Sunday, February 26, 2006

Awww..I'm Blushing

I was absolutely certain that I would have posted tons of stories by now about how adorable my neice and nephew are.

But no, the cuteness I feel that I absolutely must share tonight involves my (now adult) younger brother. Some of his old school papers were discovered in the garage today and, apparently, at age twelve he had to write one of those "where I'm going to be in 20 years" essays and he not only decided that he was going to have 3 girls and 1 boy, but his firstborn child was going to be named after me.

I suppose that means I have to buy him something more than just a little stuffed koala for his birthday tomorrow.

*I do warn you though, my neice and nephew are adorable - frighteningly cute stories are forthcoming.

Friday, February 24, 2006

So Mad I Can't See Straight

So I made the mistake of reading some of the actual comments Twisty cites and I'm very very tempted to write to a bunch of them and tell them off. Apparently the assumption (by every single damn doctor on the forums) is that grandmother is wanting the teenagers in question to see a female ob/gyn because she doesn't trust the doctor - the very simple and obvious idea that a girl that age may not be confortable being so exposed to a strange man does not even enter into their minds. The children's comfort level is completely inconsequential as to not even be worth considering.

I really need to finally see an ob/gyn. It's something I've put off for far too long because of a combination of lack of health insurance and bad doctor's experiences. (Seriously, do you think my mother was going to be able to drag me to see on after what I was like after just visiting the cardiologist?) I was going to request a female ob/gyn before, but not be adamant about it. These assholes have changed my mind - male ob/gyn's seem to be dominating the discussion and be the ones making the most callous and self-centered remarks. Now, I'm going to be damn certain it's a woman I see - and if she doesn't make me feel comfortable enough, screw the co-pay, I'm ending the check-up and scheduling a new visit with a new doctor.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

I'm Not Going Back

I was half-joking when I said that after my first day of junior high, because I knew there was no way it was going to happen, but I was dead serious when I said that after what turned out to be my last visit to the heart specialist.

I was in sixth grade and had not only already started wearing bras, but I had already started wearing proper bras. None of this "training bra" shit for me - during the short time that training bras would have made sense, my mother knew that it wasn't worth the fight to convince me to wear them. She made me wear undershirts for a while instead - until there was just no avoiding the bra.

I was never the kind of kid that wanted to grow up quickly to begin with; the fact that all this new stuff seemed designed solely to make me miserable just made me even more dead set against it. It was bad enough that I was the nerd who appropriately wore glasses, now I was the freak whose face looked like a pizza and I had to deal with these...things...that made doing all the stuff I loved feel weird. Running suddenly felt odd; the bras that rubbed me in all the wrong places never seemed to do anything about all the flopping and bouncing around. Sometimes, it just plain hurt. I nearly broke into tears the first time I tried riding one of those stupid amusement park rides that rock you back and forth and then upside down after I hit puberty. It hurt to have that much force pull on those stupid things that were now attached to me. It was even more humiliating that I seemed to be the only one of the girls who was bothered by this.

I would have done anything to make them and those stupid cramps and all the mess that came with them go away forever.

But, no, instead I had to go to the doctor's and go through the normal routine of taking my shirt off in front of strangers and have them stick all kinds of gunk and wires all over these...things...I had suddenly acquired. Only now it would really be strangers because the cardiologist who had seen me every year since I was born had retired and I had a new doctor that I had never even met before.

I knew it wouldn't kill me simply because I wished so hard that I could die instead of going.

Obviously I survived; in fact, it ended up not being as scary as I thought it would be. But it was nearly as humiliating, and I went from being slightly frightened of the people who did these strange things to my body to hating them with a passion I hadn't realized I was capable of feeling. Even worse, I hated myself and my body even more than I had before. I had always been somewhat proud of what it could do from the time I was old enough to understand how amazing it was that I was still alive to begin with. Now, though, my body seemed to be betraying me in all kinds of new ways - and everyone else seemed to either be unconcerned or view this as a cause for celebration - or worse.

