Archive for the 'Naming Experience' 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!

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Evaluating Eldermobiles

There are several pieces of paperwork I MUST get done today, there are a dozen blog posts I want to write spawned by sessions and conversations at SciO12, there are groceries to be bought if we're to eat tonight, and I have a migraine, so I really should be in bed with the lights off and an eye pillow draped over my forehead.  Yet this bit of a topic has been nagging at the back of my skull for days (maybe it's the source of the migraine!) and I just have to write it out.

I had always wanted a Beetle but never thought I'd get one.  I drove hand-me-down cars, or practical cheap things with good gas mileage, because cars are just transportation to get from point A to point B. And I can't tell them apart, aside from "this one's red and that one's black".  Except for the Beetle.  I loved the Beetle. I just didn't see myself buying one.  I would drive my Mazda 323 till it died, and then get some equivalent replacement.

But in October of 2001, the world as we all had known it had fallen apart. There was no point in being practical. Or waiting for my car (or myself) to die.  One day on a whim I walked into a dealership and there she was.  Sapphire, the Uppity Blues Beetle.  I fell in love, paid sticker price for my 2-year-old baby, and drove her off the lot.

Kids waved at me, other Beetle drivers honked their horns, perfect strangers asked me how I liked driving that Beetle.  It was a fun car.  It was also a pain in the ass.  The electrical system had a mind of its own, little plastic bits and buttons periodically fell off and had to be glued back on, the glove box door, for Pete's sake, had to be replaced.  Sapphire was high maintenance, that's for sure. But I loved her.  And my mom loved her, too - because she had leather seats that were easy to slide across, and because she had a bar across the glove box area that mom could grab onto when she was getting into the car.  With the back seats down, there was plenty of room to stash mom's wheelchair and her walker, too, plus any other stuff we needed to take along for the day.  You had to life the wheelchair over the rear lip when putting it in or taking it out, but all in all, Sapphire was a pretty darn good eldermobile.

Sometimes I flew to see mom rather than drive and then I had to rent a car.  Any car with cloth seats was a loser right from the start.  Elderly people just cannot easily scooch and slide across a cloth seat.  Leather or faux-leather is what they need.  Sometimes I would get a PT Cruiser and my mom would be ecstatic.  It had the handy grab bar like my Beetle (see here, scroll down).  It was just the right height - not too high, so easy to step into, and not too low, so easy to get out of.  Definitely plenty of room to stash the chair, walker, and other gear.

One sad day, Sapphire got creamed by an asshole in a big black SUV doing 50 mph on the shoulder of the road who literally ran right over top of my car to get back on the road.  Maybe you could have fixed her, for the price of 1.5 new cars or so.  The insurance company handed me a check and Sapphire got hauled away to be cut up for parts.

Now I needed a new car and I was in a pickle.  One, I don't like making decisions about big purchases like this.  Two, I needed to decide relatively quickly because I had no car. Three, I had very specific needs I wanted my new car to satisfy.  Four, I'd had Sapphire for almost ten years and had paid absolutely no attention to cars during that time.  I had no idea what was out there, how much cars cost, where to even start looking.

Naturally, I began to crowdsource a solution to my problem.  Everyone had great advice to offer.  All kinds of advice.  I had more options to consider than I could keep track of.  Mom was not offering "advice" - she knew what worked for her and told me to just go buy a PT Cruiser. During the car search time I twice rented a Chevy HHR to go see mom.  She liked it almost as much as the PT Cruiser except it had no handy grab bar.  It did get great gas mileage and I could get the wheelchair in the back without putting the seats down if I had to, which meant I could take both mom and Aunt Betty to the Ice Plant for lunch.  So that was a bonus.  Mom still favored the PT.

I went to dealerships, I looked at cars, I test drove cars.  I looked at the Toyota Matrix, RAV 4, and Prius, the Scion xB, the Kia Soul and Sportage, the Mazda 5 Minivan, the Chevy HHR, the PT Cruiser, the Subaru Impreza and Outback, and I don't remember what all else.  I looked at new and used cars.  I made lists and did comparisons.  I test drove, I did online research, I made up my mind, and then I started all over again.

