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President Grandma and the Shrill Working Mothers

Women are just more emotional than men. Have you heard this statement before? I sure have. Much like, “Like a girl,” it seems to have a negative energy surrounding it. It is never said like, “Wow, women are so much more emotional than men,” but more like, “ugh, women are just so emotional.” It belongs in the same pile of crap as statements such as, “Women aren’t as tough as men,” or, “Women don’t have a thick enough skin,” or, “How will she make good decisions when she is on her period?” Or maybe even the dreaded, “She is a mother. How will she do her job and be a mother?” Yes, we have probably all heard something along these lines in our lives, if not directed at us, then in mainstream media stories, or from friends or family members who have experienced it. Example: Charlie Rose asks Bill Clinton on “CBS This Morning” whether Hillary would rather be a grandmother or president of the United States. Excuse me, what? Would Hillary rather be a grandmother or the president? How about both? How about all of us smart, capable, working women would rather you not ask fluffy, idiotic, useless questions about how our dedication to our families might impact our work. Sorry, I had to rant for a second, but seriously…come on with this shit. In my experience, women who are dedicated to their careers are perfectly capable of doing amazing things in their jobs AND being good mothers. Or grandmothers, sisters, daughters, friends, aunties, cousins, wives, and the multitude of other roles they play. Women who want to make it work, make it work. Women are great multi-taskers, way better than men (I have lots of anecdotal evidence to support this).   The way Mr. Rose asks the question about Hillary, with a gentle, sweet intonation and tilt of the head, is so saccharine sweet it makes me want to barf. (If you want to see for yourself check it out here – I am particularly loving how Bill almost chokes on his drink)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/24/bill-clinton-hillary-clinton-grandmother_n_3981223.html

The way Chuck dances into the question is almost an admission that the question is completely insulting. It makes it seem as though he is conveying, “I am not really saying she cannot do both, but we want to know how a woman is going to do the extremely difficult task of being president while her daughter is raising a child, because that means she will be a grandmother and she couldn’t possibly be a grandmother and run the country.” Has anyone EVER IN THE HISTORY OF BROADCAST MEDIA asked a man who was running for office (or thinking about running for office), “How will you manage to be a dad and a public official!” No. Because it doesn’t even cross our minds that a man’s familial connections might interfere with his ability to be a strong leader. Now a woman, that is another story. Is it possible that a woman, with estrogen coursing through her body and her brain clouded by emotions, could be a strong leader when the going gets tough? (In case you haven’t noticed, this is dripping with sarcasm). This notion that women are too soft, too meek, too tied up in familial roles to thrive in high powered careers, is completely outdated and not supported by any concrete evidence. And, it makes me want to barf (wait…I said that already. It is worth repeating. Barf.)

In my own life, having children has made me way more efficient in my job. That is really just a more formal way of saying I have limited time to fuck off. Basically, I have no time to fuck off, and have to get the most out of every minute of my workday. Additionally, when I do have time with my boys, I have to be present, engaged, and fully embrace the limited time I have with them. In that way I cut down on the time I waste worrying about work when I am with my kids, and the time I waste worrying about my kids when I am at work. When I spent a summer working part time at a large petroleum company (I won’t say which one, but it is LARGE), I witnessed men standing around drinking coffee shooting the shit every single day, for hours at a time. I never once saw a woman engaged in this nonsense. Why?   I suspect it is because by and large working women are at work to get shit done. They often have kids to get home to at the end of the day so they buckle down and get shit done. I am sure there are exceptions, but in general I see men wasting time at work more often than women. It might have something to do with the fact that they don’t necessarily have to be home at a certain time to be with the kids, or maybe it’s just that they feel it is accepted to need to work late, but to working mothers working late can feel unacceptable. Even with all that coffee drinking and shit shooting men get paid more than women do, on average. They must need the extra cash for all that coffee.

I believe whole heartedly that children, boys and girls, benefit immensely from seeing their mother as an independent, self sufficient woman who has a fulfilling career or other passion that sometimes takes her away from the home and the family. Kids, Mama has a life outside of this house and it is important to me. Get used to it. But it also might be important for kids to see Dad spend more time at home, or at least for them to get the sense that being home is a priority. Just like it is accepted for Moms to be the ones to rush home for kid duty, it is generally accepted that Dads will be at work late more often than Moms. I know there are cases in which this is reversed, but even when Mom is the breadwinner, kids want Mom home. If Mom has to go out for some reason, after work hours, kids balk. When it’s Dad, kids seem fine with it. Kids are pretty honest, saying it like it is, and the truth is, Moms are just expected to be less engaged with work and more engaged with kids.  But spend too little time at work and a woman risks the criticism that she cannot be both a good mom and a good career woman.

A couple of days ago a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook, an opinion piece from the NY Times. It was written by Tara Mohr (see link to her website in my links at right), and is entitled Learning to Love Criticism (see article below).

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/28/opinion/sunday/learning-to-love-criticism.html?_r=0

Tara writes about a study that looked at workplace performance reviews given to both men and women, that found that managers (both male and female) generally had more negative feedback for female employees, and that much of the negative feedback given to women had to do with their personalities. 76% of negative feedback to women included personality criticism, while only 2% of men’s negative reviews included anything related to their personalities. This is not surprising to me at all. I have written before about the double standard women face at work, and how as a teacher I have felt this double standard personally. If I am tough in the classroom I am a bitch, but when my male colleagues are tough they are considered, well, tough. The study explored some interesting ideas, such as the impossibility of doing substantive work without being criticized in some way, because to make progress sometimes you have to make tough decisions that not everyone is pleased with. I think it is much like parenting in that way – sometimes the troops don’t like the tough love, but it might just be the best thing for ‘em. But perhaps the most frustrating interpretation of the study is that women have to strive to be liked, by everyone, all the time. And when we are not liked, we are supposed to have a thick skin and take it like a man. Wait. What?  Let me get this straight. I am supposed to be tough, but not so tough that people don’t like me, but if someone doesn’t like something I do or say I should expect to be told, and to deal with it without any emotional reaction, but if I don’t have emotions people won’t like me…AAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!! Should I be bitchy sweet or sweetie pie bitch? How about I should be myself and see how that goes? It seems as a woman, being myself is not always good enough when it comes to being liked in the workplace. Being trapped in an impossible situation seems to be a common theme for women across many careers. It is also that way in motherhood, as we strive to make our children happy while simultaneously proving our worth in the workplace.

What is really interesting in Tara’s piece is how she draws a parallel between how women used to need to be friendly to survive (literally), and how being friendly in our work life allows us to survive in our careers. When women couldn’t own property or have money of their own they relied on others in power to take care of them. It helped to be liked. Now, women can take care of themselves, but we are still held to the impossible standard of being liked by all, while still being tough, smart, strong, and able to make hard decisions. Does a male leader have to be liked? No way. In fact, in movies, television, and books, the male leaders are often surly and gruff, with a strong exterior that is hard to penetrate. We never quite know what their emotions are, and it makes them seem formidable and deserving of respect. The women usually wear their hearts on their sleeves and are often portrayed as weepy messes, just trying to survive among all the tough men.

The last part of the NY Times piece suggests that women should learn to accept criticism, not let it bother them, and take from it clues about what our clients or employers need from us. In other words, it is all just feedback and we can use that feedback to our advantage. I agree that feedback, both positive and negative, is extremely valuable in propelling us forward to increased success. Hell, most of the feedback I ever got as a PhD student was negative, but somehow I graduated, published some stuff, and got a pretty darn good job. Trying to break into the world of writing is full of negative feedback (as evidenced by the many rejections I received when trying to land an agent). Look ladies, rejection sucks, criticism sucks, and it is never going to feel good. What we do with it is what really matters, and I agree with Tara on this point. We can rage, get pissed off, let it hurt our feelings, throw up our hands, yell at the people who are criticizing us, run and hide. Or, we can try and find something valuable in the criticism that we can use in our mission to climb the ladder, find an agent, achieve that goal, publish that book, and move forward.

I would add, though, the observation that the statistics from the study are quite striking and should have us all concerned. WHY are women criticized about personality traits so much more than men in the workplace? It can’t be because all women have crappy personalities and all men are just delightful. In my experience women work harder to be liked, and yet, women are being criticized for personality traits more often than men. There is something going on here that is deeply disturbing, and women finding a way to learn from it is only one part of the solution. We should be asking why so many women are criticized about their personality traits. Is this even appropriate for a performance review? Unless your personality traits are interfering with your job performance I would argue, no. Does it truly serve a purpose to tell a woman she is abrasive or judgmental?   How about strident, which means having a shrill, irritating quality. This was one of the words frequently used in the evaluations of female employees. Strident. Shrill and irritating. I cannot think of two more insulting words someone could use to describe a woman.  Shrill and irritating.  I wonder how many men were called strident? How is telling me I am strident, or abrasive, going to help me improve as an employee? It isn’t. These descriptive words are used simply to highlight something negative about a person. “Hey, you are shrill and irritating but you can learn from that and grow in your career.” Really? I don’t think so. You are calling me shrill, and that is a flat out insult. Why do you even want me on your team if you think I am shrill and irritating? Why should I have to find the lesson in that and learn from it?  I just learned that you think I am shrill and irritating, but I cannot change who I am.  Even more shocking is that women managers criticize their female employees’ personalities too! A woman telling another woman she is shrill and irritating, that is irritating. Ladies…where’s the love, the support, the constructive criticism?

