This seems as good a time as any to reprint this entry from my blog’s previous incarnation. The original title was “Zuska Recommends a Dose of Absinthe”.
After some preliminary stuff introducing Absinthe’s blog and referring to the then-current Ben Barrres news story (Ben is a neurobiologist who used to be Barbara Barres, and thus has some unique insights on the situation of women in science), the entry deconstructs Fermilab’s discourse in a propaganda rag. Fermilab presents the story of Elizabeth Freeland, who overcame Fermilab’s considerable barriers to restart her physics career, as if it is something positive Fermilab could take credit for. Not surprisingly, I read the whole thing quite differently. Enjoy.
Zuska Recommends a Dose of Absinthe
Like the drink itself, Absinthe’s blog is a strong distilled spirit, the effect of which is to heighten your sense of the truly screwed-up world that is U.S. academic and national lab physics. Also like the spirit, Absinthe-the-blogger has been treated as if she were a source of insanity and banned – booted out of the world of physics. And finally, like the spirit, you may find Absinthe’s blog to be somewhat bitter. Yet I think that is part of its virtue. Absinthe has certainly discovered the planet Zorn, and is wearing her tiara there quite comfortably.
If you are a woman scientist or engineer considering suing your present or former employer, then Absinthe’s blog is most definitely for you!
I must modestly confess (ahem) that I seem to have inspired Absinthe to release her Inner Pissed-Off Woman and share her with the world. I am so proud!
Yesterday I said a little thanks to Ben Barres for remembering the ladies. To the sorry-ass portion of the science and engineering establishment: If particular care and attention is not paid from now on to us Pissed-Off Women, we are determined, along with all our allies including people like Debra Rolison and Ron Wyden and Barbara Boxer, to foment a rebellion. We will not offer ourselves up to any laboratories, university or national, in which we would have to call your sorry asses “boss”. We will not give you the fruits of our labor and let you call it “your” RO1 grant proposal, or “your” Science or Nature paper, or “your” newly discovered particle, or “your” computer program. We will not work for free and let you pretend you are doing us a big giant favor out of the goodness of your heart because you feel so sorry for us because we are not good enough to get a real job. (Hmm, I think I am going to have to work this up into a pledge for woman who decide to boycott toxic labs…now all we need, as Debra Rolison suggested at WEPAN 2006, is a guerilla website that lists and tracks the toxic labs. I think I know someone who might be interested in doing that…)
It’s a crappy world for women in engineering, but geez, I’m starting to think those physicists are putting the engineers to shame. I want to make sure you get the details of that Fermilab propaganda piece straight.
Elizabeth Freeland earned a PhD in physics from Johns Hopkins, foolishly took five years off to have a family while unfortunately married to a physicist whose career blossomed while hers languished (he didn’t take any time off to have a family; they didn’t share child-rearing duties while both scaling back career aspirations; they didn’t both work slavish hours while farming out their children). Clearly he must be more serious about his career and/or a better physicist, no? Anyway, poor benighted Elizabeth tried to ressurect her career. The article says
A full-time job demanded research experience [uh, like she didn't already have any from those Johns Hopkins years? Zuska carpingly interjects. Do newly minted PhDs arrive somehow differently qualified?], so after sending out numerous letters looking to help labs on “small projects,” she came to Fermilab hoping to collaborate on summer research. Although Freeland said the lab’s staff was encouraging, she needed a grant to support her research. And the grants required her to have a full-time affiliation with less than a five-year break after graduate school. [Zuska is sure these requirements are not meant to be discriminatory. Sure.]
She claims the lab’s staff was “encouraging”. Say, can anybody there at Fermilab tell me how physicists define the word “encouraging”? I’m thinking hindering, unfavorable, untimely, and negative might be part of their definition.
So, to summarize:
- She wanted a job, but they said she needed a grant.
- She needed data to get a grant.
- She needed daycare to have time to get data.
- She needed money to pay for daycare.
This system of equations cannot be solved – 4 equations, 5 variables. Or wait, it can! Freeland worked part-time as a physics teacher at the School of Art Institute of Chicago. That allowed her to pay for daycare to have time to get the data to apply for a grant. And she got one!
Now, here is the interesting part.
The grant source? An American Association of University Women American Fellowship that “did not require full-time affiliation with an institution, and did not exclude those out of graduate school for longer than five years”.
See, that fits MY definition of encouraging. However, it does NOT fit my definition of working “for Fermilab”. Because those pinheads were not actually paying her, were they? No more than they were when she was working “for free”.
I think Fermilab owes the School of Art Institute of Chicago a big, fat thank you. If she’s working “for Fermilab” when the AAUW pays her, then I say she’s working “for Fermilab” when the Art Institute pays her. What’s the difference, really? Well, you and I and Fermilab know what the difference is, don’t we. Some penised pompous ass in a white coat says there’s a difference and so there just is.
“The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities – a natural defectiveness.” Good old Aristotle – he’s just timeless, isn’t he? The female working for free is working for free by virtue of lack of a certain kind of money. The male working right next to her, whether he’s as smart or as good as her or not, is working for Fermilab by virtue of his GRANT. Which, no doubt, is quite large.
Now, go back and look at that Fermilab propaganda with all its happy happy pictures of mom with kids. Fermilab just has no shame, do they? Trotting out their exploited women to make it look like they are all supportive of women scientists; we’re supposed to get the warm fuzzies from Freeland and her kids. Makes. Me. Want. To. Puke. On. Fermilab’s Shoes.