I felt the openings on the Matrix and Impreza were too small - too hard for stiff bodies to get in and out.  Not enough storage space in a Prius, and the RAV 4 and Mazda 5 seemed too high of a step-in, as did the Sportage.  I liked the Kia Soul a lot, but ultimately felt its rear opening was a bit too small - didn't want to have to fight to put a wheelchair in the back.  I was really leaning toward the HHR because I had driven it and liked it, and the gas mileage was fantastic but Mr. Z was very set against it.  He felt the interior looked a little too cheesy, was concerned about plastic parts falling off a la the Beetle, and wondered how resale value would hold up. I couldn't find an HHR or a PT with leather heated seats, which I really wanted. In the end I bought a used Subaru Outback which had every feature I wanted save amazing gas mileage.  It has leather seats, and seat heaters - very comforting to mom's achy back in cold weather.  It has dual climate control so she can be toasty and I can be cool or vice versa. The back just swallows up her wheelchair with room to spare - I've put her transport chair and her walker in there with it as well - and there is no lip to lift it over.  Furthermore, the opening of the back is low, so one does not have to hoist the heavy equipment up high. The back is spacious enough to hold all the gear without putting seats down so I can take mom and Aunt Betty together to lunch.  (Or my mother- and father-in-law.) There are two great cup holders in between the driver and passenger seats, as well as a spacious storage box - roomy enough for mom's special sunglasses or her water bottle.  Alas, there is no handy grab bar across the front but because of the height of the passenger seat, mom can back up to the seat, sit down, grab the handle above the door, and swing her legs into the car.  The door opening is large enough for her to do this and for me to assist her.  The car warms up quickly in cool weather, cools down quickly in summer heat.  And it handles fantastically over the mountains between where I live and where mom is.

The AARP offers some advice to caregivers on choosing cars, but I did not find it particularly helpful.  It is very general, and some of the car models they mention I would consider to be difficult for elderly people  to enter and exit.  If you have narrowed you search for a car down to two or at most three vehicles, the best thing to do would be to take your elderly person along with you and let them try getting in and out of the car.  See for yourself how easy it is to put the wheelchair or transport chair or other gear into the car.  I was not able to do this because mom and I live so far apart so I had to measure and guess.

Another good thing to know is that if you have found a car that you think will work for you, but it doesn't come with leather seats, you can get leather covers made for them at a reasonable price.  A good site for used car information is TrueDelta.

For some years now, car makers have finally become aware that women drive cars and that kids are often in the cars whether women or men are driving.  It would be nice, as our population rapidly ages, if they began to pay some special attention to car design that works well for caregivers and the elderly people they transport.  Or caregivers and the not-so-elderly but people with disabilities that need transport.  Universal design, is what I'm asking for.  We're starting to get there in home and apartment design.  But cars are still things we are supposed to fall in love with, things that make a statement about us.  Not practical things that can help us help anyone get from point A to point B.

I loved my Beetle like a teenager - it was shiny, it looked cute - but I love my Subaru for its comfort and functionality. It annoys me when people ask why I got such a boring car or why I'm driving a mom-mobile. If my car is supposed to make a statement about me, then my car says I like old people and I care about their needs. My car is an eldermobile. I get the most compliments on my car when I am helping my mom in or out of it outside the assisted living home.  People there look at cars in a different way.  And my mom always says proudly in a way that makes me want to cry, "she bought this car just for me!"  I'm guessing I won't see Subaru advertize anytime soon how great its Outback is for transporting old people, because we live in a youth culture, and so the Outback must be about youthful adventurous types leaving it all behind and getting to the rugged outdoors.  It could be both, if our culture didn't look upon the elderly with so much fear and loathing.

Car makers are selling us youth and sex - that's why there are always so many hot babes draped over the vehicles in ads and at car shows - and they don't imagine anyone is going to want an eldermobile.  No, the car is supposed to help you stave off age and death, not transport it to the cardiologist.  I don't imagine we'll be seeing eldermobiles on the market anytime soon.

 

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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.

Continue Reading »

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When to Tell? Who to Tell?

The most awesome Hermitage asked in a recent post

Ignoring the fact that knowing who to even complain to, and to what purpose, is not always clear, how bad does something have to be before you are compelled to take a stand? Should the criteria be severity, or simply how easy something is to prove? Should you always do the right thing, or should your career come first?

I wrote a long comment that sort of turned into a mini-post.  I'll reproduce it here. My answer was written assuming that what was being complained about was harassment or discrimination.  One main point I wanted to get across is this:  DO NOT WAIT until you have been harassed or discriminated against to try to figure out what you should do when you have been harassed or discriminated against.  Read and educate yourself about your school or workplace's relevant policies and procedures, understand how things would officially be handled and what that would imply for you.  Go talk to someone at the office of diversity or the equal opportunity office (where a complaint might be likely to be handled).  If your university has a women's studies department, ask them for resources to help you understand the situation women in science face in academia and how to respond to harassment and discrimination (tell them you don't need to read high theory, you need practical stuff about dealing with douchebags).  An informed woman scientist is one who is less likely to be harassed, and more likely to be able to aid a colleague who is dealing with a problem.

Okay, here's the rest of what I wrote over at Hermitage's place.  I encourage you to go read her post and the comments there, too.  Continue Reading »

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What Function Does Denial Serve?

The incomparable Hermitage has compiled the responses to her She-Woman Baby-hating carnival extravaganza!  There are many fine questions, with many excellent answers from the esteemed panelists.  I have learned tons from reading the responses to the questions.

