Tag Archives: equality

Keeping Hope Alive

As I wrap up my dissertation, essentially finishing twenty-one long years of formal education, I’m reflecting on the path I’ve taken and the road before me.  Thirteen years ago when I earned my bachelor’s degree I was elated, a bit nervous, and yet wonderfully excited to start life. Never mind that I’d been living plenty all along, but that lesson is one that often comes with age.

I can’t say I have quite the optimism I had at 21. Yes, in my innermost soul is still this hopeful belief that humanity and the world can be great– that we can stop bombing each other, hating each other, and fighting wars over god like toddlers who refuse to share a toy.

The recent events in Missouri, which in truth are simply a brush fire in a long sequence of policies which have led to militarized police, a disappearing middle class, and as much racial segregation now as when my mother rode the bus and blacks sat at the back.

I must admit, I spent many years of my youth trying to reconcile the patriotic history in the school books and the truth. When your third grade teacher tells you how police beat her when she marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, it’s hard to see anything positive in the fact this country was built on slavery. I think her name was Mrs. Horne, maybe, but I was in awe of her and all like her who had made the world a better place, or so my 8 year old self thought.

Oh and manifest destiny– can’t forget that gem. My school books made it sound so great, like this wonderful, grand achievement. Oh sure, we killed off as many Native Americans as we could, nearly drove a species (Bison) to extinction for spite, but let’s not look at that stuff too closely.

I grew up with the rhetoric that racism was a thing of the past. Sure there were crazy KKK folks, but no one takes them seriously anymore. I sadly realized it wasn’t. I’ve seen it at play all around me. It’s the folks that paint all minorities with broad strokes. It’s the hiring managers that offer a job to a less qualified white dude rather than anyone of color. It’s the average person that thinks nothing of the fact that when lunch break is announced on the job site, all the whites congregate, all the blacks, and all the Hispanics in separate groups. No one even tries to bridge the divide. It’s the insulting jokes made in front of kids, spreading the hate to another generation. It’s all that and more.

Folks say that a lot of problems need to be fixed internally (i.e. inside the minority communities), well, yes, but the whole system is corrupt, which makes fixing anything difficult. Our whole government needs an accounting, because they owe the people a whole hell of a lot. We have not sent brothers, fathers, cousins, sons, and friends off to bleed and die to have our country rip away our rights, steal our opportunities and jobs, and crush us under debts and fear.

As someone who did not come from money, and who has worked very hard to get where I am, I’m more aware than many how important education is. Education creates leaders and thinkers. Education gives us the tools to be more than our parents dreamed. It creates informed voters. It is what can make America truly great.

In key parts of my life, it was very often a teacher that made all the difference. My sister teaches middle school choir in a school populated by primarily low-income children. She’s one of those teachers, the one that doesn’t see a kid that statistics say won’t succeed, but rather a child. She challenges each one, demands nothing but the best, and also, when the time is right, nudges them to envision a future beyond the ghetto, barrio, slum, or whatever you wish to call it. The first step in trying is believing you can. No matter race or class, that type of mentor-ship is invaluable. It can change lives. Quality education then provides the means for children to grown into adults that have more than prison and welfare as a future.

We pay our teachers crap, give them so much paperwork they are lucky to get sleep, and yet we expect them to work miracles year after year with naught but blame heaped at their feet. Even at the higher level institutions we are seeing the results of decades of this. Good teachers are giving up. Good researchers are retiring. Their passion has been choked by red tape and red ledgers created by futile wars.

Just as hate is taught, so is hope. I say that it isn’t too late. Help a neighbor. Help a teacher. Help a child. DO something.



The Stubborn Ones

Yesterday I attended a WIMS (Women in Medicine and Science) talk regarding being assertive. Today I ran across this article, a look at why there are still so few women in science.

In particular, the following excerpt resonated with me:

Four young women — one black, two white, one Asian by way of Australia — explained to me how they had made it so far when so many other women had given up.
“Oh, that’s easy,” one of them said. “We’re the women who don’t give a crap.”
Don’t give a crap about — ?
“What people expect us to do.”
“Or not do.”
“Or about men not taking you seriously because you dress like a girl. I figure if you’re not going to take my science seriously because of how I look, that’s your problem.”

