Discrimination against women is a serious issue everywhere, including academia. But gender policies are starting to punish the sons for the errors of their fathers. Do we really want to go in this way?
Sometime ago, I attended a conference. At some point, there was a ceremony to award a young scientist. A committee had selected three bright researchers, two men and one woman, who “equally deserved the prize”. As usual, suspense was made before announcing the winner.
Probably, no one in the public had any doubt that the young woman would be awarded. “Of course, the girl will get it”, someone sarcastically whispered behind me. And, in fact, she did. Naturally, she was happy and that award should make a nice entry in her CV now. The organizers were happy as well, as they finally had a female name among the winners. To me, it was all just a bit too sad.
I was sad for the two young men, who were discriminated for having a wrong pair of chromosomes. I was sad for the young woman, who, without noticing, was being humiliated in public by a patronizing committee. (Patronizing is really the right word here, isn’t?)
Let me make it plain: I am not debating that discrimination against women exists. It does. I am not debating either the need for gender policies and even affirmative actions to promote women in the diverse sectors. I am also in favor.
But we should take care that these policies do not fix one injustice by doing others. For anyone, it would be unreasonable to punish a son for the faults of his father. But is not exactly this that the award ceremony did?
Gender policies are also not helping their own cause when they treat women with condescendence. That young scientist didn’t need a committee laying their coats on a mud puddle to aid her. She was bright enough to deserve the award for her own achievements.
And maybe she did got it for the right reason! Maybe the committee really reached its decision in a fair judgment of merits, not gender. I have absolutely no proof against that. And this is another problem that gender policies have to learn how to deal with: they should not only not patronize, but they must also not look patronizing. We know well how demeaning it is when people gossip that a certain woman holds a certain position “because she is a woman”.
How should have the committee proceeded to not drawn within all these issues?
Simple, they did right when they short-listed all the candidates who “equally deserved the prize”. They failed, however, when they tried to choose among equals. If, instead of that ridiculous Oscar-like “the award goes to…”, they had just rolled the dice to randomly chose among the three scientists, they would have acted in the best interest of everyone: the men wouldn’t have been discriminated, the woman wouldn’t have been patronized, no one would have put the legitimacy of the award in question.
Sure, odds were 2 to 1 against a female winner that year. But it was an annual conference, it would soon happen. Does really the hurry of looking as an “equal-opportunity” award makes up for disseminating this feeling that we are starting to walk in the wrong direction?
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Want to know more on how is the gap gender throughout the world? Take a look at the World Gender Equality Report 2013.
- And speaking of conferences, there is an intense debate going on in the computational-chemistry community, after a boycott to an all-boys conference was called.