This question in particular caught my attention:

3. What can we do when other women deny there are problems being a woman in science?

What to do indeed. Micro Dr. O recommends staying out of the way of that bitchy female greyhair, and looking for allies elsewhere.  Dr. Sneetch sez women in her field are mean, meaner than the men have ever been! And crazy too.  So there's two votes for fighting misogyny fire with misogyny fire.

Professor in Training observes sagely

Remember that there are also those that deny that Doritos are good for you. There are idiots everywhere.

She recommends you go on your way and concentrate on being a role model for the next generation.  Good advice!

KJHaxton reminds us to be strategic: put away the soapbox, focus on solutions not complaints, and bide your time until you've amassed power and status...then set to work on that institutional transformation.

GeekMommyProf rephrases the question:

When I read this question, I asked myself when was the last time anyone in real life (except my husband and perhaps a close personal friend or relative) actually took my concern to heart when I complained that I suspected someone had slighted me professionally because I'm a woman. The answer is -- I cannot remember.

She discusses what leads people, men and women, to dismiss individual incidents of bias, and recommends surrounding one's self with "supportive people of both genders" and moving on.

NicoleandMaggie say blame the patriarchy!

I totally agree.

While the patriarchy is indeed to blame, and denial comes from all quarters,  it seems to sting more when it comes from other women in science. One expects them to express some solidarity, or at least to be somewhat cognizant of their own condition, or at the very very least not to be actively functioning as apologists for the oppressors. But if the U.S. Republican party is able to muster up enough gay members to create the Log Cabin Republicans, then it ought not to surprise any of us that some women in science will remain – even throughout their entire careers – stubbornly, actively, willfully ignorant of the real facts on the ground for all women in science.

The question for me has always been, in what way is that denial functioning for them? What purpose does it serve for them?

I can't speak for all of them, but when I was in denial about the situation for women in science, that denial helped me think of myself as really unique – one of just very few women able to do this d00dly science stuff! And since I was sooooo unique, why, you could hardly call me a woman at all – I was really more of what you’d call an AlmostD00d. Which was far preferable to being a woman. To maintain my unique and therefore AlmostD00d status, it was important that there not be too many other women doing what I was doing. This all made it nearly impossible for me to develop friendships with other women in my field, or even to see senior women scientists as competent and worthy role models.  The denial also helped me keep on loving and admiring ALL the science d00ds around me, since I identified so strongly with them.  (Note that a healthy relationship with other men as human beings does not involve worshiping them as d00ds, but does involve getting to know them as individuals and liking them or not as individuals.) I had my head ass-deep in the patriarchy, and was a real asshole to other women as a consequence.  Men could rain shit on me 24/7 and I would still sing their praises.  (See: The Parable of the Wise and the Foolish Engineers.)  As Muriel Barbery writes in the The Elegance of the Hedgehog, "if there is one thing that poor people despise, it's other poor people".

So, to sum up: denying there are problems for women in science facilitates d00d-worship and belief in the self as an AlmostD00d, both of which stem from disparagement of women and loathing of the self for being a woman.

What can you do when other women deny there are problems being a woman in science? Feel sorry for them. Teach the young.

And now I insert a small plea: let us put to rest the myth of vampiric senior female scientists feeding on the fresh blood of a junior woman's hopes and dreams. Let us close the book on the tall tale of  the snarling wowolf who wounds us as no mere man ever would or could.  You have been ill-treated by senior scientists; hurtful remarks have been flung in your direction by colleagues.  When these things are done by women, and we ascribe the doing of them to their gender,  we are engaging in misogyny.  Yes, women deny that sexism exists; yes, women are subject to sexist bias in making hiring, evaluation, and promotion decisions.  If a woman who is a scientist treats you poorly, it is either because she is having a bad day, is an asshole, or because she is in the thrall of the patriarchy that has taught her to despise women.  It is not, however, because she is a woman.

Do not expect women to be your allies because they are women; do not depend on the love and support of all women to maintain your ego and belief in yourself; do not ascribe either the giving or withholding of sisterly support to the fact of womanhood rather than worldviews and belief systems. Sisterhood is powerful, but so, alas, is the patriarchy.

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Autonomy Is A Luxury

A good day:  I arise at a time I chose.  Maybe I lie in bed for awhile listening to NPR, or maybe I get right up.  It was a cool night, so the window is open, and a fresh breeze blows through the room.  I go to the bathroom, the usual morning ablutions with toothbrush etc., and then I take a nice shower, wash my hair.  The soap is scented cucumber-melon - I got it at the farmer's market last week.  Out of the shower, I towel myself off and dry my hair.  Then I run down the stairs and out the front porch to scoop up the morning paper.  Back inside, make a pot of coffee - it smells so nice brewing.  What to have for breakfast today - do I want to spend the time it takes to make a fried egg or a small frittata, or just have some yogurt with nuts and berries?  Or maybe some oatmeal? I pour the coffee in my favorite mug, carry it with the paper and my breakfast to the dining room table.  The morning sun comes through the bay window, and the rhododendron bush moves a little in the breeze.  I like this table, an old oak beauty I found in an antique store and bought for far less than it was worth.  It reminds me of my mother's table, though no table can ever hold a candle to that one. I peruse the paper and have a second cup of coffee.  One of the cats is at my side, purring, begging for a spot on my lap, and I make room.  I start to think about what I might like to cook for dinner in the evening.

