Friday, June 12, 2015

No Place for Misogyny

Life has kept me away from my workbench for a while.
Preparing for my son's college graduation kept some of my jewelry and painting projects on the back burner.
With his degree in hand and delivered to his summer research job in Knoxville, I can focus on other things that have been waiting for my attention.
And then I allowed myself to be distracted by the windstorm created by the comments of Nobel Laureate, Tim Hunt.
Did you happen to miss that?
You could go here at the New York Times to read the story.
His dismissive attitude towards women in scientific research (actually, he refers to these women as 'girls', a sad display of Tim's misogynistic view of the world), touched a nerve in me.
Oh so long ago, as I left grad school and entered the world of landscape architecture, the profession was unquestionably male-dominated.
I was part of an evolving dynamic of increasing numbers of females graduating with degrees in landscape architecture, but as I began my job search, there were very few firms headed by female landscape architects.
Carol R Johnson had one of those rare firms, and she remains a major design voice, a voice that is now accompanied by other accomplished female landscape architects like Sandy Clinton.
My initial job search led me to a Cambridge firm where, at the time of my hiring, I was the only female landscape architect.
The firm then consisted of the President, two Vice-Presidents, two Associates, three Designers and the Secretary/Receptionist (the only other female in the office).
I knew that I had much to learn, but resolved to prove my value.
I was usually the first one to arrive in the morning.
I readily offered to do the things that the others didn't want to do (grading plans, drawing details, editing specifications) and I stayed late to meet deadlines.
I was the only one who could get the local printers to do our jobs on rush order because I'm pretty sure that I was the only one in the office who treated them with respect.
As I saw the two male Designers getting to take part in client meetings and get their own projects, I thought, "Why not me?"
I began my personal campaign to get more responsibility, but when my actions alone yielded no results, I made my intentions verbal.
Almost daily, I asked if I could go to a meeting or go to a job site or manage my own project.
"Not yet." was always the answer.
Two additional female landscape architects were hired and I began to understand just how chauvinistic our little office family was.
We three females were kept in very subordinate roles while our male counterparts were given opportunities for professional advancement.
I stubbornly kept pushing until I was told that I would be the manager for a new park project in east Cambridge.
The contract had just been awarded, so I had to be patient and wait while the details were negotiated.
I was feeling pretty pleased that my persistence was paying off until the day that a new landscape architect (male) joined the firm.
When new people started, I always made sure that they had the essential supplies at their work station.
Setting supplies on New Guy's drafting table (yes...we actually drafted in those days), I saw the contract information for my promised project with a note from our boss indicating that this would be New Guy's project.
I was furious and let it be known that I didn't appreciate how I was being treated.
I don't remember what, if anything, was said to placate me, but by the end of the week, I had my resume updated.
A Virginia firm flew me down for an interview and offered me a job which I accepted.
A few years later, I was back in the Boston/Cambridge area working as an Associate at one of the top landscape architecture firms in the region.
I thought it was ironic when my old boss contacted me, trying to steal me away.
He made a surprisingly generous offer which I politely declined.
I had no doubt that he and his office atmosphere had evolved in a positive direction, but I had also evolved and knew that I was where I needed to be.
It saddens and infuriates me to hear contemporary people like Tim Hunt say things suggesting that women in professional settings are merely romantic fodder for the apparently frustrated men in their vicinity.
I think it's fair to expect more from someone who is presumably in a position of influence.
Boys like Tim should embrace (and Tim....I don't mean that in a physical sense) and encourage the talent that surrounds them,
male and female.


  1. I hear you! Prejudice is rampant even today in oh so many fields of endeavor...

  2. And after reading the article you linked to, congratulations to your son's graduation! Very impressive!

  3. Hi Annika- It is sad that we continue to deal with this same issue....some people in positions of power attempting to keep others marginalized. Thank you for your words regarding my son!