocialDisaster Fri 20-May-16 11:24:06

Can you please PM me the University? My dd's need to avoid that place.

SocialDisaster Fri 20-May-16 11:25:16

I hope that whatever your daughter decides, she finds somewhere that she can be truly valued


UmbongoUnchained Fri 20-May-16 11:27:29

It sounds like a crap uni. I have a physics based degree and was the only girl in my course. I never experienced any negativity. If anything they thought it was fantastic to have a girl on the course as it was so rare.

Curviest Fri 20-May-16 11:30:05

She must not give up and ruin her future.

However, she should write an article about her experiences over 3 years and once she has graduated, send out copies to all the big-wigs of the uni, and get it published in magazines, newspapers, online, etc. Name and shame.

GrandMarmoset Fri 20-May-16 12:43:08

Actually, now I have got it off my chest I have realised that once she's calmed down, she will not let it rest. She will realise that she needs to address it for future female students. She has already submitted everything so the degree's in the bag. (Phew) I suspect now she's done, she will approach the hierarchy and explain how she had been warned not to rock the boat, before her degree was safe by her personal tutor. During the 2nd and final year she has been working as a freelance science journalist to supplement funds and in respected media so I shouldn't think they'll want their attitudes broadcasting. If her approach fails, I expect she'll publish and be damned. At the moment she just wants to be rid of the lot of them, but I know her and she won't let this pass. So glad to hear some positive stories. I was really despairing and wondering what the struggle had been for.

LurcioAgain Fri 20-May-16 13:16:35

GrandMarmoset - hugs to your daughter. I'm a physicist - 1st degree 30 years back, PhD 15 years back both at very respected institutions, and while I came across low-level pockets of sexism, I've never come across anything like this. I'm totally shocked. (But I can totally see this happening - my dad, who lectured in a different discipline, told me he used to have male students come and spread their course work on top of that of the woman he happened to be talking to - the big difference being that my dad told them to fuck off when they tried this. But I know that some of his colleagues just let it go, or didn't even see anything wrong with that sort of behaviour.)

I would love to see her name and shame once her degree is in the bag.

Here's hoping she does really well in her future career - is she planning on becoming a science journalist? This country really needs more good ones!

GrandMarmoset Fri 20-May-16 13:54:12

I'm loving your dad LucioAgain. She probably will go down the route of writing in the end.

hilbertspace Fri 20-May-16 17:16:55

I'm sorry this happened to your daughter. I did a physics degree 25 years ago and didn't experience anything like this; in fact I had one tutor who was very good at shutting up the male students who would automatically talk over any woman speaking, making it clear to them what they were doing and not allowing it. Well done to your dd for getting through it all despite all that and getting her degree and I hope she writes up all of her experiences and feeds them back strongly to the university.

NotMyRealName2015 Fri 20-May-16 22:52:09

Unlike many here I have no experience in working in Science, but just wanted to say your Daughter sounds like an amazing woman and you must be very proud!

I hope one day she wins the Nobel prize in Physics and uses her speech to stick it to all those Bastards who tried to bring her down grin

sausageeggbacon111 Tue 24-May-16 23:10:15

DD had people who have looked down on her but she recently had a discussion Sue Horne of ESA and she hopes this summer to be on SPIN. Most of the guys on her course tried to out shine her but determination has won out so far. I wonder sometimes if it is the Uni, the lecturer or the environment that shape how our girls cope. Maybe it is a combination or just good luck but I am grateful that DD seems to be entering her career space in a positive way. Grand I feel for your DD but she or you need to challenge the Uni... you can't let them chase her out.

erinaceus Wed 25-May-16 06:58:00


I am sorry that your daughter went through this. Does your daughter have an idea what she would like to happen next? Publishing and being dammed is one route and it does have its pros and cons.

Does your daughter know of Athene Donald? Athene is a physicist and now Master of Churchill College and and an FRS. She writes extensively about gender and science on her blog, Athene Donald's Blog, and elsewhere. Your daughter might find solidarity there.

PM me if you would like to. I can suggest more resources and if nothing else supply endless empathy.

thedogstinks Wed 25-May-16 07:55:36

My daughter is 9. Women like your daughter chipping away will make it slightly easier for her, should she seek a career in science. My future daughter thanks your current daughter. Tell your daughter that. smile

deydododatdodontdeydo Wed 25-May-16 08:34:05

Another who did a physics degree 25 years ago and it was nothing like this. Although 5 girls to 35 boys on the course, we had female lecturers, professors, PhD students and pst docs. In fact the undergrads were the most male group*.
There were a few twatty male students, but nothing like what your daughter has experienced. In fact the sexism was mostly of the eager-to-please-and help-the-girls variety.
What uni is she at? For what it's worth I went to Warwick.
*The corresponding chemistry course was the opposite: maybe 45 girls to 15 boys.