I'm aware that the autonomy I enjoy is a luxury that results from my living in the U.S., from not being poor, and from having had no trouble getting a "good" mortgage to purchase a nice house in a "good" neighborhood (e.g., intersection of race and class privilege).  But the type of luxurious autonomy I am thinking of today stems from another source, and that is the privilege of age and (relative) good health.

I try not to take mornings like this for granted, but of course I can't help it.  It's difficult to be constantly aware of how precious it is, to be able to walk into your own kitchen and pour yourself a cup of your favorite kind of coffee, in your favorite mug, whenever you want. Usually I try not to think about the time that may come, if I live long enough, when the cup of coffee will be poured for me, a weak brew in a plastic mug, and set down next to the breakfast I neither chose nor prepared, at a table without cats but with other people.  The breakfast will not have been preceded by a shower, but by a sponge bath from a pan of water in my room, brought to me after I was awakened by someone at the usual early hour.  (I will be efficiently showered in the evening while seated in a chair, twice a week.) I will walk slowly from that room to the communal dining room, with the aid of a walker, or perhaps be wheeled there in a chair if it is not a good day. The newspaper will have to wait for the mail delivery later on, and for someone to bring it to me, unless they forget and give it to another person by mistake. The window will not be open, because climate control is important.  If it is a nice day, and if someone has time, maybe they will take me outside to feel the breeze for an hour or so.

I will no longer be on my schedule, but on theirs.  I will be dependent upon their help, and I will have to ask for or be given nearly all the things I used to do for myself.  And all this will be only if I am fortunate enough to have the resources to pay for such assistance.

It is possible I will not live into old age.  Or, I will live into a robust old age and not require the services of assisted living or nursing homes.  But I cannot escape feeling much like Chuck Ross, whose blog Life With Father I just discovered via The New Old Age blog, when he says:

Maybe it’s a middle-age crisis, but, at almost 52, the 38-year age difference between Dad and me just doesn’t seem all that substantial anymore. And I find the possibility that he could just be me, aged Hollywood-style, simply terrifying. It makes me want to run, get away to that place of simple, oblivious living that is such a luxury to those who aren’t looking mortality in the face every day.

If I had kids, I might be wondering - will they come to see me?  Will they call?  Will they write?  How often?  If I must ask them to do something for me, if I need something - will they attend to my needs and wishes?  Or will they put me off, because their own lives are so busy, so much more interesting, so much less frightening?  What if I can't express myself to them as well as I used to - will they know how to listen to me?  Will they understand how my loss of autonomy makes me need them so much, but because I am Mommy, I am Daddy, it's so hard to ask, I don't want to be a burden?  Will my asking make me weak in their eyes, and will my need make them angry, resentful? Will they know how to help me, and help me hold on to as much of my autonomy as I can?

But I don't have kids.  So I  just wonder: what happens if my mother is just me, aged Hollywood-style? Because I'm pretty sure there won't be enough money.

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Song I Am Feeling Today

Apr 10 2011 Published by under Daily Struggles, Naming Experience

Apparently you can't embed it.  But follow the link and find the song I am feeling here.

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The Panhandlers We Like

A few weeks ago Mr. Z and I spent a pleasant afternoon and evening listening to a half-dozen regional bands perform.  A silent auction was set up inside the concert venue, and raffle tickets were available for purchase. The bands donated their time and talent for this benefit concert, and all proceeds went to help pay the medical bills of a young woman with cancer.

And the other day, a friend’s Facebook post lead me to this article about a husband and wife both diagnosed with advanced cancer. They have a small child, and their friends are trying to raise money for their treatment and other expenses. At the link, you can see a beautiful photo of them with their kid, watch their wedding video, and find the blog that tells you more about them and how to make a donation.

I’m guessing benefit concerts and blogs advertised in articles in the NY Daily News get you more cash than a big plastic jug or a car wash.  So good for these folks.

But then I wondered:  What is it that makes these medical bill fundraisers any different from panhandlers on the street?

Everyone will tell you don't give money to the panhandlers - give to homeless shelters, or work to change the system, or to build affordable housing so people won't be homeless. Giving to individual homeless people just perpetuates the system, and they'll probably just buy booze and cigs anyway. So why should we give to individuals who need money for medical expenses? Isn't that just perpetuating the system of craptastic health care we have now? Shouldn't we work to change things and make health care affordable for everyone? Won't those sick people just use that money to buy substandard care that isn't really going to help them much anyway?

