Student - April 6, 2017

Column: Women only

Stijn van Gils

There was anger. At least, that is what I heard. Personally I was explicitly not invited. The 500 Women Scientists gathering in Wageningen was a women-only event. The initiators think it’s ridiculous that there is still discrimination against women, fewer of whom therefore get far up the academic ladder.

‘The plan now is to visit secondary schools, for instance, and show potential women scientists that women really can become professors, a woman friend tells me, who was willing to infiltrate for me.

I already feel sorry for all the boys in the class concerned. They will soon be told that more women are needed in the sciences, implying that they are implicated in a problem that has nothing to do with them. In fact, male secondary school students have some catching up to do on their female classmates. And incidentally there is absolutely no obstacle for women going into the sciences: in Wageningen there are currently more female than male PhD candidates.

Sure, I admit there is an inequality problem but I don’t think it lies in what was discussed at the meeting I couldn’t attend. I think it’s the postdoc phase that is dramatic: the moment when scientists have babies. It is still less accepted for men to take on a substantial share of the childcare. Can’t we do something about that? Why aren’t there any role model men who can set an example? And what about unconscious discrimination –  by women as well, incidentally? Can’t we have more workshops on this at the university?

Why aren’t there any role model men who can set an example?

I think inequality between men and women is terrible and I would love to help think up solutions. But alas, I am not allowed to join the discussion. Purely and simply because I happen to be a man.

Re:actions 3

  • The emerging leadership of 500WS Wageningen Pod

    Three weeks ago the initial gathering of a local chapter of 500 Women Scientists was held on the WUR campus. Briefly, 500 Women Scientists is a grassroots organization of self-identified women scientists rallying together in support of a society where science and the contributions of women are valued. Over 17,000 women (plus over 1500 men and non-scientists) from more than 100 countries have pledged to build an inclusive scientific community dedicated to training a more diverse group of future leaders in science and to use the language of science to bridge divides and enhance global diplomacy. The leaders of 500WS published an article in Scientific American on the importance of diversity in science, and that the obstacles women face in science go well beyond childcare and blatant discrimination.

    In response to our first meeting in Wageningen, a blog post was published by Resource. While this post may have been an attempt at humor, it only served to perpetuate stereotypes about groups of ‘angry women’, misinformed the readers, and did a great disservice to efforts attempting to create a united and inclusive scientific community.

    We, the organizers and participants of the 500WS meeting, want to reply to the blog post by explaining why some parts of our organization are just for women:

    1. Women and men communicate, interact, and network differently. Women often cannot, or do not, freely express their ideas when men are in the room (Coates 2015; Coates and Cameron 2014). 500WS provides a safe space for women to voice their concerns, a space that they are often not allowed in male dominated institutes.

    2. The creation of women-only spaces is not at the expense of other spaces. We recognise the fundamental importance of creating and maintaining spaces where all people can meet and discuss. At the same time, there is an identified need to create spaces where women can meet and talk.

    3. Women have been, and continue to be underrepresented in science (from professorships, to publications and funding, presence on panels and review boards) (Japelli et al. 2017). Yet research shows that organizations benefit from gender diversity (Catalyst 2013).

    4. One goal of 500WS is to change the perception, and break down stereotypes of what a scientist looks like. Scientists come in many shapes, sizes, colors, and genders. Just as we are never just a scientist, we are never just a women. There are many sides to every person.

    The time has now come to accelerate the transition towards a more gender-equal scientific community. The 500WS platform aims to unite women and help accelerating the change to an inclusive scientific community. Therefore, even though some meetings are open to women only, actions of 500WS will be directed for the benefit of all scientists (Herschberg et al. 2014). We invite men and non-scientists allies to support this development, and encourage discussion for how to build an inclusive scientific community.

    For questions about this article or 500WS please contact Kelly Ramirez (

  • Female

    100% agree. I get so sick of this feminist bullshit.

    • Female 2

      My god, yes! ME TOO!

  • Peter Vermeulen

    Female privilege
    There was disappointment. At least, that is what I heard. Personally, I have explicitly not read it myself. However, the columnist is a PhD student who studies diversity; you would expect you can trust his perspective on how dominance and diversity interact. If such a writer thinks that is ridiculous that he was not invited to a 500 women scientist gathering in Wageningen, you tend to buy into it.
    His big plan to protest against such an injustice was to write a passive-aggressive column in the Resource, so I gathered from a male colleague that managed to infiltrate into the contents of the piece and relay it to me in his own words, while managing to stay completely neutral in his intonation.
    I already feel sorry for all the males that agreeingly have read the column. Talking amongst each other at the coffee machine about the burden society puts on them in being researcher, father and lover at the same time, without them being allowed to extend the deadline of their surely deserved talent grant application for an extra year; gossiping about the women that are hired into tenure track without them having worked abroad, and without research experience outside of the Wageningen womb. These men, softly sipping their coffees while hoping that they are not being listened in by a woman, are hearing that they are right after all; they are being discriminated against. They are being limited in their chances of entering science by the positive discrimination applied to the hundreds, no, thousands of women in the Wageningen Science community.
    Sure, I admit there is a new inequality problem, but I do not think it lies in what was discussed in the column I heard about. I think it is the post-promotion crises that is dramatic: the moment when a researcher is not sure whether he will be able to make it as a scientist. Aren’t men allowed to feel insecure about this too? Aren’t there any role models for this? What about discrimination against males, by women as well, incidentally? Who will give voice to our reason? But alas, male influence is waning. Perhaps it is time for a protest: “All genders matter”?

    Peter Vermeulen
    Former postdoc at WUR, and proud partner of a role model