Surprised by sexism

The other day I went to a barbershop to have my hair tidied up. For the last three years I have let my hair grow longer and I’ve only had the tips cut occasionally. As a result my hair was very thick and below my shoulders. Since I don’t invest much time in doing my hair, I decided to get it shortened a bit and have it cut a bit lighter.

Coming back from lunch at the university I took a short walk to a nearby barbershop I had seen many times before but never visited. Around lunch time they have reduced prices and they also take walk-ins, so I decided to pop by. As I stepped in, I saw a man and a woman in the waiting area, sitting and talking to each other. One or two employees were serving other customers further right. The man asked whether I had an appointment. I said no and looked at the woman quizzically, whether she would have the time to cut my hair. The woman said she didn’t work there and the man asked me again whether I had an appointment. I repeated that no, I didn’t have one, but would like to have a haircut, which was arranged after a short wait.

While sitting in the barber’s chair I realized how I had fallen quilty of sexism and my preconceptions.¬†On walking in and seeing a man and a woman talk to each other I thought I was seeing either two patrons or a customer (the man) and an employee (the woman). Accordingly, I also focused on the woman whom I assumed to be able to help me, although the man was the first to speak to me. Thinking about my own behavior, I felt quite bad about it later on. I had let my preconceptions guide my behavior, although I should have followed the situation: in a barbershop the person who asks you about your reservation is likely to work there, whether it’s a man or a woman.

What also made my behavior surprising to me is the fact that I have visited male barbers before. Seeing a man cutting hair was nothing new to me; abroad I have even seen barbershops with male employees only. In Finland it has been a profession dominated traditionally by women but during the last ten years or so more men are increasingly in the profession, or at least that’s my impression. Maybe it was because I was in Finland, where barbers are predominantly female, that I unconsciously expected the woman to be working at the barbershop and the man to be a customer. Nevertheless it was a good lesson how we can unconsciously promote sexism and other types of discrimination.

Even if we cannot get rid of all our ingrained stereotypes and preconceptions, it’s important to acknowledge their existence and recognize when we fall prey to them. I believe that to be necessary to reduce their power, stop their spreading and have a more equal society.

Food from the countryside to the city

Last weekend I visited my childhood’s home, spent time in the nature and relaxed in the midst of my studies. I came back with a bag full of berries and mushrooms, which reminded me of an anecdote my grandfather has told me.

Many decades ago, as Finland was still a more rural society, people living in the city would visit their relatives on the countryside and return home with bags of food with them. Especially after the second world war food was more scarce and the rural areas were often better off when it came to food. One of my grandfather’s cousins would also visit our family farm more or less frequently and was always given food to take home.

When I was getting on board the train last weekend, I remembered this little story and saw the parallel to my current situation. Even though Finland has become a more modern society and less reliant on agriculture as the main source of income for people, all the food still comes from fields, farms and forests, and the people in the cities eat that same food.

Laboratory experiments, text editing and sports

Last week we had our first laboratory session at the university. We were given the task of measuring the mass of a lump of play-dough without using a laboratory scale. We did the obvious thing and measured the spring constant of a light spring using known masses. After that we measured the displacement caused by the play-dough hanging on the spring to calculate its mass.

The experiment was simple and the first of six we’ll be doing this autumn. For me the main aim was to learn more about using Latex for scientific writing and getting familiar with additional tags and commands. It took me over eight hours to write the report, but it was well worth it. Writing these first reports with Latex will make the work all the more easier when the experiments and subjects become more complex and I need more time to concentrate on the subject matter. In addition, I found writing with Latex more concentrated since one can separate formatting from subject matter. This aspect is often mentioned as an advantage of Latex over word processors like Microsoft Word but one must experience it firsthand to appreciate it. Using Latex allows one to write in a more concentrated manner and produce text uninterruptedly, when formatting is not done on the fly and the formatting of the text does not keep changing continuously in real time.

During the last weeks I’ve also returned back to bouldering and done some bicycling, both of which I have enjoyed very much. Making a 30 kilometer tour on a bike in the fresh autumn air in the early morning is very energizing. Bouldering is also very enjoyable after a six-month break. I like to think how to use my body’s joints and limbs to maximize leverage and make my way to the top as easy as possible. Yesterday I was again climbing and was pleasantly surprised how I was able to read the pattern of the grips and plan a good way of climbing the route in front of me. After a few tries I was able to refine my approach and reach the top without too much effort and using good technique. Now I have to improve my grip strength and endurance to be able to climb more demanding routes. At the moment I am capable of climbing routes with ratings around 6B to 6C.

Starting the physics studies

During the last two weeks I have gotten to know people, other freshmen at the physics ¬†program, taken care of administrative and reviewed some high school mathematics. On September 5th we’ll have our first lectures on mechanics and mathematics. During this autumn and the coming spring well go through the classical mechanics and electromagnetism, supplemented with the necessary mathematical tools. I am very much looking forward to getting my hands on the equations and problems.

At the moment I feel there’s little to write in my blog, but I’ll try to keep up the habit of weekly posts so stay in the groove. Likely some interesting physics and mathematics related topics will find their way into posts, as long as I’ll have the time to write them.