Suddenly, my mother cared more about what I wore, how I sat, and all kinds of other silly things than I ever though possible. One particular evening at a block party was spent arguing about the fact that one of the straps of the huge tank top I wore over my suit kept falling off my shoulder. I was vaguely aware that there was something "wrong" about appearing that way in public and that now that I was older it involved more than just looking "presentable." I though it was a stupid thing to worry about though, and I wasn't doing it on purpose (at first) and I decided that I liked the way it felt anyway. (One of the upsides of reaching puberty that I didn't recognize as such for a long while was that I became even more aware of how things felt against my skin.)

As a even a little girl you are so often told that your body is not for doing things, it is for looking pretty. When you reach puberty this only intensifies, and at twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, you just want someone to empathize, not to tell you that it will get better one day or that you will learn to like how everyone is treating you and looking at you.

The worst consequence, in my opinion, of our idolization of youth, is that women are most exposed to the male gaze at the time when they are still girls and in fact are even more vulnerable to other opinions than they were as young girls. Just at the time when I needed to be looked at with more tolerance, compassion and empathy than ever, I was more objectified than I ever have been and likely will be. I knew all this was happening too, but I didn't have the experience or language to analyze it beyond feeling that it was terribly unfair and terribly frightening. Even now it's hard to explain to people that what made me mad about the boys finally letting the girls play touch football in sixth grade (after years of being shunned from most pick-up games) - and the girls wanting to play (after years of not having any female friends willing to play anything other than handball) - was that my peers felt it was ok to use each other this way, and that it was obvious that so much about the dynamics were terribly unequal (it's not like the boys were joining in games of jump rope or sitting down and talking with us). It wasn't so much that I felt like anyone was outright telling me that I couldn't play (although that did happen), but that everyone was making it very clear that the only thing I they wanted girls to contribute was our looks. In fact, it was the first time that it was made clear that our looks were important because it made boys want to do things to us - in this case touch us - not just look at us and certainly not do anything with us - they didn't seem to want us to touch them and we certainly weren't supposed to want to do that anyway.

What made situations like that last doctor's visit especially hard is that I knew that not only was I supposed to be pretty - and yet I was deeply ashamed because I felt as though I wasn't - but that I also knew that I was supposed to be modest, and that the latter was even more important, if that's possible. That stupid strap was somehow vitally important to my mother - and yet I was expected to take my whole shirt off for a complete stranger, showing him parts of me so indecent that they must be covered up with a special type of undergarment, and do so without complaint. I was supposed to play touch football with the boys, and yet not only was I not supposed to care that they didn't actually want to play with me, but I was somehow supposed to like their self-centered gaze and yet not want to be touched. It was so completely illogical and confusing that I just gave up trying to figure it all out and decided that everyone was just plain stupid.

When I told my mother that I wasn't going back to the doctor's she agreed - she knew how upset the last visit had made me, and there had not been anything wrong with me in a decade. When the call came next spring reminding her to make the appointment, she just ignored it. Soon after, I decided to ignore the boys - and girls - who only seemed to care what I wore or how I looked. They had never been terribly nice to me anyway. It took a lot longer, unfortunately, to learn to be not ashamed of my body - to enjoy it and my sexuality and to not compare my body to some unrealistic ideal. In fact, these are things I'm still very much working on.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Blogging Announcement

My sister, niece and nephew are coming to visit for several weeks starting today and my brother and his girlfriend are coming to visit for one of those same weeks, so things are going to be busy busy busy in the Kingdom of Westmark for a while. Blogging will be light to non-existent as I try to spend as much time with my family as possible. I promise that I will be back and I promise to try to check in every so often.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

What Princesses Are Made Of

For various reasons, some of the junk mail that comes to the house is aimed at parents with small children (even though none live here). One of the most recent was an invitation to join the Disney Princess Book Club. As anyone with eyes can see, I like pink. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I do not have an aversion to "girly" things. The Disney Princess line has always annoyed me a little bit though, and reading the promotional material, I realized why.