And why is it a bad thing to have an emotional reaction to something? Call me crazy (or maybe, shrill), but to me having an emotional reaction means you are human. You have feelings. You have empathy, and sympathy, and you care deeply about other human beings. Aren’t these qualities you would want in a leader? If someone is going to be making decisions about the well being of an entire nation, and possibly intervening on behalf of those who are oppressed or abused, don’t you want them to have empathy, sympathy, and a deep caring for others? Being a tough as nails automaton with limited emotional investment doesn’t make you better, stronger, or more capable. It kind of makes you a jerk. (Oops, sorry, maybe that was too direct.  Just take it and learn from it).

So yes, ladies, feedback in all its forms can be useful. We can learn from the suggestions, observations, and constructive criticisms of our peers, bosses, and mentors. But being called shrill, or abrasive, or judgmental…this is not constructive criticism. This is woman bashing, and serves no professional purpose. If men are going to be evaluated on their personalities in the workplace then fine, bring it on. If personality traits become part of the mainstream career evaluation criteria of both genders well, okay then. But until that day, we as women should expect no less than to be evaluated on our skills, abilities, and performance in our careers.

Is that too straightforward (i.e., barefaced, direct, veracious, outspoken, frank, or guileless) of me? Should I be nicer about it? Maybe say, “pretty please could you find it in your heart to judge me on my merits?” Would it be too straightforward for a man to expect to be judged solely on his skills, abilities, and performance?  Would he beg sweetly for that appropriate type of evaluation?

Well, I’m not gonna beg.  Give me something valuable and constructive that I can use or get the fuck out of my pretty little face. How’s that for shrill?

 

 

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Guitar Goddesses Rock #LikeAGirl

I am in the midst of a journey beyond my comfort zone that has been ongoing for almost two years now. It doesn’t involve living in a tent. It doesn’t involve travel. It doesn’t involve high altitude, or peeing outdoors in the blowing wind, or eating scary food. But it does involve jumping into something difficult, something I always wanted to do, something physically and mentally taxing, and working my ass off with often minimally stunning results. I am talking about learning how to play the guitar. Holy crap, it’s hard. I grew up with a musician father, and have a good ear for music. I played clarinet through middle and high school, reading music was a breeze, and taught myself how to play piano for a while when I was in high school. I can hear what notes should come next, and can pick out when notes are off or out of place. But the execution of playing guitar is difficult for me. The instrument itself is a tough bitch to tame.

When I was a kid my father tried numerous times to teach me to play guitar. It was his passion, and he was a great teacher and a great player. But I was not ready to commit to the difficult task of practicing this instrument that made my fingers sore, and more often than not sounded muted and cranky because I could not finger the chords properly, or strongly enough. It was less than satisfying and I blew it off. It is my single biggest regret in life, and here I am at 40 years old starting over and trying to learn how to master this complex instrument. It is true what they say – it is easier to learn anything when you are young, and learning guitar is no exception. I have somehow managed to get to the point where I can play songs and even squeak out some solo notes over background chords if the song isn’t too fast or complicated. But being the competitive, type A, overachiever that I am, I constantly feel as if I am not good enough, maybe even a complete lost cause and should throw in the towel before I have to face the grim reality that I suck. But I push on, because, hell, this is just my kind of situation. Uncomfortable? Yup. Difficult? Absolutely. Utterly euphoric when I feel the slightest bit of success? Oh yeah. So my fingers are often sore, and my once smooth fingertips are rough and callused, sometimes to the point of peeling off, but on I go.

I have this very vivid fantasy in my brain of being on a stage in a crazy outfit, black eye liner, black boots, rocking out on my guitar while a band of sweaty guys backs me up and the crowd goes wild. It is utterly nonsensical, I know, and not something that will ever happen, but I love to think about what it must feel like to be able to rock out like a banshee. If I ever attempted this I wonder what my colleagues in the science world would think.  This gets me thinking again about what is considered normal for women, and just like my previous post about the Scientific 100 (100 most groundbreaking scientists of all time), any lists of the best guitarists of all time are extremely lacking in female representation. As in science, males dominate the world of guitar playing. At least, the world of being famous and making your living as a guitarist is dominated by males. Again, I don’t say this to hate on the men because, believe me, I have a deep and some might say unhealthy love and respect for guitar playing men. I am completely in awe of anyone who can play a mean guitar. If I could sell my soul to the devil and be granted the gift of guitar goddess status, I would do it in a heartbeat. Yes, I would do it. I am serious. I suppose I could just practice more and be satisfied with being able to play a few tunes and the enjoyment that brings. Yeah, that sounds more reasonable.

But in the spirit of #LikeAGirl, and all of the things women do that some would say are against type, not normal, and beyond their comfort zone, I would like to generate my own list of guitar goddesses and worship them through my words, all the while wishing I could do just a small iota of what they do with a guitar. I might forget some that you think are worthy of a shout out and if I do, please comment below and share with me your favorite female guitarists and why you love them! I have my black eyeliner and thigh high boots on (figuratively speaking), and I am ready to rock!

Nancy Wilson is at the top of my list for so many reasons. Not everyone knows that she composed much of the music for Heart, and played some of the leads as well as kick ass rhythm guitar. She can sing too. I love how on the Heart album covers she often looked like such an innocent, angelic lady, but put a guitar in her hands and she was a tiger. The juxtaposition of ladylike and badass is perfection. That beginning part of Crazy on You…that’s all her. Check it out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-RY8bd3lLc

Now let’s talk about Joan. Joan Jett started out in a band called the Runaways when she was just a kid. Guess who else was in the band? Lita Ford. Two rocking women who both went on to commercial success. But Joan is the epitome of I Don’t Give A Fuck. She is a woman who seems completely comfortable in her skin, and completely unapologetic about being tough and crass. She wears he guitar slung low like a heavy metal rocker dude. Her uniform is skintight black leather. Everyone knows her for I Love Rock n Roll, but what about I Hate Myself For Loving You, and Do Ya Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah). Why shouldn’t a woman flat out ask for it?   You go, Joan.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gszk_As7FYo

How many of you know about Orianthi Panagaris? Michael Jackson chose her to tour with him on his last tour (unfortunately, she never got the chance). He picked her because she could slam the solo from Beat It. She is absolutely unbelievable. Watch her tear it up here on Voodoo Child. Oh. My. God. She is just as good, if not better, than most of the male masters out there but I bet you have never heard of her. Well, now you have.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK6tcgsKgps

Blues, baby. If you can finesse the blues you are a goddess, in my book. Which brings us to Miss Bonnie Raitt, master of the blues, with her soulful, raspy voice and guitar skills, including playing a mean slide. Love Me Like A Man is another unapologetic anthem for all women who believe that we are just as entitled as men to ask for what we want, and get it. Never settle, ladies. Never Settle. Watch her here, backed up only by a bass. That’s all her, carrying that whole song. Guitar. Goddess.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pxUEBqaLfM

And some more recent additions to this world of wild women, showing us all that man handling a guitar and belting out mad lead vocals is indeed behaving #LikeAGirl. The first is Grace Potter, leader of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. This woman is hot, she can sing, and she plays guitar. She struts around on stage in micro mini dresses and heels while playing a Flying V guitar, and she rocks the house. Grace with gusto!

http://vimeo.com/15812563

And finally, Lzzy Hale of Halestorm. Oh my. I will admit, I had to be schooled on her by my male guitar teacher-I had no idea who she was. I have been missing out. This woman is not messing around. She can play. She can sing. And in the tradition of Joan Jett and Lita Ford, she isn’t afraid to wear torn leather short shorts, sling her guitar low, and sing about drinking and fucking around. “If you’re a freak like me, wave your flag,” she sings. What a message. “If you’re a freak like me, don’t apologize. They can’t hold you down, you were born to rise.” Women, ya hear that?  They can’t hold you down, no matter what you want to do. Guys, you don’t get to monopolize the market of hard rocking, unapologetic hedonism in the world of rock and roll. Get outta Lzzy’s way – she’s got the goods.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sXoA7B5yJo

More guitar women that deserve a shout out: Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, Charro (yes, she can play like nobody’s business), Ani DiFranco, Chrissie Hynde, Tracy Chapman. All these ladies are unbelievably talented and can old their own on any stage, as the headliner, all alone, no male guitar players needed. I wanted to spend time with them tonight, not just because I idolize and worship their skills and talent, but because they are such a gorgeous example of women pushing the boundaries of what society deems normal female behavior and saying, screw it, this is who I am, and I am going to rock the shit out of it. They weren’t afraid to pursue their passion in a male dominated world.