What’s the difference between panhandling for food and shelter, and panhandling for medical care?  Why do we have more sympathy for medical panhandlers?  Why do they seem more worthy to us, even admirable in their struggle?  Why do we blame the one, but not the other, for their plight?

Let's take a look at who's homeless.  Continue Reading »

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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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The Parable of the Wise and the Foolish Engineers

It came to pass that the engineers gathered at their most sacred place, near the river Charles, to seek learning from the wise ones.  And it happened that one of these said to another, “We are women in a man’s world, and we should stick together, and help each other out. We should build together, on the Rock of Amita.”  But the second said to the first, “No, for I am like unto the men myself, and will go in their guise, and learn their ways, and build my house upon their beachfront paradise, next to the all night Hooters and down the street from the Sports Emporium.  For it is more pleasing to be allowed to walk eight blocks to the beachfront between 4 and 6 a.m. and to work part-time at Hooters for minimum wage in the hopes that someday I will be invited to give a talk at Janelia Farm.  The winds blow shrill at the Rock of Amita; harpies take wing in the skies overhead; my legs are clean-shaven.”  And she cast the first away from her, and did take the guise of men, and strove to learn their ways, and built her house eight blocks back from the beachfront paradise.

Then the rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on the house; and the house of the first one did not fall, for it was founded on the Rock of Amita. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on the house of the second one; and it fell—and great was its fall.  For the men would not help her rebuild, and blamed her for building so poorly, and mocked her for her sadness at her loss, and told her that science doesn’t stop at 5 on Fridays, and she was cast out.

And she wandered, even as far as the Tobacco Road, and entered into the Duke’s house, and was given a seat at the far end of the table, and permitted the crumbs of the feasting.  But it came to pass that she found a wise teacher, and a holy book, and began anew to build, this time surely, upon the Rock of Amita, which can be found in many places.  And the wise teacher asked her one day, “How will it come to pass that the young build upon the rock rather than the sand?”  And she thought well to herself, and said, “Teach early, else it may be only by building upon the sand that one will ever come to build upon the rock. Many will be lost to the storms; some will repair and rebuild, even to the end of their days.  These I look upon with pity and understanding, for I once lived where they now dwell. Teach early, lest the young mistake the house 8 blocks back from the beachfront, next door to Hooters, as paradise, and clamor to build there, and are swept away in the storms.”

"Paradise," said the wise teacher, "is the opiate of the Engineers.

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Where We're All Heading in Scott Walker's Handbasket

Now indeed is the winter of our labor discontent.

Scott Walker, you'll recall, is the Rethuglican who has creatively called his union-busting scheme a "budget repair" bill.  Once we've finished stripping workers of all their rights - collective bargaining is just the first step! there's so much more that can be taken away once the collective bargaining is gone! - we can bring back many useful practices from the good ol' days.  The history of Blair Mountain is instructive in this regard.  Maybe you'll want to go visit Blair Mountain, and see the historical marker, but I'd do it now if I were you, before Mr. Peabody rips it off the face of the earth to get at the coal underneath.

Two years ago, Blair Mountain was entered into the National Register of Historic Places. And then, just a few months later, it was taken off by state officials.

Lawyers hired by West Virginia's largest coal companies came up with a list of landowners who, they said, objected to the designation.

"There's apparently a lot of money to be made by blowing this mountain up and taking all the coal out from it," labor historian Gordon Simmons says, referring to mountaintop removal.

Fuck you, coal companies. Isn't it enough that your predecessors had a hired army of goons and federal troops dispatched by the president to keep coal miners from forming a union?  Now you want to literally erase the history from the face of the earth? Fuck. You.

Well, Scott Walker's not calling in the troops yet on the citizens of Wisconsin. I'm sure that's just crazy to even imagine.  Why, people have the right to collective bargaining!  Oh wait, he's taking that away.  Well, they have the right to be in a union!  Oh wait, he's trying to make it really, really, really hard for there to be a union at all, what with the yearly votes for the union to exist, and the optional dues, and the fact that once your union can't bargain, and pay raises are strictly limited, you're going to wonder why you should pay dues or be in the union at all. You might as well join the Elks and spent your union dues on beer; at least you'll get drunk for your money.

So once the union is gone, and the plutocrats can pay us whatever they deem we are worth, and fire us whenever they feel like it, and take away our benefits on a whim - oh wait, you're saying, that's my life now?  Because you're not in a union.  Have you grumbled about unions in the past?  A union exists to protect you from all that.  But they talked you into thinking that the union was making your life hell, not the top 400 of them who hold more cash, stocks, and land than  the bottom 155 million of us combinedCrabs in a barrel, they wanted to make us, and it mostly worked.

