Wednesday, July 03, 2013


Last month I gave a seminar in Bielefeld on models with a minimal length scale. This seminar was part of a series organized within the framework of the new research training group "Models of Quantum Gravity". The initiative is funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG), and several universities in Northern Germany take part in it. I find this a very interesting development. The Germans seem to finally have recognized the need to support research in quantum gravity generally, rather than singling out specific approaches, and this initiative looks promising to me. Let's hope it is fruitful.

My trip to Bielefeld was interesting also in another aspect. When I was about to get on the way back to Heidelberg, the car wouldn't start. After some cursing and fruitless attempts to decode the erratic blinking of the panel lights, I called the closest Renault dealer. (Actually, I first called my husband to yell at him, just because that was the first thing that came to my mind.) The Renault guy said, Guten Tag and tough luck, we'll have to tow the car, but it's five to five now so please call back tomorrow morning.

So I unexpectedly had to spend the night out of town, which I took as an excuse to buy really expensive underwear. They towed the car the next morning, figured out that the battery had died in a short-circuit that blew up some wiring, and I made it back home with 24 hours delay. The irony in this was that I had taken Stefan's car because I was afraid mine would break down and I'd get stranded in Bielefeld.

Tomorrow I'm giving a seminar in Aachen and I hope that this time the car won't break down... Later this month I will try to listen in at a black hole conference in Frankfurt. Unfortunately, this happens to be during the week when our daycare place has summer break, so the logistics is nontrivial. In September I'll be in Helsinki for another seminar. In October I'm on a conference in Vienna. In November I'm attending a workshop in the UK, which for all I can tell doesn't have a webpage and I'm not entirely sure what it is about either.

There's been some discussion in the blogosphere lately about the difficulty of combining the necessary travel to seminars and conferences with family demands. And yeah, what do you expect, it's not easy and it's not fun.

Sometime when I'm writing these Internas about work-family issues, I feel like a case study in the making.

The girls are doing fine and have adjusted well to the new daycare place. So far, we're very happy with it. It's a nice and fairly large place with a playground and much space to run around. They're very well organized and it's not exceedingly costly either.

Some weeks ago the kids were ill, and I called in at the daycare place to say we're not coming. When somebody picked up the phone and I heard a male voice, my first thought was that I must have dialed a wrong number. Needless to say, I then felt bad for my own stereotyping, and that I was apparently surprised the childcare business is not exclusively run by women. If you Google for the job description "Kindererzieher" in German, auto-complete gives you as first hit the female ending of the word.

To be fair to myself though, the guy hadn't been there previously. He was only there as a temporary replacement, and normally a woman called Stephanie would answer the phone. In any case, I later had an interesting conversation with him about gender imbalance in education. His explanation for why there are so few men in his profession was simply that it's badly paid. "You can't feed a family from this." I'm not sure that really explains much though.

Lara and Gloria's vocabulary has exponentially grown in the last month. No day passes without them trying out new words. At this point we actually have to be careful what we tell them because they'll go around and tell everybody who'll listen that the mommycar is broken and will shamelessly repeat my complaints that the neighbors don't separate their garbage. They have meanwhile pretty much taken over the whole apartment. There doesn't seem to be any place that's not occupied with toys or other child paraphernalia. And I, I spend a considerable amount of time collecting building blocks and lego pieces, a genuinely sisyphean activity.

In summary, life is busy.



Phillip Helbig said...

"His explanation for why there are so few men in his profession was simply that it's badly paid. "You can't feed a family from this." I'm not sure that really explains much though."

Sure it does. (Whether it is badly paid because mostly women do it, or vice versa, or neither (i.e. common cause or coincidence) is another question.)

Most women who work in badly paid jobs, if they have a family, have a husband who earns more. What about vice-versa, with the woman in the well paid job and the man earning less? It happens, but not very often. Why not? One factor is that women still prefer men who earn more: The male head surgeon often marries a female nurse, but the female head surgeon marries a male head surgeon or someone who earns more than a physician. And it's not because the poor man doesn't want a rich wife.

(I don't have to remember the URL above; I just google "shorter, poorer blokes".)

There are many more women with permanent jobs in astronomy in Italy than in most European countries, even though Italy is not known for progressive feminism. Why? A little research shows that these jobs are paid worse than similar jobs in other countries, so many men don't stay in academia since they can't feed a family from it. The jobs are taken up by women who don't have to feed a family from the salar.

Yes, there are exceptions, but I'm talking about the bulk of families.

Phillip Helbig said...

Here's a link to the URL above if this works.

Arun said...

It is the (old fashioned) attitude that a husband would like to be able to give his wife the option to be a stay-at-home mom.

Phillip Helbig said...

I agree that it is old-fashioned. The question is whether it is the husband who would like to give his wife this option or whether it is the wife who wants to marry a husband who earns enough. :-(

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Hi Phillip,

Well, that's what I mean, it doesn't actually explain it, it just opens a new question one way or the other. Why are women on the average not as well paid as men? Why is it more likely that the woman takes on a job that "can't feed a family" than a man? Why do woman prefer men who earn more? Is it maybe because they themselves don't earn that well? We're just going in circles it seems to me. Best,


Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Let me add one more consideration. I would suspect that the desire to have a spouse who earns enough to "feed a family" depends on how much one likes the own job. If it's a well-paid job that one doesn't like, or if it's a not-so-well paid job that one does like, it's more likely that one will seek a partner who'll bring in money. So then that raises the question why are men more likely to be in well-paid jobs that they're reasonably happy with?

Giotis said...

I want your impressions from your visit to Aachen; Unfortunately I won't be there...

Phillip Helbig said...

"So then that raises the question why are men more likely to be in well-paid jobs that they're reasonably happy with?"

For many, a well paid job always makes them happy, because it gives them access to what they want, namely young women, while a well paid job for a woman doesn't give her anything (except money) that she doesn't already have.

I'm not saying that this is how I personally view things. (I've had girlfriends who didn't work whom I had to support, along with their children, as well as a girlfriend who was so rich she didn't have to work (and, when we were together, didn't work, at least not for money). I've had girlfriends substantially younger, a bit younger, a bit older, and substantially older.) However, I think that for many, if not most, people, stone-age behavioural patterns are still quite common. George Clooney, Sean Connery, Mario Adorf: most women say the older they get, the sexier they get. Most men don't say the same about Brigitte Bardot or Farrah Fawcett.

Whether or not one thinks that stone-age behavioural patterns are good or bad, I think it is important to understand where such sterotypical behaviour comes from. Not everything is some conspiracy on the part of the patriarchy to oppress women.

Uncle Al said...

∫∫∫(I first called my husband to yell at him)(an excuse to buy really expensive underwear) d(yell)d(lingerie)d(time) = positive volume, plus a constant.

Dow Corning silicone vacuum grease lightly applied to connected and freshly cleaned car battery terminals plus about a cm radial beyond their lead bases is remarkably protective. DO NOT touch the car when applying to the hot, positive terminal. NEVER use the stuff in a good vacuum line - everything will be contaminated with silicone oil.

Erik said...

Haha, the part "so the logistics is nontrivial" made my laugh, I can definitely tell I am reading a theoretical physics blog here :)