When I was a kid, my parents signed up for a book club called ValuTales. Every month for a few years a hardback book about some famous person and the important characteristic their life exemplified would come via the US Postal Service. Most of the books were about men, but there were plenty about women. The values that were praised ranged from Florence Nightingale's "Compassion" to Sacagawea's sense of "Adventure", from the the Wright Brother's "Patience" to Alexander Graham Bell's "Self-discipline". The one I remember best was about Nellie Bly. I was absolutely fascinated by her courage, self-confidence, and daring.

They were very much "pre-PC" and being the commie loving liberal that I am, I think they were worse off for it. The values tended to divide along gender lines (Harriet Tubman was "Caring" and Nellie Bly was "Fairness" while Jefferson was "Foresight" and Edison was "Creativity"). I understand that discussing Helen Keller's socialism would be problematic when it comes to nine-year olds, but there's no excuse for Nightingale's story to not mention her role in furthering the study of statistics and how her work in that field was instrumental to her humanitarian work. I'm also fairly certain that Columbus was not the best choice for "Curiosity" - surely there were plenty of better options for that one.

Compared to the current Disney Princess series though, they were practically revolutionary - it seems as though we've taken several steps back.

The literature for the Disney Princess series tells parents that

...each all-new, character-building story asks your daughter “What would a princess do?” when faced with a challenging following their example, your daughter will begin to understand that a true princess should be kind, polite, and respectful at all times.
Apparently princesses do not need to be adventurous like Sacagawea (no wonder why Pocahontas sucked) know the value of "Laughter", like Lucille Ball, or even know the importance of "Learning", like Marie Curie.

If good manners is all that it takes to be a princess, count me out. My favorite ones growing up were daring and courageous as well. When you've got that many people counting on you, you've got to be. Even if it means giving your prince the boot for being a twit.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Why am I having so much trouble understanding customer's questions lately?

Am I losing my hearing or are they just speaking gibberish?

You'd think it would be simple. "I want a book by (blah blah) and I think it's called (blah blah)." Instead, I get Mr. I Need to Buy the First in a Series that I Can't Remember Anything About.

Me: Have you been helped?

Mr. INBFSICRAA: No. I'm looking for a book by Forsythe.

Me: Do you remember the author's first name?


Me: Do you know what the book is about?

Mr. INBFSICRAA: No. It's a series though.

Me: Do you mean the Forsythe saga?

Mr. INBFSICRAA looks at me like I'm crazy: No. I think her first name is Kate.

(I do a phonetic search for Kate Forsythe and come up with a bunch of science fiction books by an author named Kate Forsyth.)

Me: Do you know which one you are looking for?

Mr. INBFSICRAA: The first one.

(Our stupid database/search engine doesn't have a spot for the series title or number except in the summary that you have to click on the book to get to, so I try the one with the earliest copyright date and when that doesn't help I have to through them one by one. Mr. INBFSICRAA starts to get impatient.)

Me: Do you think you might recognize the title if I read them to you?

Mr. INBFSICRAA is incredibly impatient and so I just turn the screen around even though that's not actually faster because I still have to scroll for him. He does recognize it - only we don't have it at the moment because someone apparently came in and bought up all this author's books recently.

If I were a better person or a better employee, I'd feel much more sympathy for Mr. INBFSICRAA.

Or maybe I would just feel more sympathetic towards him if I actually believed that he didn't remember that it was fantasy/scifi, seeing as how that bit of information was more useful than the fact that it was part of a series and would have saved us both time.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Eighth Carnival of the Feminists is Up!

Thanks to Emma and Emmy at gendergeek.

The Fuck?