Anyway, as I was saying, once they've taken us back to the point where we have as many rights as those coal miners at Blair Mountain (maybe they'll start paying us in scrip again!), they can imprison us even faster than they do now.    Pennsylvania's prison population has grown 500% in the last 30 years - that's a promising industry!  A caller to Marty Moss-Coane's radio show this morning suggested that prisoners be placed 3 to a cell, but only two of them in the cell at any given time; one would always be out working an eight hour shift.  Put the prisoners to work!  Well, at least they'd have an eight hour day, if not a five-day work week.  But why be limited by the arbitrary eight-hour day? We could pack them four to a cell and take out two at a time for 12-hour shifts.  It's not like they have a union or anything.

Yeah, where did you think your eight-hour day and five-day work week came from?  Oh, you say, not me, I'm a professional, I'm a scientist, I'm a grad student/postdoc/professor, and I work long hours.  I'm k3rntastic!  Science demands no less, I work for the love of it, I work long hours because if I don't someone else will step right into my place and work just as hard and take my job. Oh crap, that last one sounds just exactly like what the coal miners used to say before they got themselves organized and formed a union.  You know what?  Coal miners are professionals too, and take pride in their work, and love what they do, too.  They like having a union that regulates working conditions, and says if you work overtime you get time and a half.  What do policies like that do?  They create more jobs, and make employers think twice about overworking the employees they do have, because it costs more.  Oh, unions won't work for science. Science is so different!  Believe me, baby, if you wanted a union bad enough, you'd find a way to make it work.

Listen up:  Philip Dray, author of There Is Power In A Union: The Epic Story Of Labor In America, will be on Fresh Air this afternoon, to put the Wisconsin union battle in a historical context. Listen live at 3 pm or audio available online after 5 pm.  Read the little blurb about the show - it's fascinating.  Here's the piece that was a real shocker even for me.

[quoting Dray]: Every city in America has these large brick armories in the city. I used to think they were there for soldiers to gather to go abroad but those were built in an era when authorities wanted a place where soldiers could gather to bring down local labor unrest.

Yeah, they didn't teach me any of this history in school.  Certainly not in the coal patch public schools. They did not tell me how the tax dollars of our forebears went to constructing buildings for the express purpose of gathering troops to suppress the formation of unions by those same forebears.  Well, not the tax dollars of the Blair Mountain coal miners, per se.  They were paid in scrip, which could only be spent at the company store.

If you have a few extra dollars in your pocket this month, consider donating to a union to help fund organizing struggles, general strike funds, etc.  You can become an associate member of the United Mine Workers of America for $5 a month.  Write to your congressperson and insist that Blair Mountain be placed on National Register of Historic Places, not ripped apart by coal companies.  Speak up when someone is union bashing and say you wish everyone had the kinds of benefits and job security that a union can negotiate for its members.  Don't be a crab in the barrel that the plutocrats and Rethuglicans are constructing for us all.

My grandparents lived through the union-organizing hell of the past.  Let's not go back there in Governor Walker's handbasket.

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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.

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For My Friend With The Crazy Boss

Or should I say, series of crazy bosses.  Why, you wonder.  Why you?  What is wrong with you? You work well with plenty of other colleagues.  They seem to like you.  But the crazy bosses keep on coming.  There must be something wrong with you, because otherwise you just don't get it.

I don't think there's anything to "get". I've had my share of crazy bosses, in academia and in industry. For a long time I thought "why do I keep getting these crazy bosses? what is wrong with me?" There are just lots of wackaloon people. Many of them end up in boss positions. What you hear about on the news is some working class stiff who went shitznutz and came back to work with a gun and shot a bunch of people and everyone nods their heads and says "yeah, those poor folk and their guns. they are whack." You do not hear about the white collar, middle to upper middle class people who go shitznutz and instead of bringing a gun to work and shooting up a bunch of folks, just psychologically abuse the hell out of everyone under their control. Structurally, I think the way we work is designed to produce more of the latter than the former, but the former get airplay, and the latter are completely hidden from view, so that each person's encounter with Crazy Boss is experienced as a unique and strange experience that is felt as somehow reflecting on their personal worth, as a personal failing, not as something the system was almost guaranteed to cough up for them sooner or later.

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But What If The Science Cheerleaders Save Just One Girl?

Alex Dunphy (frustrated):  (mumbles stuff about math equation) Oh, this stuff is so hard!
Cute dude math tutor: Don't worry, you'll get it!  There are lots of women scientists!
Alex Dunphy (alarmed): But aren't they all fat?
--Modern Family, 11/24/2010

Okay, let's play what if. What if the Science Cheerleaders are responsible for making just one girl stick with her science & math classes - isn't it all worthwhile then?

Let's say the Science Cheerleaders do keep one girl in advanced science or math classes, but make three other girls feel like they have to pornulate themselves in order to be 21st Century Fembot Compliant While Doing Science, and make five d00ds feel like it is perfectly okay to hang up soft porn pictures of sexay hawt babes in the lab and harass some colleague because hawt science women WANT to be appreciated for being sexay and smart! - is it still worth it?

