Friday, August 19, 2011

Weekend Reading: The Short Attention Span Edition

I have some really interesting things for you to read this weekend, but no unifying theme for them. I'm having trouble focusing at work (I have a post planned about that) and I guess I can't even focus on internet reading- I bounced around form topic to topic.

First, via Micro Dr. O's twitter feed, I came across this article about the things that still stand in the way of women's advancement at work (hint: it is not just kids). There is some discussion about problems with work-life balance ("Many women engineers who left the field reported that it was difficult to prioritize work and family if bosses were not sensitive to those issues.") But there are also other problems:

"Women who left engineering reported a lack of training opportunities, being passed over for challenging assignments or struggling with ambiguous roles that left no clear path to advancement. "They had tried many times to get to [higher] positions, and they kept getting stymied in their efforts," says Singh."

And this quote highlights how subtle sexism around preconceptions about family roles can hinder even women who are not choosing to step off the high-powered career track after having kids:

"She recalls an executive management meeting she once witnessed as a consultant, in which a woman was being considered for an overseas post. Although she was clearly the most qualified for the position, one manager remarked that the woman probably would not want the job because she had two small children. "They actually thought that this was a sensitive remark," McGrath points out. In the end, the company did offer the position to the woman, who happily accepted."

Yikes. But it is an interesting read.

Second, I really liked Laura Vanderkam's post about the current trend for homegrown food. I did plant a small garden this year, which yielded a lot of arugula, some carrots, and some green onions, in addition to my usual herbs. It was fun, but it didn't make Pumpkin eat any vegetables. And I didn't feel that this was a superior way to get my carrots. It was a superior way to get my arugula and green onions, but that is because it cost less for the arugula and I could harvest the green onions as I needed them, rather than buying a bunch, using 5,  and letting the rest go slimy in my fridge.

I've saved the best for last, though. If you haven't come across the wonderful post from Bernestine Singley about "The Help" and her childhood as the daughter of an African-American maid in the South, go read it now. I came across it via Mocha Momma's post about racism, which I found via Mom101's twitter feed. I'm white, a generation removed from the generation Dr. Singley is discussing, and I grew up in the Southwest, where our racism took on different forms. But her post was still moving and thought-provoking. Really. Go read it. I'll stop writing now so that you have no excuse not to!


  1. My mother is not an Engineering, but she is a professor both at the School of Engineering and at the Department of Computer Science at a different School within the University. She says that the male chauvinism within Engineers is 10 times worse than from people with Computer Science degrees. For example, a while ago there was a Regional Conference for Mining Engineers, and the organizers didn't want to allow women to go down to the excavations because of "superstitions". A complaint to the Government Anti-Discrimination office solved the problem.
    Do you think it is similar in the United States, are there different degrees of male chauvinism within different fields?

    On a side note, would you be so kind to go to my blog and clarify Vance and I on our understanding of a scientific article in my post "Useless facts that will give you a good excuse in front of your students." Thanks in advance

  2. I really enjoyed The Help. I will admit, when I first started reading it, I did a double take in the first few sentences and doubled checked the author. Yep, it was a white women. And it did bother me that she wrote as black women in the first person, but I let it go and kept reading. I was also disappointed about the dichotomy at the end, but it didn't seem unlikely.

    My big take away was that Skeeter finally had her eyes opened to the fact that these women DID have lives outside their work as housekeepers and nannies. I also viewed it as Skeeter serving the ladies who spoke to her by telling their stories, not as her using them or even trying to save them. I thought of it as a priveledged white women finally having her eyes opened and deciding to do what little she could to help equal out the inequality.

    But I come from a place of white priveledge myself. And I see I missed some key problems with the novel. It's been a long time since I did a textual analysis, and I missed much of the commonly ingrained rhetoric infused into the novel, as well as many of the stereotypes.

    I was looking forward to seeing the movie, but now I am learning that the caracture-ness and stereotypes are even worse in the movie. What I liked best about the book was at least there was some surprises to the characters. If that's missing from the movie and all it's doing is reinforcing racial stereotyping, then maybe I'll pass.

    Thanks for linking to that article. My eyes have really been opened today. I will keep researching this issue and see how my feelings on the book might be changing.

    As an aside, I just read The Lost German Slave Girl, which was difficult to read, but well worth it. It really dove into the laws pertaining to slaves in the pre-Civil War south, which was incredible and disguisting. It also made me see many shared characteristics between slavery and the servitude depicted in The Help. Tough read, but I do recommend it.

  3. @Spanish prof, yes some male-dominated fields here are more sexist than others. In my opinion, math is one of the worst- I've heard horror stories of women being stopped in the halls and told by their colleagues "I'm sorry, but I think you're biologically inferior at math" and things like that. No one has gone out of their way to say sexist things to me in my field!

    @caramama- I was apparently living under a rock, because I hadn't really heard much about The Help before I read that post.

  4. Read "The Help," and am looking forward to seeing the movie. I think a much more nuanced account is actually one of the source materials "The Help" was supposedly based upon: "Telling Memories Among Southern Women: Domestic Workers and Their Employers in the Segregated South" by Susan Tucker.

  5. Definitely the gender discrimination is going to vary by field, but it will also vary by region. Where I did my undergrad math degree, the department was mostly male, but there was one (totally awesome) female prof. And I never once felt discriminated against. Not even a little.

    I suspect if you're lucky enough to be somewhere where there is a really strong, competent woman in a top-level position, younger women are going to have an easier time of it. In which case the solution is to just keep pushing forward, and eventually the world will be a more egalitarian place.

    Interesting batch of weekend reading :) I'm really enjoying this feature.

  6. Anonymous5:44 PM

    Interesting... in my undergrad, the male math professors were super nice and egalitarian... only one of the two female professors was a sexist bastard. (She seriously was... we had to lodge a complaint about it even.)

    However, the only sexist rat bastard we've had commenting on our blog ever (see "Tiny penis man") had an incoming URL from the Ohio state math department.

    I love love love engineers. Sure there are some bad apples, but compared to physicists...

    word verification: ingst... is that like angst? (maybe savings related angst?)


Sorry for the CAPTCHA, folks. The spammers were stealing too much of my time.