I was very excited to see this news this morning:
“Christianne Corbett, a senior researcher at the American Association of University Women (AAUW), will be the keynote speaker at Entomology 2011, the 59th Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America (ESA). Her speech will take place during the opening Plenary Session on Sunday, November 13, 2011.
An important subtheme of Entomology 2011 is “Entomology and Social Responsibility,” an area where ESA President Delfosse feels there is an important nexus of science and society, and one issue of particular visibility is the dominance of white males in elected leadership positions in ESA. Ms. Corbett’s presentation, “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” will address these issues.”
You might remember Corbett’s name from the big AAUW release of data in 2010 with the same name. To give someone time in the Plenary Session–the biggest session of the meeting–is HUGE.
To understand just how HUGE (yes, I’m going to keep using random capitols because it is HUGE, deal with it), you have to know something about the history of women in the ESA.
When I started in Entomology, the ESA membership was 3% female. THREE. PERCENT.
It made going to ESA meetings really freaky. And, creepy. I had more than one faculty member seem to be interested in me…and it turned out that they wanted to buy me drinks for something other than my research prowess. It was not unusual for the Annual Meeting Program advertising to have women in bikinis modeling backpack sprayers.
Here is a little something from grad school I found recently during my packing. Someone fished this letter out of my departmental mailbox, marked it up, and put it back.
That wasn’t that uncommon; I also had someone take my photo off the departmental board and write “boy are you ugly” on the back.
Those are just two examples I happen to have on hand that visibly show the many little indignities of being a bug broad during that time period. I have a fair idea who did these things; and I suspect they thought they were being funny. What I really “heard” though was You Are Not One Of Us.
You don’t belong on the bulletin board with all the faces of people who are really part of this department.
That award you got? They had to give it to a woman, you didn’t really earn it.
It got better; I met a lot of great women at the National Meetings over time, and they encouraged me. I especially am indebted to Dorothy Feir. She was a ground breaker all the way: First female faculty member in the St. Louis University Biology department; First woman elected to the Governing Board of the Entomological Society of America; First female president of the ESA society. As a research scientist, she was the first to demonstrate the presence of bacteria in Missouri ticks that cause Lyme disease.
But it was her taking the time to talk to a lowly grad student that I remember.
Over 20 years ago some brave pioneers formed a Women in Entomology Breakfast group at the ESA annual meeting. It was to help women in entomology network among other women, and mentor students so they didn’t feel isolated. Suspicions and rumors about what was really being plotted over breakfast were hilarious. The good old boys were terrified of a bunch of women eating pancakes.
So, to travel from having someone write “SLUT” across my first peer-reviewed publication and mailing it to me to seeing a major researcher on women and science be a Plenary speaker–that is, as I have said, HUGE.
Past attitudes within the ESA were that they had a “woman problem.” Something was wrong with women. They didn’t like entomology. So, if we could just fix women, then the problem would be solved! It looks like the ESA has graduated to recognition that it could be a problem with the system and the structures of power.
It is really exciting to see tangible evidence of change. I am excited that I’m going to be there this Fall for the Annual Meeting, and that I went ahead and renewed my ESA membership.
Things do get better, sometimes.
And, so, ESA, you’re going to work on the “diversity problem” next, right?