Have you ever conciliated your way through a scientific discussions by ending negative statements or disagreements with an implied question mark? I do it a lot, and I'm not sure I like the reason why.
As a woman (and maybe as a man too, though I have not had direct personal experience with this, any insight would be welcome), I tend to walk the fine line between directness and conciliation. I am naturally emphatic, and used to state my opinions strongly-maybe too strongly-carried along by the force of my convictions and the absolute determination not to give in to anybody. Some of this crazy certainty faded with age and some wisdom, but I still am pretty definite in what I believe and inclined to be forceful in what I say.
One big reason why I stopped being loud and emphatic and thumping my metaphorical fist on the table is because I realized I hated being at the receiving end of such treatment. I hate being steamrollered, its uncomfortable and puts me off the discussion. I also found that not thumping table meant I could hear other people, a nice change. So politeness and a genuine curiosity to hear other people's thoughts started me off on my path of less declaiming and more questioning. As an added bonus, people warm to gentle conciliation more than they do to vocal steamrollers.
That there is the rub: within the reasonable demands of courtesy, how much should one conciliate? It's a reflex now, I always take the diplomatic path rather than just say what I think outright. I like to think that I stand by my convictions-I'm just more mellow about them-but is that really true? Have I gone too far down the road of conciliation? In lab meeting particularly, or during seminars, I ask questions and challenge people almost apologetically. In some cases, it makes the questioned feel more comfortable, and in some cases it makes them more dismissive of your question. Is a reputation for being thoughtful and a disinclination to put people on the spot worth being dismissed?
Why so I have this need to instinctively subdue my challenges? The saddest thing is that I think I do it because I am a woman. There are men in my group who are distinctly less indirect, often outright rude and in-your-face with their challenges and it doesn't affect the esteem in which they are held. And in the most bitter of stereotypes, when other women do the same they are called aggressive, bitchy and unpleasant. I used to be against overt feminism because I thought it was loud, exclusionary and exhaustingly unproductive, not to mention bound to get you laughed at. It galls me though that the natural instinct of intelligent ambitious women of my generation is to tone it down, to try and not become one of those women who became PIs in the 1970s and -80s. While I am certainly not a fan of rudeness or putting someone else down out of a sense of your own superiority, I am so tired and fed up of ending every sentence with an implied question mark.
This post is my 50th on this blog(I'm slow), and its also for my mother, the kind of feminist I would like to be.