From the In These Times article on progressive blogs:

(hat tip to Amanda, who has a quote)

Stoller does not think that it’s important for blogs to reach a less-affluent audience: “Not everybody has to be part of that conversation. If someone wants to have access to those discussions, they should be able to do that. But for the most part, people—like that person working two shifts—will go on with their lives knowing that good people are making good decisions and policies on their behalf.”
Um, ok.

And the colonists were just ever so happy knowing that the "good" aristocrats were "making good decisions and policies on their behalf."

Listen people, democracy is about more than just voting.

It's one thing to resign yourself to the fact that life isn't fair, and equality is simply something we all strive for - or admit that some people are more interested in politics than others. It's quite another to be unconcerned that "that person working two shifts" is not part of the conversation.

Does Stoller even understand the point of representative democracy, or does he think it's all just good and dandy as long as everyone has the right to vote? If this is the face of progressive politics in America, no wonder we're losing.

And, of course, I just loved this:
The Washington Monthly profile of Moulitsas included a revealing quote, in which he expressed disappointment at not being able to fulfill his dream of making it big in the tech industry back in 1998: “Maybe at some time, Silicon Valley really was this democratic ideal where the guy with the best idea made a billion dollars, but by the time I got there at least, it was just like anything else—a bunch of rich kids who knew each other running around and it all depended on who you knew.”
Yes, I want the person "leading" the grassnets to be the kind of person that not only buys into the American Dream as personified by Bill Gates, but who thinks that has shit to do with democracy rather than meritocracy. No wonder he's such an ass.

No, Wait

This one is my favorite.

Or maybe this one.

No, definitely this one. (Yeah...I'll check the back for you, you just wait here.)

Monday, February 06, 2006


A comic strip about a library with regular book reviews on Sundays!

This is my fave strip so far. And I soooooooo want this shirt. Hmmmm...I might even be able to convince my manager to let me wear it at work. Hey! she said we could wear relevant t-shirts during events.

hat tip to Scott Westerfeld - whom I'm having a serious literary crush on after having finished the first Midnighters book. I'm almost feeling guilty that it was a strip. (I'll just have to hand sell a few to make up for it).

Little Girl Dresses

I loved dresses when I was little – especially the princess style dresses with poufy skirts. For some reason, whenever I’d think about that time, I used to imagine myself liking them only because of how they look; that I adored them so because they were pink and I was a girly girl – according to my mom and sister.

It’s amazing how much crap I’ve simply accepted as true because it’s conventional wisdom, despite considering myself a feminist from practically grade school on.

I did indeed like dresses because of how they looked, and in turn how they made me look, but when I actually stopped and thought about it the other day, I realized that I also loved dresses because of how they felt. Ankle length dresses may not have been made for doing cartwheels in (as I found out when my mother relented and let me wear one to school in third grade) but little girl dresses with princess skirts are not made for sitting sedately either. They are made for skipping, spinning, twirling, and prancing about the room – all of which may look cute, but just as importantly feel different in a poufy skirt than they do without. The weight and movement of the skirt emphasizes your own actions and makes it that little bit more fun. Like the difference between good food that’s hot and good food that’s no longer warm.

But when little girls like the poufy pink skirts we buy for them, we assume they like them for the same reasons we buy them – because we think they are cute. That’s a pretty arrogant assumption, but one that society often makes when it comes to kids and women - so girls get it the worst.

Parental attention does have a lot to do with it – that was easy enough to see with my younger cousin. Her father would have thrown a fit if his son had played with her dolls but loudly found her adorable and perfect whenever she was dolled up in her party dresses. Kids aren’t stupid – even at three and four – and so, of course, she loved her dresses.