And you know what? They don’t just survive in the male dominated world of rock and roll. They steal the show. Yeah…oh yeah….oh yeah.

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Like A Girl

Yesterday I tweeted the YouTube video below. A young woman who is a student in our geosciences department brought it to my attention. I had never seen it before, but now that I have I cannot stop thinking about it. Take a look:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjJQBjWYDTs&feature=youtu.be

It was directed by Lauren Greenfield, an amazing woman, who you can check out here:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1132362/ or

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lauren-Greenfield/91411195112

It is somewhat ironic that this particular young woman brought this stunning video to my attention, as she has discussed with me one of the sentiments of the video, which is that girls are often viewed as weaker when it comes to running, fighting, throwing, being leaders, etc. This young woman was in the military and led her platoon, and they did not like it. They gave her hell. She kept doing it, because she knew she was good at it. And now, she is making her way in science because she loves science and wants to be a scientist. Her parents weren’t scientists. Nobody told her to be a scientist. She wants to be, so she will be. Being a leader in the military is #LikeAGirl. Doing science is #LikeAGirl. So there.

I love how the #LikeAGirl video brings to the fore the fact that everything a girl does is “like a girl.” Duh. Saying I run like a girl is like saying you respirate like a human being.  Duh.  The video also makes the viewer ponder why that is a bad thing. The young girls in the video recognize that “like a girl” is not a compliment. I was shocked to see the grown women imitating the asinine stereotypes of running like a girl, and fighting like a girl, and throwing like a girl. Even the young boy knows he is insulting girls (but not his sister). Ah. So it is ok to insult girls in general, but it doesn’t apply if the girl is your family member. This seems to be a pervasive attitude. I love how as this young boy is saying, “No, well, yes…” he is realizing, at that moment, on camera, that what he is doing is insulting to girls, and oh shit, I have a sister…I better address that! The poor kid. I don’t think he meant to insult his sister. But it is extremely clear that #LikeAGirl means something to him, and apparently everyone else, that is inherently insulting.  Whether it is intentional or not, saying #LikeAGirl evokes a very unfavorable vibe.

In other words, if you are a girl, your very existence is a joke. The way you do things is fodder for negative stereotypes. All because you are a girl.  Have we as a species gone absolutely insane?  This is bananas.

From “feminism,” to “like a girl,” and “don’t be such a girl,” there is a scary trend of negativity surrounding anything that seems to be girl related. I love that this video, in its own small way, is trying to change the tone of “like a girl” to mean something positive, strong, and kick ass. Girls’ confidence plummeting during puberty is something I can attest to first hand. I have felt it. I have seen it in other young girls. My friends have shared with me their experiences of losing their confidence around middle school. I distinctly remember thinking I was really smart prior to about sixth grade, and then doubting that I was anywhere near as smart as my male counterparts from middle school on. For me it persisted through college, and graduate school, and even into my adult life, until I got to the point where I just didn’t give a shit anymore. (I am forty years old and this only just happened very recently) I have no doubt that this drop in confidence is real for girls, it is disheartening for girls, it is devastating for some girls, and it is something we need to work on not just as moms or aunts or sisters or friends, but as a society. As humans. Male or female, young or old, we need to rewrite the meaning of “Like A Girl.”

And so, here are some pretty damn awesome things I have seen recently that I think of when we say, “Like A Girl.” These are just a few to whet your whistle. There are so many ways that #LikeAGirl means something absolutely freaking incredible.  If you know of more, share them with me in the comments below!

This is what it means to do science #LikeAGirl

http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/and-the-grand-prize-winners-of-the-google-science-fair-2014-are/

This is what it looks like to do field work #LikeAGirl

Doing field work in cold, blowing wind at 16,000 feet elevation in Tibet.

Doing field work in cold, blowing wind at 16,000 feet elevation in Tibet.

This is what it means to dance #LikeAGirl (don’t mess with Misty)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZY0cdXr_1MA

This is what it means to surf #LikeAGirl

http://www.underarmour.com/shop/us/en/brianna-cope

This is what it means to throw #LikeAGirl

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/16/sports/baseball/mone-davis-dominates-at-little-league-world-series.html?_r=0

This is what it looks like to adventure #LikeAGirl

Hiking into the impenetrable forest in Uganda, to track mountain gorillas.

Hiking into the impenetrable forest in Uganda, to track mountain gorillas.

This is what it means to address the United Nations #LIkeAGirl

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/21/emma-watson-gender-equality_n_5858206.html

And guess what…THIS IS WHAT IT MEANS TO DO MATH LIKE A FREAKING GIRL!

http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/13/tech/innovation/first-woman-highest-math-prize/index.html

In my opinion, #LikeAGirl is a high honor, and is becoming even more so as women find more ways to be seen, heard, and recognized. If I am doing something any other way than like a girl, I am not doing it right. I am a girl. I love being a girl. I live #LikeAGirl and I am rocking it #LikeAGirl. And so is every other girl on the planet.

Because being a girl means you live #LikeAGirl, and that is a beautiful, strong, tough, intelligent, creative, emotional, insightful, intense, caring, truthful, brave, gracious, unbreakable, and amazing way to live.

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It’s Raining Men (Good Men) – Hallelujah!

I am a Harry Potter fan, and I have always loved the plucky protagonist Hermione Granger. (I know, Harry was the main character, but Hermione was still the leading lady of the story). This week I became an even bigger fan of the woman behind Hermione, Emma Watson, a lovely and talented young woman who went a bit outside of her comfort zone to address the United Nations about feminism. Watson made a statement in her speech that feminism has become tied to the notion of man bashing. She spoke of the unpopularity of the word feminism. She was making the point that feminism has become a bad word in our society, one that conjures thoughts of angry, hostile, bitchy women ranting uncontrollably about the horrible lives women are forced to lead at the hands of controlling men. She wants us to disassociate feminism with “man-hating,” and I couldn’t agree more. I wrote in my debut blog post that while I consider myself a strong supporter of all things woman-centric, I am not a man hater. I AM a hater of when men try to force their views on women, and thereby try to force their control over women’s bodies, wages, and freedoms. But in my experience, it is only a small portion of the male population who truly believe they know better than women, and push to keep control over us dim witted, scary creatures with body parts they don’t understand. These men are complete douche bags, no doubt, but it is not because they are men. It is because they think that by being men they are more qualified to make decisions about, well, everything. My body. My method of birth control. My sex life. My career options. My salary. My health care coverage. My medical maintenance. My education. My clothing choices. My voice. My hairstyle. My right not to be raped. These are the same men who then threatened Emma Watson with retribution because she spoke her mind, her smart mind, in support of women. They threatened to hack naked pictures of her and release them to the public. Seriously. This is their response. My God – it is exasperating!

And so the association of feminism and man-bashing has been perpetuated by some, and these two ideas might seem intimately and unbreakably bonded, since most of the people fighting against equality for women are men. Idiotic men, no less, who think the best way to deal with an intelligent woman sharing her very valid opinions about women is to expose her naked body to public scrutiny. But I assert that there are a plethora of amazing men out there fighting for women, and they are the men we should pay attention to. Not these dingbats who go straight to objectifying women. For every ignorant man who tries to assert his dominance over the domain of women, there are many men who fight for equality for their daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, and friends. Men who support the dreams and ambitions of their daughters and wives no matter what they are. Men who are advocates for their ailing mothers, when they have few options for quality health care. Men who help their daughters grow up secure in the knowledge that they are strong, they are powerful, they are smart, and they are in control of their own lives. It is these men we should give airtime to in the media. It is these men who reaffirm my love of men.

I warned you in my first blog post that I would wax poetic about the fabulous men in my life. Well…ready or not, here it comes!

Men. I love men. I have always been a bit boy crazy. I was a daddy’s girl as a child, and just adored my dad. He was everything a dad should be, and everything a man should be, in my humble opinion. He was not a particularly good student, and he grew up antagonized by the local kids because he was Italian. But he was plucky! He was smart. He taught himself how to play guitar from the age of thirteen, and then he became a rock star, making his living playing music. This only lasted until he was about 27, when his kidney (the one functioning kidney he was born with), failed and he had to go on dialysis, which in the sixties was nothing like it is today. He had to go every other day and sit hooked up to the dialysis machine for six hours at a time. He was exhausted. But still, he provided for his family. Eventually he got a transplant, one of the first in Rochester in the late sixties, and several years later I was born. He worked as a jingle writer for an ad agency, worked as a talent agent, and eventually opened his first business, The Outrageous Inn, Rochester NY’s first comedy club. I got to spend many afternoons (and sometimes evenings) hanging out at the club with my dad. It was radical. On Wednesday nights The Ugly Boogie Band played blues, and my dad would join in. My parents were divorced by then, and Wednesday nights were my nights with my dad. He let me stay at the club and watch him jam with the band. It was bliss. I was thirteen, and I was in heaven.

