Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The doll pram

The nicest doll pram
"A happy mom is a good mom", I thought, as the train left the Broadway-Lafayette platform to take me the last two stops to Delancey Street. That's what they say. So although I was missing Zoe to bits, and had even bought her an upscale Corolle doll-pram, partly out of guilt, I knew that this was okay. Two weeks in New York was just what I needed, right now. I was returning to my temporary home on the lower east side from work-related duties, meetings with colleagues, and I had several planned non-work activities for later this week: yoga with a friend, buying a purse for another friend back in Stockholm and coffee with a third friend. All essential New York things. What I had not planned, however, was to be woken up 2am in the morning by a couple of partying girls screaming "a rat!, a rat!" but this was a minor detail.
The nicest winter jacket

Zoe had been less than happy about me leaving and the last weekend her and I had been running around, desperately trying to find a proper winter jacket for her, preferably affordable to me, in exchange for the H&M jacket with the broken zipper. Quality winter clothes in Sweden (the country where there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothes, also when it's -15 C) does not come below 1000 Skr (~$150) from new and this was exactly the price tag of the Noa Noa coat that Zoe fell in love with. I stood there, looking at how it fit her snugly, looking at the price tag. "Okay Zoe, but then I can't afford to buy you that doll pram that you have asked that I take home from New York", I said. Zoe resolutely took of the coat and hung it back. Then she didn't want it. She rather wanted to freeze. We left and as she took her nap in the stroller I trailed the Swedish websites for a used winter jacket in her size.

Now, I was in New York and the jacket situation had been resolved by her dad buying the jacket for her, but she was clearly still worried about the exchange I had offered, because I received a worried phone call from her one day (proceeded by her dad texting me "Zoe wants to call you right now!". "Mor, you remember, you remember, you remember", she stuttered in Danish, almost out of breath. "Remember you said you would buy the doll pram for me?" I reassured her that I was going to the toy store the very next day and taking it home with me. "Tak tak", she said in a tone as if I had passed her the milk. The pram was now waiting by my suitcase in my NY apartment ready to be packed down. It made me feel slightly better that I could bring home something material that I knew was making her happy, alongside my own happiness.

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's cold at the top

Today I printed this article about why there are so few women in science and even though I saw it coming out of the (communal for the whole floor of offices) printer on my way to get a cup of coffee, after I had replenished my cappuccino (from the high grade espresso maker that I lobbied for and convinced the higher powers at the university to buy), the article was gone from the printer. In fact it was completely gone from the printing area, even the shelves where we place unclaimed printouts for people who can't make it to the printer immediately. The only possibility was that someone had seen it and decided to snatch it for reading himself. I must say himself because the only other women on my floor is my close colleague* who would have known it was mine and simply asked me for a copy.

After getting past the annoyance of having to go print it again, I was actually very happy that someone took this interest to read this article. I had just had a meeting with my (now immediate) boss this morning where he informed me that he was aware that there was a pay gap between female and male employees in our department and that the government here in Sweden have procedures to try to minimize the gap, meaning when suggesting a raise, I was allowed to suggest a slightly higher raise for a woman with the reasoning that I was attempting to equalize this existing injustice. There were special funds for this particular goal.

But as much as there are official attempts to tackle discrimination, sexism is unfortunately still alive and ripe, however subtle, sometimes straight to my face, even here in Sweden. When we had our first kick-off meeting in my unit and I had bought macaroons, one elderly lecturer said jokingly that he had expected me to bake myself. I was speechless for a second or two as I tried to figure out a joking response but unlike American sit-coms where everyone always has a snappy reply, reality is different and I just continued our agenda. I realize it was a joke and he wasn't really serious, but would ever had said this to a man? Was it actually funny at all? I didn't take it personal and I'm not loosing sleep over it, however unfortunately other incidents and issues are more pervasive and more intrusive. Some are borderline harassment and behavior that I know, hundred percent, would never have been occurring if I were a man. A lot of it exist within the tone of voice in emails and talk, interrupting me, 'mansplaining' things to me and simply ignoring me in important communication.Without being specific it is safe to say that there is a long way to equality in a male dominated field and an even more male dominated department like mine. The majority of people are great, nice, funny and very respectful, but the odd sour grape can really get to me.