But whether or not one is a kinesthetic learner has something to do with it as well – in my case, at least. And yet we are so inundated with messages about what girls and boys like – and why they like them – that even as feminists it’s hard to cut through the bullshit and consider the question from the little girls point of view.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Face Up and Sing

(I'm a crappy singer,
but I should have
joined in a long while ago,
so here's my song)

Science has always been magical to me. Launching rockets, watching Mr. Wizard, picking things out to dip into the liquid nitrogen my dad had left over from his lecture - how could these things not be fun? Science has also always been one of those things that I identified with. With a physics professor as a private tutor, I was always one step ahead of the game in school and (almost) always brought home the blue ribbon from the yearly science fair.

Even more, it was my childhood. Tagging along with Dad to work either meant getting to go to star-gazing parties or getting to play with all the toys in his lab. Plastic sit-and-spins were for kids not lucky enough to have a dad with a metal one for demos, lab carts were made for climbing on and racing down the aisles, and begging incessantly and jumping up and down was the surest way to get to play with the "bumper cars".

At some point I learned, though, that others did not see the scientist in me, and it made me doubt what I had always known. My parents kept me out of Earth Science in middle school, and I was uncertain as to why. High school lab partners would ignore my suggestions, run to the teacher for help, and come back with exactly what I had just said. While working as an intern one summer for LLUMC, I was regulated to filing for the week we were to spend helping build the electronics for the new proton accelerator. I knew that science belonged to me in a way that it didn't belong to most girls, but I learned that it was not mine in quite the same way that it belonged to guys like my dad. Girls who see magic in the fact that oranges are literally made out of sunshine, rain and wind don't mix well with the serious face of science. They are, however, tolerated - even at times revered - in the arts and humanities.

Thankfully, the men and women who carry on Mary Lyon's legacy saw my ACT scores, GPA, and internship, and saw something different. They saw a young woman who would fit in just fine at a women's college where quarter of the students major in the natural sciences and more than a third of them in the social sciences. My mother, to this day, insists that I was "recruited" and the generous financial aid package I received was a direct result of my scientific successes. She may very well be right for, I must admit, if that was the intent, it was a success - although a qualified one. I entered as a freshman who was too uncertain of her abilities to risk taking both math and science during the same semester - and left with a degree in physics, cum laude.

The question then becomes, why am I no longer in science?

The full answer to this question is painful because it means talking about my failures and shortcomings, real and imagined. It means not only acknowledging that I've often refused to talk about some of the ways in which I've been treated because I've always thought it was partly my own fault, but also admitting that my biggest problems have been a lack of social skills and courage. It means exposing my vulnerabilities even though my extreme sensitivity has always been one of my most persistent faults.

But it's also well past time I spoke up, and important that I do so. I can no longer stay silent in the face of the many ignorant comments like those found at the slashdot thread Emma so eloquently dissected.

For example:

What, really, is the objective value in trying to convince women to do things they are freely choosing not to do?
The arrogance of this statement is that it assumes that women like me are "freely" choosing not enter into tech, math, and physics based soley on our relationship to the actual field of study. Nothing could be further from the truth in my case. Such assumptions are doubly arrogant considering the fact that the same commenter also wrote:
If the message that boys receive is "scientists and engineers = female", are the already underperforming boys going to be more or less motivated to study math and science?
Which smacks of the same kind of attitude that I've seen before in in 99.99% of the boys who come into my store - the idea anything that isn't dominated by boys is for girls by default. Contrast that with the number of bachelor degrees in physics that were awarded to women in 2001 (23%).

I do not work for little more than minimum wage in the kid's section of a large bookstore because I am "naturally" better at dealing with kids or because I cannot cut it - tech wise - in a technical field. I work where I do mainly because books, unlike science, have never ceased to be safe, and I've always been on the nervous and shy side. While I do not blame sexism alone for constricting my choices, my logical brain cannot but boggle at the audacity of men who cry "cooties!" at the mere mention of anything not hypermasculine and then turn around and say that I'm not competitive enough. Seriously, watch how the slashdotters mock femininity by joking about "Hello Kitty lab coats" and then recoil in horror at their own invention.

