Language and fatherhood

It seems to be baby season lately. Friends and colleagues are just popping them out all over the place, and newborns are featured in most of the online photo albums I look at lately. Discussions about childrearing happen on and off on my favorite feminist blogs, and come up here and there on science blogs when careers are being discussed, too. In short: babies on the brain.

So today I saw this article in the NY Times blog Motherlode. My first reaction is shock that something even vaguely feminist would show up in writings even tangentially associated with the Times, everyone’s favorite fauxgressive news outlet, where any news featuring women is relegated to the Style section and every article is blatantly written for a default white, straight, able-bodied, male audience. Maybe since it’s a blog it doesn’t really count, especially since I suspect the readers of a NY Times blog about parenting are mostly women. But maybe it does mean that more gender equality in parenting is an idea that is gaining traction.

Anyway. I have mixed reactions to Drielsma’s article. Although he says he doesn’t “want to play the role of the ‘woe is me’ father,” he kind of does. He’s absolutely right that saying something like “babysitting” instead of “caretaking” when it comes to fathers actually caring for children is infuriating, and for the reasons he mentions, among others. But he repeatedly phrases his complaints in terms of equality for fathers — because it’s so hard and unfair for men to be excluded from mother-oriented activities. As though that’s simply discriminatory against fathers, and not actually the result of the relegating of women to an undervalued and restricted social role.

I find “Daddy Day Care” offensive for the same reason I cringe when someone in the workplace (and I count myself among the occasional offenders) talks about “manpower”, “man hours”, or facing a problem by “manning up”: the team of co-workers investing the “power”, the “hours” or the “up” consists both of men and women, and our language should reflect that. Just as the parenting team (in traditional family settings — I don’t want my own language to exclude single or same sex parents) should consist of mom and dad on an even footing, not mom as “parent” and dad as “day care provider”.

This is problematic, IMO, mainly because it’s equating exclusion of fathers from caretaking with the disappearing of women from behaviors and activities that are most highly valued (e.g. strength), and from the workplace. Those things are not equivalent. I completely agree that equality of parenting is a critically important goal, and that language plays a role in that, but broad social inequity is not, say, hurting men as much as it hurts women. It hurts both, and women more. He’s focusing on the experiences of men here, and that’s valid, but the language of equivalency is bothering me.

The sexism of not being able to fake it

Today I’ve been noticing that there are faculty members, in all departments, who drop the ball a lot by letting things slide, and there are other faculty who pick up the slack and keep those balls in the air. I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that that’s unfair. There’s no good excuse for it: just as many of the responsible people are disorganized and have busy personal/family lives as the irresponsible ones. The disorganized and overextended people certainly tend to forget things more, but they’re sincerely trying to keep all those balls in the air. Some people have just learned what they can get away with, and they do. I’m not talking about people who try but screw things up a lot; I mean the people who just let everything slide because they don’t care that much. That kid who never pulled their weight in group school projects. THAT person.

Everyone knows who those people are, too. Sometimes I suppose that tendency might pull someone up short when it comes to tenure, but often not, because “service” doesn’t amount to much in a tenure review. And there’s no real gender pattern I’ve observed when it comes to whether you’re a ball-dropper or ball-picker-upper in life in general. I’m sure everyone knows some very responsible men and some very irresponsible women, and I’d never argue otherwise.

But. There is a distinct gender pattern I’ve observed when it comes to faculty. I see very few women just letting everything slide so they can do the bare minimum, and already I’ve encountered several men like that. I don’t have statistics on this (anyone? Do those exist? I’d be interested to see them if they do), so we’re dealing with the unfortunately plural of anecdote, but for the moment let’s assume I’m right, and there are fewer women slackers than men slackers per capita in an academic environment. Just for the sake of trying to explain my own observations.

Why would that be the case? Possibilities:

1) Socialization. This presumes women in general are less likely than men to be slackers. I really have no idea if there are any statistics that might show this to be true. There certainly are different social pressures on boys and girls while they’re growing up, and to some extent women are still trained to pick up the slack, to do the housecleaning, to be the secretary. There’s still a lot of that being taught in subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle ways. But like I said, I’m not arguing that women like this don’t exist, because of course they do. I’m not sure how big a role this plays.

2) Filtering. The slacker women don’t make the cut, but some slacker men slip by (presumably, the REALLY slacking men still don’t). This could happen during undergrad, grad school, or postdocs (maybe even tenure, but hard to say).

I lean towards #2. I certainly feel like I can get away with a lot less bad behavior and lousy work ethics than men. I’m not terribly inclined towards either of those things, so maybe my perspective is biased by my own disinclinations. But still, I want to say that women can’t get away with as much. We have to meet a higher bar to justify our place.

That’s it in a nushell. We have to meet a higher bar. And when you’re working with men who are dropping the ball and have gotten away with it, over and over, to the point that everyone knows they do it and they’re still here, you as the woman have to pick up the slack. Because if slacker dude was working with another man, and that man refused to do more than his fair share, no one would blame him. He did his part, and his coworker fucked up. But if I fail to pick up the other ball, I can’t escape looking irresponsible.

