A look to our sidebar and you'll see a new photograph. Regular readers may notice the style is quite different from the previous image and arguably distinct from what I generally advocate on the blog. Or is it?
Until this weekend, I hadn't realized I'd been feeling pressure to hide...or at least remain somewhat obscure. I had reservations wondering whether a woman can really be taken seriously as a writer for her ideas, if on some level she is first perceived as female. Evolutionary psychologists describe subconscious cues and I've encountered more than a few folks from the fishing industry to the Senate with overtly preconceived expectations on gender. So as Chris well knows, since the beginning I've been concerned readers would notice appearances before content. It wasn't until this weekend that I finally recognized I've been undermining myself by unintentionally creating self-imposed constraints based on fear. And in that context, how absurd really!
You see, all of us are constantly in flux between worlds and roles. As for me, I'm a woman, a scientist, an artist, a sister, a musician... whatever fits for any given moment. The problem is I've allowed the attention to what others may say or think influence my choices as a writer and beyond. Thus, I'm behaving completely counter to my values. On this blog - and in life - I advocate that we have to define ourselves - for ourselves. In that regard, women must ignore and reject the objectification that has long been projected on us. By casting doubt to the wind, we may embrace the opportunity to uniquely portray who we are.
So on Saturday, I was at my folks' place for the holiday weekend. Mom sorted through the Thanksgiving photos and stopped at the one now pictured left. 'How bout that for your blog?' Dad agreed.
'Are you kidding?!' My initial reaction was very negative and I reminded her I'd stopped posting personal pictures altogether. But wait a second.... Why?
Perhaps what's most problematic here is that I've felt the need to censor myself because of the potential for external bias. But the thing is, those outside pressures are going to exist no matter what and the only opinion of real consequence should be my own. That's being true to oneself. That is freedom.
More on perceptions of XX after the jump - and an appearance by Diana Ross...
Since then I've been pondering the root cause for the natural trepidation of personal exposure and learned I've not really been hiding from anyone besides myself. More interesting to consider is that the photo is a microcosm of a broader cultural issue, and also a good place to begin...
Which brings me to a second reason I now want that image posted... Chris and I have more than a few bright, young female readers, and I really love receiving their occasional emails about science, math and yes, even boys. Yet somehow, even in the 21st century there's still this ridiculous misconception that gets popularized in middle school suggesting girls in academics are weird, unattractive, or nerdy. 'Beauty and the Geek' anyone? I can't fathom why the negative labels persist. Frankly, I'm having a blast growing up geek exploring the ivory towers and beyond. So what we collectively ought to be doing is finding the means to reinforce reality over 'reality' television! It's past the time we get the simple honest message out in a way that resonates that women can be successful, intelligent, hip, and most importantly--it's our choice how we define ourselves. I suspect that society and culture will catch up...eventually.
So there you have it. I took my parents' suggestion in the end. They've always had a habit of offering sound advice. And there I am on the left smiling in their kitchen. But it's also a reminder of what I learned over the holiday...
All of us - the fellas included - should never have to hide or apologize for who and what we are in order to fit a single construed world view. Cause you know what? By 2007, the time has come to individually redefine what that means.
Well your insights have always been beautifully posed so for me it's just fun to have a pic to say hi to. I can't help but comment that your 'look' in the pic reminds me of that old saying, 'curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought him back'. You do look satisfied at where your curiosity has taken you.
I like smart women, and if they happen to be attractive/pretty/beautiful/sexy, so much the better. I'm glad you found the confidence to show that you like being both smart and attractive. (And opinionated--I like that, too.)
(Click my name for a biography I wrote of a very smart, attractive woman, who speaks her mind.)
I guess some men feel threatened by that. Perhaps it is because they think in terms of this old saying that always makes me chuckle:
Anatomy is something we all have, but it looks better on a woman.
(Is my age showing here?)
If a female thinks that guys will focus on her picture, then it probably won't make much of a difference what type of picture it is. If she's cute, guys will look.
