When I was younger I used to think it was cool to be “macho”.  Being macho meant being “one of the guys”, however that might look in the organization I worked with—working long hours, drinking too much after work at the local watering hole while arguing passionately about the organizational issues of the day, showing utter disdain for all things domestic, or perhaps even criticizing female colleagues for being “too sensitive”.  I had no children or even a husband at the time, and I wore that fact like a badge of honor.

I look back on it now and see it as a fallacy of youth, almost like a teenager who will sell her soul to fit in with the popular crowd in high school.  I never sold my soul, but I sure did sell out my female colleagues. 

In the March issue of Forbes, Christina Hoff Sommers has an article called Gender Bias Bunk, which challenges the notion that the National Science Foundation needs to work to change its culture because of embedded gender bias: “The nation’s leading programs are under pressure to adopt gender quotas and to rein in their competitive, hard-driven, meritocratic culture–a culture that has made American science the mightiest in the world.”  Her article quotes a fair bit of research and seems well supported; it is certainly not a mere opinion piece.  And yet I can’t shake the feeling that she’s being macho, just like that younger version of me.

Christina Hoff Sommers is a scholar and an author and far smarter than me, so I’ll leave it at my vague impressions.  But I will say that I would hate for women, particularly young women just starting out in their careers, to read her article and take from it that you must put on a facade and sacrifice work/life balance and family goals to be successful in science, or any other profession for that matter.  I hope that we continue to work together to find ways that women can be as successful in their careers as men without giving up personal goals.  Maybe that shouldn’t always dictate culture change; but let’s keep working on other possible solutions, because “being tough” gets us nowhere at all.

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