It’s like the recent Office episode where Pam refused to photocopy anything in the new office, because she didn’t want to be automatically assigned all of the secretarial duties when she wasn’t a secretary. Good on Pam for that. I just wish it were that easy when you’re in a workplace with more than 3 people.

Quick hit: Controversy

Zuska put up a fantastic post today, responding to Dr. Isis’ post about she was approached by a person from public radio interested in doing a story about her wonderful Letters To Our Daughters Project. Isis was told that the story wasn’t worth covering if she did not give up her pseudonymity, because it would not be controversial enough. This is pretty bizarre, and Zuska suggests that it perhaps has something to do with how damn feminist (and, hence, controversial) the idea of supporting young women is.

Why indeed

(That’s sarcasm, btw.)

White guys

It’s true, when I look at that graphic, I think, good god, could these damn liberals limit the bench to exclude white guys any more than they are already doing? It’s discrimination!!!!!11111!!!

Quick hit: Republicans suck

Liss knocked one out of the park this morning. Pure brilliance, and I have nothing to add.



Today there was a big NPR headline smack in the middle of my Facebook home page. I usually ignore intrusions by companies into my Facebook page on principle, but in this case I smelled a blog post topic, so I clicked away. I have a good nose!

Now, studies that discover new things about what different cells do in our body are great, and interesting. I’m glad scientists are studying what brown fat cells do in adult bodies. I also know, as a scientist, that to some extent everyone pads their conclusions to be relevant to hot topics where possible (origin of life and paleoclimate have been hot ones in geoscience for a while), because it increases the chances of getting funding. Hot topics are usually where the money is. So I’m not entirely surprised that the scientists who discovered brown fat cells are related to metabolism included some conclusions about the implications for weight loss. There is money in that these days.

Weight loss sounding like the whole motivation for the study (and implied follow-ups) bothers me more. Weight loss as a goal is bad for people. And the results of this study are a little bit terrifying. Next up: The Biggest Loser: Antarctica! Where contestants have to work out with their insane trainer in the miserable cold to activate what little brown fat cell activity they have!* And if that doesn’t work, well, by getting so damn fat they must have lost those cells, so it’s their own fucking fault. And everyone is getting fatter, so that’s a problem. Don’t you dare lecture me on causation, either, that’s a perfectly logical argument! Don’t talk to me about how fatness is inherited so there’s no blame to place, either. LALALALALA.

(Injecting people with fat cells sounds pretty risky to me. The article doesn’t talk about any of the potential risks. As a non-biologist and non-doctor, I’d like that information. That’s the kind of thing these articles always lack – you know, Science and stuff. But that would be boring. We have to tell people about weight loss!! Weight loss sells!)

Anyway, I’m being silly. After all, if people sit in cold rooms, they’re just going to eat more, and we all know that fat people just eat more and worse, and that’s why they got fat. Consumption totally correlates with body size. And cold. Everyone eats more when they’re cold. THAT’s at least true.

GAH. The stupid, it burns.

* I say that as a JOKE, but let’s just watch and see what comes out next season.

Unnatural (Or: On evo psych, gays, foods, and having too many atoms)

Lately I have found myself feeling less and less tolerant of pseudoscientific talk on the subjects of chemistry and consumer materials. Now, I think I’m a pretty good little liberal, and I have great respect for the crunchiest of my liberal compatriots. I also work to respect other cultures and look for value in traditions and accumulated cultural knowledge from around the world. I’d be the first to tell you that there are many good reasons to prefer eating one kind of food over another, or to choose one soap over another, or even a soapless existence if that’s what works for you or saves the puppies. But I’m not talking about making personal choices, or even about what may or may not be a beneficial choice from an ecological or broad social standpoint. I’m talking about the words themselves, about the pseudoscientific framing that informs discourse about how certain things are better or worse for you or society because they are more “natural,” “real,” or, my favorite, “chemical-free” (though I mean, who doesn’t love a good vacuum). These words are used a lot these days, but I especially hear them from people who belong to a particular social class – relatively affluent, generally white, often but not exclusively liberal. This talk sometimes goes hand-in-hand with similarly pseudoscientific advocacy for medicinal treatments that may accomplish something beneficial for a person, but that are not backed up by hard science: things like gall bladder detoxes, fruit juice purges, and yoga positions that heal your pancreas.* Oh, and weight-loss talk.**

There are so many examples of this that I’ll have to limit the topics I can address in a single blog post. But here is a list of topics within which some chemical compounds and substances might be designated as falling into categories such as natural/unnatural, real/fake, or even plain old good/bad:

  • Foods and food ingredients
  • Detergents
  • Soaps and shampoos
  • Fertilizers and pesticides
  • Clothing
  • Frankly, almost anything else.

On its surface, this could sound like a semantic argument put forward by an annoying chemist pedant. And okay, maybe there’s a little of that. But actually, I think these terms, particularly in marketing, really do encourage people into very unscientific thought about the world and our resources. Morality is very tied up with these words. I want to unpack that a little.