Beyond the cool factor of having a dad who 1) had been a professional guitar player in a band that actually had records out, 2) ran a comedy/blues club and let me hang out there, and 3) took me fishing on our Sunday afternoons together and taught me how to bait my own hook from a very young age, my father was, above all else, a kind, gentle, and generous man. He never raised his voice. He never struck out at me or my mom, or anyone else. He was a nurturer, a provider, and a giver, and strong and determined to provide for his family. He never, ever discouraged me from trying something I wanted to try. He encouraged me to be myself no matter what the consequences, and to always believe in my ability to succeed. He told me I was smart and could be anything I wanted to be. Every dance recital, band performance, or play I was in, he was there with roses, telling me I was fantastic, even though I think he secretly was hoping I wouldn’t follow in his footsteps and try to make a living in the business of show. When I was 19 I sat at his bedside in the hospital while he died, and reflected on his recent plea to me that I should go to school. He always said, “Everything else can wait. Get an education. Nobody can take that away from you.” I truly believe my choice to pursue a PhD was heavily influenced by that plea, from a man I loved, respected, and trusted. He didn’t order me to go to school. He didn’t tell me I would be stupid if I did not go to school. He simply shared with me his regret that he did not go to college, and told me he didn’t want to see me pass up the opportunity to get a degree. It was sage advice and I am glad I took it!

In addition to my dad, his father, my papa Joe, was the same kind of gentle and kind soul. He had been an athlete who went to Ithaca College on a baseball scholarship. He was in the military. He was a physical education teacher. By all accounts, he was a tough guy. Yeah, he was tough. But that didn’t matter. He was soft spoken and wise. He was an avid reader. He spoke to me as an equal. He would tell me stories for hours, never too busy to engage me in a conversation about any topic I was interested in. He taught me how to swing a golf club. He let me drive his big old station wagon around the parking lot of their apartment complex when I was just a girl and curious about driving. When I was a baby he visited my mom and I every day. It didn’t matter to him that I was a girl. So I didn’t think it mattered that I was a girl. Neither of these men, my dad or my papa, ever made me feel as if being a girl was anything less than kick ass. They were amazing. They shaped my expectations of what a good man is.

Enter my husband in the spring of 1998.   We start dating in graduate school at UCLA and immediately I realize that he is very similar to my dad and my papa – he is gentle, and kind, and never obnoxiously macho. He is smart. He is a hard worker. He is supportive of me. Sixteen years later he is still all of these things, and has also become my biggest fan in this little writing endeavor of mine. I have no doubt he will impart all of this fabulousness, these true characteristics of a real man, onto our sons, and they will be kind, gentle, supportive men because of it.

I also have no doubt my father, my papa, and my husband would have kicked the shit out of anyone threatening me if that situation had ever presented itself. But I never really learned that men should be considered tough, violent, or controlling because I did not witness that. I grew up secure in the knowledge that real men support women. Real men are kind. Real men believe that women are just as capable as they are, just as smart as they are, and can do unbelievable things if given the chance. Real men don’t threaten women who speak their minds. Real men are good men. Real men are feminists. Yup. Real. Men. Are. Feminists. BOOM!

Feminism is not a bad word. It is not a dirty word. It is not a word that implies man hating. Feminism is all about equality for women. And any man worth his salt supports equality for women. Men, if you have daughters, don’t you want to promote equality for them?  Show them what real men are like so they settle for nothing less.

Look around, ladies. Pay attention to the good men in your lives. It’s raining men, GOOD men, and I say – HALLELUJAH!

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The Goldilocks Syndrome Dichotomy

The Big Bang Theory (the sitcom, not the theory about the birth of the universe) premiered tonight.  The women on the show are an interesting mix that pretty much sum up our stereotypical views about women – Penny, the pretty ditz who isn’t too bright and wants to be an actress. Amy Farrah Fowler, the brilliant, frumpy, geeky scientists who can’t get a boy to kiss her. Then there’s Bernadette.  Thank goodness for Bernadette, the buxom blonde, super smart scientist who is both girly and opinionated. As far as role models go, that could be just right.  The Goldilocks female role model?

Look, it is a great time to be a woman. The zone of feminine domain has been utterly redefined over the last century. Once upon a time, the idea of womanhood was intimately tied to pursuits of the home. It was unusual for women to step out of that comfort zone and push the boundaries of the human experience. When a woman did show the audacity to journey beyond the usual womanly ways, she was an oddity of such magnificence that she became famous purely for the fact that she did something outside the female norm. Marie Curie. Amelia Earhart. Sally Ride. Joan Rivers. These women did things that other people (men) were doing at the time. Don’t get me wrong, these chicks rocked! But it is interesting to consider that doing something men already do, when you have a vagina, somehow makes it spectacular. It still happens today. We hear about the first women to do all sorts of things that men have been doing forever, and somehow we are compelled to gasp and comment and discuss. Humans are still fascinated when a woman dares to do something outside the confines of our comfortable view of what women do.

Now I ask you this: Why don’t we gasp, and comment, and discuss the fact that women are STILL being judged on their exterior attributes more than their intellect and abilities? The double standard for women is alive and well. I have seen it and heard about it from more women than seems reasonable in a modern society where women can vote, and hold political office, and run their own businesses, and anything else they damn well please. The idea that you should be pretty but not too pretty, sweet but not too sweet, tough but not too tough – Jesus Christ, the rules for how to succeed at ANYTHING when you are a woman are just downright confusing and often completely unreasonable. This Goldilocks standard for women is a real problem. Not too much of anything. Just the right amount of everything. Fuck that. I don’t care if you think I am too hard, too soft, too hot, too cold, or just goddamn right. I am who I am. Deal with it.

When I started as a lecturer at the University of Arizona I was pretty young (31 to be exact). I have always looked young for my age, and a couple of my male colleagues told me that I should dress up when I was teaching, to make sure the students took me seriously. I had already planned on doing this, since I enjoy dressing up, I like being girly, I like heels, and wearing dresses, etc. But out of curiosity I asked a few of my male counterparts if they had ever worried about dressing professionally when teaching. I asked my husband, who is slightly younger than me, if he was given the same advice when he started teaching at UA a couple of years before. Not one of the males I asked had ever been told to consider dressing professionally for teaching. Not one. I don’t know if any of you have ever taken a geology course, but chances are your instructor (probably a white male) was wearing shorts, sandals, hiking boots, jeans, a fleece vest, a baseball hat, or something in that vein of attire. Even the female faculty in geology (and many other science) departments tend to be less frilly and more no nonsense in their attire. My male colleagues teach in all manner of dress, from dress pants and button downs (my husband), to jeans, Hawaiian shirts, and Teva sandals. They are always taken seriously. Furthermore, if they are strict as instructors they are considered tough, smart, serious, and rigorous. However, if I am strict in my class I am considered a bitch. That’s it. Not smart. Not rigorous. Not, “Wow, she is amazing, she has really high standards and I want to exceed them because she might know a thing or two.” Just a bitch. It has happened to me so I know of what I speak. I have fist hand knowledge of this phenomenon. A male colleague of mine from the astronomy department told me about this double standard a few years into my UA appointment. He is strict, and a hard ass, and pretentious as hell, and the majority of his students love him for it. But he warned me that if I chose to try running my classroom as he did I would be asking for a bitch designation. I experimented in my classroom, and tried some of his techniques after watching the well-oiled machine that was his classroom. It worked so well for him in part because there was a healthy dose of fear amongst his students. Fear that they would be kicked out of class. Fear that they would feel stupid. So I tried some of his techniques in the hopes of running a similarly well-oiled machine. And they failed. Miserably. My teaching evaluations suffered that semester, and I had students write negative comments about me for the first time in all of my years of teaching. Negative comments about me, not just about the class. Me, a.k.a., The bitch. I postulate that as a woman, students expect me to be a kind and nurturing mother hen in the classroom, but they expect their male professors tough and strong. Gender stereotypes, anyone?

Now on to something somewhat related that is just too damn good not to draw your attention to. The video below is John Oliver raging about pageant competitions, in particular, the Miss America pageant. Perpetuation of gender stereotypes, anyone? Ladies, listen up…we CANNOT expect this double standard on women to ever change, we CANNOT ever expect women to be taken just as seriously as men in the workplace (or anywhere), if we continue to put ourselves into positions in which we are judged on our looks alone. Yes, we put ourselves in this situation. We choose to allow someone to spray-glue a bikini bottom onto our butts and traipse it around in front of a bunch of people who judge us worthy or unworthy of a title, a crown, and maybe a scholarship. It is so damn dangerous to the forward progress of women’s equality. I have already said on many occasions that I like dressing up pretty and doing my nails and wearing heels, so it is not at all about that. I even enjoy a nice compliment every now and then about my clothes or shoes or how I look. Who doesn’t? There’s nothing wrong with that. It is not about being less womanly. Or being less girly. Or downplaying your looks. Hell, I am all about loving yourself and dressing it up nice! It is about strutting around in a bathing suit and pretending that is what makes you worthy of positive judgment.  It is about being ogled because of your body, and then told you are valued for your mind, or your talents, and buying into that shit. Let’s be real – it is all about what you look like in these pageants. They are called beauty pageants for a reason.

http://www.upworthy.com/john-oliver-expected-to-catch-miss-america-in-a-lie-but-what-he-found-was-kinda-worse?g=2&c=ufb1

Watching a woman stand on stage and proclaim to the millions of viewers of the Miss America pageant that they offer $45 million in scholarship money annually, when in actuality they pay out less than half a million, is disgusting. She should be ashamed of herself. She is perpetuating this culture of downplaying the value of women as a force in society. A force not because they can turn heads with their boobs, but because they have thoughts in their pretty little heads that are quite possibly meaningful. I know. Shocking.