At K-State we ran a science camp for middle school girls. One summer there was simultaneously a football camp and a cheerleader camp for kids who were just a little older than our science kids. Our camp was called GROW, for Girls Researching Our World. All these kids mingled in the cafeteria. At the end of lunch one day, one of the football camp boys approached a small group of our science camp girls and asked them if they were there for the cheerleader camp (because why else would they be there?) "NO!" shouted one of them, who was a bit ornery and feisty. "No way! We're here for GROW!"  "Grow? What's that?"  "GROW, as in grow up, get a good job, and make a lot of money!" I doubt that young girl would have been inspired to explore science by a group of science cheerleaders (which is not to say she might not have been excited, in another venue, to meet some professional cheerleaders.)

Girls who had been at our camps could also sign up, throughout the year, to go on excursions to various engineering/science-related facilities, where they would get to see how professional scientists and engineers put their training to use in the workplace right there in companies in their own home state. They met with women scientists and engineers in those companies, who hosted the tours, had lunch with them, and told them stories about their lives. The comments we got back on evaluation forms - we did evaluations for all these events, pre and post evaluations, and long term follow up to see what impact the program was having - showed something really interesting and consistent over the time. The girls LOVED meeting women in the place where they worked. They loved seeing the clothes that the women wore to work - in many cases they were astonished to see how NORMALLY the women scientists and engineers dressed, that they looked just like "normal people", that they got to wear jeans, that they looked so comfortable at work, they they got to use so many cool gadgets and play with computers at work. They LOVED hearing stories about how the women got interested in science. And they LOVED hearing stories about what the women did in their spare time - that they had pets, went to church, played sports, volunteered in their community, what hobbies they had, etc. In short, that they did things not unlike other people the girls knew, and not unlike things they themselves were interested in doing or aspired to doing. What kind of car do you drive? they wanted to know. How much money do you make? How many years did you have to go to school? Did you have to study a lot of math? What do you do for fun?

They got to ask all those questions of women they had come to know in the course of a day through talking with them and seeing them in their workplace - seeing them in charge, seeing them as active scientists and engineers explaining and demonstrating their work to them. The women were real people, and the girls could imagine themselves growing up to become just like them. This was the feedback we got, over and over - "I could be just like them. I could wear jeans and work for x company and have a dog and drive a nice car and have my own home and do science!" And some of these girls went on through the high school girls program and on to college.

Now that is a lot of hard work and it takes years. And you have to evaluate along the way and keep refining your programs and adding stuff and fixing stuff and you have to work with the local school districts and teachers - because you also have to work with the teachers and the guidance counselors on doing a better job for the girls, to keep them in the science and math classes, and to advise them properly in choosing colleges, and because you want to track course taking and compare with control groups who haven't been to your programs. And sometimes you think, hey, x is a great idea! And you do it, and your evaluation shows it was a total flop, the kids hated it, or it didn't even register on their consciousness, or it had the opposite impact of the one you wanted, or it sent a completely different message than what you thought you were sending.

One great activity we did was this: the Career/Life Game. The girls had to roll a dice at the start, and they got a certain amount of money based on the roll - because not everyone starts out the same. They had to make choices on how to spend their money, and time. Work in high school? use the money to buy a car, or go to college? Get married? Have kids? Got to grad school? There were a lot of complex choices they had to make, but it was all in the form of a game - they had to roam from station to station, and they could collect "diplomas" if they made it through various degrees. After it was over we discussed their choices and outcomes with them, and whether they were happy, and what they might have done differently, and how starting out with more or less money affects your life chances, and what you can do about it.

I guess we could have just brought in cheerleaders to jump around and yell "Gooooooo SCIENCE!" But those kids, mostly from low-income families, needed and deserved a helluva lot more than that. IMHO.

We did a program for the girls and their guardians. It was originally going to be girls and their mother but then we realized a lot of these girls might be raised by a grandmother or other family member and we didn't want to limit it or make them feel bad, so we just said guardian. We talked about what guardians could do to keep girls strong and interested in math and science, and gave them materials with resources in the community they could draw on. We talked to the girls about what THEY needed to do to keep themselves on track for careers in science, and why those careers were worthwhile for them. We said stick with math - almost anything you want to do will call on math skills. We would play a game where we'd invite any girl in the audience to name a career and then we'd say why math was important for it. We'd always get supermodel - then we'd explain how if you were a fabulous rich supermodel you didn't want someone else managing your money and cheating you - you needed to be smart and financially savvy and know what was going on, so you'd get rich and stay rich - and that meant math.

There is, indeed, no reason why a woman can't be both cute and smart. But that was hardly the issue facing the young girls I saw in Kansas. It was lack of knowledge, lack of access, teachers and guidance counselors who didn't know what was necessary for sci/eng careers and didn't think it was all that important anyway to steer young girls towards them, parents who were overwhelmed and didn't know about these careers or how to take the first step to get their kids on the college prep pathway let alone to a sci/eng career, young girls who were just dying for adults to invest some time and energy in caring for them and their bright minds and what they were capable of doing.

