When I was about 10, I developed an obsessive love for The X-Men. It started with the Saturday morning cartoon show, but quickly became about comic books, as well. To this day, long-overwritten plot points from the Marvel universe take up a significant portion of my memory space (as my husband can attest). In my marriage, I am the one who is called upon to flesh out the backstory and conflicts with source material after my husband and I have seen an action-hero movie.
But I didn't own a single comic book until I was 19.
In fact, I'm not sure my parents or friends even knew I liked comic books. All my reading, for nine years, was done in secret. I'd slip into the comic book aisle at the bookstore when nobody was around to see, grab an anthology off the shelf, and spend the next two hours nestled in a corner somewhere — with the comics safely hidden behind a magazine or large book. I did the same thing at the public library. Never even checked one out. If I couldn't finish a library comic anthology in one afternoon, I'd hide it in a seldom-used section and come back the next day. (My apologies to the librarians of the world for that.)
Partly, that shame and fear came was about being labeled a nerd, in general. But there was, for me, also a pretty heavy gender component. Tall, clumsy, nerdy, ignorant of fashion or makeup, and definitely not "attractive" in the way that sheltered pre-teen and teenage society defines it, I spent a good chunk of my adolescence paranoid about my identity as a female. Where and when I grew up, there weren't a lot of good role models for diversity of female experience. My parents always supported who I was, but society and my peers seemed to have a pretty strict definition of who girls were and what they liked ... and I didn't fit. Admitting that I was into comics felt like it would be just one more thing I did wrong. That's why I really, really love Women Reading Comics in Public Day, an unofficial holiday started by the bloggers at DC Women Kicking Ass.
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From Merit Ptah—Chief Physician of ancient Egypt—to 1st-century BC alchemist Mary the Jewess, the Science Chicks from History Tumblr is dedicated to introducing you to all the science-y ladies you didn't learn about in school.
The image above is titled "Woman teaching geometry”. It comes from an early 14th century translation of Euclid.
About a month ago, I wrote here about my struggle to decide what to do after I found out that my pregnancy wasn't going to be viable. This morning, I went on New Hampshire Public Radio's Word of Mouth to talk about that decision, miscarriage in general, and some of the ways that this issue connects to larger discussions in the public realm.
Word of Mouth doesn't have embedding available, but you can go to their website and listen to the full interview. One of the key things that I got to talk about today that I didn't mention in my previous post is the way that anti-abortion laws have huge (presumably unintended) consequences for women who miscarry. Case in point: Fetal personhood. If you give a fetus all the rights of a living human from the moment of conception, how do you deal with the fact that some 50% of conceptions end in miscarriage? Today, if a living human being dies and we don't know why, there's an investigation into the nature of their death, to make sure it wasn't caused by foul play. Under some of these proposed laws, women like me would have to spend the incredibly painful weeks after a miscarriage attempting to prove that we didn't cause it. That gets doubly difficult when you consider the fact that, quite often, nobody knows why a specific woman miscarried. Around 50% of miscarriages are caused by random chromosomal mutations. But we have no idea why that happens (or why it happens to some women multiple times), and that also leaves a big, hard-to-diagnose group of women who would have no way of proving that they didn't cause their miscarriage.
In fact, being able to choose to have an abortion—to get a D&C procedure instead of waiting for the miscarriage to happen naturally—was actually what enabled me to know what caused my miscarriage. Having a D&C makes it easier for doctors to collect enough fetal tissue that they can run a genetic analysis on it. Last week, I got back the results of the chromosomal analysis performed on my fetus. Turns out, he had a mutation, Trisomy 16, that was completely incompatible with life. That trisomy is the most common genetic cause of miscarriage. It's also completely random. Basically, my miscarriage was bad luck. Knowing that makes me feel so much better. It's almost hard to describe the relief. And I owe that to an abortion.
