Archive for the 'Stereotypes We Know And Love' category

The Working Mom Issue: It Depends

I recently lost my mind completely and went on the twitters.  Due to my folly, I caught a link from @DoubleXSci to this article at the LA Times about the science of being a working mother: The MD: What Science Says About Working Moms, and What the Heart Says.  I have read a skajillion of these kinds of articles in my lifetime.  This one tells us no worries!  Go on and be a working mom!

Searching for more definitive answers, researchers at UC Irvine combined the results of 69 different studies on the topic. Their findings, published by the American Psychological Assn. in 2010, were reassuring. With few exceptions, children whose mothers returned to work when they were young fared just as well as those with stay-at-home moms.

"The only negative effects were found with very intensive, full-time employment early on," says Wendy Goldberg, a professor in the department of psychology and social behavior at UC Irvine. "We have to look at other factors that affect child achievement and behavior. Maternal work isn't the whole story by any means."

I firmly believe that if decent childcare is readily available, no one's going to be seriously damaged if mommy goes back to work whenever she wants.  Daddy goes back to work on day 1 and somehow kids survive.  We rarely think about the consequences of that separation at birth, do we?

But two lines in the above quote get me.  "The only negative effects were found with very intensive, full time employment early on" and "Maternal work isn't the whole story by any means."  I would think not.  I would guess that whether or not you call your work a "career" and whether or not your work pays enough to keep you and your kid(s) from starving are two big, related factors, that might also tie into that intensive, full-time employment early on biz.  You might call what I am picking at here "class issues".

Here are some stereotypes we know and love:

1.  Welfare queens who just keep having babies so they can get a bigger check and stay home and not have to work.

2.  Hardworking middle class people who do their part and don't want to see their taxes go to support someone else.

3.  Women in science who have babies don't work as hard and want special treatment and extra credit for lesser quality work.

Take note that in theory, women are also included in "hardworking middle class people" but in practice deployment of the statement invokes an ideal of a nuclear family with hardworking man supporting wife and kids at home.  So, we can now start putting together rules for being a woman with kids:

If you are poor, you should not have kids, because then you will need the government to support you, and that is unfair to hardworking middle class people who do their part.  If you are poor and work, you can have kids, but don't expect childcare because again, that would be unfair to the hardworking middle class.  If you are poor and work and your kids are endangered because your part-time WalMart wages won't pay for adequate childcare, they will be taken from you because you are a bad mother. Also, try not to get sick, because health insurance? Ha!

If you are middle class, congratulations!  You have a hardworking husband who will take care of you and the kids, and of course you will probably want to homeschool the kids.  If your husband's salary is inadequate to support this lifestyle, he is not hardworking enough.  You may have to get a job to help out, but don't expect childcare.  That would be unfair to other hardworking middle class people.  Keep your fingers crossed that hubby does not die or divorce you. You may have insurance, but it may be mostly useless so again, try not to get sick.

If you are one of those career women, you should not be having children at all, just to pay someone else to raise them.  If you really want to have children, then you can't devote yourself to your career anyway.  So why hurt both your children and yourself?  Besides, if you have children, no one will take your work seriously.  Even if you get married and don't have children, people will be wondering if you might not just pop out a kid at any moment, confirming their suspicions that you are not serious.  Probably best to stay single.  Then they will just gossip about how you are an ice queen and frigid and a bull dyke and lesbian and ball-breaker and not a normal woman and need a good fucking and who would want to fuck you anyway.  It's not too late to think about becoming a nurse, or teacher, or even an executive assistant.  Then you can look for a nice man, settle down into a middle class lifestyle, and have some kids.  Try not to be poor, and try not to get sick.

If you are one of those career women who runs a company, you can do pretty much whatever you want because you will have lots of money and you own a company.  Not that it will be easy or that you will be universally loved or respected for it.  Just sayin', money=choice.

