One woman's path through doula training, childrearing, and a computer science Ph. D. program

Monday, November 1, 2010

Only women would find this interesting.

A little bird told me this story about perceptions of my research in helping people learn about childbirth through video games.  This story has been anonymized as much as possible.

I was speaking with my advisor after a group meeting with another professor on my future advancement and dissertation committee.

"I am going to present at the research event on campus this morning," my advisor began.  I nodded attentively.  "I showed my slides to the dean."  She continued:

"'These are interesting projects,' the dean said. 'Except this one, about childbirth. Perhaps you should leave it out.'

"'I'm not going to leave this out,' I told him, 'it's my student's work!'"

"'Well, maybe if you have time, you could mention it at the end.  It's just not very compelling.'

"I told him, 'No! I'm going to present my student's work.'

"'Maybe,' he said, 'if there are women in the audience, they might find it interesting.'"

We both had a good laugh.  I stooped to pick up my jaw from the floor.

And even now, I just do not know what to say.  This kind of gendered mindset is the reason we still have sexism and the reason fantastic essay-books such as Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat exist, to raise awareness and teach us that gender is not necessarily a good predictor of the success of certain games.

Anyway, I am not sure what I expect next.  At the poster session the same day, I stood in front of my poster and received positive feedback from nearly everybody that passed by.  I saw the dean amidst the scholars, usually with his back to me.  He had his back to the whole games group and both of us human-computer-interaction (HCI) students.  He never came over to see what we were about.

What bothers me most is that the dean fails to realize that what he said to my advisor was not only controversial, it was sexist, bigoted, and incorrect.  When I tested my childbirth video game, most of the participants were male, and overwhelmingly, the game was rated as pretty damn fun.  Moreover, these participants learned a bunch of new ways to help a woman in labor.

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