This woman, Clelia Duel Mosher, conducted the world's first sex survey—a series of interviews with 45 American women, most of whom were born before 1870. She conducted the surveys off and on between 1892 and 1920, but never published on them. They were found in 1973, and present an interesting take on Victorian and Edwardian-era women's sex lives, something we usually only hear about from decidedly biased sources from that time period that often claim women didn't like sex at all.
The surveys show that wasn't the case. More interestingly, they tell the story of changing expectations about marriage and sex.
Slightly more than half of these educated women claimed to have known nothing of sex prior to marriage; the better informed said they'd gotten their information from books, talks with older women and natural observations like "watching farm animals." Yet no matter how sheltered they'd initially been, these women had—and enjoyed—sex. Of the 45 women, 35 said they desired sex; 34 said they had experienced orgasms; 24 felt that pleasure for both sexes was a reason for intercourse; and about three-quarters of them engaged in it at least once a week.
Unlike Mosher's other work, the survey is more qualitative than quantitative, featuring open-ended questions probing feelings and experiences. "She's actually asking these questions not about physiology or mechanics—she's really asking about sexual subjectivity and the meaning of sex to women," Freedman says. Their responses were often mixed. Some enjoyed sex but worried that they shouldn't. One slept apart from her husband "to avoid temptation of too frequent intercourse." Some didn't enjoy sex but faulted their partner. Mosher writes: [She] "Thinks men have not been properly trained."
Their responses reflected the cultural shifts of the late 19th century, as marriage became viewed as a romantic union, not just an economic one, and as people began to dissociate sex from procreation, says Freedman. One woman, born in 1867, wrote that before marriage she believed sex to be only for reproduction, but later changed her mind: "In my experience the habitual bodily expression of love has a deep psychological effect in making possible complete mental sympathy & perfecting the spiritual union that must be the lasting 'marriage' after the passion of love has passed away with the years."
Thanks to Jennifer Ouellette for linking to this story!
Pictured: Actual female programmers at Women 2.0 Startup Weekend, November 2011.
Xeni posted last week about the EU's rather ridiculous "Science: It's a Girl Thing!" video, which was aimed at recruiting girls to science careers and, instead, hit enough vacuous stereotypes of femininity that it ended up seeming like a parody of itself.
This seems like a nice moment to note that the Txchnologist website is currently posting articles in the theme of "Women in Science and Technology". One of those pieces is an interview with Margo Seltzer, an actual female scientist. Dr. Seltzer teaches computer science at Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Most science and technology professions have a hard time attracting and retaining women, and computer science is no exception. Only a quarter of employed computer scientists are women. Txchnologist asked Seltzer about her perspective on the problem, and what steps she thinks might help make computer science more female-friendly.
What's interesting about this interview, in light of the "It's a Girl Thing!" flap: Seltzer does think that image—the messages people get about what a computer engineer has to be like—makes a big difference in who decides they want to be a computer engineer. Which is basically the same idea "It's a Girl Thing!" was trying (poorly) to address. Unfortunately, the EU video ended up being all image and no substance, and worse, it added to the image problem by telling people what girls are supposed to be like. (By that video's definition, I am not a lady.)
Instead, Seltzer says, the problem is that computer scientists are portrayed in a negative way that doesn't fit who they really are—whether male or female. If we had a more well-rounded view of the wide variety of people that actually go into computer science, maybe more women could see themselves in that career.
MS: I think the biggest factor is that as a society we’ve done a really, really bad job of marketing what it means to be in software. If you ask somebody, “What does a computer programmer look like?” I think almost everyone in the world will give you the same description—it’s a nerdy guy with no social skills and all he ever wants to do is program. The reality of the situation is very different. But the image that we’ve constructed societally is really pretty dreadful.
You get articles about the problem and articles that discuss it, but you actually don’t get anyone portraying a different image very often. For a long time we’ve joked about the fact that we need an L.A.-Law-type show for computer programmers, where you have young, good looking, really fun, intelligent people who happen to be software engineers.
