Women continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields and also are more likely to leave academic careers than men. While much existing sociological research on gender in science focuses on structures, institutions, and policies, we take a cultural and phenomenological approach to the question. We focus on the interaction between structural and micro-sociological forces that uphold existing gender inequalities and drive new forms of inequality within the discipline of ecology by tracing the experience of female graduate students. Ecology in the United States and elsewhere is currently undergoing three shifts well documented by previous studies–more female scientists, interdisciplinary work, and research in human-altered landscapes–that comprise a transition to what we call&“feminist ecology.” We ask whether these disciplinary-level shifts in ecology are accompanied by renegotiations in the way ecologists “do gender” as they work.
In this paper we argue that despite structural changes toward a feminist ecology, gender inequalities are not eliminated. Our data collected using ethnographic and autoethnographic methods during ecological fieldwork in the northeastern United States, show that gender inequality persists through daily interactions, shaping the way that fieldwork is conducted and bodies are policed. We provide additional evidence of the way that ecologists and non-ecologists interact during fieldwork, highlighting the embeddedness of scientific disciplines within larger societal forces. Thus, the question of women in science cannot be understood strictly from within the bounds of science but extends to gender relations in society at large. We hope that this study can serve as a teaching tool for university efforts to increase the success, not just the prevalence, of women in science, and facilitate productive interdisciplinary research across disciplines.