Thursday, July 2, 2009

Field Theory

This week, I had the pleasure of playing in the Mud Cup, the semi-annual soccer game played between the two departments at my former place of employment. One of the rules we have adopted is that each team must field a minimum of two women at any time. This form of affirmative action is necessary because while we can claim equality in terms of intellectual ability, you can't get around the fact that men are generally faster and stronger. It's meant to be a friendly game of soccer rather than a high-stakes competition, and we women would like to get the chance to play, hence the rule.

At the post-game party, I got to talking with a friend who coaches his sons' soccer teams. One year, his team practiced at the same time and place as a girls' team. The coaches got the teams together to play scrimmages against each other. My friend noted that the boys would either get super-aggressive against the girls, or back off completely. "These guys here do the same thing," I replied, indicating the soccer players around us.

It seems to me that this sort of attitude carries over from the soccer field into science, too. Some male scientists feel threatened by women who compete with them, and aggressively attack the women's ideas. Some take a condescending attitude toward women scientists, along the lines of, "oh how cute, she's trying to act like a scientist," and they dismiss the women's ideas altogether. Fortunately, though, there are also those who treat us with respect as colleagues, or even competitors, on an equal footing.

To conclude, I'll mention that while my team was vastly outnumbered by our opponents, meaning that we had far fewer players to substitute in. We ended up having to substitute women in for men, and by the end we had five women on the field to their three. Still, we came out victorious. It only goes to show that women's contributions can be invaluable, whether on the soccer field, or in the field of science.