Archive for the 'Why Aren’t You Reading This?' category

Repost: Why Are There No Great Women Scientists?

More vintage TSZ. First published on 8/19/2005, Why Are There No Great Women Scientists? was written in response to a commenter who suggested, basically, that there are only so many "stars". Institutions can't be expected to manufacture them. And what are gonna do if all the stars just happen to be white dudes. "What can you do if all the great scientists are men?" is related to the question "Why are there no great women scientists?" And that question has already been thoroughly addressed.  Read on:

 

...we immediately recognize this as a problem that has been solved, in Linda Nochlin's classic essay "Why Are There No Great Women Artists?"  (All quotes here are drawn from the version of Nochlin's essay printed in the 1971 Basic Books edition of "Woman in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness" ed. V. Gornick & B. K. Moran.) 

As we proceed, just think "scientist" wherever you see "artist" and "science" for "art".  Let us consider the opening paragraph of Nochlin's tour de force:

"Why are there no great women artists?"  This question tolls reproachfully in the background of discussions of the so-called woman problem, causing men to shake their heads regretfully and women to grind their teeth in frustration.  Like so many other questions involved in the red-hot feminist controversy, it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer:  "There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness."  The assumptions lying behind such a question are varied in range and sophistication, running anywhere from "scientifically" proven demonstrations of the inability of human beings with wombs rather than penises to create anything significant, to relatively openminded wonderment that women, despite so many years of near-equality - and after all, a lot of men have had their disadvantages too - have still not achieved anything of major significance in the visual arts.

So then, the response:  re-discovering neglected heroines of the past; staking a claim for women's different approach to the subject at hand; and then, the next, more interesting stage.  Nochlin says this is when we begin to realize "to what extent our very consciousness of how things are in the world has been conditioned - and too often falsified - by the way the most important questions are posed."  Who is formulating these questions, she asks.  The woman problem is too uncomfortably similar in formulation for her to the Nazi phrasing "Jewish problem".   She opines: 

Obviously, for wolves...it is always best to refer to the lamb problem in the interests of public relations, as well as for the good of the lupine conscience.  Indeed, in our time of instant communication, "problems" are rapidly formulated to rationalize the bad conscience of those with power.

Oh my, she does have a way with words.  Finally, she says:

...the Great Artist is conceived of as one who has genius; genius, in turn, is thought to be an atemporal and mysterious power somehow embedded in the person of the Great Artist...It is no accident that the whole crucial question of the conditions generally productive of great art has so rarely been investigated, or that attempts to investigate such general problems have, until fairly recently, been dismissed as unscholarly, too broad, or the province of some other discipline like sociology. 

So relevant for us today, as we are just beginning to explore what conditions are necessary to the production of a diverse science and engineering workforce!  Now all this is old hat to the PoMo humanities folks who have moved way beyond and would laugh that we are even discussing this.  But I have been trying to tell my friends over on the other side of the university for a long time that science and engineering are 30 years behind in the feminist revolution.

Anyway:  so, why no great women scientists?  why do all the great scientists happen to be white males?  You are asking the wrong questions, dudes. 

And if you still can't resist obnoxiously wagging Albert Einstein under our noses (as if his life should be reduced to an example), then may I offer for your consideration Marie Curie and her two Nobel Prizes?  When you can show me some guy who spent his days out in a shed stirring two tons of pitchblende in a cauldron over an open fire to isolate a tiny little dot of radium, and was at the same time completely responsible for the care and raising of two children, one of whom grew up to be a scientist and win her own Nobel Prize, then we'll talk. 

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Good Reads - Elder Care Edition

Mar 05 2014 Published by under (if) Elder (why) Care, Why Aren't You Reading This?

It struck me the other day that I now have a small and growing elder care section in my personal library. One or two of these books might be of interest mostly to people who may soon, are now, or have recently been involved in elder care but most are just good reads.

Up first are the two that are most targeted to "users" - those who are caregivers and family members of elders. Caring for Your Parents: The Complete Family Guide by Hugh Delehanty and Elinor Ginzler is published by the AARP. This is especially useful if you are just starting down the pathway of elder care, and/or if you and your siblings have never had any discussions with your parents and/or each other about how the parents will be cared for as they age and become more needy. Blessed is She: Elder Care - Women's Stories of Choice, Challenge, and Community by Nanette J. Davis combines statistics and analysis with excerpts from first-person narratives culled from interviews with 61 caregivers of varied ages and backgrounds. Those mired in caregiving will recognize themselves in many places, and may find much to comfort them here.

Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler is both personal narrative and investigative reporting. She uses the story of her father and the pacemaker that kept him alive long past the time he wanted, and the quest to have it turned off, to explore the issues around aging, quality of life, and quality of death. I would recommend this to anyone.

In This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett you will find several essays about her grandmother and her dog. They are beautifully written; they will give you new perspectives on love, devotion, and loss; and I dare say they will comfort.

The Death Class: A True Story About Life by Erika Hayasaki is not about elder care per se, but it is about students, and their extraordinary teacher, learning how to live in the face of death. This one is a page-turner.

No More Words: A Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh by Reeve Lindbergh is just what the title says. You could finish this book in a day or two with uninterrupted reading. But it is not lightweight. There is much to think about here. Anne Morrow Lindbergh was left debilitated and nearly wordless by a series of strokes, and her daughter Reeve writes about caring for her in the last year and a half of her life. It turns out that even the very well-to-do, with all the assistance one could want, suffer the guilt, anger, resentment, and despair elder care brings.

It seemed like everywhere I turned in these books, and often in life, people recommended or spoke of Buddhist philosophy and belief as helpful in negotiating life as a caregiver. One book I have not yet finished, but which came highly recommend to me, is Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron. Elder care is nothing if not packed to the rafters with uncertainty and change, so maybe this is as good a guide as anything the AARP can tell you about navigating the Medicare maze.

Two novels I'll add to the list and be done: Emily, Alone by Stewart O'Nan, which gives you the perspective of the elder facing life alone at home, companions and acquaintances passing away, children living far off. Wish You Were Here is sort of the prequel to this book and is just as wonderful.   These are two of the best novels I've read recently.

If you've read something along the lines of the category of this post, feel free to drop a note about it in the comments. I'd love to hear about it!

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Rethinking the Normality of Attrition

There are few things so beloved by the professoriate as the faculty retreat – amirite? And the highlight of every faculty retreat is surely that hour when we gather and form small groups to contemplate How Diversity Is Making Us Stronger!!1!! These are nearly always well-planned, adroitly led, and very effective. In my dreams.

At one such gathering, the first exercise our group was given consisted of a sheet of paper with four photos: a young white man in casual clothing; a middle-aged white woman in a suit; a young African-American woman in a suit; and an old, bespectacled, gray-haired, bearded eminence in tweed jacket and tie. Our task: which of these people did we think was a professor, and why? Nobody wanted to go anywhere near that booby-trap. Nobody, that is, except the old, bespectacled, gray-haired eminence in a jacket in our group. He promptly pointed to the bearded dude and said “oh, he’s the professor. He just looks like one. Don’t you think that’s how a professor is supposed to look?” The diversity workshop leader happened to be standing next to our group at the moment and the rest of us cringed. Now, this professor was a really nice guy, and he said this without any guile. In retrospect I applaud him for saying what we were all thinking but self-censoring ourselves from saying. Gray-haired bearded dude did look like what we thought a professor should look like. The question was why did we, committed as we were to diversity, still think that? How could we come to see the others – especially the women – as equally valid images of the professoriate?  And what did all this mean for our work at the university?

Well, it should be no surprise, and should not make anyone feel guilty or ashamed, to realize that we carry these internalized stereotypical images of what a professor or scientist or engineer looks like. We daily bathe in the sea of stereotypes.  We may also carry a picture in our heads of what a successful STEM student looks like, without realizing it, and may make advising decisions based on that image rather than on the student’s interests, desires, and real potential.

The first step in interrupting the circuit is to interrogate the term “successful student”. Is a successful student one who makes top grades? One who rallies after a failure? One who doesn’t have a lot of distractions to get in the way of focusing on the degree? One who learns how to manage the non-negotiable constraints of life and still continue with their studies? One who goes on to a satisfying and successful STEM career post-graduation? One who takes their STEM degree as a springboard into another career direction? Is a successful student one whom we help to succeed?

Of course, I can tell you my anecdata about getting a D in calculus and going on to a successful STEM career despite a frosh advisor who suggested I switch out of engineering, and you can counter with your scores of advisees and your, as we will see, oh-so-unfortunate example of George.  And then I’ll walk over to my bookshelf and peruse the research.

The classic reference text on students switching out of STEM majors is, of course, Seymour and Hewitt’s Talking About Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave The Sciences. If you are a STEM professor, make yourself familiar with this book if you are not so already.  The book is an exhaustive presentation of the results of a three-year study of 335 students at seven four-year institutions of different type and location. The authors question the assumption that leaving, or switching, is natural or normal.

