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STEM girl

Mar. 25th, 2010 09:32 am
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
Lots of fun posts celebrating Ada Lovelace day (yesterday, but I was busy writing a grant and planning a communal Passover celebration). I particularly enjoyed [personal profile] helenic's piece on confidence and how it affects women who write about tech in public.

Also [personal profile] rmc28 asked for women in science and technology to represent, so I thought I might have a go. Among other things it will serve as an introduction to my professional side for all the new people who just subscribed.

so what do you do? )

I am a little uncomfortable with the concept of Ada Lovelace day, to be honest. I think it can make a difference to see visible women doing STEM subjects. It's just that when I was a kid I found it really frustrating that I was always expected to have female role models, I was pushed into fangirling Rosalind Franklin when I wanted to fangirl Francis Crick, assumed because of my gender to be more interested in Dorothy Hodgkin than Max Perutz and so on. In some ways the message I want to send out to girls and young women is that they can do anything they want and gender doesn't matter, not that we can manage to find one or two female names in the list of influential scientists in your field, so that makes it ok for girls to have science ambitions.

But then, I did have one very important female role model growing up: my grandmother, who qualified as a doctor around the start of WW2 and devoted her whole life (literally, she died in the middle of a consultation with a patient) to women's and children's health, especially in deprived parts of the country. She also worked closely with Isabella Forshall, a surgeon born in 1902 who pretty much invented paediatric surgery.

On beauty

Mar. 17th, 2010 11:34 pm
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
One of the very cool side-effects of hosting the friending meme is that lots of people have chosen to add me as well as eachother. Welcome, new people! So I thought I'd better provide some content before you all get bored and go away again. Here's an essay I've been meaning to write up and post for a long time, about feminism and appearance:

let's hope a potentially controversial topic doesn't drive away all my new readers )

Of course, another feminist issue that could be discussed is about all the labour that goes into producing clothes and fashion accoutrements. It's mostly done by women and far too frequently by women with really poor employment conditions. But that's a separate topic.
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
Author: Suzette Haden Elgin ([livejournal.com profile] ozarque)

Details: (c)1984 Suzette Haden Elgin; pub Daw 1984; ISBN 0-88677-121-8

Verdict: Native Tongue is high quality SF.

Reasons for reading it: I have been reading [livejournal.com profile] ozarque's excellent blog, and have been looking for this based on what she says about it.

How it came into my hands: I finally found my copy in one of the marvellous second hand bookshops I visited with [personal profile] rysmiel in Montreal.

detailed review )

I used the last bit of convalescing, when I was too ill for anything requiring major brainpower or energy, but not ill enough to just spend the afternoon asleep, to write up a few of the books I've read recently. So here are reviews of: Hm, fair proportion of feminist stuff in there. Probably the most impressive feminist thing I've come across recently is [personal profile] damned_colonial's piece on women in Open Source. As much as anything I'm impressed by the level of rhetorical control; she presents a feminist topic, concisely and clearly, for a not especially feminist audience. I think it's worth reading (and short) even if you're not interested in the specific subject matter. Plus she's doing a really awesome job in general of archiving and researching Dreamwidth (and the fandom archive thingy OTW) as women-friendly Open Source projects.
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
One of the most impressive bits of Jewish learning I've experienced in a month that sets a very high standard is a public lecture by R Landes on Herem, or Jewish excommunication. In 90 minutes, he covered technical background on how excommunication works, a very interesting Talmudic story about the excommunication of R Eliezer, one of the biggest name rabbis who got arrogant because he had Divine sanction for his opinions and refused to accept being outvoted since God was on his side, a historical overview of how excommunication has developed through Jewish history, and a whole bunch of other thought provoking stuff.

For me, the point that really stood out was a piece of Talmud which deals with the excommunication of a sexual predator. It's really incredibly topical, this stuff, the way R Landes taught it made it quite clear that the Talmud was dealing with the same issues we are and not just presenting some quaint, esoteric legal discussion. There's the problem that you can't excommunicate the guy because he's a scholar and the community needs his knowledge. There's the problem that you can't impose such a harsh punishment on him when you don't have evidence meeting normal judicial standards (because after all no predator takes advantage of teenaged girls in front of two kosher witnesses!) The guy in question complains about how he's been treated so harshly, and insinuates that it's all a personal grudge on the part of the senior rabbi who condemned him to excommunication. And later that he's been living as an outcast (a person under a ban of excommunication basically can't participate in normal life at all, and has to follow quite harsh mourning customs indefinitely, including not bathing or grooming himself) for many many years now and he's just a harmless old man and how unfair it is to continue the punishment indefinitely and he's totally changed his ways. He even tries taking his sob story to Palestine in the hope that the rabbis there will be unaware of what he did in Babylon. In the Talmudic tale, the rabbis all stand firm and he remains excommunicated; they even manage to get word from an older sage who had been in Babylon at the time of the incidents. But you can totally see how there might not have been such a happy ending, the rabbis would have been entirely forgivable if they'd relented and softened his punishment.

