Thursday, June 13, 2013

Women and Lunch

Some day I must cross the border and visit one of my former students who is in Ottawa and at the same time visit Frances Woolley. Today she writes a long blog about men and women having lunch together. Now since I am old enough to be her father perhaps I may be able to shed some light on the situation. That man and woman thing.

You see when I grew up it was during WW II and there were few men around. The world as I saw it was controlled and managed by women, mother, grandmother, aunts, cousins. The men I intuited were sent off to war and some never returned. I even envisioned that the women made all these choices, after all even all my teachers were women and the girls often got the best grades. There were indeed very few men. I was the minority, and there always was that concern about what happened when you grew up. Bit perhaps an observation may also be useful. The "Baby Boomers" came along after our "Silent Generation" and the key difference was that the men were home, during perhaps some Freudian key period in their lives. For us them men came home after we had been imprinted, for them the imprinting was dramatically different. Just an observation.

Now segue to the late sixties, I am teaching at MIT, my first major assignment, the Sophomore Electronics course. Never saw a woman in class, and then there in the front row was a real woman. Yes, I made the mistake of asking if perhaps she was in the wrong class. Today that question would have you drawn and quartered but then it was trying to be polite. No, she replied, she was a Biology major and she wanted to learn electronics, a laudable goal I thought. From that point I never asked again and the numbers grew exponentially.

By the late 1980s I had accumulated a few female students, and I would travel back and forth, but the thought that there could be any issues never crossed my mind, nor my wife's. You see I still had my WW II memories, and now their were colleague, not students. I knew their families, their spouses, and eventually even their children. They were professionals and after years still are. I have even assembled cribs for my student's children, and perhaps they may be told later in life of such a heroic event. Namely my doing anything really mechanical!

Now Frances writes:

As a person becomes professionally more established, too, new challenges arise. Is it okay to go out to for dinner with a co-author in another city? To go out drinking with a former supervisee? Nick Rowe, in his position as Associate Dean, will go out for drinks with the (male) Dean. But is it appropriate for a female Associate Dean and a male Dean to go out drinking? 

Drinks and dinner, well it all depends. In the context of normal professional relationships I see no problem, in the context of how it "looks" it all depends. Are there predatory individuals, yes and I have seen them, but I suspect that it is they that often look askew at others. In New York today there are no second glances, no issues with such meetings. Then again I feel safe with age, there being nothing more disarming than being perceived as grandfather.

So Frances, whenever I get to Ottawa I would love to have a drink, and I will bring my wife and my former student, of course assuming she can get a baby sitter.