One of the interesting things is that sexism shows up slowly as you get older and rise the ranks. When I was a student, undergrad and masters student level, I rarely experienced anything other than the odd comment about women not being able to drive and that I had to pass this technical course that was apparently very difficult, to get my degree (not that I had every failed any technical courses, but the teacher just felt he needed to mention it to me personally. As the only girl in the class). I genuinely felt that my male peers treated me equally and that we worked together well, even as I did my PhD, I never experienced any treatment that could be construed as blunt sexism. In fact, I felt a lot of popular media writing was exaggerated and I truly believed that when they wrote "we are devoted to support women and majorities" in the academic job ads, they meant I had a better chance of getting the job than an equally qualified male candidate. I was dead wrong. Those words are as empty as the five Os in that sentence. Time after time I was passed over for male candidates because once, the head of the committee wanted his own PhD candidate to get the job, another time, they argued that my research was not serious enough and hired someone who was focusing on "politically correct" topics, rather than having a long publication record like mine. One of the jobs I would really have liked despite my life having looked very different now, but others I couldn't care less about; I probably didn't want to be in such department anyway. For a few I obviously just wasn't the right candidate and for others I wasn't able to sell myself right. But as I become more removed from the experiences and see how the candidates who got the jobs have done, I wonder how they did not see my potential. In relation to several old fellow candidates I now have many more publications, more funding accomplishments and am now a research director. And I can't help concluding that part of is was subtle, perhaps unwillingly, gender discrimination.

They say it is cold at the top and I believe they are right. But I was never worried about that when taking on this leadership role, because, for me, it is already pretty cold over here in my department. I get weird looks, ignoring eyes, disrespecting emails and simply get excluded from a lot of common socialization. Moving upwards is a way of formalizing this awkwardness towards me as the odd woman in an almost all-male departments. On the other hand, when people do get to know me, they tend to relax a bit more and we can talk like equals. They realize that I might be a woman but I'm not an alien. As much as I sometimes feel like one, just like many of the women in the article.

*This is not strictly true, we have a part time PhD student visiting 1-2 times per week from another department because her secondary advisor is in our department. However, she was not in today.

Friday, October 4, 2013


Do you ever get lonely? someone asked me this past weekend. No, I'm good at being alone I said knowing the one part was true, the other not. I've always been good at being alone, it doesn't scare me and I'm never bored. I always find nice things to do, reading a book, listening to music, writing, when I can't (or don't have to) do work-related tasks, most of which I also enjoy or tolerate. But if lonely is defined as feeling alone then it's not true that I don't get lonely. I feel alone the minute Zoe leaves my presence. It feels like part of my body is missing. At first it is okay and I enjoy the freedom of going somewhere at an adult pace, I enjoy an undisturbed adult conversation with people. And I enjoy my research work. But when I haven't seen her for days, I start feeling it. The missing body part. I hear her voice in my head "Moar" and I hear her laugh when I tickle her. I see her cheeky smile and her chubby hands. I feel her hair when I rub it before she sleeps and I feel her hug while she tells me that I'm the best mom there is. All while I know she is having fun and hugging her dad just as much, wherever she is now. And I know that he must feel the same when Zoe is with me. But I still feel that something essential is missing.

I have been too busy to unpack since I got home Wednesday evening, handing over Zoe in the same go. Or perhaps it is just too hard to do because the clothes in the suitcase will just remind me too much of the missing part. Perhaps I'll unpack on Sunday when she comes back. She will enjoy helping me.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Choo Choo

Zoe and I took the train back to Stockholm today, after almost a week in Copenhagen. It was a vacation for Zoe but part working and part duty for me since I had an important doctors appointment too. It was an uneventful and easy 5 hour journey where Zoe watched Dora ("On television, Mom", as opposed to the game) through the iPad tethering from my iPhone. I had to by 99 Skr's worth of more data, but she was happy and I got through half a magazine, 4 pages in "How to be a Woman" by Caitlin Moran, and 7 pages of internal work papers describing how to do career development meetings with my "subordinates". When she got tired she asked me curiously and a bit timid: "Mom, are we allowed to sleep on the floor?" I asked her where we were and after thinking it through she got excited and explained: "We are on the train, so we can sleep on the floor! When we are on the plane we are not allowed to sleep on the floor, but we are not on the plane". I nodded and down she went, with duvet, doll and iPad. Opposite most passengers who laugh when the flight attendants announce that "Passengers are not allowed to sleep on the floor", Zoe had taken this very seriously. Perhaps because she actually fits on the floor and given the chance, likes to cuddle up and take her nap there. I had to position my bag between her and the aisle to be sure people wouldn't accidentally step on her hair.

Our flight down to Copenhagen almost a week ago had been equally uneventful. I didn't have much luggage and with the fast track lane to security and her knowing the ins and out of the process, the main issue on the whole trip was that Zoe wanted chips and the flight attendant had to come back with them, which was a long, long wait for her. She saw grandma through the big exit doors from the baggage claim and ran ahead of me, over to hug her. I got the plane tickets on the voucher that I got earlier this summer for giving up my seat flying to Milan. In the end that was a good deal. On the train Zoe is free but she is a full fare ticket on the plane. This means that Copenhagen is increasingly being visited by train, helped along with an iPad and 3G internet. Oh, and it wasn't too bad either that my mom had provided us with a large packed lunch. Fly baby is also a Train baby.