But for your younger female readers who look up to you, it definitely makes a difference. At the tutoring center I worked at, the female tutors who put some effort into their appearance had a much easier time getting the students to do what they said, getting them to confide in them, and so on.
So I advocate that both guys and gals do what you're doing, not to call attention to your physical appearance per se, but to lead by providing a good example. It's just one more reason that your mentorees will say, "Omigod, Sheril's so cool, I want to be like her when I grow up!"
You noticed, I'm sure, that in Danica McKellar's book all the female testimonials were from women who were attractive and understatedly stylish. Girls just respond to that.
BTW, perhaps you know someone to nominate for my poll of put-together, go-getter female role models:
Way to go, Sheril.
You have a talent well beyond your years as a gifted writer and more. Perhaps it is best described as possessing the sophistication of another time - somewhere between the past and the future.
This is some kick-ass blogging from an amazing woman!
Very nice commentary, and the photo of you is a great one. I've long thought that a better reaction to objectification than fear and loathing is brash confidence and a rejection of the negativity. Easier said than done, though, and it's terribly easy for me to say.
Great post. Providing examples of the many different types of scientists who exist and flourish in the real world is one of the best things that blogs can do.
Yay! It's a great photo and I'm glad you've had the courage and introspection to analyze your motives, post the photo, and share your story.
Bravo! I was once chided by a (sleazy) guy who didn't like the idea of an attractive woman calling herself a geek... because he bought into that sad stereotype that geeks aren't allowed to look good.
I have done most of my online interactions under the guise of a male identity (whether explicitly or implicitly projected) because I wanted people to focus more on my ideas than on what they envisioned the author to look like. Even when I post as a female, I don't like to put my picture up online because it has been my experience that guys will focus more on looks than on content. Perhaps with more women openly blogging that can change in time.
One of the things I love about you is that I can point to you in front of my lovely, intelligent daughters and say "There's someone you can look up to." Same goes for Red, obviously. You know I have long believed that you have worth and a real contribution to make to science and policy - too many late night post-sushi conversations just prove my point. And besides, how will all the boys (and a few men) know what they are missing if they don't have a photo to go with your stellar blogs?
so in that current vernacular saying "You go Girl!" TO which I'll add - we've got your back!
More power to you! I have three daughters and I'm always happy to see role models out there to point them to to show that women can be smart and pretty, neither detracting from the other.
I'm very proud of you, as usual, but not at all surprised by this post. This is the daughter your dad and I raised.
Love you always,
Great decision! I'm glad you overcame your trepidation, you are a great writer and contribute a lot to the blogosphere! I understand what you mean about being concerned about perception, though, sometimes when I leave blog comments I wonder if I'll be taken less seriously if people visit my blog and realize I am a) relatively young and b) a female.
I enjoy your blog posts because of your writing, not your age or gender. I'm not automatically a fan of all female [insert accomplishments/occupations here] just because of their chromosomes, to me that blind praise is almost as insulting as chauvinism. But you have established yourself on merit, no need to hide the face that goes along with the talent!
I had noted your new picture & now your blog post! Good for you! I've seen the same look-transformation on many women students at Nari Jibon Project (narijibon.blogspot.com) many of whom are wearing burkha-hijab when they come in and go out but with a different look on their face. Also good for you as a scientist and all those intersecting interests.
I will pass you post to the Nari Jibon computer teacher (Taslima--in brown burkha--in video training post) and all our students). See her post on Cyclone Sidr experience, too.
(pagol nari-crazy woman)
Oh and btw, of course geeks tend not to look good! Here's a simple test: photograph the females who work at an elite New York PR firm and those who are profs at an elite math dept. Do the same for men at an elite New York investment bank (or law firm maybe?), and the elite male math profs. This way we control for IQ, work ethic, education level, and pretty much everything else besides level of geekiness.
If anyone doubts which group will have a higher average for attractiveness when scored by a random sample of raters, you can run this experiment to find out the obvious.
coming out from where? hiding from what? am i missing something here? some code? picture and name before suggested, gasp, you are a woman. current version, ditto. my percept is the same. can someone explain this in simple english?