Science Cheerleaders is, at the very best, an outreach program for already-privileged girls who are already interested in science/engineering but who are afraid it will make them look like fat lesbians.

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What Are You Thankful For? Neurologists!

Nov 25 2010 Published by under Naming Experience, Some Good News For A Change

This is the second in my what are you thankful for series.  The first was a WHAT - Botox!

Today I turn to a WHO.  Actually, a couple of who's.  Neurologists!

1. Dr. A.

I made the acquaintance of Dr. A. while lying in a hospital bed in Kansas.  I couldn't make out his features very well, as I was almost completely blind at the time - a consequence of the stroke I mentioned in the last post.  Dr. A. was responsible for puzzling out why an apparently healthy young woman had had a stroke.  He carefully ruled out every possible cause; the test results and my symptoms left us with no conclusion other than that it was a rare migrainous stroke.  I was truly fortunate to draw Dr. A. in the hospital; he was experienced, wise, and compassionate.  Over several months, my vision began to recover, the migraines came back with a vengeance, and he did his best to treat them.  He suggested a break from work to allow recovery (that "break" has now gone on seven years).  He did a lot of good for me, but the very best thing he did for me may have been this:  One day he said to me, "Your case has become too complicated for me to adequately treat you the way you need.  You need to see a neurologist who specializes in stroke and migraine.  I have someone in mind for you. It will take you a while to get in to see her, but it is worth the wait.  She will be able to help you."  And that is how I went on to see...

2. Dr. D.

It took over a month to get in to see Dr. D. but it was indeed worth the wait.  She was a whirlwind, and she gave me hope that at least pain relief would be mine, if not a cure.  Together we began working our way through a variety of preventatives - always hopeful for each one, often disappointed when I experienced intolerable side effects.  I don't know how to tell you all that this doctor did for me, the thousand extra miles that she went for me (and, I suspect, for all her patients).  When we felt we had exhausted the pharmacy of preventatives and the migraines had still left me bedridden, it was she who offered me botox for the first time, and so gave me my life back.  On top of this - this was in 2004, mind you - she and her staff had somehow managed to get my insurance company in Kansas to pay for at least a portion of the cost of treatment.  I really would have done almost anything for this doctor.  In addition to being The Doctor Who Gave Me My Life Back, she was funny, witty, sassy, stylish, warm, compassionate, fierce, and a total force to be reckoned with.  When Mr. Z and I had to move from Kansas to our present home, I grieved many things that I had to leave behind, but having to leave and end my relationship with Dr. D was one of the most heartbreaking losses of all.  Dr. D didn't just say bye-bye, though.  She knew where I was going, and she knew what doctor she wanted me to see in the new place - Dr. Y.  On my own, it might have taken months and months to get in to Dr. Y's practice.  But Dr. D made it happen right along with the timetable of my move.  (In doctoring as in employment, I guess it is who you know.)

3. Dr. Y.

Dr. Y is my present neurologist.  Under his care I have continued the improvement that began with Dr. D.  Dr. Y is truly amazing and is a rock star of the neurology migraine world.  You'd never know it when you are in his office, though.  He is gentle, almost shy in his demeanor, putting patients at ease along with his quiet voice perfectly designed for those with throbbing skulls.  He works in a teaching hospital, which means that visiting doctors or interns and residents are frequently present at one's appointment, but he knows how to minimize the intrusiveness of this.  Maybe it's the teaching hospital environment, or maybe it's the teacher in him, but he helps you understand, in as much detail as you want, what is going on in your brain, how your treatment is expected to work, what the limits of medical understanding are.  And at the end of every visit he takes some time to ask: now what will you do to minimize stress and get some exercise in the next couple of months?  What can you commit to, to your doctor and to yourself?  He shares with you what he is doing to minimize stress and get some exercise.  He says, you can do it.  You know that he is A Very Important Doctor and A Very Busy Person but when you are in his office and he is focused on you and your medical needs, you have the impression that he really has nothing else to attend to the rest of the day, and that there's nothing much else he'd rather be doing anyway.  Getting a botox treatment from him is a collaborative effort.  He teaches you how to give him the feedback he needs to best target some of the injection sites.  He is awesome, I am grateful to be under his care, and I am grateful that people like him, Dr. D., and Dr. A. put in the hard work in medical school, internships, and residencies to take care of people like me.

I wish I could thank these neurologists on my blog by name, but since botox has recently been approved by the FDA, many neurologists are being swamped with calls from migraine sufferers begging for a miracle cure for their misery.  I don't want to add to the volume of calls they are already getting.  People with migraine interested in botox should be aware that: it has not yet been sorted out how insurances will pay for botox, if all insurances will pay at all, and how much they will pay if they do (likely will be a stiff copay).  The FDA approval is for chronic migraine, i.e. patients who experience migraine most days of the month (14 or more).

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