And R Landes only needed to sketch out the analogy to our situation. We're nice liberals, we don't believe in excommunicating people or other harsh punishments, we want our community to be open and welcoming and tolerant and such. And we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, and make sure we have an absolutely just legal process with a presumption of innocence and really high standards of proof and so on, and we're religiously committed to the idea that a person can repent and change their ways. Equally, we absolutely cannot get away with showing any tolerance towards community leaders who use their influence to get access to vulnerable people to victimize.

Apart from being a completely wonderful class, this reminds me of something. It reminds me of the surprisingly high quality of discussion that arose out of my post on rape last month. I really want to follow up on that, because so many people gave me fantastically honest and thoughtful responses, and I think I could really get somewhere with this. But it's a difficult topic, and perhaps it's foolish to embark on it again when I don't properly have time to work through it. Still, let me try some initial thoughts, and I'll see if you guys come up with wise, profound responses again.

what do we do when it's too late for prevention? ) Ok, this is more questions than answers. But I really do want to think about this. I want ideas for reasonable, effective responses to the prevalence of rape. Not ideas about protecting women from this pervasive evil, I've already explained why I hate that kind of rhetoric. Not ideas about treating entirely hypothetical rapists in the harshest terms we can imagine. Particularly since I don't have quite enough time for this discussion I am going to be pretty severe about screening unhelpful comments. But I really do want to know, if you suspect someone you know may be, or may have been in the past, oblivious to sexual consent, what might be the most morally desirable reaction?
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
Author: Sarah Katherine Lewis ([livejournal.com profile] markedformetal)

Details: (c) 2006 Sarah Katherine Lewis; pub 2006 Seal Press; ISBN 1-58005-169-3

Verdict: Indecent is well written but thoroughly depressing.

Reasons for reading it: I dipped into [livejournal.com profile] markedformetal's journal while she was in the process of writing this, and she had interesting things to say about sex work. What caught my eye in contrast to most other internet pontification about sex work was that she clearly places the industry as part of the broader issue of semi-skilled, semi-legal labour, as well as talking about sexism and misogyny and so on.

How it came into my hands: [personal profile] rysmiel knew I'd taken an interest in the blog so lent me the book.

detailed review )
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
So [livejournal.com profile] cereta made an impressive and widely linked post about the pervasiveness of rape. The reaction to it has been really bizarre, and I want to talk about that and about a related issue: the one about women taking personal safety precautions.

discussion of rape and the fear of rape; don't read if you're feeling fragile )
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
So a brave and much-admired gynaecologist was murdered in America, and lots of people are upset and frightened by this attack. May Dr Tiller rest in peace, and may all of you who are grieving or in shock find the best comfort you can.

analysis of abortion rhetoric )

Note I'm not proposing that anyone should be forced to carry to term a baby she doesn't want. Please don't accuse me of taking that position! I'm saying that the people who are arguing so passionately in favour of abortion rights should select their arguments with care. Sometimes the pro-life side are accused of only caring about the life of pure innocent little unborn babies, but not actual living humans (and that accusation is certainly true in the case of the evil man who murdered Dr Tiller, and those extremists who encouraged him and are celebrating his action.) But at this stage in the debate, it's coming across as if some of the pro-choice side only care about the rights and autonomy of women who are young and healthy and able-bodied and neurotypical and preferably pretty and socially valued (and I have this sinking feeling that pretty is really a figleaf for "white, middle-class and sexually conservative").

Pretty much the only people I've seen addressing this issue are the wonderful Kay Olson and Wheelchair dancer. And that only in comments buried deep in a blog discussion. I want to add my voice to theirs, with a top level post, not that I have all that much traffic or prominence.

PS: I'm going to be pretty harsh about deleting comments that don't acknowledge people with disabilities as people. If you can't talk about people, not "tragedies" or "burdens" or "medical costs", please don't talk to me about this topic at all. And I don't particularly want to hear your personal views on the abortion debate in general either, because that's strongly missing the point of what I'm trying to say.

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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