I put the onus on women to expose this crap for what it is. Don’t tell me for one second that the women on that stage are there for any other reason than to be crowned most beautiful, gorgeous, hot princess of ‘Merica and walk around waving at their admirers and wearing a sparkly tiara. I don’t buy it. Please forgive me if you are reading this and happen to be a strong, smart woman who chose to participate in a beauty pageant simply for the academic opportunities. If you truly subjected yourself to a beauty pageant simply to gain access to an academic opportunity and nothing else, who are you and what is your story? But I am skeptical that it could be so. Mainly because we still live in a world where women are primarily judged by their looks before all else, and even women value this type of judgment. Really? It has nothing to do with the title? It has nothing to do with feeling oh so pretty? It does. Period. Women are judged on their pretty packaging, and men are judged on their brains and/or balls. (Not what their balls look like, but the size of their cojones) The first impression of a woman is intimately tied to her looks whether we like it or not.  What if Amy Farrah Fowler was doing yoga in tight pants in her apartment one episode while Penny sat in a frumpy, dumpy brown skirt reading scientific articles, wearing no make up, and donning huge glasses?  What if that was how they introduced these characters?  Would we still watch the show?

And here’s the kicker. As a woman you cannot really win, especially as a woman in science. If you are too pretty, people might judge you as ditzy or not serious. But if we want to encourage young girls to go into STEM fields, one of the ways we can do it is to show them that real, girly women can also be smart scientists. The Pennies of the world can be scientists, not just the Amy Farrah Fowlers.  This is one of the barriers we face today to getting more girls in science – not enough female role models who look like the girly girls these young girls want to be. Wait…but if I dress too pretty I am a ditz and won’t be taken seriously. But, as Donald Trump says to the reporter in the video, “You wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful.” What. The. Fuck.

If you are trying to make your way in the difficult world of science, being too pretty can be a disadvantage. But being yourself, whatever that means to you, is so much more important than bending into the perceived picture of a scientist, or doctor, or professional hockey player, or anything else.  Picture this: We, as women, who want to model a positive sense of womanhood to our daughters, stop telling our daughters that the ultimate score in life is to be a princess. We, as women, stop putting ourselves on display for judgment purely defined by our looks while trying to justify it by saying it is for scholarship opportunities.   We, as women, are ourselves in any situation, whether that is tough, emotional, girly, outdoorsy, intellectual, bubbly, serious, or anything else we truly are, and expect that we will be taken seriously because of our merits and abilities. We, as women, EXPECT this. Imagine if we all did.

Imagine. How pretty would that be? I think it would be pretty damn beautiful.

 

 

 

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Girls in Science – Don’t Let ’em Go

OK, here are some sobering statistics about girls in science (don’t tune out just yet…) that a friend and colleague of mine shared with me today. Check this shit out:

39% of all undergraduate geosciences degrees are awarded to women.

47% of all Masters degrees in geosciences are awarded to women.

41% of all Doctorate degrees in geosciences are awarded to women.

Women only hold 30% of the jobs in geosciences.

All right, so the 47% isn’t so bad, and really, about half of the graduate students in geosciences in many programs across the nation are women. That’s progress, right? So why are so few of the actual jobs held by women? In my geosciences department we have about 32 faculty and 4 of them are women (including me, and I am not a tenured or tenure track faculty). That is about 13%. At UCLA, where I did my PhD, they have about 35 faculty and 4 are women (roughly 11%). So less than one seventh of the faculty in these stellar geosciences departments are women.  Yet quite a few women are getting degrees in geoscience fields. At the heart of the issue here, separate from the statistics (which are indeed important but can be boring as hell to think about), is why women generally don’t take the plunge into what we call STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Believe it or not, there are actually people out there studying this very question using the scientific method, doing real research, and diligently trying to figure out how to attract more women to STEM fields. One of them is my colleague, Phil Stokes, whose recent work includes looking at gender differences and differences in underrepresented minorities in pursuing geoscience degrees.   In his review of the literature he found some interesting things in other people’s work on gender. First off, and probably not surprising, is that there is a gender bias in science that can put women at a disadvantage because of the way they are perceived professionally (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012). A study by Canetto et al. (2012) looked at women in atmospheric sciences and determined that they may have career goals that lead them out of science more often than men. Study or not, I can certainly relate to being less ambitious about thriving in the “publish or perish” world of academia, and more ambitious about teaching, outreach, being a mother, being a human being with outside interests other than work, being a writer, and so on. Perhaps I am not the only woman who can relate.

Now, let’s get anecdotal. In my experience, wanting to have more than the very singular goal of achieving tenure is a common feeling among women, and is not common among men. When I was in graduate school, I struggled to find a balance between being a graduate student, learning how to survive in the sometimes competitive and harsh world of science, and being a human with other interests, and a desire to get the hell out of the lab on occasion and live like the normal folk live. My male contemporaries, while they had other interests, had no such struggle, as far as I could tell. They lived in their offices. They worked all hours of the day and night. They ate, slept, and breathed their research. They thrived on this. In fact, my husband and his office mates were in the office all the time, at the same time, and so took to calling themselves the squirrels, and labeled their office the squirrels’ nest. The only time I saw them all leave was when the lot of them, including the two male advisors of our little cohort, would lace up and hit the stadium to run stadium stairs in training for the Tibet field season. I used to go with them quite regularly, and spent the entire time huffing and puffing and trying to keep up, only to end up running stadiums by myself, watching them kick my ass, and feeling like a complete fuck up. On a recent visit back to UCLA, more than ten years after graduating, the squirrels’ nest designation lives on. Whenever I used to visit my husband (boyfriend at the time) up in that office, I felt like an imposter in some sort of nerdy boys club. I must say, they were all sweet guys who never said or did anything to make me feel unwelcome. But they were strange, and nerdy, and had limited interpersonal skills for the greater part of their graduate school career, and I just did not get that whole jam. But to them, they were living the dream, and were on the straight and narrow path to academic glory, and I couldn’t help but feel less than worthy as I headed home at 7 pm to eat dinner, walk my dog, and watch Friends re-runs.

Feeling less than worthy among a group of confident, cocky, smart as hell men is likely one reason why women often find another path than the traditional tenure track academic long haul. Another might be growing babies in their bodies and then having to raise those babies, but that’s another story. But what about going back farther into a woman’s history, and thinking about the experiences girls have with science and math early in their educational and personal development? Again, I am going to spew a bunch of anecdotal information at you now, and I don’t have statistics at the tips of my polished fingers to throw at you in support of these suspicions, but research is emerging that suggests some of these ideas are at least partially true. I have seen time and time again, little girls (let’s say ten and younger) who love science and math. They say math is their favorite subject in school (my best friend’s seven year old daughter is one of these precocious little gals). They say they want to be astronauts or archaeologists or doctors when they grow up. The fear of science, or the belief that math is hard, has not set in to their developing minds yet. It is a delight to see. Then, at some point, usually around middle school, it changes. More and more girls start repeating this mantra, “science is too hard.” Or its ugly stepbrother, “I am not good at math.” And that is the end of that. Another perfectly capable, smart, creative girl out of the STEM pipeline. What the hell is going on here?

I just read an op-ed piece in the NY Times by a very accomplished woman scientist who argues that in the world of STEM there is a sexual assault problem. So let’s see…take this myth many girls believe that math and science are too hard and add to it the possibility that they might be treated inappropriately in the field while doing research, and see what that does to the number of women in science. Jesus, as if entering a male dominated field with very few female mentors and little in the way of emotional support wasn’t enough, you better wear a turtleneck at all times and never venture into field research without a posse of bodyguards and a wire under your fleece to record any sleazy remarks coming from your male colleagues. I really hope this is not as common an occurrence as the piece suggests, but I suspect it is more common than you would think. (See the piece here)

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/20/opinion/science-has-a-sexual-assault-problem.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

I, for one, was lucky enough to have absolutely amazing men with me when I worked for months at a time in the middle of nowhere, Tibet. After reading the piece in the NY Times I reflected on my time in Tibet and how utterly cut off from civilization I was for extended periods of time, and realized that if I had not had two fellow graduate students with me who were trusted friends I could have been very vulnerable. At the time I was doing field research we didn’t even have satellite phones. I couldn’t have made a phone call if I wanted (or needed) to. My only option for contacting the outside world was via postcard sent from a small town, and when I did so, I usually made it home long before the postcard did. But luckily, my Tibetan drivers were total gentlemen, even protective at times, and our Chinese colleague, although he thought I had no business being on the plateau because I am a woman, was polite enough too, so I was in good hands all around. But imagine being alone in a foreign land, far from civilization, with no easy way to communicate with the outside world, and feeling threatened by one of your own colleagues. If this happens even once, it needs to be dealt with. And the implications for women in science could be devastating. You cannot exactly, in good faith, encourage your daughter to go into a field that relies on exotic, far-flung field studies if it is likely a male colleague will mistreat her. Even if it is not sexual assault, but being talked down to, or doubted, or made to feel inadequate – why would you want your daughter to have to deal with that? But little girls don’t know about this, so little girls shouldn’t be worried about this. There is something else going on.