Great post Sheril... it really held my interest. You be all you can be, follow your own path and your own dreams. You never have to apologize or shrink from that.
Thought-provoking post Sheril. My four cents:
(1) Mr. Miyagi would be proud-"Sherilson.Always look eye".
(2) Nice pic. Got that beautiful librarian thing goin' on. Add glasses; and stir. ;)
(3) As far as I know, the highest IQ ever recorded is by Marilyn Vos Savant
(4) The Black Eyed Peas and I would agree with your general sentiments concerning somes aspects of society; at least as portrayed by the media.
I forgot to add probably the most poignant song concerning your introspection. From the 80s, but still a good one:
This post got me thinking about the potential problems these pictures pose for a blogger(or maybe just this reader). Facial expressions say a lot and they speak forcefully, I guess just as a consequence of the way we're wired. The pictures are pseudo-permanent, but there are a myriad of moods and topics of discussion among the various posts. This can make for a weirdly distracting disjunction. Does the author's picture emotionally frame the blog? If so, it would seem difficult to choose one universal enough to be suitable. One advantage of the neutral, stock type pictures is that they're in some sense blank. It's understood that such pictures are staged and thus devoid of emotional content, which leaves the reader free to imagine what a real smile/indignation/etc. would look on the author. On the other hand, maybe I'm just being weird today.
You're the best coblogger ever, because of posts like this.
And YouTube vids like this.
And because of our new InterSeCtion sound track, and occasional posts from Sparticus, and...
I'll stop now.
I thought "beauty and the geek" is really bad towards the geeks, everybody knows women (yes, women in academia as well) are nowadays really dismissive of men who are good in many hard science and technology areas which typically have few women.
It's a situation generated by women, and women have themselves to blame. I don't know what makes men who actually understand some math and, say, electronics or software design or rocketry, so horrible to the many women who don't, but it just is so.
I don't say women are incapable of understanding that stuff, just that they don't study it in masses (this is a simple fact currently), and do hate those that do study it (this is a generalization).
I already said I don't know why.
Women have the power, the choice to choose who they spend their time with, who they converse with, who they respect, who they marry, who they have their kids with. The power of this attitude is huge.
Since couples meet in schools, hobbies and workplaces, if you are a manly young man studying and working in technology with manly hobbies, you on average don't meet enough girls to really find anyone by this "by accident" method. If 10% are women, then 10% of men can find a woman from their own profession and the rest 90% just have to do it somewhere else.
Vice versa, if you're woman who has studied languages, psychology or biology, you have a hard time finding a man from your profession - all your colleagues are women.
Here comes the asymmetry: If you as a man want to strike up an acquaintance with some woman on a more impromptu basis (because you don't really have a good excuse to get to know a person from a completely unrelated profession), you get extremely coldly rejected because of a prejudice - for studying or working something very different - alien.
Even if you managed to find a woman who you can spend time with, they usually are extremely dismissive of any work or ideas that you have, since it's that man's business thing and involves physics and math and often nowadays *gasp* coding! That's like the instant destruction of goodness. Is this the "new liberated" independent woman's thinking? It doesn't actually resemble any thinking at all.
At a later age women then start looking at the money that the engineer and IT men get, but that's not the same thing as appreciating the man's areas of interest, his work or his skills, it's just pure material exploitation.
So, if I get kids, I wont recommend my son to go to engineering (even if he is showing talents in math, physics and with technological devices), it's the least respected area of work that exists. We build the bridges, bring you electricity and water, efficiently, if that is what is what resources are spent on (it's a value question). We design new efficient vehicles, and new equipment that monitors the climate or the patients in the hospitals. It's just everywhere, making life better.
And you women say we are just worthless geeks. It's disgusting. All I wanted was a decent and intelligent woman to share the world and life with. All I got was spat on.
I am a multidisciplinary person, I just happen to know a lot of this and that, but since my main area is math, physics, robotics, automation and technology in general, I'm at a huge disadvantage. Almost all of my biologist, doctor and other friends with non-male-dominated professions have had multiple girlfriends from study or work, and many have gotten married already.
