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Brainmatters | Away with the baggy sweater


Today I held open the door for a colleague - I had one hand free and he didn't - which elicited a grin from him and the comment that if women are starting to hold open doors for men, TU/e must be getting very emancipated. Of course, I quipped right back at him that his reaction was more revealing of himself: he found the situation out of the ordinary because he wasn't very emancipated. But undeniably there was a kernel of truth in his reaction: men and women are equal but not the same.

This may be a dangerous statement, but there's no two ways about it, we are different. By virtue of our genetic make-up, our upbringing, and the way in which we are shaped by our environment. It is something that I often found tricky to deal with as a student: in my first year of Mechanical Engineering I used to wear mostly jeans and baggy sweaters, not because I liked them or found them attractive, but because I didn't want to be different from the others. My chances of achieving a degree in the hard sciences were equal to those of the 290 male students around me and I wanted that to be acknowledged, not to be seen as someone different.

Throughout my entire education at TU/e I've attended lessons taught by a woman on only one or two courses, at most. My supervisors and the entire committee at the public defense of my thesis were men. It wasn't until I had been working as a lecturer for a good many years that I attended a meeting chaired by a woman. Only then did it dawn on me that up to that point all the people who had any kind of authority in my academic life as a student, as a young scientist, were men. This may well have contributed to my implicit assumption that the authors of academic articles were men.


This realization triggered a number of changes in me: now when I don't know whether an author is a man or a woman, I sometimes look them up and find out. In my lectures I often use forenames when I am referring to academics. I decorate my room, mention feelings, try not to feel ashamed if I shed the odd tear in a meeting. I wear attractive skirts, dresses and high heels. Personally, they make me feel more comfortable, and I notice they affect others in the same way - men and women alike.

Men and women are equal but not (yet) the same - incidentally, the same can also be said of young and old, and those of different skin colors. And for the time being this isn't going to change. And perhaps that's for the best: it makes the world a richer, more enjoyable place, as it does academia.


But one thing we should do sooner rather than later is throw off the yoke of uniformity. Encourage each other to nail our colors to the mast. By doing this, I have learned that the tough academic world of TU/e is peopled with very many fabulous, kind men with strong so-called ‘feminine’ qualities, and with fantastic woman with very strong traditionally ‘masculine’ qualities. And you know what's nice? This says nothing at all about their H-index. :-)

Yvonne de Kort | Professor of Environmental Psychology at Human-Technology Interaction


Superscientists are like superheroes: competitive and performance-oriented. Exceptionally masculine stereotypes dominate our view of what it means to be successful in science, and this is a problem for men and women alike, also at TU/e.   

Ruth van Veelen (Utrecht University) studies this phenomenon and shares her views on how men and women deal with gender bias and inequality at work and how this affects career development and choice. Subsequently, together with TU/e researchers and students you get to share your experience and discuss what both men and women can do to induce change.

Lecture 'Superpowers of M/F scientists': for more information check the website of Studium Generale. 

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