Although, I must ask, was is so frightening or wrong about femininity in science and tech? My computer has a Strawberry Shortcake sticker on it - does that revoke my nerd status somehow? Is it so preposterous to want to be feminine and still expect to be taken seriously? Apparently so, for the only accepted reason for wanting more women in science is for the sake of the guys. Ha! As tekanji says: "We are not geeks for you!"
People who want to do this stuff will do it.
No, actually, for some reason even those of us that want to do this type of work often don't. Part of it is because, as Ms. PhD admits:
When I was a grad student, I had that girlie handicap that I was terrified of breaking things. I had gotten yelled at as a child for breaking a ceramic sugar bowl and just assumed everything else in life would be like that- better to stay away than to get yelled at.
I had that too as a kid. I loved figuring out how things worked, but I was extremely afraid of breaking something and getting in trouble or failing and disappointing everyone. And no, this isn't because I was less adventurous - my mind went everywhere my hands were afraid to. It was because I was a girl and I was taught to be careful. It was because I was a girl and so I thought that when I failed, I was a failure; if I succeeded, it was because of luck or outside help. I was especially sensitive to this during all those years of winning at science fairs; internally, I downplayed my own work and attributed most of it to my father's help. Boys, on the other hand, usually blame their failures on external factors and take credit for their successes. Most telling of all, I gave my dad credit for my success, but not for my brothers'.
There doesn't appear to be any significant roadblocks in their way that would prevent them from going further in a scientific career today than in the past.
Really? How about social factors? I don't just mean how kids are brought up, I mean the type of environment women pursuing advanced degrees in physics would likely face.

I chose to major in physics not only because of the subject, but because of the people in the department. In my experience, that holds true for a large number of undergrads. Why would anyone choose a path that would involve making them a permanent Smurfette over choosing a similar path where they would be more likely to be seen as simply a scientist? The truth is that physics no longer competes with home ec for girls attention, it competes with biochemistry, medicine, and a whole host of other scientific fields that, despite being remarkably similar, do not suffer from a lack of interested women - or a more balanced social environment.
I couldn't name a single mathematician as a kid. I had no role models...I didn't know a single mathematician or scientist.
Bullshit. Most boys could name their teachers, college professors, peers, and the guys in white coats on TV. Even my physics department was lacking in female role models - but it at least tried to make up for it by fostering strong ties between under- and upper- classwomen. That alone made all the difference in the world in my case. Watching those wonderful, confident young women accomplish so much, and then have them turn around and encourage me was essential to my success. Good academic work usually relies on good support from teachers, advisors, and peers. Women considering applying for a master's programs in physics at MIT rightly wonder if they will receive the same support as their male peers. Even in the absence of active discrimination, institutional sexism can be daunting, if not devastating.

When I began studying physics at MHC it was like I had been handed back a part of myself that I had lost. For some reason, I keep losing it again and again. I know this because I feel its absence like a missing limb, not because I look at the stats of women going into physics and think "oh, the horror!" (although, yes, it is pretty pathetic) - so the fact that people keep arguing that women like me do what we do only because of innate likes and dislikes frustrates me to no end. I am where I am and I do what I do in large part because being a women in physics, statistics, and computer science often requires that one be either a bit heroic - or one of the guys. I wish I could be the former, but I must admit I am quite often a coward, and I have absolutely no desire to be the latter.

Life is not binary. Sexism may not be the only thing responsible for my exodus from physics, but neither can it be fully absolved of culpability.

I Heart Amanda

not that that's anything new, of course

"The conservative worldview is pretty easy to describe, and while Lakoff shied away from the word, the proper word is “patriarchy”."

Yeah, I'd say that pretty much sums up the Dems inability to reframe the debate on, well, everything, dontcha think? If, even behind closed doors, they refuse to admit this simple fact, how, exactly, can they expect to come up with anything that is both concise and marketable in contrast to it?