Rant # 1:  Why aren't there more female storm chasers?

The question of why there are so few women involved in storm chasing is a subject that Tim Vasquez and I have discussed on numerous occasions.  It appears to be a sensitive area for some people (with good reason, in my opinion), to the point that it's almost taboo to bring it up in mixed company, but once brought up it seems to spark animated discussion.  I don't think that uncomfortable issues like this should be ignored, so I'm presenting some of my ideas here in the hope that something interesting will happen, preferably something good.

One thing I have noticed is that some male chasers will attempt to belittle the experiences of others behind their backs.  Remarks like, "I mean, look at that, that's not a wedge, how can he call that a wedge?" and such are what I refer to.  This I think is basically an example of masculine competitiveness (which differs from feminine competitiveness in its method of execution - we are much more subtle and much more malicious).  In the case of storm chasers, who tend to be the intellectual type, this competitiveness naturally occurs on intellectual ground.  "I know more about storms than you."  "I'm a better forecaster than you."  I find this attitude both intimidating and quite distasteful.  I've heard it said that women feel the way I do because we are not socialized to compete in this environment.  I think that is partially true, but I also believe that this gender based behavior difference is largely genetic, and due to the different roles that males and females evolved to play (much of my perspective on genetics and evolution is based on the work of Richard Dawkins if anyone is curious).

I don't believe that women are actively discouraged from science.  It's a very subtle form of discouragement.  In my experience in academia (which includes six colleges and majors in physics, cognitive science with an emphasis on artificial intelligence, and meteorology - all male dominated) , females are welcome in any field, but we are treated as second class intellectual citizens.  If we are aggressive in presenting our ideas, people (both men and women) react with distaste (presumably because we aren't being feminine).  If we are more passive, it's hard to be noticed and taken seriously in a male dominated environment, since men tend to be aggressive.  It's that old double standard thing again.  Nobody wants to admit or believe that it's still happening or that they have any responsibility for it, but it is, and we all do!

Picture a group of, say, six men sitting around involved in a serious but informal discussion about current meteorological research, theory, and chasing.   Now picture another guy joining the group.  Now picture a woman casually doing the same thing.  Imagine none of these people know each other very well at all.  I've heard men say that such a situation would be intimidating to the woman.  Why?  Why is it intimidating to the woman and not the man?   Whose fault is it?  Is it anyone's fault?  Is it everyone's fault?  I think it goes back to the competitiveness thing.  If men are competitive by nature and women are not, then men are going to feel comfortable in a competitive environment and women are not.  I know that I am making generalizations here, and I know that there are many exceptions,  but I think that the demographics - of many fields, not just the physical sciences - speak for themselves.

In terms of how to change things and get more women into chasing (do we really want more people chasing?) the most common suggestion I've heard is for established chasers to encourage us and mentor us.  There is a fine line here.  If I have any sense that the male who is attempting to encourage me is doing so because (or partly because) I am female, I tend to have a negative reaction.  It makes me feel that I am perceived as needing extra help, which pushes some of my own insecurity/defense buttons.  I wish people could be gender blind as well as color blind.  This doesn't mean I don't want to be encouraged, I just don't want it to have anything to do with my gender!  Most of my role models in my academic life are of course men since I'm attracted to physical science, and I'm fortunate enough to have some that I believe encourage me because they see that I am sincerely interested rather than because I am female.  Or at least they are successful at convincing me so, which has the same effect.  I do think that I tend to be more sensitive in this respect than many of my "sisters", though, so I hope I'm not discouraging anyone too much.

Women are responsible too, of course.  Many of us measure our worth by how valuable we are to men.  This is behavior which is taught us from birth, in the form of billboards, TV commercials, our mothers...  What makes us valuable to men is also learned, both by women and men.  This is really powerful stuff, and just because most of us are vastly intellectually superior to 98% of the population doesn't mean we are immune to it!  It has very little to do with logical intelligence.  I've been trying to change this behavior in myself for years, and it's tough.  If it's hard for me I know it can't be easy for anyone else, because I'm not your average little princess.  I think all of us (women and men) should work really hard to try and change this media stuff, because we'd all be much happier.  Probably lots wealthier, too.  Well I guess I'm meandering a little (ahem), but this is obviously a raw spot for me.  In any case, if I'm out there competing with the men for the fattest wedge or whatever, and they want me to be demure little missy (or if I believe that's what they want), then obviously they won't want me - and then I'm worthless.  That's the point I'm trying to make.  I don't really feel this way anymore, but I'd wager that some women do, who might otherwise be out chasing...

One thing which I doubt we can change is that in general women are more interested in what goes on inside people, and men are more interested in what goes on outside people.  This may be a big part of why women don't gravitate toward the physical sciences as much as men.  Even if the environment wasn't patriarchal and competitive, I think the ratio of men to women would still be high.  Again, I believe this is mostly genetic.

Well, that's my spiel for now.  So all the men I've unjustly accused and all the women I've spoken for inappropriately may now tell me what a presumptuous jerk I am.  At least I'll have some interesting email to read (just click the little flame below...).

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