If you look globally, there are countries where that isn’t the image, and in fact, their numbers are dramatically better. I was recently speaking with some of our Oracle engineers from China and they pretty much have a fifty-fifty split of men and women. And they think it’s sort of odd that we don’t.
Read the rest of Margo Seltzer's interview. It's worth checking out the whole thing. In particular because she points out that this public image problem isn't the only problem. Even in the 21st century, many workplaces set policies that implicitly tell female employees, "You're not really welcome here." Maybe they're the ones who really need reminding that science can be a girl thing?
Back when I worked at mental_floss magazine, I wrote up a short article on the life of Cheng I Sao, a 19th-century Chinese woman who rose from prostitution to became one of the most successful pirates of all time, commanding a fleet of thousands.
It's a great tale, though I'd almost forgotten about it until writer Natalie Kim twittered at me recently to tell me about a project that mental_floss story had inspired. Working with artist Robin Ha, Kim has turned the story of Cheng I Sao (also known as Cheng Shih) into a short comic in Secret Identities Volume 2, an upcoming anthology of Asian-American superhero stories. Here's what Kim wrote about why the story of Cheng I Sao/Cheng Shih was interesting to her:
To summarize, Ching Shih was an actual woman who lived in the 19th century and worked as a prostitute. Eventually she married a pirate and when he died, she took over and was one of the most successful pirates of her time. (To add to her badassery, after her husband died she married her adopted step son!) The British tried to get rid of her but she proved elusive and ended up living a very long and prosperous life.
The story struck me as so unusual because most stories about Asian women are how they had been physically abused but remained ultra loyal to an elusive man and their reward is that they sprout into a beautiful blossom flower.
You can see a small preview page on Natalie Kim's website. It looks awesome and I can't wait to read it.
Samaritan Magazine has a fun article here about Henna Heals, a charity based in Toronto, Canada that offers a free service to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy: beautiful henna designs applied to their chemo-bald heads. The organization was created by photographer Frances Darwin, who also captures the resulting designs in photos. Snip:
The swirling, intricate drawings, which are safe, temporary and applied by skilled artists, command the eye to the head of the henna wearer, inspiring awe rather than pity while offering an alternative to wigs or hats. Perhaps more importantly, these henna "crowns" offer women suffering hair loss -- and the accompanying lost sense of femininity that brings -- a chance to feel uniquely lovely while inviting gentle dialog about a tricky subject.
When I began chemo as treatment for breast cancer, a number of friends suggested henna designs to me, too. I haven't done it yet, but I'm still chemo-bald... so it's not too late! Might be worth a trip up to Toronto to visit these guys. A beautiful project, and really pretty designs.
(Photo: Frances Darwin; model: Tara Schubert; henna: Darcy Vasudev. Link via Chris Woodfield)
I'm sure there are a lot of people reading this who will have a hard time understanding why I love this collection of historic photos of female scientists. "Why female scientists?" I can already hear them asking. "Aren't you doing a disservice to female scientists by singling them out as something special?"
But here's the thing. These photos are special, and what they show is something that the vast majority of us have not had much exposure to: Images of women (who are not Marie Curie), working in the sciences prior to the 1970s or 1980s. And that matters.
When I was in school, I was presented with a history of science that excluded these women entirely. Other than a precious few exceptions that seemed to prove the rule, what I learned was that women had not been scientists. Even if you follow that up with a helpful reminder that women can be scientists today if they want, that edited version of history is (from my personal experience as a little girl) discouraging to little girls.
Meanwhile, it turns out that there were plenty of women working in the sciences, all along. Presenting a version of history that pretends they didn't exist devalues them, and contributes to the idea that, when we talk about the history of women in science, we're really just being PC, rather than talking about things that actually happened.
That's why I think these photos are important. They bring attention to women we should have been aware of, and they help to create a fuller, more diverse perspective on the history of science. Both those things are pretty awesome, as far as I am concerned.
