Voracious reader and DPhil candidate blogs about books and scholarly life.
Oxford academics tend to attract media attention. And to seek it out, too, quite often. To prevent awkward blunders in the public eye, the Humanities department arranged a media training session for research students. It was even possible to be interviewed during this session if you sent in some information about yourself and your research. Awesome. I don’t know if I’ll ever get my fifteen minutes of fame, but if they come, I’d better be prepared, right? So I signed up.
The session leaders were an interviewer and a producer, with decades of TV experience between them. The interviewer remarked on the information we had sent in to her to be interviewed about: she remarked that I had an excellent online presence, and pointed out to someone else what he could have done better. He had sent in next to no information about his online presence, but the interviewer was able to find out his wife’s name, the fact that he had a four-year-old daughter, all this personal information, just from his Facebook. A warning for those careless people who still don’t know where to find the Facebook privacy settings.
It was the combination of these two remarks by the interviewer that made her next remark to me so utterly baffling.
They called out my name, to be interviewed next. “Right,” the interviewer said, “we thought Kanta was a male.”
Have you ever heard something so decidedly incomprehensible that you simply have no words for it? That was me, right then.
She explained, but her explanation did nothing to alleviate the situation. She had gotten the idea that I was male because of my research topic. Quantum mechanics.
Because girls don’t do physics, obviously.
So here I was, at a media training for Humanities students. The faculty where women are a vast majority even at Oxford. But ooooohhh, I read physics books, so I must be a guy.
It is depressing to be confronted with such prejudice, but the worst thing is that this woman should have known I am female. Because we went into the interview, and she quoted from this blog.
This blog called MS KANTA.
What on earth do you think the Ms stands for?!
(Asking her made things even more uncomfortable. She thought they were my initials or something.)
Okay, but my blog wasn’t the only thing she’d seen. I’d also included links to my LinkedIn, Academia.edu and heaven knows where else. My LinkedIn has a big full-frontal picture of a hopefully not-manly-looking face.
The interviewer said that she had gotten a good idea of who I was through my blog alone, and that she therefore hadn’t looked at the other pages. Well, a fine idea you have of me, if you even assign me the wrong gender!
Now, if you think I’m a guy and I turn out not to be one, wouldn’t the most polite and civil response be to mentally acknowledge your mistake to yourself and get on with it, rather than calling me out for this in front of a full seminar room? Apparently, the answer is no, because the interviewer had a point to make. I am a woman who is into quantum mechanics, which makes me a rare specimen, which means I should sell myself as such, because the media will love to have a female voice about physics for a change.
I am tired of needing to carve out a space for women wherever I go just because I am one. I don’t want to talk about how I am a woman who does research. I want to talk about my research. It’s really awesome, you know, regardless of who I am.