The revolution did not swing by anytime in the last 15 years so you can pretty much go with what the book says. Here’s the

most important single generalization arising from [the] analysis…switchers and non-switchers [were not] two different kinds of people. That is to say, [they did not] differ by individual attributes of performance, attitude, or behavior, to any degree sufficient to explain why one group left , and the other group stayed…What distinguished the survivors from those who left was the development of particular attitudes or coping strategies – both legitimate and illegitimate. Serendipity also played a part in persistence, often in the form of intervention by faculty at a critical point in the student’s academic or personal life. [emphasis mine] [p. 30]

It turns out that STEM is bleeding students, male and female, white students and students of color. Only, the bleed rates for females and students of color are slightly higher than for white males, so the overall impact of culling the herd is to reduce diversity. After all that hard work to recruit the best and brightest to your uni, and to get all those women and students of color to your doorstep! Such a shame. Well, what can you do, eh?

Seymour & Hewitt note, by the way, that inappropriate choice, underpreparedness, and overconfidence, while present for many students of color, are not sufficient factors to explain the higher switching rate of this group compared to white students. So one thing you can’t do is lay the burden for the problem on the students.  The extra difficulties that students of color face include: differences in ethnic cultural values and socialization; internalization of stereotypes; ethnic isolation and perception of racism; and inadequate program support.  It’s true. Your unis are not doing a good job of supporting students of color.

Seymour & Hewitt speak in their conclusion of a desire to marginalize the issue of wastage of students, given the consequences of taking seriously the loss of 40 to 60 percent of a group of students with above average ability.

Switching is not defined as a problem when it is believed to be caused, on the one hand, by wrong choices, underpreparation, lack of sufficient interest, ability, or hard work, or on the other, by the discovery of a passion for another discipline. Either way, there is little that faculty feel they can, or should, do about people who leave for such reasons. The difficulty about our data is that they support neither type of explanation for switching. We find no support for the hypothesis that switchers and non-switchers can be sufficiently distinguished in terms of high school preparation, performance scores, or effort expended...Nor do switchers neatly divide into those who are pushed out (by inappropriate choice of major, lower ability, poorer preparation, lower levels of interest, or unwillingness to work), and those who are pulled out (because they discover a vocation elsewhere)...[W]e posit that problems which arise from the structure of the educational experience and the culture of the discipline (as reflected in the attitudes and practices of S.M.E. faculty) make a much greater contribution to S.M.E. attrition than the individual inadequacies of students or the appeal of other majors. [p. 392]

Ouch. That hurts.

Students who wash up on your advising shores performing poorly in their major classes may be doing so for any number of reasons. In my opinion, if you let them get to their junior year and flunk a major course three times without an intervention, your uni is failing that student, and not by giving them a failing grade, if you follow me. Read the conclusions chapter of Seymour and Hewitt if you read no other part of it. There's more in there about the groups of students that are being lost from STEM, groups that faculty members might very much want to retain. And rethink your notions of the successful student and beneficial advice to switch majors. Even if you think you're doing the student a favor, is it really a good thing for your uni to continue recruiting, but not retaining, STEM students?

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Thony and Penny Are Bringin' It On The Guest Blogge!

Zuskateers, there is a heap o' good reading over at the Guest Blogge right now!  Thony and Penny are turning out a series of posts so wonderful I want to cry.  How could you not love the story of Florence Violet Mackenzie, Australia's first woman electrical engineer?  Complete with a great black and white photo.  Or Thony's answer to that old argument, "who invented the calculus, Newton or Leibniz?" - Thony sez, you're asking the wrong question.  There's more, much more. Go forth, read, be entertained and enlightened.

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Isn't Rape Really Just All About Sex?

I know I'm supposed to be posting installment three in the work-life balance series - and it's coming tomorrow, I promise - but I was distracted by this post by Isis's new co-blogger. I think there's a relatively strong consensus that this invention is clearly a bit of Technology Gone Bad.
In a really old Saturday Night Live sketch, Gilda Radnor and Dan Akroyd play a befuddled couple at home in the kitchen, arguing over Shimmer. It's a floor wax. No, a dessert topping. But wait! Spokesperson Chevy Chase pops in to tell them it's BOTH!!!!!
What does this have to do with understanding rape?

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Oil and the "Chance Fate of the Unfortunate Individual"

The last week or so I've been reading that classic of naturalist writing, The Outermost House by Henry Beston, as the last of this year's selections for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Book Club.
The book is a delight to read for those who love language - it is essentially one long prose poem. But at the same time, it is sweetly painful, as one takes the measure of all the glory that must have been lost in the time since Beston wrote.
Nothing quite prepared me, however, for encountering the following passage about halfway through the book, in the chapter titled "Winter Visitors". Beston is described the birds that come to the Cape in winter - "a region which is to them a Florida".