In addition, I would guess this happens in quite a few fields, not just science, so it is probably not something I would worry about when thinking about encouraging your daughter to go into science. Teaching them to stand up for themselves in any field is going to go a lot farther than scaring them away from a field because they may encounter bad behavior by male colleagues. They will likely encounter bad behavior by male colleagues in any field they choose to enter. They may even encounter bad behavior by female colleagues.

I think there is a deeply rooted idea that women are less able than men to thrive in academic scientific pursuits. We don’t see the same split in humanities fields. In fact, in many of the humanities, arts, and social sciences women dominate the faculty positions and the jobs. But our little girls don’t know this when they are five, or ten, or even seventeen. So why do they run for the hills when science comes their way? Why do they duck and cover when math comes at ‘em? Is it because nobody bought them a chemistry set when they were little? Or because they were encouraged to play with dolls instead of dirt? I don’t really know. I do know from experience that as a young girl I pictured myself as a dancer, or an actress, or a stay at home mother, and never even considered I would be a scientist. I didn’t know what a scientist was!  I know as a middle school student and high school student I bought into the whole idea that math was hard, and science was hard, and I was going to be a writer and never have to deal with those hard subjects. What a mistake that was! (Not to mention, writing is really fucking hard). I discovered that math and science were something I could actually do, and that they were a lot of fun! If only I had believed that throughout my childhood, I might have been better prepared when I finally did enter the world of science.

And so I implore all of you women out there who have access to young minds: talk up science and math! Tell your daughters how fun science is. Instead of watching Frozen again this weekend, find a simple science experiment online and do it with your daughter. Take her for a nature walk and pick up a goddamn bug or two. Take her outside at night before bed and tell her about the solar system, the constellations, and the moon. You can find out some pretty cool shit about that stuff with a simple Internet search. When she brings home some tricky math homework, don’t tell her that Dad will help when he gets home. Figure that shit out and help her yourself! Show her that women can do it just as well, if not better, than men. Model for her how utterly normal it is for a woman to be fascinated by science.

Then take her for a mani/pedi and belt out Let It Go on the way home. You deserve it!

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Are You Ready to Jump?

Today’s post is inspired by three quotes that I encountered in the last 24 hours. “Are you ready to jump.” “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” “Great people do things before they’re ready.” How’s THAT for inspiration?

All of these quotes resonate with me in different, but similar, ways. The first is from Madonna’s song Jump. Warning: If you are going to hate on Madonna take it elsewhere! If ever a woman was an example of being a strong individual defined by her own accomplishments, it’s Madge. Unapologetic bitch, indeed! Anyway, this song Jump is my go-to song when I “hit the wall” in runner’s speak, or am nearing the end of a run and don’t think I can finish. I experienced this today and started flipping through my iPod songs in the hopes of getting my groove back to the sounds of a good, hard beat, when I landed on Jump. As soon as I heard it begin I knew I was going to finish strong. Even though just seconds before I was a sweaty, defeated mess just counting the minutes until I reached my goal distance (and trying to convince myself I had already gone far enough), somehow I found myself increasing the speed on the treadmill, upping the incline, and pushing through, and even past, my goal distance. Damn, music is powerful. But aside from the motivation the beat provided, the message in the song is just as powerful. “Are you ready to jump, get ready to jump, don’t ever look back,” are words that always get me thinking about the things I have done in my life that seemed like giant leaps of faith at the time. Like standing over a chasm of uncertain depth, which might lead to something really unpleasant, but choosing to take the plunge anyway. It is a fucking scary feeling, but sometimes fear is not so bad. It tells us that what we are about to do is probably pretty freaking awesome.

Which brings me to quote number two: “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” The rest of the quote says, “Often we think ‘I’ll do it when I am not so afraid.’ But in reality, it works the other way round. The ‘doing it’ comes before the fear goes away. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it.” To see the rest of the post you can go here (https://www.facebook.com/brandyn.heppard). It is really quite poignant and falls directly in line with what I write about, which is how we often stand in our own way when we should be getting the hell out there and rocking the shit out of this life we have. When the fear starts creeping in, you know it is about to get good! I am not talking about fear of real, life threatening situations mind you (in which case you should get ready to fight like hell or get the hell out of the situation), but fear of something unknown, something new, something completely outside the realm of your comfort zone, but absolutely fascinating, enticing, and potentially life-changing. Yeah. That’s the sweet spot!

And the third: “Great people do things before they are ready.” This quote came from Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls (https://www.facebook.com/amypoehlersmartgirls). Wow. That is something I had never considered!   Great people do things before they are ready. We have all had those moments when we put something off because we aren’t ready. Maybe we aren’t as prepared as we would like to be. Maybe we just need a little more time to fine tune something. Or maybe, we are afraid. Maybe we are scared of whatever it is we are about to do, and so we keep it at bay by saying we are not ready. This implies we will be ready at some point, but just not right now. It is an easy way to assuage our fears and not feel like total losers for avoiding something potentially important. I have certainly been there. Hell, it can be something as simple as an unpleasant meeting I am avoiding, to something as serious and life altering as having children. But here’s the thing about readiness – when are we ever really ready for anything that has the potential to be life changing? We cannot possibly prepare for everything. We cannot possibly be perfectly equipped to deal with every situation we are going to find ourselves in. In my experience, the situations you are least prepared for end up bringing you the greatest potential for personal growth.

My personal example, which I will just share a snippet of (as I have a whole book dedicated to it that will be out soon – yes, this is a shameless plug), was my journey to Tibet as a young, green graduate student. I was not an outdoorsy girl. I was not confident in my geologic field skills or my scientific skills. I was terrified of getting altitude sick. I was convinced I was going to die out there. But for some reason I decided to hell with all of that nonsense, and just threw myself into it full boar, taking the unknown path leading into a murky and exotic distance that I could not fully picture. I felt the fear and did it anyway. I don’t think I am a great person by any means, but I surely did this thing before I thought I was ready. Turns out, I was ready to jump. And the result was the single most important, life-changing, defining experience of my entire life.

I am a firm believer that nothing with the potential for being truly life altering comes without some amount of associated fear. I have several friends who have done similar things, or are doing them right now! Check out Kim Brown’s SailingBritican page (https://www.facebook.com/SailingBritican) – a woman who dropped everything and took of on a sailboat to explore the world! Christ, that takes balls. Or my dear friend Sarah who, as a young college student left her home country behind and went to Germany to live and work, before she knew the language or how she was going to survive. Why did she do it? She wanted to. Was she scared? I have no doubt.  But she rocked that shit.

I suspect most of us have done something that felt like it was a huge jump beyond our comfort zone (or at least a little hop out of our everyday norm). I want to hear about it! Message me, tweet me, or leave a comment, and tell me about your skip, hop, jump, or giant leap into the unknown. Come on ladies (and gents) – recognize your greatness! Tell your stories! Represent, yo!

And the next time you find yourself in a position to try something slightly scary but oh so amazing, ask yourself, “are you ready to jump?”  And then, do it anyway.

All the Single Ladies (and I DON’T mean your status)!

Recently I read a piece in which the author, a woman, was discussing the notion that she, as a woman, had to be, “everything to everyone.” She was reflecting on the idea that the roles that are central to her existence are defined by how they relate to other people. Mother to her children, wife to her husband, and so on. It got me thinking about the roles I fill and how the vast majority of them are indeed centered on the needs and feelings of others. A mother, which often requires complete selflessness.   A wife, through which I have learned that of key importance, is learning how to negotiate another human being’s needs and feelings. Add to the list daughter, friend, employee, and teacher and there are few, if any, roles I play that are purely for my own hedonistic desires. Even writing, which is something I do because I truly love it, has to happen around the schedule of my children’s sleep habits and my work commitments.