If you are one of those career women who wants to go into politics, you had better have children, and be prepared at all times to talk about (1) how important being a good mother is to you and how you have always arranged your schedule to be there for your children when they need you and (2) how having children will in no way ever impact on your ability to function as [fill in public office here] in even the slightest manner.

I think that mostly covers it.  Good luck!  Anyone with additional advice on how to be a woman with children, please leave a note in the comments!

11 responses so far

Things I Found Ponderable: #scio12 Report the Second

Gather round, Zuskateers, and you shall hear the tale of Clang!2 - White Privilege.

If you will recall, in Report the First, Zuska looked deep inside her own brain and found a squirming pile of sexist maggots gnawing away at her will to transform the world.  Report the second is just as unlovely!  So grab your popcorn and let's get started!

Many of you Zuskateers know that some years back I had a stroke caused by a migraine, and that the stroke made my migraines much, much worse - so severe and frequent that I had to quit working.  You may not also know that I lost nearly all my vision at the time of the stroke.  It gradually returned over a period of several months, but I did not get it all back.  I was left with a blind spot in the upper right quadrant of my visual field. It's not a black spot in my vision.  If I really pay attention, I can see that the area of the blind spot seems to have been rubbed or erased out.  But most of the time I don't even see the blind spot.  It's as if my brain takes everything it sees around the hole that is the blind spot, knits it together to patch up the whole, and tells the rest of me, "Okay, no problem here.  What you are seeing is all there is to see."  Oliver Sacks has written about this phenomenon in an essay titled "Scotoma: Forgetting and Neglect in Science".  (It's in a hard to find book called Hidden Histories of Science that is worth seeking out.)

My blind spot is a case of my brain not letting me know what I don't know, and I have to actively work around this to get the information I need, properly interpret the world, and keep myself safe.  Signs are sometimes hard for me to read because I don't get all the information at once, my brain can't make sense of it, and is too stupid to imagine that there might be something I'm missing.  Same thing when I'm reading the paper - I get to the end of a column and think "that story ended oddly".  Then I move my head and see there's an upper right part of the page - oh look! more story!  Finding things on the computer screen can be a nightmare.  I work hard to pay attention because I know I'm missing stuff, but it is exhausting, and sometimes I just quit.  I watch tv knowing I'm seeing about 3/4 of the picture but so what.  It'll do.

I tell you all this because my scotoma is the perfect metaphor for Clang!2.

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23 responses so far

Things I Found Ponderable: #scio12 Report the First

Once in New Orleans I went on a late night walking ghost tour.  The ghost stories, the architectural beauty, the historical tidbits have all mostly vanished from my brain, but one bit of the tour stays ever with me.  A careless tourmate paying little attention to the terrain ahead ran smack clang! into the metal upright of a street sign.  His head hit so hard it sounded like a rung bell; he bounced backward, the pole shook.   We stopped, startled and hushed. As terribly as it must have hurt, out of embarrassment he waved us off as though it was nothing and resumed walking.

I've often wondered how I would respond if/when I slammed my own head into an upright metal pole.  Now I have my chance!  Metaphorically speaking.  This post is part of my attempt to not just resume walking as if nothing had happened.

I had two metal-pole-to-the-head moments at SciO12.  The first came right away. No one saw me run into this particular street sign, but rather than just resume walking, I thought it would be better to share the story.  It was at the keynote address Thursday morning: The Vain Girl's Survival Guide to Science and the Media given by Mireya MayorIf you read the page of notes I took from her talk, you would get the sense that I experienced it in a very positive way, enjoyed it, maybe even found it inspiring and found some useful ideas in it.  All of which is true. At the same time, however, I was having an appalling out-of-body sort of experience, listening to an ongoing monologue in my head, wondering "who is this sexist asshole and how did she get inside my brain?"