Continue reading

Women in Science and Technology

I’m killing a couple birds with this post. Zuska is hosting this month’s Diversity in Science carnival, on the topic of “Women Achievers in STEM – Past and Present,” and bloggers everywhere have also been called-upon to observe Ada Lovelace Day by pledging to post on the topic of an amazing woman in “technology,” broadly speaking.

I feel like these topics are different and new, but still so closely related to the recent Scientiae carnival about woman role models in STEM fields (as well as the Smithsonian slideshow I posted about below) that at first I was having trouble coming up with someone new and exciting to talk about. Hence the stalling until the post deadline. I have already talked about a woman role model in science who was extremely important in my career, albeit anonymously. A lot of amazing women were also recently discussed at length in the last Scientiae (for example: I have considered Vera Rubin to be an incredibly inspiring woman and role model since I met her many years ago, but I don’t have much to add to the recent post about her). But! Then I was inspired. No one has done more than briefly mention Florence Bascom in these recent discussions of women in science and technology!

In 1893, Florence Bascom was the first woman to to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins (where she had to sit behind a screen so the male students would not know she was there, I shit you not), and at that time, the only woman to hold a PhD in geoscience in the United States. After earning her degree, she founded the Geology Department at Bryn Mawr College, a small, prestigious women’s college in Eastern Pennsylvania. Bascom developed both the undergraduate and graduate curriculum herself, and she continued to teach there as a professor until she retired in 1928. The Bryn Mawr department was considered to be the “locus of training for the most accomplished female geologists of the early 20th century” (GSA Today, July 1997) and is where almost all professional woman geologists were trained in the first third of that century. While working at Bryn Mawr, she became the first woman hired by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1896 (she worked with the USGS seasonally, working on a huge number of the Survey’s 15-minute geologic quadrangle maps). To this day, we use maps based to a great extent on her original mapping work in Eastern PA and New Jersey. Bascom continued her work with USGS until forced to fully retire due to poor health in 1936. She was the first woman elected to serve on the council for the Geological Society of America, and later became the first woman officer for that organization when she was elected as its vice president. Florence was an extremely well-regarded and important contributor to the fields of mineralogy and petrology.

The Fembots Are Here!

This post started as a quick link I emailed to Liss at Shakesville, and she suggested I do a guest post on it. Cross-post!

So today I saw this TOTALLY awesome article in Newsweek. You can tell from the title that this is going to be an awesome bit of writing: “A walking, talking female robot to debut on a Japanese catwalk: not ready to help with chores.” HA that is SO funny.

I have a problem with no less than three (3) parties on account of this article: 1) Yuri Kageyama, Business Writer, 2) the robot-makers, and 3) the fashion industry representatives quoted. It is a fabulous trifecta of mysogyny, made only more glorious because it is about ROBOTS. Who doesn’t love robots!!

I’m going to address those out of order. So first, makers of robots.

Now, this is stealing a little of my thunder from later in this post, but Kageyama does not address the body types of a few of his other robot examples, and for all I know they are male or non-gendered. One is non-humanoid. But his writing sure suggests that many of them are meant to be or seem female (well, isn’t that what everyone wants?), and they are certainly being designed for traditional female roles – receptionist, runway model, in-home care or nursing assistant, etc. More importantly is this particular robot, which has a female body even though apparently it’s much more difficult to make a functional (in this case, walking) robot with an “average” female shape. But having a female robot body was too important to let that stop them! They devoted all their robot-making resources to making it this way – I mean, who would want a male receptionist robot? HA! Don’t be silly! This way we can use them for fashion!

Next up is the fashion industry, of which Hirohisa Hirukawa, “one of the robot’s developers,” says, “Even as a fashion model, people in the industry told us she was short and had a rather ordinary figure.” I mean, I guess at least they’re being honest – they don’t WANT an ORDINARY figure, because that might… show what clothes would look like on an everyday kind of person. OOPS I MEAN it might look hideous!! So boring and ordinary, these robots that look like ordinary people! Besides, what’s the point of a female robot if it’s not cartoonishly sexified? Don’t these people play video games?

Finally, on to Kageyama. I love how she manages to slip one or two completely gratuitous and sexist – I mean HILARIOUS – jokes into the article. Take the first sentence: “A new walking, talking robot from Japan has a female face that can smile and has trimmed down to 43 kilograms (95 pounds) to make a debut at a fashion show.” Oh HAHAHA get it? She lost weight! What a sexy robot! If only all women weighed 95 pounds. If only she wasn’t so short and ordinary! And maybe there are some male humanoid robots out there that Kageyama just didn’t think were terribly relevant to this article, even though, you know, they WOULD be. So, too, would be a discussion about how a male robot might be equally useful (it could shoot things!). But hey, it’s not really an article about robots and new technology or anything – it’s an article about fembots! It’s about fashion and robot receptionists! How funny!

I wonder what “fun moves” people will program for her! What fun. Gah.


I know I shouldn’t really be surprised by shit like this anymore, but today’s Cake Wrecks post still managed to shock me.



I mean, WHAT??? I can’t think of a reason why ANY person would think this was a good idea, let alone the several adults who were probably involved with ordering, purchasing, and decorating these cakes!