This reminded me of an incident that happened several years ago in which I introduced a female colleague to another colleague as someone’s wife. I used her name first, as in, “This is Jane, Dr. Jones’s wife.” (Note: names have been changed) Immediately after I said it, I could feel her energy change next to me. I knew as soon as we were alone, she would gently but firmly chide me for calling her someone’s wife by way of introduction. She is an accomplished woman, with a career of her own, and I absolutely recognize and respect her in that way. But the person I was introducing her to knew of her husband and his work, so it seemed natural to relay their connection. At the time I didn’t think much of her strong reaction to my referring to her as this man’s wife. After all, she IS his wife. I know she is proud of her husband and have heard her speak extremely highly of him on many occasions, so why is it such a big deal to highlight the fact that she is married to him?

Years later, thinking about my own roles as a woman, and how hard it can be for women to carve out their own identity in a world of motherhood, wifehood, and all the rest of it, I totally get it. I mean, I sincerely get it. I have fallen into the habit of trying to be all things to all people, and quite frankly it sucks. Why should I have to be everything to anyone (my kids included)? Why should I not be singularly concerned with being everything to myself? Why are women so quick to label themselves as someone’s mother, or wife? Ask yourself this: How many men have you met, say at a work function or in a professional setting, who have introduced themselves by saying, “Hi, I am Joe, Jennifer’s husband.”  It doesn’t count if you are meeting a girlfriend’s husband or boyfriend for the first time.  I mean, meeting men who have no connection to you through a woman.  Those of you who are married or in a relationship, ask your significant other (if the significant other is of the male variety) to go one week only introducing himself to others as your husband or boyfriend or cabana boy, or whatever it is they are to you. Ask them if they would be willing to do it. If not, ask them why? (I know, I am stirring up some trouble now).   I bet it has something to do with the natural desire to put our own accomplishments, or career title, or other self-defining characteristic on display when meeting someone for the first time. I get it. But it seems to me it is rare for a man to put those personal accomplishments on the back burner when meeting new people, and very common for women to do so. Is it just because we women so love to gush about our sweeties that it feels more important to recognize that bond when meeting new people than to toot our own horns?

So I propose this: All of us ladies, married or not, mothers or not, are really single ladies in the sense that we are individuals. We are separate from our spouses, our children, and everyone else who wants a piece of us. That is not to suggest that we should abandon our roles as mothers and wives and friends and say, “screw you,” to the whole damn world and spend the rest of our lives alone, drinking cosmopolitans, binge watching Downton Abbey, and shoe shopping. Wait…that sounds pretty freaking amazing, maybe I should reconsider….No, no, no. We don’t need to completely disconnect ourselves from those we love. But I for one spent over 30 years feeling like I was defined by my usefulness to other people.   I dedicated a lot of time to thinking about things such as, 1) Am I a good enough girlfriend? 2) Am I a good enough wife? 3) Am I a good enough teacher? 4) Am I a good enough mother? And so on and so on. Never did I ask myself, am I getting enough from my husband? My friends? Are the people around me recognizing me for who I am, not for what I can do for them? If all of these people were to disappear, how would I define myself? I don’t say this to elicit any, “Aw, poor baby, you are such a martyr,” type feelings or comments. I am simply observing that being a woman is often synonymous with being a giver, and with defining ourselves as satellites to someone else’s planetary being. Floating around them, providing gravitational stability, influencing the ebb and flow of their tides, but never really asserting our own independent significance in the system.

OK, this is the part where women who love their men and love being introduced as so and so’s wife or girlfriend or old lady are going to tear into me and accuse me of being a man hating bitch and a detached mother. But quite the opposite is true! I love my kids, I love my husband, and I love nothing more than sharing their accomplishments with those around me. All I am suggesting is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be introduced as something other than someone’s wife. Wanting someone’s first impression of you to be of YOU as a single person. As an individual. As a woman with value, and worth, and kick ass accomplishments all your own that don’t necessarily include pushing small, screaming humans out of your lady parts. That’s what I mean by “single.” I am not connected to any other human being inseparably, whom I rely on for my very existence and belong to completely. No. I am a single, solitary woman who happens to have a lovely husband, two beautiful, clever kids, and family and friends. They are very important to me, but they do not define me. It might seem like being the best mothers we can be requires us to drop everything at any given moment and bow down to the whims of our children. Sometimes it does, like when your child is puking his guts out in the middle of the night. But other times, it is perfectly appropriate, and I would argue preferable, to let your kids know that you are involved in something else and cannot be their everything right now. It is perfectly appropriate to tell your spouse the same damn thing, and you should probably start doing that sooner rather than later. The truth is, the day will come when my kids want nothing more than to get the hell out of my life and build lives of their own, and I will survive because I am a fully functioning human with or without them. I relish the thought of that day, because if I am doing a decent job as a mother, they will be fully functioning humans too, and will go forth into this world and tear it up! It will be so much fun to watch them discover their true selves. So why shouldn’t I discover mine?  Why shouldn’t we all?

And so, all you single ladies, married or not, what defines you? What do you love about yourself? If someone asked you to describe your single most valuable asset, and it cannot have anything to do with another person, what would it be? How would you want people to remember you after you are gone? Good wife and mother are not bad things to include. But after 40 years of getting to know myself, if that is all I can assert about myself, and all others can assert about me, then I haven’t done enough to promote my single SELF! I haven’t examined my own personal strengths, passions, and uniqueness enough. I haven’t shouted loudly enough, “Hey, I am not just someone else’s. I don’t belong to anyone but me.” Do we really want our children, our spouses, or our friends, to see us as everything to everyone…but ourselves?

Relationship status be damned. I am a single lady. An individual. A woman. A writer. A runner. A teacher. A geologist. A music lover. And if that ain’t enough…a wife and mother too.

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Women of Science, Speak Up!

A couple of years ago I launched an informal campaign on my personal Facebook page to celebrate influential people in science and their amazing contributions to advance our understanding of the world. My inspiration was a book I had picked up called The Scientific 100 by John Galbraith Simmons, which is his ranking of the most influential scientists from the past and present.   He researched over 2,000 years of incredible scientific work and came up with this veritable “Who’s Who” of science. At the time I was so in awe of all of the stories in that book that I posted wantonly about these influential figures and the unfathomable things they had done to move forth progress in fields such as medicine, chemistry, mathematics, and astronomy. ButI failed to notice the lack of scientific women who were recognized in the ranking.

One person I took the time to write about, who didn’t make the list, was Henrietta Leavitt, an American astronomer whom almost nobody knows about. Even if you’re not an astronomer, I bet you have heard of Edwin Hubble, namesake of the Hubble telescope, no? Of course you have heard of Hubble. Hubble is famous. Maybe not, like, Madonna famous, or Brad Pitt famous, but most of us have heard, at some point in our lives, something about the Hubble telescope. Hubble’s biggest contribution to science, arguably, was his determination of the age of the universe. He suggested that the universe had a beginning, and it was about 14 billion years ago. Yes, that is billion with a B. The universe is really freaking old, okay. Wrap your head around that one if you can! Prior to 14 billion years ago, the idea is, there was nothing. No space. No time. No matter. Nothing. This is remarkable, but what most of us did not know was that Hubble could not have ascertained the age of the universe without the work of Henrietta Leavitt that was going on behind the scenes.

Here’s some interesting stuff about Henrietta. She lost her hearing when she was about 25 years old. She loved astronomy. She volunteered as a research assistant in the Harvard College Observatory for seven years before being hired for $0.30 an hour. Edward Pickering, an astronomer, who was the director of the observatory, hired her and he kept her from doing much more than caring for the telescopes, as he didn’t think women should pursue the rigorous theoretical work that he was directing. But did that hold Ms. Leavitt back? Not really. One of her duties was to peruse the photographic plates collection of the observatory, and she figured some shit out. First, she devised a way to gage a star’s brightness, something none of the men had been able to do. Her method became the international standard, yo. She also discovered that by studying a type of stars called variable stars (stars that basically expand and contract), she could determine the distance to stars. This is what ultimately led Hubble to be able to calculate the age of the universe, by knowing something about how far away different stars are from us (and a few other things such as how fast they are moving away from us). In a very simplistic view, he basically ran the movie of the expansion of our universe backward to a point in time at which everything was in the same place, and thus determined how long our universe has been expanding. This was only possible because of Leavitt’s work on variable stars. When she died from cancer at the age of 53, she had discovered half of all the variable stars that were known about at the time.