At first I was conscious only of having a very negative reaction to Mayor.  This felt bizarre, since I knew absolutely nothing about her. Long ago a wise woman told me, "when you find something that makes you angry, upset, or disgusted, move toward it instead of away. Try to figure out why you feel that way.  You may learn something about yourself."  So I attended to the incoherent thoughts in my brain, to puzzle out this negative reaction.  Here is the ugliness I unraveled as Mayor spoke.

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127 responses so far

Humorless Feminazis Everywhere!

Regular Zuskateers know that I am a humorless, hairy-legged feminazi.  Day in, day out, my grim outlook never wavers. I devote myself to the serious pursuit of feminism, which is no joking matter.

Thus, you can imagine how my little feminazi heart beat just a little faster, how the hairs on my legs stood up all a-quiver from the tops of my thighs all the way down to my Doc Martens, when I read these two posts last weekend:  Scicurious on Are men really funnier than women? Who's asking? and Stephanie Zvan on Humor Study is Funny Peculiar.   Sci and Stephanie together were discussing Greengross & Miller's paper "Humor ability reveals intelligence, predicts mating success, and is higher in males" Intelligence, 2011.

I absolutely refuse to admit that anything is higher in males, not even cholesterol, and fortunately Sci and Stephanie were able to shoot this paper full of holes.  Feminazism is spreading all over the internets!  I do think, however, they could have been a little bit more serious and angry in their posts, maybe shouted a few revolutionary slogans and given some press to the Wimmin's Front of Scienceblogging, which, as you know, is vastly superior to the Scienceblogging Popular Wimmin's Front.

Also:  Congrats to Stephanie on moving Almost Diamonds to Freethought Blogs!!!!!

14 responses so far

Taking Another Look at the Cheerleader Thing - Literally

Call me Zuska. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on t.v., I thought I would surf the web a little and see the bloggy part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever those apologists for the oppressor get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically puking on peoples' shoes - then, I account it high time to get to the blogosphere as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the posts and comment threads. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all hairy-legged feminazis in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the blogosphere with me.


I went off all whiny and screechy about SciCheer in this post.  But hey, if it’s inspiring, can it be wrong?

Yes, you idiot.  If the young girls are “inspired” by the cheerleaders now, why not move on to pole dancers?  That takes some serious upper body strength! And you can earn money pole dancing to pay for your college tuition!  Work nights and weekends, it won’t interfere with classes!  Let us be inspired by the heartwarming tales of pole dancers, in costume, encouraging the wee ones to go into science. They could talk about physiology! And physics! It would be awesome.

I understand that it is fashionable to claim that things like cheerleading and showing off one’s fabulous tits in tight clothing are empowerful for the young girls today.  This is a steaming crock of bullshit. When they are yelling "show yer tits!" this week in Nawlins and tossing beads at the compliant minxes, they are are not thinking "how empowered these young women are today!  so in control of their own sexuality!"  They are thinking "fuck yeah, I got that bitch to show me her tits for some plastic beads!" And don't go spitting that sex positive bla bla at me.  I love me some sex as much as the next person.  What I don't love is seeing women's sexuality debased and exploited, and I especially don't love seeing it done in the spurious name of recruiting young girls into science.

The vast majority of men, when pondering cheerleaders, think of one thing:  fucking. There’s a chain of “gentlemen’s clubs” in New Jersey and Pennsylvania that goes by the name of Cheerleaders.  Let’s compare.  SciCheer or Cheerleader's Club?  You make the call!

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15 responses so far

Blame Jonah Lehrer for this SciCheer Screed

It’s no secret I am not a fan of SciCheer.  At the very best, it is eight blocks back from the beachfront, and I’m not even sure I’d grant it that.  But let’s face it:  women have been sold a pack of lies about their true worth.  They have been systematically taught to value themselves with the currency of society, and that currency is: the attention of men.  It just so happens that at this historical moment in the U.S. of A., SexxayHawt is what will get you a gazillionaire’s worth of attention, at least for a moment or two, until the next SexxayHawt-er comes along. Given this, it is unsurprising that some women would think whatever modicum of success they’ve had at the SexxayHawt Olympics should be used for good! not understanding that SexxayHawt is a sword which cannot be beaten into a plowshare. It’s like Project Orion’s long-ago dream of powering rockets into space with mini-nuclear bombs. Yay! except for that unfortunate nuclear fallout side effect.

