You’re too [pretty/young/female, take your pick] to be a microbiologist!

This wasn’t the post I wanted to write about the ASM conference. There’s been lots of great science discussed (I’ve tried to tweet some of it, but the wifi in both the conference center and my hotel have been spotty, so I’ve not had a chance to write anything comprehensive). Instead, I’m ticked off and venting via dashed-off blog rant.

[Me, trying to make a purchase]: Do you have any of these in a box that doesn’t say “from someone in New Orleans who loves you”? I was going to get them for my lab and that might be kind of creepy.

[Retail salesguy]: Your lab? I’m not sure those are good for dogs.

[Me]: No, not the dog lab. A science lab. My laboratory. The people who work for me.

[RSG]: Oh, you’re here for the science conference?

[Me]: Yes, microbiology. I study germs.

[RSG]: But you can’t be a scientist!

[Me]: I can’t?

[RSG]: No, you don’t look like a microbiologist.

[Me]: Um, what exactly does a microbiologist look like, then?

[RSG]: Uh…

[Me]: Because I’m pretty sure that I am one. (Rummaging through bag, digging out ASM nametag). Yep, that’s my name, and that’s the microbiology conference logo right there.

[RSG]: But you’re too pretty! You should be in Hollywood.

[Me]: (picking up bag, leaving unpurchased boxes on counter) I bet you’ve had dozens of scientists just like me through your store today, and never even realized it because of the stereotypes you hold. Conference runs through tomorrow, so I hope you’ll say hello to a few of them.

I know Mr. Salesguy was trying to be nice and probably thought he was flattering me, but fer chrissakes, that is NOT the way to go about it. Women in science already frequently feel like “The Other,” that we’re “too XX” to be good at what we do, that our possession of breasts surely must mean that we’re too much of a fragile flower to be able to handle the “man’s work” involved in science and academia, and that we need to go above and beyond what our male colleagues do just to feel the same level of acceptance and appreciation. I’m sure Mr. Salesguy has never thought about the plight of women in science before tonight (and I doubt that my conversation really made him think about it for more than a few fleeting seconds), but it really dragged down what had otherwise been a very nice few days of unadulterated sciencey goodness.

Of course, it’s not only science meetings or clueless salespeople; atheist meetings have their unthinking men too, as was recently demonstrated yet again. From now on, maybe I’ll print out this post and keep a copy in my bag, just for situations like today.