Archive for: March, 2016

Two things to read today: women, anger, and cultural expectations

Mar 06 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

The NYTimes has two things well worth reading today.

The one that will get/has already received lots of attention in this corner of the internet is Hope Jahren's oped titled "She Wanted to Do Her Research. He Wanted to Talk ‘Feelings.’". Every woman scientist, of any age who reads it, will nod their head in agreement. The best quote about it, from Jahren herself is:


This is a strong piece, a good piece. Read it.

But, it is not the most subversive thing in today's NYTimes. This is. It is Jill Lepore's review of ‘The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe,’ by Elaine Showalter. It is a book review in the best sense of a review - it not only  makes one want to read the book, but it opens new ideas in one's head as to why one should read the book. It makes one think about other things in one's own life that touch on the ideas of both author and reviewer.

We know (we do, don't we?) Julia  Ward Howe as one of the leaders of the Women's Suffrage movment in the late 1800's. If that part of history is obscure to you, you may recall that Howe also wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic and was an active abolitionist. What Showalter and Lepore bring into sharp, painful focus is the scope of her life, especially the cultural slavery to a husband, who was a lauded, important, right-thinking (at the time) man with Victorian expectations of female behavior.

Lepore starts her review, and puts Howe's life in the context of this Virigina Woolf quote and comment:

"It needed a very serene or a very powerful mind to resist the temptation to anger,” Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929 in an essay about 19th-century women writers. A woman might start out writing about one thing or another but, before she knew it, she’d find herself “resenting the treatment of her sex and pleading for its rights.” This was a pity, Woolf thought, and a trap she hoped women were on the verge of escaping.

I stopped reading at this point. I am not a serene person, and truly in my youth, did not have a powerful enough mind to resist the anger. I wasn't pleading for rights or doing anything grand. I was trying to survive as "the woman in the department". I was resisting the culture that Hope Jahren talks about in her op-ed. I didn't get the kind of letter Jahren talks about: I was too unlovely, too rough, probably too strong, and certainly not "feminine" enough to be attractive to men at that point in my life (not that I am now, but now I am old, and men do not chase or put upon old women. It's just a new and different set of behavioral expectations). But I was talked down to, not taken seriously, and when I did (inevitably) get mad, I was told to "calm down". There is nothing that makes me want to punch someone, of any gender, in the mouth as much as when they tell me to calm down.

The review ends with some thoughts on the history of feminism and feminist thinking. I know that among my younger friends the word "feminist"  is fraught with negative implications. Reading the cruelties of Howe's husband (he threatened to take away her children if she did not submit to his demands), one can say "that doesn't exist today". Go back and read Jahren again. Sexism is not the overt: submit or else of the the late 19th century. And its not just the more explicit cultural expectations of men of Jahren's post.

Lepore says, in the next to last para of her review:

In many ways, of course, it would be good to get past feminism. It can be tiresome to fight so old a fight. But that doesn’t mean the fight isn’t urgent.

I would say to the young women who think the fight is old and tiresome, it is still urgent. If men's cultural expectations inhibit your achievements, set boundaries around your dreams, then there is still a fight, no matter what you chose to call it.

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quote of the day: realism edition

Mar 04 2016 Published by under Uncategorized


I've learned over a period of years there are setbacks when you come up against the immovable object; sometimes the object doesn't move -- Coleman Young



There is no brilliant single stroke that is going to transform the water into wine or straw into gold-- Coleman Young


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Having it all, again, but also great title to an article

Mar 04 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Amy Westervelt wrote an article with a great title: Having It All Kinda Sucks. She's wrestling with the usual: family, job, and... well, that's pretty much enough, isn't it?

There is a lot in this article that is Very True.

We applaud companies for paying for female employees to freeze their eggs, but don't push them to give women the space to have children during their actual child-bearing years and come back to work without losing their place in line. Instead of changing the systems, we tell women to lean in. Because of course, it's our fault for not taking initiative. Fuck you. I'm leaning so far in I'm falling flat on my face.

OK, with or without the "Fuck You" this is a great line. Such a great line, I'm repeating it.

I'm leaning so far in I'm falling flat on my face

This could have described the first 10 or so years of my career. And, in retrospect I was scared out of my wits much of the time. I made all sorts of compromises. What hurts most in retrospect was all the times I wasn't taken seriously. But, it was what it was and now I am older and have a little distance and its not quite so personal.

I never liked the Lean-In philosophy - it struck me as very classist. That is, people with lots of money, and jobs at the top can afford the nannies and personal support staff to make it work. They don't have the mind-numbing fights about money with their partner that eat away at a relationship. They're not choosing two of: sleep, children, job. Or sanity. One could add sanity to that list.

I also liked this part:

Nor do I think that the world owes me an easy life, or that I should get to make choices with no trade-offs, or have all these things without working really damn hard for all of them. ... I do think, though, that we should cut it out with the fairy tales already. Stop telling women they can have everything without sacrificing anything. Here's the truth: You want to have a career and kids? You totally can, but both will suffer.

Two points here: One, choices will be made, things will suffer. That's life. Two, honesty about it, and not the crap from rich CEO's who have Staff. It's fucking hard.

The world is a hard place for everyone. A student I had, a brilliant hard working (white male) student, was supporting his family, which included a disabled Vietnam Vet for a father who was, I believe the technical word is, nuts. My student, who got a master's degree with me, two first author pubs, but worked 30 hours a week at another job the whole time. He was more tired than everyone else in the lab. Combined. In the end, he left my lab and didn't do science. At the time he said he couldn't afford it, even with a scholarship. We are still in touch, and he called me up the other day and we had a chat. He's built his own very successful company, he's got two children and is happy. I am glad. His parents had an easy retirement, such as is possible for them with their burden. He is proud of that. He is also cognizant of his privilege in life, and has done things to give back and support others. But he is not a scientist or academic today, and sometimes he wonders.

It is harder for some people than others. I, personally, am sensitive to the class issues, in part because of my mother, in part because of my teaching experiences. I do not minimize anyone else's problems or struggles or boulders in their life paths. And, as friends, allies, mentors, we must do what we can to help. And one of the things that does not help, in my view, is telling folks to lean in.

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Things that keep one busy

Mar 03 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Where have I been?

There was a meeting, at which I presented about something (by request) about which I know very little. Luckily for me, nothing has been done at the intersection of my sub-specialty and this area. So it was easy to talk about what needs to be done. Just hard to organize the talk.

There was a study section, as an ad hoc. Even after, lo, these many years, I still learned some grantsmanship. I feel that I get something (other than doing good) out of every study section. But, I made a point of saying to the SRO "you should invite my colleague Dr. Young & Bright to be on this section. She can contribute incredibly, and its time for new blood". I'll miss it, but it will do Dr. Y&B far more good than it would me <sob>.

There was taking care of my mother, from her "incident". I didn't think there was more she could lose, but she did. I didn't think it could get harder. It did. And it will get harder yet.

There was getting a grant in for a mid-Feb deadline, and another one that is due next week. Because one doesn't stop writing proposals. Even when one get's ones nose pushed into it.

There was writing abstracts for another (favorite) meeting, and making sure the tech who wants to go had a good abstract.

What can I say? I've been busy trying to live and  doing my job, aided and abetted by a great lab group. [all these links added for your general amusement and entertainment].

Then, when I went to write this post I couldn't remember my password to this account. Ho Ho Ho. But I have! So posting will resume forthwith.



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