Jonah Lehrer, in a post called The Scientific Gender Gap, describes the effects of stereotype threat in his convincing and compelling prose.  He ends with this bit about a

...2002 study led by the psychologist Paul Davies [in which] two groups of male and female undergrads were shown three minutes of television commercials. Students in the first group were shown a variety of “gender stereotyping” ads, such as a woman gleefully touting the benefits of a skin product, or a “slender female” talking about the deliciousness of diet soda. (All of the ads were real.) Students in the second group, in contrast, were shown a mix of gender-neutral ads, such as a pitch for an insurance company and a commercial about cell-phones. Then, the women were quizzed about their interest in pursuing a career in math or science. Once again, the results were depressingly clear: Women exposed to the gender stereotyping ads were far less interested in anything quantitative. Instead, they were more than twice as likely to choose careers in the verbal and service industry, such as retail, sales and communication. The pattern was reversed, however, in the women who saw neutral ads. They were actually more interested in pursuing quantitative careers. All it took was the absence of a blatant stereotype to increase their interest in math.

Well whaddya know.  I think cheerleaders fall under the blatant stereotype category.

Jonah thinks the cure is more female math teachers, but he didn’t say anything about their dress. The study by Davies doesn’t examine the situation of women exposed to gender-stereotyped-women promoting careers in science. But really - dressing women up as gender stereotypes and sending them out to tell young girls to pursue STEM careers – this will help those young girls overcome stereotype threat about STEM careers?  I mean, REALLY?  The mere presence of the cheerleader trope is more likely to evoke stereotype threat than to overcome it.

We already know, from the voluminous research literature on K-12 outreach programs that young girls like to hear stories about what scientists and engineers do outside of work.  Involvement in cheerleading may be one activity that helps to make a scientist seem more like a regular person to a young girl. But young girls also need to see the scientists and engineers doing or performing some aspect of their career – something they can aspire to.  Every message they already get everywhere they turn in society asks them to be, tells them they need to be, SexxayHawt when they grow up.  STEM recruitment that says you can be SexxayHawt! and do some science, too does a disservice to young girls, and in the end is neither revolutionary nor even particularly fresh.

STEM recruitment should send the message that STEM careers are a place where mind matters. If STEM outreach programs are talking about physical appearance at all, then it should be positive body image messages about accepting ourselves just the way we are, rejecting the culture of SexxayHawt, and not finding our value in how others look at us.

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But I Want To Earn Everything All On My Own Merits! #scio11

At SciO11, Sheril Kirshenbaum, Anne Jefferson, Joanne Manaster, and Kathryn Clancy did a great session titled "Perils of blogging as a woman under a real name".  (See summary here.) The discussion ranged over a lot of topics, and near the end, someone in the audience said "I don't want to get a [job/fellowship/grant/whatever] because of affirmative action, I want to get it on my own merits." I said, why do you imagine that the dudes getting those jobs now all got them all on their own merits?

Not that they aren't qualified, but do you imagine they had no help along the way, that there was no one pulling levers for them, no one setting them up, no one greasing the wheels for them, no one opening doors and helping them glide along? Why do we imagine everyone else who gets stuff got there all by their lonesome with no assistance from anyone else? I don't even know what the fuck it means to get somewhere all on your own merits. You can't even learn to wipe your own ass all on your own merits.

UPDATE:  Hermitage's post on this same topic is tremendously awesome and full of much wisdom.  Please read.