The photos come from the Science Service (now the Society for Science and the Public), which basically served a role of science popularizer and news service in the first half of the 20th century. (The collection includes photos of women who wrote for the Science Service, images I consider pretty powerful since they are basically presenting me with people who did the job I now do.).
The photo above is a picture of chemist Margaret Foster, who was born in 1895.
Margaret D. Foster (1895-1970) working in the lab in 1919. Foster was the first woman chemist to work for the United States Geological Survey, starting in 1918, just three days after receiving her A.B. from Illinois College. Foster's studies primarily focused on the analysis of natural waters. Her work on the Manhattan Project resulted in two new quantitative methods of analysis, one for uranium and one for thorium.
Read more about the photo collection, and find out how you can help the Smithsonian Institution identify some of the women in the photos, and add more information to their biographies.
Via Jacquelyn Gill
The recently-launched Women Under Siege website is a new project of the NYC-based Women’s Media Center, and features a number of powerful essays and features by women, about sexual violence against women. There's an account by CBS News correspondent Lara Logan, who survived a sexual assault while covering uprisings in the Middle East; another about covering sexualized war in Congo by Lynsey Addario, who survived the same.
In this post, I'd like to draw special attention to a feature on the site about a subject with which I have personal familiarity: violence against indigenous women in Guatemala. Though the country's long civil war is over, the femicidio is not. Snip:
More than 100,000 women were raped in the 36 years of the Guatemalan genocide in which at least 200,000 people died. In this video, photojournalists Ofelia de Pablo and Javier Zurita interview survivors and document the ongoing forensic and legal investigation that has just indicted former Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt.
There are so many powerful stories on the Women Under Siege website. Below, a photo by Ms. Addario, from Congo: "Lwange, 51, with her daughter, Florida, who had been raped the week before this photo was taken in 2008. The child had screamed at the time, then bled. With her vagina and her young psyche damaged, Florida would no longer speak."
On the gurney lay a young woman the color of white marble. The red pool between her legs, ominously free of clots, offered a silent explanation.
“She arrived a few minutes ago. Not even a note.” My resident was breathless with anger, adrenaline, and panic.
I had an idea who she went to. The same one the others did. The same one many more would visit. A doctor, but considering what I had seen he could’t have any formal gynecology training. The only thing he offered that the well-trained provers didn’t was a cut-rate price. If you don’t know to ask, well, a doctor is a doctor. That’s assuming you are empowered enough to have such a discussion. I was also pretty sure his office didn’t offer interpreters.
I needed equipment not available in an emergency room. I looked at the emergency room attending. “Call the OR and tell them we need a room. Now.” And then I turned to my resident. I was going to tell him to physically make sure a room, any room, was ready when we arrived, but he had already sprinted towards the stairs. He knew.
Read the entire account here: Anatomy of an unsafe abortion.
Required reading in this year of presidential elections in America, in which so many candidates would have us return to the dark era in which abortion was illegal. Outlawing abortion doesn't end abortion, it just makes scenes like this more common.
And here's a follow-up post worth reading, by Dr. Gunter.
(thanks, @Scanman / image: Shutterstock)
Photographer David Jay's SCAR Project is described as "a series of large-scale portraits of young breast cancer survivors," intended to raise awareness about early onset breast cancer while "paying tribute to the courage and spirit of so many brave young women."
Dedicated to the more than 10,000 women under the age of 40 who will be diagnosed this year alone, The SCAR Project is an exercise in awareness, hope, reflection and healing. The mission is three-fold: raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs and help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens.
The Komen kerfuffle that inspired this video may soon pass from the headlines, but for people living with the disease, breast cancer—and the fight for dignity, survival, and a cure— is forever. I now count myself among them.
I watched this video many times this weekend, while recovering from the most recent round of chemotherapy. The video was created by Linda Burger, identified in various news accounts as a 56-year-old woman who lives in Las Vegas, NV.