A new danger...now threatens the birds at sea. An irreducible residue of crude oil, called by refiners "slop," remains in stills after oil distillation, and this is pumped into southbound tankers and emptied far offshore. This wretched pollution floats over large areas, and the birds alight in it and get it on their feathers. They inevitably die. Just how they perish is still something of a question. Some die of cold, for the gluey oil so mats and swabs the thick arctic feathering that creases open through it to the skin above the vitals; others die of hunger as well. Captain George Nickerson of Nauset tells me that he saw an oil-covered eider trying to dive for food off Monomoy, and that the bird was unable to plunge. I am glad to be able to write that the situation is better than it was. Five years ago, the shores of Monomoy peninsula were strewn with hundreds, even thousands, of dead sea fowl, for the tankers pumped out slop as they were passing the shoals - into the very waters, indeed, on which the birds have lived since time began! Today oil is more the chance fate of the unfortunate individual. But let us hope that all such pollution will presently end.

Oh, unfortunate individuals of the Gulf Coast, how I mourn for you and your "chance fate". I suppose we can take heart that we are no longer purposefully discharging "slop" into the ocean - we aren't, are we? - but it's slim comfort.
But no matter. I heard a story on NPR the other day about how the oil slicks haven't made it to the beaches of the Gulf Coast yet, so the white sands are still sparkly. And the state tourist bureaus are hard at work on ad development to reassure you that your vacation need not be ruined or delayed by any distressing sights on the beach; all is well! Out of sight, out of mind! The only oil you need to worry about is the tanning oil on the shapely young lass on the beach towel in this tourist ad! (There's nothing female flesh can't sell!) Come relax, spend your dollars, support our local tourist industry, and forget about the environment for awhile! It's all good! Till it's not.

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The Arts as a Healing Balm for Mansplaining's Psychic Ills

March is women's history month, but don't let that circumscribe your fun. You can get together with a posse of your like-minded women friends and mock mansplainers anytime. Now, I know many of you have just recently learned that there even existed a name you could attach to this annoying behavior plaguing your existence. Believe me, I know how important naming experience is - that's why I have a whole category assigned to the topic. But your joy need not begin and end with just knowing that the craptastic manifestations you've been subjected to are (1) not your fault, (2) part of a larger system of patriarchy, and (3) mocked by many, many, many women all over the place.
No, you can have even more fun. Why not get together with a couple of good friends for movie night or a book club meeting? Get a nice bottle of wine (if you are a wine drinker) or a local microbrew or just make a nice pot of tea. You could order some tea from Premium Steap - they have awesome stuff, and it's a woman-owned business.
So, let's talk about two things - what to read or watch, and what to eat.

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"The Madame Curie Complex" Sample Chapter: Part Three "Women in the Wild: Changing the Culture of Western Science"

This is the third and final part of a multi-part presentation of a sample chapter from a forthcoming book, The Madame Curie Complex. Part One can be found here. Part Two can be found here.
Recently I was approached with an offer to share with my readers a sample chapter from a forthcoming book called The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science. A caveat: I have not read the whole book, and offering the sample chapter here for you to read does not constitute an endorsement by me of the book. But I was sufficiently intrigued by the sample chapter I read to think it was worth sharing with you, to let you read if you want. You can make up your own minds and decide if you want to purchase the book, which is on offer at the Feminist Press site for a reasonable price. About the book:

This March, The Feminist Press will release The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science by historian Julie Des Jardins. The book tells the stories of women scientists, from Marie Curie to Maria Mayer, who took enormous chances and made great discoveries in spite of, and at times because of, the resistance they faced in a male-dominated field. Des Jardins compares their stories with prominent male counterparts in an exploration of whether, and how, women research, collaborate, and come to different conclusions about the natural world.

The chapter I have been given to share with you is chapter 7, The Lady Trimates and Feminist Science?: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. It came to me in a pdf version and a lot of formatting has been lost in moving it to this blog, but I hope you will still enjoy be able to enjoy reading it. I hope locating the footnotes will not be too hard. I've broken the chapter into sections for a series of posts, and the reference footnotes for each section will be at the end of each post.
On to the last section of the chapter...