32 responses so far

MAD SCIENCE!!! or, Atoms for Peace and Fun with TRIGA

More than a thousand years ago, I was once an undergraduate.  A first-year, even. Liked trees, but my initial interest in forestry had been dampened by a job shadow day with some forest rangers who frankly told me parks and rec jobs were scarce and low paying, and government jobs were all about cutting down trees.  Set out to become an engineer because I was good at math, a few people important to me in my life had encouraged me that direction, and word on the street was that engineers got good jobs with high pay. Knew nothing about engineering.  Picked environmental engineering, because of the tree-love, and was quickly disappointed to discover it had more to do with sewers than trees.

Why I found nuclear engineering more attractive than environmental engineering is difficult to say.  A best girlfriend was majoring in it (and women were very scarce in engineering a thousand years ago, scarcer than today).  Plus, atoms! For peace!  Atoms and radiation were just so funky.

I'll tell you what. My nascent engineering self was forming right after TMI became the buzzword of the day, and here I don't mean "too much information".  But I still found the whole nuclear bit enormously compelling and sexy.  Get this!  A course where they let you run a freaking reactor!  Sign me up, baby!  You boys can go tinker with your circuits all day long in electrical engineering if you want.  Over here, we are splitting the fucking atom!  For those of us who were nuclear engineers, the thought that we were being trained to run something that could melt down or explode was freaking exciting.  I mean, we were 19.  What did we know?  We were gonna live forever.

I went critical at Penn State's Breazeale Nuclear Reactor, which recently had its 50th anniversary in service (now 55 years).  It's now a National Historical Landmark!  Check out the distinguished white dudes in the pic at the link.

According to a historical marker placed on the reactor site by the Penn State Alumni Association, "Penn State in 1955 became the first university licensed by the Atomic Energy Comission to operate a nuclear reactor as part of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower's 'Atoms for Peace' program. Named for William Breazeale, Penn State's first professor of nuclear engineering, the reactor became a training and research tool for peaceful applications of atomic energy."

You can learn more about the reactor and its history here.

In the end, operating the reactor was not as big a thrill as I had anticipated, and as usual, the boys hogged the controls and shoved us girls aside, telling us it would be helpful if we did important bookkeeping tasks like writing down the numbers on the screen that some of the other more dweeby boys who had also been shoved aside were already writing down.  Bored as hell, we wandered around and went out to look again at the beautiful beyond description reactor pool.  Oh, Cerenkov radiation! You are so dreamy!  I felt like a GOD(DESS) (we were all male-identified in those days) looking down at the eerie blue reactor core.  I felt powerful and invincible thinking I could mince about there at the side of the reactor pool, some dozens of feet away from fuel rods packed with uranium where atoms were being split WHILE I STOOD THERE AND DID NOT DIE.  I felt I wanted to know the nucleus and its secrets and make it mine and control it and use it and, of course, do some good with it and help humanity and all that, but most of all I wanted the knowledge and power.

I did a senior thesis with a wise professor of nuclear engineering, Edward S. Kenney.  The very first and most important thing he taught me was to be afraid of radiation.  And never, ever, ever to lose that fear or to become overly comfortable in working with it.  He told me some stories of what could happen when one becomes too casual, careless, or comfortable in working with radiation.  Some of the stories were historical, and some were local.  He put the fear of the Lord of Radiation in me.  It was a great good gift.  The other gifts he gave me in that senior thesis year were these:  How to keep records. How to use the scientific literature.  How to contact a vendor to ask for samples.  How to approach a colleague at another campus for a possible collaboration.  (Even though he already had an ongoing collaboration, he had me present my tiny little project and talk about how it might fit in with Potential Collaborator's.)  How to look at "stuff", and frame it in a context, and understand it as data, and begin to interpret it, and then to draw conclusions.  How to tell the story of a year of work in a way that made sense to people who weren't with me every day.

He gave me knowledge and power.  Not the kind I thought I was lusting after at the side of the reactor pool.  Most of the time I did not feel sexy and invincible, everything felt like drudgery and confusing and boring and frightening and lonely and insignificant and there was no incredible blue light and I didn't split any atoms.  I won an award, though, for the honors senior thesis in engineering science.  I was on my way to becoming a real engineer, a real scientist, with an honest love for knowledge and some shaky beginning grasp of the ethical responsibility, to one's self and others, that came with its power.

