Seattle and the SIFF Screenings

Last week, we screened in Seattle at the SIFF Cinema.  We had two outstanding, packed screenings and the question/answer was lively and thoughtful. 2953_83630675937_23800355937_2272191_1634057_n

However, I wanted to share some emails that have come in from that screening. I can’t remember what the heck I said, but clearly I confused people.2953_83630705937_23800355937_2272197_7955945_n

“Hi Pamela, thanks very much for your film, it made me cry and is very important.

The last question during q&a was from the young man who asked about why there are so few women in his math department. i thought your response was shocking, and odd – suggesting that men and women are biologically pre-determined to be good at some things and not as good at other things – isn’t that what got Lawrence Summers fired from the presidency of Harvard, bc he said the same thing?  I feel it is more likely to be a combination of women lacking role-models and confidence in a male-dominated field, such as the arts, as displayed so brilliantly by your film.
Geesh!! I wish I remembered exactly what I said… I did not mean to suggest that biological differences along gender, pre-determine roles or abilities…
What I was trying to say — was that there are gender differences.  I would say that most men feel no conflict between their role as father and breadwinner — because the traditional definition of father entails earning a living.  That is how men “take care of family.” Women, traditionally, take care of the family by doing the “work” of caregiving.
Now, in the following letter a scientist skillfully sums up the difficulties women scientists, like artists, are facing today. And it’s so brilliant, I had to include the whole letter.

“Dear Pamela,

I had the privilege to watch your movie and listen to you talking last week, here in Seattle. Your movie inspired me and deeply touched me. However, I was shocked by your response in regard to the low representation of women in math.

I am a biologist, currently working on my PhD at the University of Washington. The struggles of women artists that you show in your movie are similar to what women in science experience.  Although progress has been made in the last decades, science is still a white male dominated field. Yes, there are studies that show differences in the way women and men’s brain might process and function, but there is NO correlation of that with the ability to succeed in a certain field (we just bring our own strengths). Actually girls in primary school tend to do better than boys in math, but they get discouraged when entering high school were specially social pressure encourage them to pursue other fields considered more “feminine”.

In general, a patriarchal system that has dominated the last 3000 years is still trying to justify the absence of women (and other minorities), in certain fields based on a “genetic difference’’. Our present state of knowledge does not support this view. Contrary to that, research has shown, for example, that when a reviewer receives the same scientific article with the name of a women instead of a men, tends to evaluate the work with a lower score. Scientific publications and grants are the way in which scientists receives recognition, so this bias is a major barrier to women success.

Women in science now struggle between being mothers and balancing a career.  The pipeline where women disappear -from biology in particular- is when they are about to apply for a job as a faculty (although the representation of women in biology is about 50% as undergrads, faculty women are less than 30%…in progressive institutions). When finishing your postdoc (now most people have to do 2 of them) you are around 33-37 years old.  The choice then seems to be: applying for a faculty career and spending the next 5 years working none stop to get your tenure, or moving out of academia to form a family. The biological clock and the academic clock are still pushing in different directions.

There are several programs in many universities that have started to correct this pattern. ADVANCE in the University of Washington is one of those programs. Also, in the same way that you show amazing women artists that are fighting against the convention that “it is work or family but not both”, I know amazing women scientists that have come with their own solutions. Dr. Jane Lubchenco (now a science advisor in the Obama administration, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) decided many years ago with her also biologist husband Bruce Menge, to split a position in Oregon University. They earned half of the salary, but were able to have half of the time commitment than other faculty and as a result had a family.  She wrote a paper about their solution:  “Split positions can provide a sane career track-a personal account” BioScience April 1993, Vol. 43, pp. 243-248. Another case, is my ex-advisor Dr. Jennifer Ruesink who had a kid just a few years ago, just after she got tenure at UW. She had a cradle in her office and spent some of committee meetings playing in the floor with her baby meanwhile giving me amazing feedback in my research. I have seen her teaching, doing research, going to do field work with her daughter and multitasking at all levels as I have never seeing anyone done before. Of course, that could only happen because she is in extremely family-friendly academic department and because her husband, who is also a scientist, has been incredibly supportive.

Unfortunately, not all departments and institutions work this way, and not all women scientist are married to other scientists willing to split their job and responsibilities. Areas such as physics and mathematics also tend to be less progressive in ways of incorporating family responsibilities.

Women in all fields have had to struggle and are still struggling with the white-male dominated system. I have not seeing evidence of genetic determination that explains any of this differential expectations and treatment. I believe that all humans, of all genders and races should have equal opportunity to fulfill their full potential in any area, from arts to biology, to math.


What we are facing as a society is that “caregiving” is not recognized as real work.  It does not command a salary.  So, anyone who does it, either depends on a wage earner or lives in poverty.  And we all know what happens when one person is seen as “the dependent” in a relationship.  It is lop-sided. One person ends up with more power than the other.

Childcare benefits ALL of society. Yet, we expect each family to pay out of pocket.  And often, the cost of childcare–is such that it eats away the wages of the lower earner.

Other problem– women  are encouraged to get training and education for paying jobs.  And they do and they have and they rock at it.  We all know that women can do any job– and do it as well if not better than a man.  I never meant to suggest otherwise.

But, the assumption is  that newly minted career woman will work in a structure that does not accomodate family obligations.  We want women to work like men.  Working forty or sixty or eighty hours a week– to advance one’s company, one’s academic institution or career, is fine and well– UNTIL one has children.  Then what?  Somethings got to give.  Someone needs to take the time and give the attention to those children.

What I think I said at the screening in Seattle, was that given these impossible “choices “–really no choice at all, women are more apt to drop out, or to find a more flexible career or job, so that they can take care of those children.

What needs to happen, is a recognition that ALL paid work–from McDonalds to Broadway, to the Boardroom– relies on the unpaid labor of women caring for the children.  This is crazy–and we’ve got to change it so that we enable more awesome, amazing women. To perform at the highest levels in the public spheres.

Anyway, thanks so much for writing. I am touched by your response to the film and cannot believe I suggested that gender differences equated to ability differences… Aaaah, I did not meant that!



One Response to “Seattle and the SIFF Screenings”

  1. YAA Adding this to my bookmarks. Thank You

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