As a graduate student at MIT, my daily commute took me past a construction site bordered by the sort of concrete dividers you see along highways. It was a pretty long stretch of concrete dividers, and on it someone had energetically spray-painted the following in large, excited letters:
UNLEASH THE FURY OF WOMEN AS A MIGHTY FORCE FOR REVOLUTION!
This caused me much disquiet every time I passed by. Would people think I was one of those furious women? Who were those furious women and what were they furious about? What in hell would happen if their fury was unleashed? It did not bear contemplating.**
Back then, of course, I did not want to be associated with women at all, much less any radical furious women. I was a man’s woman, yessiree! I knew my place in the scheme of things!
Of course you all know how this story ends. The details of the transition have been related elsewhere (in essays in Women in Science: Meeting Career Challenges and in She’s Such a Geek!). I am in frequent communication with my Inner Pissed-Off Woman.
It’s ironic that I’m in even better touch with my IPOW now that I’m home so much. Being at home all day has been very isolating, and eventually one can self-impose the isolation. I can’t go out on the days I feel bad, then I don’t go out on the days I feel good. Being at home becomes a habit.
I’ve mentioned before how burned out I felt when I left my job as director of WESP at K-State and went back to industry. It was a personal relief to make that move and the right choice at the time for a lot of reasons. Nevertheless I missed my connection to the world of women in engineering programs. I missed being part of that conversation.
Blogging has put me back in the conversation, and has been an amazing conduit for the unleashing of my IPOW. It’s exhilarating and addicting, and sometimes I feel like I can’t get enough of it. There is so much I want and need to say, that sometimes the thoughts are all jamming against the top of my head at once, jostling for attention, begging to be written, and I feel paralyzed. My writer’s block comes not from dearth of material but from fear of not doing justice to the material. These few meager paragraphs have cost me an entire afternoon. They aren’t very special, nor do they deal with one of the big jostlers currently elbowing around my brain. I would like to be unleashed from this current bout of writer’s block.
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time to my younger self passing by the “unleash the fury” slogan and give myself advice, help the younger me avoid some of the crap waiting down the line for me. Then I wonder if I would have listened. If a woman like the one I am today had approached me in my early twenties I would have been terrified of her and would have wanted nothing to do with her. When I started blogging I thought I might be writing for the modern-day counterparts of the younger me, but I wonder how many younger women today want to listen to what women like me have to say. I just hope it doesn’t take them as long to find their IPOW as it did for me, and that they don’t have to go through as much misery.
**(It was only many years later that I learned “unleash the fury…” was a slogan associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. See here, for example.)