I’m one of those, the stubborn ones. When kids teased me, instead of conforming, I dug in my heels. When I heard that boys were better at math, and my brother regularly demonstrated his skills, I simply worked harder When told that maybe I should just go into teaching, as real science was a man’s field I just laughed.

I gravitated toward the teachers willing to challenge me. Some, especially at the graduate level, push harder and demand more than they do of others. There have been days when I gave in to tears. It wasn’t fair. I had performed adequately– not stellar, mind, but adequately, on par with others. I’d even pointed out flaws in the other students’ work and been able to see things they hadn’t, and yet I got dressed down.

After emotions cooled, I comprehended why my professor pushed me harder. He stated as much. “You’re smart and you can do better. People won’t go easy on you. You’re on a hard path, but I think you can do it.”

At least he expressed his faith in me, but it didn’t make me like getting dressed down any more. Basically, his message was that I was a woman with personal odds stacked against her, in a field dominated by men, and to compete I had to not only do well, I had to blast away the competition.

At one point, when I was extremely frustrated and being told I might be forced to take the Masters because, basically, I had kids and my boss wasn’t sure I could meet the demands of a Ph.D. I had to argue my case to the department chair.

That professor who demanded so much of me told me, “You have what it takes, even more so than other students I’ve seen in this department.” He said a few choice words about anyone who thought otherwise, which is why I took his criticisms so hard later on.

While I’ve had a couple of female biology professors in undergrad I saw as mentors, the vast majority of my interactions have been with males. There isn’t a single female faculty member in my department.

Most of the time, those interactions have been positive, and they’ve been supportive.

The article mentioned the author’s lack of confidence as key to why she didn’t pursue science. I think that right there is the linchpin. I knew what I wanted from an early age, and nothing and no one would stop me. Professors saw that single-minded dedication. When asked what I wanted, I didn’t hem and haw. Rather, I laid out my goals. That assertive, goal oriented mentality is what garners support.

I’m an outlier. I recognize this. We, as a society, need to change that curve. Even as an outlier, there are sacrifices I’m not willing to make. There are career paths I won’t choose, because unlike some who may define their success solely by their career, my definition is much broader. I look at the stacked deck and know when to leave the table. I won’t pursue a tenure position- at least not as a young scientist. I simply won’t play a game that I have little hope of winning, not with three kids that need me around more than a university needs a new professor.

That’s the kicker. While some men opt out at the expense of their career, women do so by the droves. At the end, everyone loses.

There’s no easy answer, but it starts with encouraging kids no matter their gender. It’s up to us to change the structure of academia and industry so that success does not mean sacrificing our families on the altar of the corporate ladder. It means understanding and acknowledging we all have biases, and to find ways to minimize their influence.

Above all, it’s up to us to teach our kids to be the  outliers. I’m working on it, but they are so darn stubborn…

I’m out to get you

While waiting for my computer to crunch numbers, I ran across an article and related YouTube video on the controversy surrounding geeky girls.

So, hey, you there, yes, you with the Y-chromosomes that likes anything that involves gaming, fantasy, comics, or science fiction– my evil second X-chromosome will use its estrogenic powers to bring you under my thrall.

Wow, is it me or does that sound like the plot for a really bad comic?

I don’t suppose it occurred to the idiots who make these claims that women dress up for the same reason men do. It’s fun!

One of my characters hunts demons, well not exactly demons, but the analogy works. Sure, nobody knows the character yet, but in my head I was her. I wore tight, black faux leather outfit, giant faux sword, and a cross –I used costume elements people would recognize as typical urban fantasy style even it it wasn’t exactly what I wrote. If I wore jeans and a t-shirt, the point would be lost. Somehow, I failed to net a harem of men bespelled by my estrogenic power.

According to a number of males that I know, I do not require a costume to be hot and I challenge anyone to argue that medicinal chemistry isn’t first class nerd level.

Ironically, I’ve never gone to a con seeking male attention. I know, this is so very hard to believe. Why ever would I, a writer, go to meet other writers and publishers?

No, of course not. As my favorite Star Trek character would say, “That is illogical.”