Here is a true story of mine: I was hanging out with several friends, who are all grad students of course, on a Saturday evening at a pub. It was Halloween, so everyone else was dressed up in funny costumes except us. A guy wearing a yellow chicken costume came over to our table and started talking to me. He was good-looking and good mannered, which carried the conversation quite smoothly. After telling me he is an undergrad student in Accounting, he asked “what’s your major?” I answered without thinking “oh, I’m a PhD student in Geography.” All of a sudden, our conversation froze, so did his facial expression. He was so shocked that he could not say a single word. “What?!” he found his tongue after ten seconds, “you’re a PhD student! No wonder you look smart.” Not surprisingly, he vanished soon.
In China, female PhD students are called the “third” category of human beings, beside “male” and “female”. When I told my family and relatives my decision of pursuing a doctoral degree, they tried to persuade me to give up by all kinds of methods. Before I came to Canada, I thought highly-educated females are only discriminated against in China. However, I was very wrong: female doctoral students have to suffer prejudices, not only in China, but all over the world.
Personally, I hate being labeled as female PhD student, because this label always comes along with the descriptions of nerd, bossy, unfashionable, emotionless, etc.; actually, I like this group of people very much (not because I myself am part of this group). They are highly intelligent, they are passionate for their own research, they can handle stressful situations, they are powerful in fieldwork, and they are attractive from the inside out. Basically, they should be called “Super Woman” instead of “neither man nor woman”. Trying to understand why they’re under unfair prejudice, I did an informal survey on Facebook and Chinese version Facebook, and I have more than 50 responses. However, the answers may not be representative due to the majority of my friends/respondents being all grad students.
The most popular answer is that highly-educated women are threatening to men’s domination. Such threatening can be found in every respect of daily life, which makes the male gender not as satisfied as they used to be. Without doubt, men have long been in dominating positions among genders. They are unwilling to accept the fact that women can perform equally well as long as both of them have equal access to proper education. The second popular answer is that women’s natural duty is to raise children and support their family, which female PhDs can’t devote enough time and energy to. One can simply imagine how hard it is to balance trivial housework and tens and hundreds of proposals, experiments, and papers. Besides, most of the female PhDs are above the average age of marriage and giving birth—“retarded” in their personal life, which is a general social issue nowadays. The third answer is that the unfair judgement is just sour grapes. People (either men or women) who can’t pursue a PhD degree are jealous of those who can, especially those who are female; men who can’t have a partner with a PhD degree will defend themselves as “we don’t want to because they’re monsters”.
To my huge relief, excepting the above answers, most of my respondents said that they are not scared of female PhDs at all; on the contrary, they admire this group of people as “heroines with both beauty and wisdom”. However, I am not 100 percent satisfied with these answers, because none of them can explain why people only have prejudice for female PhDs instead of powerful women in other regimes (for example, female CEOs). Moreover, the survey should have covered people with different degrees to represent diversity. Anyhow, at least I have learned my lesson: never tell strangers that I’m a PhD student when we are at pub on a Saturday night.