SomeDyke Thu 26-May-16 14:09:13

As a uni lecturer, I should just add that as regards the plagiarism issue, we would probably have done a similar thing in terms of penalty, in that the person who lent it and the one who copied it would both be penalized. Back when I was a postdoc I was marking undergrad maths coursework, and when I realized copying had occurred, I just gave them all zero, no arguments about who copied whom!

As regards sexism -- still rampant in society, in uni, and particularly in STEM subjects. Probably more covert than overt nowadays, compared to when I was first at uni. Just unavoidable when whatever cohort you are talking about (undergrads, postgrad, post docs, staff), is male dominated and set into their own very blokey ways of doing stuff. Every time I get up to lecture, I still get depressed to see how few women there are in front of me. But if we weren't there at the front, what chance would those women have?

Try WISE, my advice too. And bloody well done to her for sticking it to the end! starstarstar

GrandMarmoset Thu 26-May-16 14:27:56

Thank you all for your advice. She has a meeting with the chancellor booked next week to discuss how things can be improved for future female students. They do seem to be sitting up and paying attention to her now so let's hope she can be an effective instrument of change. Thanks everyone.

EBearhug Fri 27-May-16 00:26:51

I would try WISE, too. There are quite a few groups out there to try and promote science to people at school, like ScienceGrrl, Stemettes, StemNet...

I've been to a lot of women in STEM/women in IT events, and physics does seem to be particularly bad - one woman (and it's going to bug me that I can't remember her name right now) said that she was giving a lecture, and was introduced by a senior academic - who then patted her on the bum when she walked off stage at the end, in front of everyone. It's difficult to challenge when it's early in your career, and you don't want to put the backs up of the people who will be making decisions about your future career.

I've also met women who refuse to do any STEM promotion work any more because they don't want to encourage girls into an industry where they are going to have to deal with all that crap. But if we don't do that, and if the numbers of women don't increase, it won't improve.

There are lots of networking groups out there - encourage your daughter to get involved. I remember going to one of my first women in IT events and just thinking, "it's not just me!" But my career is going quite well at the moment - because of the women's network at work. I think women are more willing to support other women, sponsor them and mentor them, because they know how much less likely it is that you'll get encouraged by male managers in the same way that your male peers are - of course not all male managers are like that, and some are aware of things like unconscious bias - but there is still a lot of sexism to deal with.

It was a shock to me to discover all the STEM bias in the world - I went to an all-girls secondary school, and if we were interested in maths and science, that was all absolutely fine. Plus my grandmother taught maths and physics, having done maths at university, so women doing that sort of thing seemed normal to me. Sometimes I miss losing my innocence about it.

I wish your daughter all the very best - we do need women like her in STEM, and she sounds like she's got the abilities and strength to have a great career ahead of her. Best of luck with seeing the chancellor.

erinaceus Fri 27-May-16 07:45:54


Good luck to your daughter. In terms of unsolicited advice, I suggest that she has a think about what the problem is, and what should change, and why. If she is able to propose solutions she may get support to get them off the ground.

WISE might have some resources.

Does her university have a Students Union Diversity Officer? They may be able to help her to get her thoughts together, have some sense of the University's position on diversity, and depending on her personality and how she feels about going to the meeting, may offer to come with her to the meeting.

Wishing her all the best of luck. flowers

Felascloak Fri 27-May-16 09:14:36

I'm glad she's speaking to the chancellor. Hope they make it clear to the department that they say she's been treated is unacceptable

EBearhug Fri 27-May-16 20:21:44

It's not just physics -

StealthPolarBear Fri 27-May-16 20:27:24

Your dd is likely to do well in any future workplace, both with the physics skills and the softer skills (assertiveness, negotiation, not giving up when other people expect you to fail). She'll go far.
on a lighter note dd (6) told our neighbout she wanted to be a scientist or an engineer when she grows up. He suggested a scientific engineer to which she replied she didn't know what that was grin. As a pp says I never expected her to have to deal with sexism if she does go on to be a scientific engineer (I realise at this point she's just as likely to be anything else!) And am grateful to you dd for the change she will make.

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