Now, why doesn’t anybody know about the work of Henrietta Leavitt, but everyone knows about good ol’ Edwin Hubble? Why isn’t there a Leavitt telescope flying around Earth taking images of deep space? I don’t know. Being part of the scientific community, I suspect it is related to the fact that science has long been a male dominated field, one in which many women have been reluctant to be outwardly vocal about their ideas and findings. The good news is, that is starting to change. Over 50% of the students in my geology department are women, so a day is coming when the research findings of women will be commonly discussed in every media venue known to man. But another interesting thing about The Scientific 100 is the percentage of this 100 that are women. It’s three. The single digit…3. Three women out of 100 scientists. Three percent. I understand that the ranking was based on a review of actual groundbreaking scientific discoveries, and it just so happens that the majority of them have been made by men, or have at least been accredited to men. I don’t blame the author for featuring fewer women. It is clear that men have dominated the history of scientific advancement. I also realize that it wasn’t as common for women to pursue careers in scientific fields as men until quite recently, so that skews the numbers. But the story of Henrietta Leavitt makes me wonder how many other women have been behind the scenes, in laboratories and observatories all over the world, making astute, important observations that get swept into the pile of important observations used to bolster the credibility of a male scientist’s research findings. That is not to say that I doubt the abilities of male scientists, nor the importance of their work. But we have all heard the statement, “Behind every good man there’s a good woman.” Hmmmm. How many great male scientists have had women behind them, doing the dirty work so to speak, grinding through the nitty gritty of the scientific method day after day, only to be lost in the shuffle when it is time to expose extraordinary discoveries? If Henrietta is a virtual unknown, how many more are there? And is it a function of women being less apt to claim ownership of their scientific work than men? Are women just better at sharing? Are we less prone to pissing on our territory, figuratively speaking? Or are we just less accomplished in science than men?

So who are the three women who graced the line up of The Scientific 100? Can you guess? The first is someone I am sure you have heard of, Marie Curie, queen bee of radioactivity. She is number 26 on the list which is pretty damn good. Listen, this woman had all sorts of shit to fight through, including growing up in a place (Poland) and at a time (the late 1800s) when women were often denied access to higher education. Regardless, Marie was the first woman to receive a degree in physics from the Sorbonne and got a degree in math a year later. This woman was unstoppable. She won two Nobel Prizes. She was an unapologetic feminist. Her notebooks are still highly radioactive to this day due to the excessive amount of time she spent studying her radioactive samples.  She died of cancer associated with radiation poisoning, something that wasn’t understood prior to her work. She was no less accomplished than any of the higher-ranking men on the list.

The other two are women I had never heard of before reading the book. Lynn Margulis, and Gertrude Belle Elion. Lynn Margulis, number 80, first proposed the symbiotic theory of the origin of the cell in 1967. Symbiosis is defined as a relationship of mutual dependence or benefit. She was an extremely controversial figure for many reasons, including her contention that all organisms larger than bacteria are symbiotic systems, which had implications for how evolution is thought to occur. She was also a proponent of the Gaia hypothesis, which describes the Earth as a whole to be a living system, and made grand statements about the species Homo sapiens (that’s us) being arrogant and ignorant! I think I would have liked her.

Gertrude Belle Elion, number 85, was instrumental in developing one of the first effective drugs to combat leukemia. Too bad she was only 16 when Marie Curie was dying of leukemia in 1934. She, too, fought adversity before finding great success, and was once passed over for a job because her physical attractiveness might distract other workers. In the late 1970s she developed acyclovir, the first antiviral medication safe and potent enough to combat herpes infections. She won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1988, in spite of her distracting physical attractiveness. That employer that passed her over was likely one of the stupidest human beings on the planet, who clearly underestimated her abilities. I bet this still happens today.

So three there are, and fierce they be! They live on forever among the ranks of the likes of Isaac Newton (ranked number 1), Albert Einstein (2), Charles Darwin (4), Sigmund Freud (6), Galileo (7), Stephen Hawking (54), Noam Chomsky (71), Archimedes (100), and many others. I admire all of these men and women and the mind-boggling work they did. But the work of these three women is strong evidence that women have just as much potential as men to do revolutionary work in science. I suspect, as time rolls on and women continue to find their voices and their strength, more of them will push beyond the traditional, the accepted, and the sometimes male dominated, and we will see a day when a ranking of The Scientific 100 will have to be expanded to The Scientific 200. And more than 50% of that list will be the names of smart, plucky women who refused to twiddle the knobs or categorize the photos or organize the data for brilliant men, but led the rigorous intellectual work that brought us scientific advancements for a new, ever changing world.

A world in which groundbreaking scientists can rock red lipstick!

 

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You’ve Got Pluck

I am a woman of extremes. I pretty much go balls to the wall with anything I do. That is not to say I am an Olympic level runner (I run), or an award winning scientist (I do science), or a best selling author (I write). It just means that if I say I am going to do something I freaking do it. If I need something done, I do it. I might bitch and moan about it at times, or take a minute or two to wallow in the realization that nobody else is going to make shit happen for me. But when the rubber meets the road I put my big girl panties on and get shit done. This approach to life isn’t inherently negative, in and of itself, but it can be stressful, and some would say I am just controlling and need to let go, that good things will come to me if I put good energy into the universe. Well, sitting around beaming sunshine through my pores and believing something is going to happen to me just isn’t my jam. I believe in making things happen. I also believe that I have been fortunate in my opportunities. But the older I get, the less inclined I am to buy into “luck” as some puppeteer driving my success, and more inclined to recognize that hey, I worked my ass off to get to where I am and I deserve all of the associated accolades, rewards, and perks. It hasn’t always come naturally to me to feel proud of my successes. I have often found myself thinking, “How did I get here? When will they wise up to the fact that I am utterly under qualified for this gig and boot my ass out the door?” I think most of us have felt this way at some point in our lives, and it probably means we have a healthy sense of humility.

There have been incidents in my past that go beyond healthy humility, and have fueled my thoughts of self-doubt. There have even been people in my past that have validated these feelings by flat out confirming their truth. Case in point. In 1999 I was a young, unsure, terrified PhD student in a world class graduate program in a kick ass earth science department, and someone very influential in my life at the time said these words to me: “You’re not that smart.” Wait…WHAT? What in the fuck do I do with that? I am not that smart. Wow. I am not that smart. I mean, I didn’t think I was Stephen freaking Hawking or anything but, shit, I am not that smart. Imagine someone telling you straight, “You’re not that smart.” Just roll those words around on your tongue for a few minutes. Say them out loud. Would you say those words to a friend? A colleague? Your child? Someone you believed in? Those words are loaded. It reminds me of the Sex and the City episode when Miranda, overhearing two women chattering on the street about why a date didn’t call back, tells them confidently, “He’s just not that into you.” The women react with disgust and disbelief, and they proceeded to chastise Miranda for saying what was undoubtedly the truth, albeit a truth they did not want to hear.   She prefaced her statement by saying what she was about to tell them would save them a whole lot of time and trouble. In other words, come on ladies, face it…he’s just not that into you. Or, in my case, come on dumbo, face it…you’re just not that smart. When this bitter little nugget of truth was unleashed on me, I immediately started down the dark path to fear and self doubt, believing that this person, who was brilliant in his field, must know something that I didn’t know and I should probably take heed. It was a beautiful example of all the things I want to push women to rage against – someone else defining your worth, or convincing you that you are less than you are. It was an unexpected bomb dropped on me on a warm California afternoon, while sipping tea with a trusted advisor in his sun-filled office. In what world does this actually happen?

But here’s the part of the conversation I haven’t told you about yet. “You’re not that smart,” was only the first part of that sentence. “You’re not that smart,” was the only part of the sentence that stayed with me for many years afterward. But believe it or not, that sentence was one of the kindest, most complimentary sentences I had ever had the good fortune to hear. Because here is the punch line of that seemingly awful joke. The second part of the sentence went like this: “…but you’ve got pluck.” Pluck. At the time, all I heard was, “you are a dumb ass who has no business being in this field.” In reality, I was being told that regardless of my mental acumen (or lack thereof), I could thrive in this field that I felt so utterly adrift in. I was being given a compliment, but I couldn’t see it through my haze of hysteria.

If you look up the word plucky in the dictionary you will find synonyms such as courageous, determined, spunky, and spirited. I cannot think of four words I would rather have used to describe me than courageous, determined, spunky, and spirited. What an absolutely generous compliment, especially from someone who intimidated the hell out of me and was a world-renowned expert in his field. “You’ve got pluck.” Well shit. Ain’t that something.

In the years since that core shaking incident I have come to accept (i.e., not give a shit) that I am not as smart as most of my colleagues in the scientific community. It is a community inundated with people of particularly powerful perspicacity (that is smart speak for intelligence – take that!). I live with a man who is a geological genius. I work at a world-class research institution where scientists have designed machines that can fucking land on Mars! I will never win a Nobel Prize in physics, or chemistry, or any other scientific field. But I know how to survive in a field that is male dominated and full of beautiful minds. I am brave, and spunky, and spirited, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hope my sons, regardless of their level of traditional intelligence, grow to appreciate the value of being able to find their strengths and use them to excel in whatever passion they want to pursue. I hope for all the young girls out there, who will undoubtedly come up against someone, somewhere, who doubts their ability to do something, that they can be brave, and spunky, and spirited, and find their pluck and push on through. We have no control over whether or not we have genius IQ’s. But we can choose whether to let someone else’s assessment of our abilities hold us back, or to quit whining, put on our big girl panties and get shit done. Do I wish science came easier to me? Hell yes. Do I wish I didn’t have to pause, think real hard, and use my fingers when adding up simple numbers? You bet. Would it be nice to have people think of me as the world expert in something, anything, scientific? Yeah, that would be cool.

Is it even more amazing to be my plucky self? You bet your smart ass.