Female astrophysicist slams patronizing man at airport security for questioning why she carries 2 laptops

Yahoo Lifestyle
Amber Roberts, a San Francisco-based astrophysicist, shared a tweet about sexism in STEM fields that went viral. (Photo: Twitter)
Amber Roberts, a San Francisco-based astrophysicist, shared a tweet about sexism in STEM fields that went viral. (Photo: Twitter)

An astrophysicist is sharing an example of everyday sexism experienced by many women in STEM-related fields after an unpleasant encounter at the airport.

Amber Roberts, a San Francisco-based astronomer and artificial intelligence program director, tweeted an exchange she had with a man while recently traveling through airport security.

The anecdote got people talking about whether the man was being sexist or simply curious.

Then, people started arguing about the necessity of carrying two computers.

After Roberts’s tale began trending on Reddit, she tweeted more thoughts. “If anyone is curious as to why women might feel unwelcome in tech, check it out,” she wrote. “To be clear about the guy asking about my laptops he was talking down to me using a patronizing voice, he also asked twice believing I owed him an explanation.”

She also conveyed her disappointment at how the debate became derailed from her original point.

The next day, Roberts told her followers that the incident wasn’t traumatizing but rather, “Having male strangers explain my own field to me is just another Tuesday. What I want people to take away from this discussion is that women leave male-dominated fields due to CONSTANT microaggressions.” 

She also said that individual experiences like hers aren’t necessarily what deters women from entering math and science fields: According to the World Economic Forum, men earn a majority of undergraduate degrees in STEM due in part to social conditioning that discourages girls from excelling in related subjects. “Normally one big event is not what stops women from pursuing a field, it’s death by a thousand cuts,” Roberts tweeted. “This is just ONE TINY example of what happens DAILY!”

Roberts did not respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. She told the Daily Wire, “I do feel this question stemmed from the misalignment in his mind between a tiny blonde woman and two laptops. Many men in the comments have shared the view that I don’t need two laptops, which was not the point of the tweet. I have gotten pretty good at recognizing microaggressions throughout my career, and this was definitely an example of one. I wasn’t angry about this interaction; I just brushed it off and decided to tweet about it. I never expected the impact it would have on Twitter.

“I think the discussion on microaggressions broke out because a lot of women are tired of things like this happening to them all the time,” she continued. “When women talk about microaggressions, we seem petty because one comment like this on its own is not a big deal, it’s the constant build up of them over time.

“I do not feel this question, spoken in the way he said it, would [have] been asked to a man carrying multiple laptops,” Roberts asserted. “I think this was an important conversation to have and there will definitely be more like it in the future. A good rule to go by is, before asking a question to a woman, think ‘Would I ask this to a man?’ If it’s not, question why. Plenty of people (including myself) have asked questions/made comments to people that have had unintended consequences. The point is not to never offend anyone — that’s impossible — but to learn from mistakes. Make an effort to understand why someone was hurt and use it to make [all] fields more inclusive.”

In September, an Australian PhD named Siobhan O’Dwyer, a senior lecturer in aging and family care at the University of Exeter in the U.K., called out Qantas Airways for addressing her as “Miss,” not “Dr.” 

“My name is Dr. O’Dwyer. My ticket says Dr. O’Dwyer. Do not look at my ticket, look at me, look back at my ticket, decide it’s a typo, and call me Miss O’Dwyer,” she tweeted on Aug. 31. “I did not spend 8 years at university to be called Miss.”

O’Dwyer was called a snobby elitist as her tweet traveled; however, she also started a dialogue about the subtle ways in which women are undermined. “Ten years ago when I got my PhD, I went into the bank & said I wanted to change my title,” O’Dwyer tweeted as an example. “The woman said ‘Congratulations! What’s your married name?’”

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