Writer’s block sucks. So I did what I often do when I’m faced with a problem I need to solve: I bought a book. The book in this instance, Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer, was originally published in 1934 and was out of print for some time until a recent reissue. It is a charming read. I can’t tell you yet if it’s going to cure all my writing problems, but I did want to share this quote with you:
It is unfortunate, but the unimaginative citizen finds something exquisitely funny about the idea that one aspires to make a name and a living by any such process as “stringing words together”. He finds it presumptuous when an acquaintance announces that he has elected to give the world his opinion in writing, and punishes the presumption by merciless teasing. If you feel called upon to correct this unimaginative attitude you will have opportunities enough to keep you busy for a lifetime, but you will not – unless you have an extraordinary amount of energy – have much strength left for writing.
I couldn’t resist adapting this for women in science and engineering:
It is unfortunate, but the unimaginative citizen finds something exquisitely funny about the idea that a woman aspires to make a name and a living by any such process as science or engineering. He finds it presumptuous when a woman announces that she has elected to give the world her service in a technical field, and punishes the presumption by merciless harassment and discrimination. If you feel called upon to correct this unimaginative attitude you will have opportunities enough to keep you busy for a lifetime, but you will not – unless you have an extraordinary amount of energy – have much strength left for doing science.
Time and energy spent in efforts to educate knuckleheads about women’s abilities and the barriers they face is time and energy that can’t be spent for some other creative endeavor. And yet, the knuckleheads and the barriers must be dealt with. For even the energy required just to manage one’s reactions to the endless series of knuckleheads and institutional barriers, without actually trying to do anything to educate the knuckleheads or remove the barriers, is energy no longer available for science. Possibly one of the most aggravating aspects of this work is that those dishing out the harassment and discrimination, those engaged in behavior that supports and enables institutional barriers, are the very ones who will tell you there is nothing for you to be so upset about. You are: overreacting, taking things out of context, lacking a sense of humor, misunderstanding, complaining about things that are just “normal”, magnifying the significance of a possibly regrettable, but singular, slip-up. You are accused of seeing sexism everywhere, because you dare to point it out somewhere.
This is why women in science and engineering need others who are either (1) not actively engaged in science/engineering practice, and/or (2) not women, to speak up on their behalf. They need someone to shoulder this burden so they can get on with actually being scientists and engineers. They need someone who can reassure them that they are not the ones with a problem; it is the unimaginative citizens who have a problem.
This is why I write this blog, even though I’d rather be gardening or reading. Or just watching paint dry on the walls.