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"The Madame Curie Complex" Sample Chapter: Part Two "Louis Leakey's 'Primitive' Feminism"

This is part two of a multi-part presentation of a sample chapter from a forthcoming book, The Madame Curie Complex. Part One can be found here. Part Three can be found here.
Recently I was approached with an offer to share with my readers a sample chapter from a forthcoming book called The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science. A caveat: I have not read the whole book, and offering the sample chapter here for you to read does not constitute an endorsement by me of the book. But I was sufficiently intrigued by the sample chapter I read to think it was worth sharing with you, to let you read if you want. You can make up your own minds and decide if you want to purchase the book, which is on offer at the Feminist Press site for a reasonable price. About the book:

This March, The Feminist Press will release The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science by historian Julie Des Jardins. The book tells the stories of women scientists, from Marie Curie to Maria Mayer, who took enormous chances and made great discoveries in spite of, and at times because of, the resistance they faced in a male-dominated field. Des Jardins compares their stories with prominent male counterparts in an exploration of whether, and how, women research, collaborate, and come to different conclusions about the natural world.

The chapter I have been given to share with you is chapter 7, The Lady Trimates and Feminist Science?: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. It came to me in a pdf version and a lot of formatting has been lost in moving it to this blog, but I hope you will still enjoy be able to enjoy reading it. I hope locating the footnotes will not be too hard. I've broken the chapter into sections for a series of posts, and the reference footnotes for each section will be at the end of each post.
On to the second section of the chapter...

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"The Madame Curie Complex" Sample Chapter: Part One

This is part one of a multi-part presentation of a sample chapter from a forthcoming book, The Madame Curie Complex. Part Two can be found here. Part Three can be found here.
This is something a little different for TSZ. Recently I was approached with an offer to share with my readers a sample chapter from a forthcoming book called The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science. A caveat: I have not read the whole book, and offering the sample chapter here for you to read does not constitute an endorsement by me of the book. But I was sufficiently intrigued by the sample chapter I read to think it was worth sharing with you, to let you read if you want. You can make up your own minds and decide if you want to purchase the book, which is on offer at the Feminist Press site for a reasonable price. About the book:

This March, The Feminist Press will release The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science by historian Julie Des Jardins. The book tells the stories of women scientists, from Marie Curie to Maria Mayer, who took enormous chances and made great discoveries in spite of, and at times because of, the resistance they faced in a male-dominated field. Des Jardins compares their stories with prominent male counterparts in an exploration of whether, and how, women research, collaborate, and come to different conclusions about the natural world.

The chapter I have been given to share with you is chapter 7, The Lady Trimates and Feminist Science?: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. It came to me in a pdf version and a lot of formatting has been lost in moving it to this blog, but I hope you will still enjoy be able to enjoy reading it. I hope locating the footnotes will not be too hard. I've broken the chapter into sections for a series of posts, and the reference footnotes for each section will be at the end of each post.
The chapter opens with two quotes:

We think of science as manipulation, experiment, and quantification done by men dressed in white coats, twirling buttons and watching dials in laboratories. When we read about a woman who gives funny names to chimpanzees and then follows them into the bush, meticulously recording their every grunt and groom, we are reluctant to admit such activity into the big leagues. We may admire Goodall's courage, fortitude, and patience but wonder if she represents forefront science or a dying gasp from the old world of romantic exploration. . . . The conventional stereotype is so wrong. . . . Jane Goodall's work with chimpanzees represents one of the Western world's great scientific achievements.
--Stephen Jay Gould, Introduction to the revised edition of In the Shadow of Man1

Often I think of science in technological terms--of the cold machinery, the devices, and accelerators, the weapons that science makes possible--all the things that modern science creates and utilizes. However, one day, I thought of science and appreciated its intent to look more closely into the beauty and mystery of nature. I had a glimpse of science in a different light, and at that moment the image of the woman in my dream came to mind. In one view of science the image exists of the male scientist exerting power and control over passive female nature. In this view the practice of science is seen as a violation of the natural world. However, my dream image raised the possibility of an alternative view. I began to consider another generative impulse of pure science--one born of curiosity and the love of nature. Then the woman becomes an intriguing symbol of a new way for me to think about the practice of science and its nature. She embodies the sense of science as the desire to understand nature, pursued in a rational and imaginative way. . . . Science is then not about the power of (male) intellect over passive (female) embodied nature. Rather science is a marriage, the relationship between human intellect and the intelligibility of a dynamic nature--nature which is both mysterious and knowable and in whose knowing we learn something about ourselves.
--Mary Palevsky, Atomic Fragments, April 19972

1. Jane Goodall, In the Shadow of Man (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971), 5.
2. Mary Palevsky, Atomic Fragments: A Daughter's Questions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 238.
On to the chapter...

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