1. Nothing places you in sustained visceral proximity to the absurdities of sexism like being a woman in Science. Trust me, I’ve lived it. For the first ten years of your scientific career they tell you that you can’t do this stuff well because you’re a woman. And then for the next ten years they tell you that the only reason you’ve done so well is because you are a woman. I mean c’mon, Steve Martin and Carol Burnett and that dork from Prairie Home Companion all put together couldn’t make that one up. It just feels more natural to me to laugh than cry at most of this stuff. Also: I read somewhere that laughing at your oppressor is a legitimate form of resistance. A childishly unsophisticated form in my case, but legitimate nonetheless. You know, I learned very little in junior high aside from the fact that teachers find few things less amusing than intricate caricatures of themselves. And let’s face it, many guys subconsciously consider themselves our teachers. Hell, some of them are our teachers. Metaphorically or otherwise, they withhold approval and dole out detention slips from a position of power in order to mute the voices of Difficult Women. OK, whatever, they own the ladder, let me be the first to concede it. But take warning: while I may never be able to climb higher than you, I’m gonna sit down here and make fun of your socks like a motherf*cker. And if I fight hard enough for it, maybe somebody somewhere out there will laugh in agreement.
2. I feel passionately about these issues. The technical literary term for the previous boldface sentence is “understatement”. I also find my unique screwball brand of passion deeply and selfishly cathartic. Moment of Sharing: I attended a professional conference this week, and it was excruciatingly clear who were ye pitifulle smalle number of colleagues who had read my blog. I’m probably just kidding myself, but I swear that I saw a glimmer of resentment in a couple of bloodshot male eyes. I could boast hollowly about how I was sizing up the number of ounces of akevitt their skulls would hold, but actually, I was afraid they would pick me up by the throat and shake me like a ragdoll, which tends to shut me up for about ten years. Not that that’s ever happened to me but THAT TOTALLY F*CKING HAPPENED TO ME. “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?” you just sputtered, covering your monitor in coffee, so very shocked and surprised. Or maybe you’re not because back in 2000, my colleague Dr. A-hole sent an email to my entire subdiscipline explaining why it was all my fault because I. Just. Wouldn’t. Listen1. Now, now, everyone just calm the f*ck down for a minute and go click on this picture of Mother Theresa. Now go click on this picture of me. You wouldn’t confuse us in RL so don’t do it on the internet, and remember that there’s two sides to every story and all that jazz. I am a Difficult Woman descended from a long line of Difficult Women. Shit, I am a GMO Difficult-Woman bred specifically to thrive through four-score and ten years of postmodern misogynistic bullshit. If the Good Lord has blessed you with any sense whatsoever you have already started to wonder if there might not be something a little off about me. But you know what has really stuck in my graceful delicate craw all these years? Nobody on that email list ever contacted me to hear my side of the story, or even just to inquire how the marks were fading. Nobody. Deafening f*cking silence. So pardon me, but I know exactly how many “allies” are really out there, thank you very much. Seriously guys, if you really want to call yourself an Ally, you better think long and hard about what you’re prepared to do and how big a slice of the shame and retribution pie you are willing to gag down á al mode, cuz that particular buffet can get real and us bitches2 got memories like goddam elephants.
3. Here’s something important: I submit to you that there is potential for my vacuous banter to bait us into the deeper conversations that we should be having. Case in point: while I was busy on the blogosphere soft-shoeing it up about “Rules of Three! Let Her Be!” (which did make you giggle, admit it), a smart woman who might or might not have the initials R.E.3 sent a genius Tweet. She was unimpressed by my post, and said something to the effect of, “If I were a guy I’d be offended by this.” I thought to myself “Yes! Someone got it.” Guys are better than that. Even the guys who don’t know that they’re better than that, are better than that. R.E. had clearly already adopted the expectations that I was clumsily clowning far beneath. The kicker is that we need guys to also adopt these expectations, both for themselves and for each other. And obviously they can, they’ve got role models all over the place, as we have all pointed out and/or demonstrated. I like men, I really do, and there’ve been plenty of days when I’ve wished I was one, if you want to know the shameful truth. Most of the important people in my life are men who have proved their respect and loyalty across decades while I run around goading Push into Shove, headless chicken that I am. I’ll grab my cudgel and whistle for the Great Danes in a heartbeat should something threaten these men’s health and happiness. Yes indeed, I am on thoroughly friendly terms with a decent number of men, but at the end of the day, though I walk Among Them I am not Of Them. I have cast my existential lot with other women, for better or for worse. I will try to join hands both with the women who are coming after me, and with the women who went before, including Granny-torn-asunder next to her lard bucket. I will flail about desperately trying to satisfy her ghost by coaxing one laugh, and then another, until we’ve built ourselves a delicious conspiracy. Why can’t all revolutions start that way?
4. Regardless of all that, I’m still here. The people who love me whether I am a Scientist or not have already gently asked me if I’m afraid I’ll hurt my job by posting all this tripe. “Yes,” I tell them after pondering the question for no less than twenty-five milliseconds. In fact, I’ve been spending the better part of each day listening for the Other Shoe to Drop. Do I fear reprisal? F*ck yes I do! Fear-of-reprisal is the only thing keeping me from putting one of my used tampons into an envelope and shoving it into a certain mailbox right now. Does my mother know I talk this way? Hell no, and I’ll thank you very much not to tell her. But just between you and me, I have to write this stuff. Not only because it feels great to finally out my actual authentic self, but because I have these episodes where I am physically uncomfortable if I am not writing. And once my gibberish made some of you laugh, it was like the ultimate opiate high and I’ve been jonesing for more ever since. So f*ckit, I’m done hiding my bitch-light under a bushel of fear, and let the shoes drop where they may. You goofballs calling me a hero, visionary, missionary, public servant and other crap on Twitter have convinced me of three things: A. People are pretty hard-up for heroes nowadays; B. When I get fired, I’ll be more than welcome to sleep on your couches and drink out of your milk cartons until I get myself back on my feet eventually right after this next episode of “Veep”; and C. Women in Science have important stories to tell, and we need to keep telling them. And all I have to start with are my own.1 You may be wondering why the hell I didn’t “do something” about it – I mean for Chrissakes, he put it in writing and everything. Here’s why: I was both dating him and untenured at the time. If this doesn’t seem like a good reason to you, don’t pass GO, don’t collect $200 and go back and read this. 2 Later or someday I’m going to write a post about why I call myself (and others) a “bitch” occasionally because I know that it bothers some of you. The short version goes like this: Have you ever interacted with a mother dog intent on protecting the puppies that kept her tired angry ass up all last night? 3 It was Rose Eveleth at @roseveleth. She said it was ok if I told you.