Some years later, I was with a group of non-scientist friends.  Women's studies friends. We were talking about how some scientists can lose sight of the ethics involved in their work.  How things can go horribly wrong.  We had all just recently read Carol Cohn's excellent article "Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals".  Some present felt that it was a problem of masculinity and "mine is bigger".  The Manhattan project was cited as a particular example.  How could anyone become so enamored of working with such a horrible technology, they said.  Men cannot give birth, so they built a bomb.  I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds, and all that. Women are more in harmony with nature.  There was more talk like that, a thousand years ago. Evil masculinity was destroying the world, and the feminine principle would save it, and gender essentialism was not being as closely scrutinized as it ought to have been.

I had been listening a lot, because I was not a Feminist Expert.  But now they were talking science, and lust for power, and this I knew about.  I spoke up.  I talked about the Penn State reactor, the seductiveness of Cerenkov radiation's sapphire glow, the Superwoman theme playing in the brain and the blood coursing just a bit faster in the veins.  That this powerful excitement and love, wanting to know, is an inspiration for scientists to work hard.  I said anyone can be seduced by science.  I meant to say more, but at this point everyone was looking at me oddly.  It was as if they had all been chatting away, believing themselves to be among friends, and then I tore away the mask - the MAD SCIENTIST revealed!!!!  MWAH HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!

I am still not sure how it is that I came to love science and engineering so, while nearly all my feminist friends in that room had learned to look upon my love objects as sources of fear and loathing.  I don't know how I was so fortunate as to learn from those same friends that science and engineering, just like any other subject in the academy, could be subjected to a critical feminist analysis and be the better for it, when most people I knew in science and engineering thought their fields were beyond reproach, especially from shrill feminazi harpies. I only know that feminism made me a better scientist.  I could be a feminist without science, but I'm forever grateful I wasn't one of the many women turned away and taught to fear and loathe what is rightly theirs to love.

A feminist scientist is, in truth, neither mad nor a harpy.  I am reminded of an old Far Side cartoon a friend long had hanging on her refrigerator.  A friendly looking, bespectacled, beehived therapist takes notes as a cow lies on the couch next to her.  The cow says, "Maybe it's not me, you know?  Maybe it's the rest of the herd that's insane."  Indeed. Herd, take note:  You have issues.  It's time to deal.

Happy Halloween, all you mad harpy feminazi scientists and engineers out there!

8 responses so far

Women's Health: Cry Babies

This post is part of Scicurious's great idea to take a comprehensive look at an issue of Women's Health, and the advice offered therein for health, sex, love, dating, etc. I'm dealing with the article on Cry Babies, by Joel Stein, filed under Sex and Love.

My dad was a "life of the party" sort of guy, and the kind of dad you could count on to put down the camera and produce an oversized white handkerchief to mop up the blood from your freshly gashed knee on the way into church on First Communion day.  He might forget to straighten your veil, which would be crooked in the photos, but he would comfort and calm you, stop the bleeding, and make sure you could go on with the procession into church.

Only once in my life did I see my dad cry.  Continue Reading »

20 responses so far

Your Engagement Announcement Is My Invitation To Gender Norm You

You and your partner may have been together, perhaps cohabitating, for months, even years.  Now, for some particular and personal constellation of reasons in your lives, you’ve decided to make it “legal”.  Maybe a ring is involved, maybe not.

What to say to someone who has gotten engaged: WikiAnswers tells us:  When a couple gets engaged you congratulate them both if they are together or you can congratulate them individually. Simply say: 'Congratulations on your coming wedding. I'm very happy for you.'

What people actually say to someone a (heterosexual) man who has gotten engaged: Continue Reading »

43 responses so far

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