Berkeley FEMALE profs wear BEARDS to protest alleged gender bias

Female paleontologists, including some from the University of California, Berkeley, are wearing fake beards to highlight alleged gender bias in their field.

Photos of the faux-bearded fossil scientists are now on display in Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley. 

The Bearded Lady Project tries to show that “you don’t have to be a man to love fieldwork and contribute to science,” according to a UC Berkeley news release

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The project was started by Ellen Currano, a University of Wyoming paleontologist and professor, and originally aimed to be “challenging the face of science,” “one beard at a time.”

“With some well-placed facial hair, any female scientist can be perceived as equally rugged, tough and determined,” the project’s website states, describing a film associated with the initiative.

The purpose of the project is “to celebrate the inspirational and adventurous women who choose to dedicate their lives in the search of clues to the history of life on earth” and “to educate the public on the inequities and prejudices that exist in the field of science, with special emphasis on the geosciences.”

The bearded lady photo exhibit has been on display in many different places around the country. Fifteen UC Berkeley paleontologists are featured in the exhibit. “The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science,” a 53 minute documentary of the project, will air on August 22 and features three of the 15 Berkeley paleontologists.

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“For me, being in the field with the wind blowing in your those moments, I feel like me,” UC-Berkeley paleontologist and professor Leslea Hlusko, who was interviewed for the documentary, said.

“While I happily agreed to participate, I never could quite get my head around why there should be anything symbolic about putting on a beard,” wrote Hlusko on her personal website. “I totally get the issue though, and deeply.”

“The real genius of The Bearded Lady Project, to me at least, is that it brought out this sisterhood within my profession that I’d never really appreciated before,” the professor also noted. “I am often the only woman in the field, or one of just two, maybe three. Always a very significant minority. In those situations, I have learned to play down my gender, attempt to be as androgynous as possible. I am definitely not one of the guys, and I quickly learned the different set of rules by which I need to play.”

UC Berkeley biologist and professor Carole Hickman, who was also interviewed, actually wore a fake mustache when she worked in an Australian outback 37 years ago. She took a photo with the original mustache she purchased.

Hickman said the project, for her at least, “was kind of a joke. But not entirely,” according to the news release.

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“When people ask me about being a woman paleontologist or geologist, I will say, ‘I am a woman, and I am a paleontologist, but I am not a woman paleontologist,’” she continued.

“We came in expecting there would be some degree of discrimination, and that we would have to adapt to a male-dominated academic setting,” Patricia Holroyd, a paleontologist at the UC Museum of Paleontology, who also supports the project, said. “There were often times where you knew you were going to be expected to behave like one of the boys.” 

“Even (when it came to) things like how you dressed, you had to actively subvert feminine stereotypes.”

Holroyd claims the movement is still relevant. She also noted that the Bearded Lady Project fosters discussion of sexism in both science and society, and will have accomplished its goal when white male stereotypes are banished -- stereotypes that have been created by movies like Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ethanycai