A trans man and scientist’s view on sexism in science. My experience in moving in the other direction is that, as a woman, I am often talked over, ignored, or treated as if I were stupid.
I am willing to accept all of that as the price of admission to living as who I am, although as a feminist I work to change the contempt men have for women.
“He most famously talked about those barriers in a searing 2006 opinion piece,published in the prestigious journal Nature. In it, he lambasted several academics for suggesting that “women are not advancing in science because of innate inability,” and spoke of the actual reason for their hindrance: discrimination, both conscious and unconscious.
Barres amassed data and evidence to support his stance, but he also spoke from experience. Born in 1954, he transitioned in 1997 at the age of 43. Before then, as an MIT undergraduate, he solved a hard math problem that had befuddled the rest of his virtually all-male class, only for his professor to suggest that his boyfriend must have done the work. As a Ph.D. student, he lost a fellowship competition to a male peer who had published a sixth as many papers. And as a Stanford professor who had recently transitioned, he heard a faculty member say, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but then his work is much better than his sister’s.”
“By far, the main difference that I have noticed is that people who don’t know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect,” he wrote in Nature. “I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”
By openly writing about his experiences, Barres made it easier for other female academics to talk about sexism. “As a woman in science, everyone has this feeling that something’s not right, but it’s hard to put that into words in a way that’s compelling to men,” says Carolyn Bertozzi, one of his colleagues at Stanford. “Ben was one of the few people who did the control experiment—what would have happened in a parallel universe where you changed just one variable. [His experiences] were harder for other men to deny.”