"Linda in Las Vegas," you are my hero. Thank you.
Bowing to anti-abortion politics, breast cancer charity cuts funds for screenings at Planned Parenthood
Collateral damage in the abortion wars, and bad news for working class and low-income women who rely on Planned Parenthood clinics for breast cancer and cervical cancer screening services. The Susan G. Komen Foundation, America's largest and best-funded cancer charity, is reportedly cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, in response to pressure from anti-women's health political groups.
Planned Parenthood provides a wide array of women's health services, including mammograms and cancer screening.
From her 2010 campaign website: "Since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood."
Regarding state funds for the women's health clinics which she acknowledged were used for "breast and cervical cancer screening," she said while campaigning, "I’ll eliminate them as your next Governor."
Lame, lame, lame, lame. Cancer doesn't care if you're pro-choice or not.
The founder and chair of @komenforthecure is Nancy Brinker. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
PHOTO: A crucifix is held aloft during the "March for Life" in Washington January 23, 2012. Nearly 100,000 protesters marched to the U.S. Supreme Court to mark the 39th anniversary of the Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. (REUTERS)
"Teaching science without evolution is like teaching sentence structure without the alphabet." That's a quote from Carin Bondar, one of the awesome scientists interviewed in this video about why evolution needs to be taught in public schools.
You'll note that all the scientists in the video happen to be female. That's because it's kind of a response, meant as a counterpoint to that incredibly obnoxious video of Miss America contestants' responses to the same question. Women who know science know evolution matters.
Thanks to scientists Matt Shipman, David Wescott, Jamie Vernon, Kevin Zelnio and Andrea Kuszewski for producing this awesome film.
Bloomberg News has published a two-part, first-person investigative piece by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, a professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, on the lives of Filipina sex workers in Tokyo, Japan. To study the living and working conditions of these "hostess bar" migrant laborers, Parrenas became one.
The Bloomberg pieces are excerpts from her new book “Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo,” released this week by Stanford University Press.as is the book, for providing an unusual glimpse inside a world most of us will never witness first-hand.
Smithsonian has a neat feature on the Dahomey "Amazons"—an elite troop of female soldiers who fought in the 18th and 19th century for the independent African country of Dahomey (it's now Benin).
Historian Robin Law, of the University of Stirling, who has made a study of the subject, dismisses the idea that the Fon viewed men and women as equals in any meaningful sense; women fully trained as warriors, he points out, were thought to “become” men, usually at the moment they disemboweled their first enemy. Perhaps the most persuasive possibility is that the Fon were so badly outnumbered by the enemies who encircled them that Dahomey’s kings were forced to conscript women. The Yoruba alone were about ten times as numerous as the Fon.
... Recruiting women into the Dahomean army was not especially difficult, despite the requirement to climb thorn hedges and risk life and limb in battle. Most West African women lived lives of forced drudgery. Gezo’s female troops lived in his compound and were kept well supplied with tobacco, alcohol and slaves–as many as 50 to each warrior, according to the noted traveler Sir Richard Burton, who visited Dahomey in the 1860s. And “when amazons walked out of the palace,” notes Alpern, “they were preceded by a slave girl carrying a bell. The sound told every male to get out of their path, retire a certain distance, and look the other way.” To even touch these women meant death.
... new female recruits were put through extensive training. The scaling of vicious thorn hedges was intended to foster the stoical acceptance of pain, and the women also wrestled one another and undertook survival training, being sent into the forest for up to nine days with minimal rations.
It was this fierceness that most unnerved Western observers, and indeed Dahomey’s African enemies. Not everyone agreed on the quality of the Dahomeans’ military preparedness—European observers were disdainful of the way in which the women handled their ancient flintlock muskets, most firing from the hip rather than aiming from the shoulder, but even the French agreed that they “excelled at hand-to-hand combat” and “handled [knives] admirably.”