It's hard to appreciate women's judgement skills after that anymore. They have a huge power in their attitude, and it's used in a completely braindead way.
But academic women could change this at the flick of a switch.
Start actually getting some interest in what men in other academic professions do, even if you are not doing it yourself. Don't dismiss men immediately if they don't have the same work area as you. Medical doctor women should be able to hang out with other people than doctors as well (and I don't mean male nurses). Biologists should not need a biologist to date. (You should have figured there just aren't enough men for all of you over there!)
You sound bitter. I'm betting your dating frustrations have may have more to do with your outlook and the personality you convey to the world. Who wants to be with someone gloomy and jaded who lacks self confidence? And for goodness sake look at Sheril (no offense or objectification Sheril), but she's damn gorgeous!!! And smarter and wittier than most anyone I've met. And I'd bet the ranch she's only interested in a guy who's got a shot at keeping up with her.. So you wanna compete for an incredible girl like that.. You bet you better be brilliant and confident!
That's a great picture, Sheril.
Hey, Sheril, I liked your other picture, too.
But I like your writing even more, and I was a bit disappointed that you didn't join Matthew and Chris on their trip to Minneapolis. But, I am sure that there will be additional opportunities for me to hear you speak in the future.
I'm with DrugMonkey on this one -- this entire thread is a little odd.
Perhaps we have just witnessed the moment when online feminism jumped the shark.
- or perhaps Neuro's outing himself once again as The Intersection's most avid troll. HA At least he's reading all your and Chris's posts everyday so maybe he'll learn something eventually. In the mean time, like you wrote, others opinions of your choices are irrelevant.
Seriously AWESOME post! Of course, the pic is beautiful, and more important your words are powerful. You're in an influential place with the ability to do so much good as a role model and writer.
My little sister reads your site now too btw.
Something is clearly missing here, already pointed out by DrugMonkey and Neuro-conservative. You did have a picture on this site before, and I don't think that you are quite so modest to not have googled yourself before and discover links to other pictures. Your blogs and your name cast little doubt of your gender. So you posted a new picture, maybe one that you feel looks more like the real you? But it doesn't make sense to suggest that you are revealing that you are a woman, or coming out.
I think that many in science show prejudice against women...men too. There are also a fair amount of judgments passed about scientists of certain races, religious beliefs, financial backgrounds and more. This means that being female can make it harder to find readers that pay attention to what you want them to. It also might mean that you attract an audience of, well, undesirables. I don't think this is a new point at all, and I think most of the educated western world accepts this.
HOWEVER, there is another point that is made less often. Every time a woman points out that men don't take them seriously, or that the public thinks "...girls in academics are weird, unattractive, or nerdy..." they really show a great disrespect to those women who have broken this model. And the men who supported them. Was their work for nothing? Have they had no influence? I think they have. Not only do I work with smart, respected, women all the time, but I also read their work...some of the great accomplishments in science. Maybe it doesn't happen as often, but does that take away from the influence.
Are we not making progress, albeit not quickly enough, toward a world where women *are* accepted in academics? You're right that Beauty and the Geek does not highlight this. Do you think reality TV portrays accurately men? or for that matter, anything? I'm the first to recognize that it is harder for women than men to achieve greatness in academics. But it's far from impossible. I don't think you need a list of influential women, who have been heard and accepted for their intelligence.
So what are you coming out from? You have offered a new image to associate with your writing. Perhaps one that you think is more like the "real" you. Are you now ready to drop the rest of your fears, and write as the "real" you? I hope so.
Yay! I finally had something to say on here.
...how much will I have to pay you to give that talk to my daughter in 10 years? :3
If I understand you correctly, you posted the new one which you feel makes you appear more feminine than the old photo with the goal of empowering yourself to present yourself as yourself. Fair enough.
