+ Gender Matters?

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This is from Judith Warner’s weekly blog online at http://warner.blogs.nytimes.com.   Warner attended a journalism workshop on “Frontiers in Brain Science” at MIT recently.

At M.I.T., we were mostly spoken to by men, various kinds of men, of different ages and with different speaking styles, and we interacted with them with typical reportorial formality. Some were more popular with us than others; some were more engaged with us than others. Some spoke right over our heads; some reached even me with perfect clarity.

Something very different happened, however, on the two occasions when we were spoken to by women. The atmosphere in the room changed. We all became more familiar. We asked more questions. We interrupted more. We made sounds of assent or dissent; we questioned methods, concepts, base assumptions. It was as though, with the women, the boundaries dissolved. We were all immediately drawn into relationships.

How much of this had to do with the fact that the women tended to speak more relationally (“I think,” “I feel”), I don’t know. I don’t know if it was created by the fact that the women — to varying degrees — turned the story of their work into personal narratives.

I know that there was no conscious desire on anyone’s part to talk back to them or treat them with less respect. But one woman in particular, Rebecca Saxe, a young, dynamic professor of neurobiology at M.I.T. who gave a riveting presentation on social cognition — “how we reason about the desires and intentions that motivate others’ actions” — was interrupted so much by her super-engaged audience that she didn’t have time to get through essential portions of her talk.

I did not ask questions of this amazing young woman. I was struck, once again, with one of my crippling bouts of shyness, and besides that, I was too busy writing down her every word and wondering why on earth I had never taken science and whether my daughters might attend M.I.T.

Judith Warner’s book, “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” (excerpt, NPR interview), a New York Times best-seller, was published in February 2005. “Domestic Disturbances” appears online at the NY Times Web site every Friday.

source : this was excerpted in the print version of the Sunday Times on 6/29/08 , from Warner’s 6/26 blog entry.  Go read the whole thing at http://warner.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/26/of-mice-and-women/index.html?ref=opinion.

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