Carrying on: Sexism in science sucks

April 3, 2013

Sitting in a large intro science class in Reiss 103 last year, I was struggling to keep my eyes open. The lights had been dimmed for the PowerPoint presentation, and the professor was talking animatedly about some subject or another. In a perfectly serious manner, the professor concluded a rambling story with the line “Women can’t do physics.”

A year later, simply recalling those words makes my lip curl with indignation and disgust. I have never felt so furious, or so betrayed. I had always thought that even if a class was difficult, professors wanted me to succeed. I had always trusted that my teachers believed in me. My hopeful naïveté was shattered that day.

I don’t think I had ever been more personally offended, and the statement still rankles me a year later. Perhaps it was folly to hope that sexism couldn’t pervade Georgetown’s ivory tower. But I did hope. Seeing my professor so calmly denigrate half the class, though, caused cracks to form in that cheerful paradigm.

The shock of that moment made it all the more destructive. I had never known the powerlessness that I felt sitting in that lecture. Like a punch in the gut, I had the distinct displeasure of finding all that out in an emotional maelstrom of fury, sadness, and shock.

Some would scoff and say that it was simply the ramblings of an old man who was behind the times. If so, then why are there many other instances of egregious sexism at Georgetown? Like when a chemistry professor sighs and says that he missed “the good old days when they didn’t let women into lab,” the headline “Breaking News: Freshman Girl Like Totally Going to Be a Doctor!!! ;)” is splashed across the front page of The Hoya April Fool’s edition, or even when a kind and respected professor is nonetheless notorious for grading the essays of women much less strictly than those of men. Don’t even get me started on the fact that not a single faculty member in the Women’s and Gender Studies program is even tenure-track.

Something is rotten in academia, and it reeks of bigotry. Whether it’s that senior who nods knowingly at your complaint of sexism and adds more instances that he’s seen, or the pain in the eyes of the eager freshman that is demoralized by the use of women as examples for everything that is bad in her language class, sexism is destructively omnipresent. Why can’t our university see that the status quo is abhorrent?

I know that I deserve to walk through Red Square with my head held high, proud that I am both a woman and a student. I know that I deserve to be held to the exact same level as all my other peers, male or female. I know that I, and all women, deserve to live, work, and study in a world free from sexism.

It is a disgrace that the whip-smart women who research, lecture, and study at this supposedly prestigious university have to suffer through such affronts in this day and age. It is an even more insufferable disgrace that sexism has not been thoroughly eradicated from our university. We have been a co-ed institution for an embarrassingly long time for there to still be such alarming instances of bigotry. Sexism should have been old news decades ago.

For sexism is a plague not solely on academia, but on our culture at large. It ought to languish in the fringes, but far too often it is mainstream. Its presence is felt by injustices, and its absence marked by freedoms. It drags us down from the peaks of excellence and prevents us from reaching our greatest potential as a university and as a society.

So long as there are such incidents that deeply hurt the women who belong to this university community, so long as students like myself leave a lecture with the knowledge that their professor does not think that they can succeed, so long as there exist even the remnants of a paradigm whereby women are perceived as weak, inferior, and incapable of true academic achievement, Georgetown will never deserve its place among the leading universities in the country.

And, Professor, I fucking rock at physics.





















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Clare Mallahan

Claire. You DO fucking rock at physics.