Now for the pot-stir: The message you communicate is not always the message received. To me, your old photo (still available at http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/upload/2007/06/sheril2.JPG for comparision) is distinctly more 'demure feminine' style (it actually reminds me of the 'dollish' look of 19th century women in long frilly dresses with petticoats), while your new one seems a distinctly more 'modern professional' style.
Yet, that seems to be precisely the opposite of what you intended to communicate by the change.
Sorry Sheril, I don't get it. What are you coming out as?
By the way, the new photo is very similar to one you posted in a previous blog entry, a few months back:
I can't speak for her, but it seems to me that Sheril isn't really writing about her photograph so much as a broader cultural issue she is addressing using her personal experience as example. It's brave to put yourself out there!
I love this post and agree wholeheartedly.
Like K wrote above, "kick-ass blogging!"
I'll be back to your site often!
I thought I was "the Intersection's most avid troll".
Couldn't care less what photo Sheril posts really (although a good nude shot would be appreciated).
Are her looks at all relevant to her credibility? If so what kind of message is that supposed to send to all the daughters and sisters mentioned in the fawning posts?
The whole discussion resembles a self-conscious, Face Book, giggle session more than a genuine discussion of the role of women in science.
Unfortunately Lance's view of what a "genuine discussion of the role of women in science" is entirely based upon his own personal experience. The personal experience of a person coming from male (and assumed white) privilege. Which is a position of power. And the problem with a position of power is that, it frames all of what you see, preventing you from seeing other's experiences as "genuine."
So let's put it all into perspective. As a woman (insert other disadvantaged group), being treated a certain way because of how you look is inevitable. So, if people deem you as attractive you can receive benefits: gifts, better treatment, men wanting to open doors for you (even if you have no desire for them to), etc. On the other hand you are frequently objectified.
And because people will judge you based on your looks, you may retract from the opportunity to be seen as such (feminine, etc). The problem with retracting is that this doesn't change what's going on out there for other people, like yourself, and that stereotype (beauty and brains being mutually exclusive) needs to be redefined. It's as if you can only choose between one or the other in our current society. But, women have the right to these choices. It's easy to forget this when you're constantly being told (not directly) that you only get one or the other. Role models are needed for young women. An attractive (and believe me, this is a non-negotiable goal for so many young women), smart, successful, uncompromising female role-model is needed in female culture. Lots of other variations are as well, but I digress. By redefining how 'geeks' are labeled, Sheril is breaking down stereotypes, putting herself out there for what she is and isn't apologizing for it.
Also, Lance, how pathetic to throw the nude comment. You are exactly the kind of chauvinist Sheril is opposing. I assume a nude photo would be the only female interaction you could expect at this point in life, no?
I'll post again, thought that it would be useful to explicitly distance myself from some rather hateful and stupid people here.
I can see how much shit some women on a male majority field have to put up with sometimes. Then again, many encounter relatively little of that. I know multiple very smart, attractive women who have had success both in the academia and industry. I haven't had trouble working with them, and it hasn't seemed that many others have had any either. Times have changed a lot since the fifties but there's still some distance left towards reducing bad prejudices etc.
But with this success and these advances comes responsibility too.
Regarding comments to my previous post, they were exactly what was expected and missed the point entirely. You can't have a race if all the contestants are disqualified before the start pistol is fired - disqualified by prejudice. Of course you can blame the man for all the man's hardships - but he is not always the one who caused them.
I'm tall and decent looking, present myself fine and can discuss almost any subject and have a normal healthy self confidence. The bias and prejudices against my profession are just something that I have observed during the years. People who have happened to find a partner very easily (from their own colleagues) have never had to really encounter these things or expend a single thought about what other people think about them - they are the first ones to blame me about lack of self confidence, bitterness etc. This is also why I write about these personal things as anonymous.
It would be only advantageous to the (heterosexual) women themselves to get to know many good men so they can then choose from them the one they think that is the best (if the man is interested). But if they distance themselves from a big portion of men because they think certain studies and professions are worthless (too GEEK), then the choice is much narrower, and they will probably get a worse man, if any.
This is just a dispassionate analysis result that is inevitable once you take the facts.
