Every Thursday evening the graduate students and postdocs of the Theoretical Chemistry Department have a social event. This is my first week and the activity was going to a pub, that the guys often visit, and having dinner and drinks. The pub was a German pub and like any good graduate student the guys were excited about the large amounts of food you got with each meal. In Sweden going out to eat is quite expensive and people don’t tend to do it often or if they do they go to sort of quick food places like Kebab or pizza. I thought this activity was great because it gave lots of opportunity to get to know some of the guys and a chance to hang out and talk.
Unfortunately, while I knew there was an activity, I didn’t know what it was exactly before coffee hour on Thursday morning and I was wearing heals that day. Heals in Lund aren’t great because like many old European cities it has mostly cobblestone streets or at least sidewalks. Some of the major streets do have a path of cobblestones replaced with flat pavers wide enough to walk only on the pavers and avoid the cobble stones. Luckily I have a shoe obsession and so am quite good at walking in heals. Plus when I lived in Lund in 2006 there were many less streets with these pavers and so I am pretty good at walking on cobblestones in heals…it is all about spacing your stride so that your heel hits in the middle of a cobblestone.
After getting to the pub there was a long discussion about what to drink. Now normally I am not a huge fan of beer…it is ok but I don’t get excited to drink it. Plus I didn’t know most of the beers listed on the menu so I took advise from the guy in my work group and got a dark beer that was quite good with some Carmel notes. Then the food discussions began…I found fried Camembert with cloud berry jam on the desert menu and so was trying to find something sort of small to eat as the main dinner. Finally I decided I would just have desert 🙂 Of course this was not really ok with most of the guys because it was not mountains of food which is why they often eat at this pub. So I was talked into sharing a group plate with 3 other people. This plate was suggested for at least 2 on the menu but when our kilo of piled meat came it was obvious that this could have served 6. I had a few things and then stopped to save room for my desert. Of course desert took a while to get and by the time it came the female professor who was going to give me a ride back to the small village where I am staying with my aunt and uncle was ready to leave.
We had a great conversation in the car ride back to this little village about all sorts of things. Her kids and how much the younger one likes science. I suggested some fun and easy home experiments for kids from my days in Chicago with the American Chemical Society. We talked about the path to professorship in Sweden and she told me how the professors have this meeting every few weeks and the first time she attended they offered her beer or whiskey but she didn’t take anything because she had to drive afterwards. The next time they had the meeting she told them she would take whiskey but they would have to get some girly drinks now that she was one of the professors. I sighed and told her how much I would have loved a whiskey, a drink that I not only like to drink but always reminds me of my farfar and how my dad would buy a bottle of it in Duty Free and they would sit up talking and drinking whiskey our first night when we came to visit Sweden. She was quiet for a minute and then said that she hadn’t thought about a woman really liking whiskey, and had only thought that beer and whiskey were really masculine choices. While I agree that these are often seen as “manly” why do women in science have to be either one of the guys or girly? I am definitely both. I like hanging out with guys and I love when they feel comfortable enough not to just talk about things they would say in front of their girlfriend or someone they have a crush on, and I also like making fun of them about how ridiculous they are. I like poker night but I want a cocktail not a beer.
It is hard to be the first women to do something, or to be the first or only woman in a group but sometimes it is easier because when there are two women they are often compared to each other. Until there are a critical mass of any minority in the group (many studies say this is 30%) then the minority group is often expected to be homogenous and therefore all the same. No two guys are the same and no one questions this. So it follows that no two women are the same and we should all be ourselves and expect to be accepted this way, but prepared to explain what our own need and wants are. I want a whiskey and my female professor wants a cider…