Saturday, May 5, 2012

Long Hair in the Lab

A few weeks ago, I arrived in lab planning to do some chemical processing, but realized I'd forgotten a key part of my safety equipment. I already needed to go by the chemistry stock room for some other supplies, but while one could find all manner of gloves, goggles, masks, and labcoats, my missing piece of safety equipment wasn't there.

I was able to find what I needed at the campus general store for a mere two dollars: a pack of hair ties.

Why aren't hair ties included with safety gear like gloves and goggles? For those of us with long hair, that little band of elastic is crucial for lab safety. While I'm certainly aware that there are men with long hair and women with short hair, I can't help but think that the pattern I've noticed of the failure of lab equipment to accommodate long hair is related to the low number of women in STEM.

And it is definitely a pattern.

My old lab required everyone to wear laser safety glasses whenever a high-powered laser was on (known as the lab going "eye-unsafe"). I was one of three female students in lab, and we would race for the one pair of laser glasses with a plastic clasp in the back. All the other glasses has a metal clasp that would tangle in long hair. The lab was initially all men, none of whom had long hair, and I don't think it ever occurred to whoever purchased the glasses that metal clasps would be a problem.

I sometimes work in a cleanroom. I have yet to figure out how to get my hair inside the so-called bunny suit comfortably. The hood has to tuck into the suit itself, and I always have a weird lump wherever I try putting my bun. I can't just leave my hair down because I have to have a hairnet on under the hood. Whoever designed these cleanroom suits clearly did not account for users with long hair.

I wrote before that "[w]here sexism in STEM was once a stab in the back, it’s now more like death by a thousand papercuts. It’s these countless tiny messages that seem like nothing to worry about when taken individually, but add up to clearly tell women that we don’t belong."

When lab equipment doesn't accommodate long hair, that's yet another papercut telling women that we don't belong in the lab.

1 comment:

  1. Last time I got my hair cut, I had to instruct her to make sure I would be able to tie my hair back so I wouldn't have pieces of hair hanging in front of my face in the paths of Bunsen burners. :)