So, being a strong and bold woman involves the capability to say to a man you are a bit unsure of, yes, I want to get to know you too, and only THEN I'll decide if there could be anything between us. This is extremely rare, and should happen more often.
As for Sheril's pictures, well, the previous one already showed she is beautiful but I think the current one is a bit more confident and even a bit forward leaning looking perhaps, and it also works better in the small format. As for the content she writes here of course, that should have no change from any normal intelligent person's point of view.
Men and women always have potential non-professional dimensions in professional interactions and that's just what we have to deal with, it's not some personal evil thing that men do. Humans would have gone extinct if men wouldn't try to "hit" women at some level. It is a thing that can be discussed. And if you are a public figure, you get much more of that then. Probably has both downs and ups. :/
Women can control this a bit, but it's simplified to this: Should a woman hide herself and her attractiveness or should the men control themselves and try to think her still professionally even when she shows herself better. (Islam has a clearly played out view of this at least!)
Way to completely miss my point. Sheril's physical appearance makes exactly zero difference to my opinion of her work.
Her post about her personal angst resulting from integrating the many facets of what she considers her identity as a woman/scientist, while interesting as a window into her psyche, is nothing more than a self-conscious distraction.
Let's remember this was brought about by deciding which attractive photo she should post. I hardly think it deserves to be seen as a commentary on women's role in science.
As for my remark about the nude photo, that was a joke. I knew if would propel some self-described feminist forward to rebuke me, but that was half the fun.
As for my personal "female interaction" I am married to a beautiful African woman, which also destroys your earlier "privileged class" Marxist babble.
Megan, you are probably a fine young woman and with some luck you will put away that chip on your shoulder and realize that the world doesn't need another feminist enforcer to straighten out us "chauvinists".
Hang in there buddy. You just need to take a chance on more ladies. It's like sales. It make take 100 no's to get that yes. You just need that one special person. Don't blame women as a whole for your misfortunes so far.
It sounds trite but just be yourself and be sensitive to the individual woman you are with, because they ARE individuals, just as men are.
Also, "Anonymous for once"? I admit this is just pattern-matching, but I suspect your problem in the dating scene is roughly analogous to the one depicted here.
Pardon my lateness to the game...
I believe what Sheril is saying is that she is obviously extremely attractive but didn't like posting pictures of her that played it up, because she was afraid of people taking her less seriously because of her looks. (Incidentally, I noted the Katherine Heigl cover from Cosmo on the previous article she linked to, and I thought that a very appropriate choice, as if I recall correctly, Grey's Anatomy actually did an episode, featuring her, that talked about that very same subject.) I could be misinterpreting her intent here, and I could probably phrase this in a much more tactful way, but it seems as if she's saying "smart and hot is not a combination to be hidden or ashamed of."
While it's certainly not a source of shame, I do wonder how it affects perceptions, even if she's decided to ignore it. However, I've known quite a few women who are both smart and hot, and, speaking strictly as a guy who likes women, frankly both qualities tend to amplify each other. So I'd probably not worry about it.
(Sheril, I hope I have not given offense. If I have, I apologize.)
Incidentally, I believe there was an episode of Kim Possible about the same basic subject -- Kim and Ron were supposed to protect a genius robotics expert. Come to find out that the nerdy scientist and his bimbo trophy girlfriend were actually a manbot constructed by said "trophy girlfriend" because she felt that despite the wide acclaim of her work (published without her first name attached) she was too attractive to get a fair hearing under her own identity. IIRC even Kim and Ron were a little embarrassed at getting sucked in by their assumptions.
As a kid, I used to imagine that, if only I was good-looking, I would be happy. As I grew older, I came to see that everybody pretty much has the same amount of trouble in life. People whom our culture considers physically appealing may always have to wonder, "Am I being taken seriously? Or am I just getting attention because of my looks? And how many times has this happened without my being aware of it?" As you say, people are easily distracted by appearances, and we can't let that stop us from being ourselves. Bringing yourself farther "out" into the world is a great reminder to everyone that stereotypes can't be trusted. Brava.