Friday, July 14, 2006

Life As A Man From A Former Woman's Perspective

Reading the article about transgendered Dr. Ben Barres, Stanford neurobiologist who is both an MD and PhD, provokes thought. His insight could rightly be qualified as a case study for gender equity or inequity. Instead of going under cover for a couple weeks, he chose a lifetime to experiment. He writes about his experiences. Read more here.

"The main difference that I have noticed is that people who don't know that I am transgendered treat me with much more respect," he writes. "I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man."
Being married to someone of the male gender who has essentially the same education--his Bachelors was in Business, mine in Theology. Both Doctors of Chiropractic. (Our GPA's we're nearly identical. Ditto our board exams.) Here's what happens: people generally aim their questions at him. If they have a choice, they prefer a woman (me) as Doctor, because it feels "safer". (They have no idea that I'm the tougher doc--I'm not so easy on female patients. I know they're tough and can handle it.)

I guess there is discrimination both ways. However, we are in a clinical setting. So the female bias works to my favor at times. In a hard science situation, there would be no mediating of the anti-female bias. Since the hard sciences essentially consist of testing theories and discussing their merits and then writing conclusions, a woman would be at a disadvantage. Women are generally perceived as talking more than they do (based on memory of Deborah Tannen's work). All people, both men and women, prefer the sound of a male voice. Not to mention the differing communication styles.

It seems to me that a woman in a male-dominated profession must view the profession somewhat as a foreign world and adopt linguistic patterns and a style that would work well with the opposite sex. Similarily, men in more female-dominated professions would have to do the same.

Should a man or woman have to moderate their gender tendancies to gain respect and facilitate advancement? Does it matter if one does this if the bias of the opposite sex is inherently against your gender? My experience at Chiropratic college where there were a considerable number of very butch female professors, is that they did indeed receive the respect the men did, but they did it not by acting in classically "feminine" ways, but in more masculine ways.

I dislike this notion because that, to me, is some kind of concession that the male way of acting and communicating is the better way. That doesn't seem right either.

Men and women are too complex to disqualify someone based on gender. That action is unfair. It doesn't mean that women and men don't have gender tendancies or communicate differently and that will always lead to different treatment.


Christy're said...

This is really interesting stuff! I remember reading an article years ago that was written by a transgendered woman (previously male) and she had had to spend a year wearing women's clothing before the change. She said the first thing she noticed was that on sidewalks, men walk straight and expect the women to walk around them. Well she didn't realize that and kept walking straight--like men do--and constantly got slammed into by other men. She had to people watch an entire afternoon to figure it out.

Ever since I read that, I make sure to make eye contact and walk straight! :) The men who are gentlemen of course let me pass and the men who aren't...get a bump.

David said...

Seems to me that the cognitive style employed in any profession--and that includes the verbal style--is largely a matter of the true requirements of that profession. If you are a structural engineer, for example, being excessively verbal just isn't going to get the job done. Similarly, if you are a salesman, and can't use language effectively, you aren't going to sell very much.

Some of the style expectations in various professions are no doubt reflections of history, including the history of gender mix, but many of them are the way they are because that's what they need to be.