Sunday, November 16, 2014

On Fitting In

I am having professional head shots taken next week, because I need some appropriate photos to use for LinkedIn and other places where I post under my real name and not as a mass of condensed water vapor floating in the sky. Basically, if I'm going to set myself up as a consultant who should be taken seriously, I can't keep using the head shot I cropped out of a family vacation photo taken in 2008.

So I got my haircut (I really like the new style, too, so BONUS). And this weekend, I spent a total of 5 hours looking for a god damn blazer. Men, you have no idea how fraught shopping for something like this is when you have breasts. My old go-to blazer dates from my pre-child days, and no longer fits properly, because HA HA HA breasts. Now I am awkwardly between two standard sizes, and since I put this shopping trip off too long, I didn't have time to wait for alterations. Also, it pisses me off to pay over $100 for a jacket and then turn around and pay more money to make it actually fit. To make matters worse, I live in Southern California and work primarily with scientists and techies who tend to be suspicious of anyone wearing an actual suit, but the aforementioned breasts make the "dressy button down shirt and trousers" look not really an option, unless I want to pay to have the shirt tailored. GAH. I hate getting dressed.

Let's just cut this rant short and say the blazer I needed was not an easy item to find, as much as you think it would be.

I also needed a new pair of jeans, so really the only way I could have made this weekends' shopping trips less fun would have been to try to buy a swimsuit, too.

I stopped for lunch part way through today's shopping excursion (I had to split the shopping fun across two days because... oh god I can't go there. Let's just say KIDS.)  While I was eating my pretzel bits and slurping my diet Coke (I am a paragon of healthy eating when the kids can't see) I scrolled through twitter, and I saw a tweet that made me want to cry. It was from a feminist I admire, making light of the reaction to Matt Taylor's questionable shirt choice for the comet landing. And because I am an idiot, I expanded the conversation and then I really wanted to cry. Basically, people were likening the response to the shirt choice to an internet mob, and saying "come on, there are real problems for women and this isn't one" and "he's just some dorky scientist dude." Most strange was the tweet saying that the people who object to his shirt should spend their time doing something to support women in science. That one bends my brain because the vast majority of the objections I've seen have come from women in science or science communication. I guess we aren't adequately supporting ourselves. (More charitably, I am assuming that the person who tweeted that simply follows a very different group of people than I do, and is unaware of the fact that the initial objections were from the people watching the landing live, who were by and large STEM people.)

I'm not going to identify the people or post the tweets. I have hopefully paraphrased enough that you can't go search and find them and I honestly hope you won't even try, because you know what? It doesn't matter. The point of this post is not to argue with the women making those tweets and it certainly isn't to start an internet fight. I'd lose it, and I know that. They are entitled to their opinions, and perhaps in the grand scheme of things they are more right than I am. I truly don't know, because I haven't been able to get emotional distance from this event. Or maybe I'm more right, and they just hadn't really thought about how that stupid shirt might be part of a larger pattern making life harder than it has to be for women in science. Perhaps they hadn't thought about the fact that this was a huge, huge event in the science world, and Matt Taylor knew he'd be on camera and beamed into classrooms live... and chose a very strange shirt and no one else stopped him. I can get how for someone outside of science it could look different than it looks to me, and hey, we can't all think deeply about everything. I get that, really, I do.

But damn, I wish that the big names with the big follower counts had taken the time to look around for what actual women in science were saying before just laughing the whole thing off and, worse, calling people who criticized that shirt an internet mob. (In the unlikely event that any such person lands on this post: Dr. Jen Gunter does a good job summarizing how most of the women in science I read and follow have reacted.)

It took me a few hours, but I finally figured out that the reason finding those tweets made me want to cry was that last bit. I was sad because it reminded me that being a woman in STEM can be a lonely thing, and not just because I don't always fit in with the other people in STEM. It is also lonely because the things I care about are often so far removed from what other women care about that we can have a hard time connecting. To be honest, at times I think other women overlook the fact that women in STEM actually exist as more than hypotheticals.

I tweeted about that and I can share those tweets:

Maybe the reason that this whole event is annoying me so much is that I am just sick and tired of seeing women of all sorts get death threats and rape threats. But I think it is also that I am sick and tired of seeing the voices of the women I want to look up to and learn from disappear from the only place where I have been able to find a community of people who "get" me. Maybe we should all open Ello accounts and see how long it would take for the trolls to find us there. Sadly, I don't think it would be long. Our community is so dispersed that we need open settings on social media to find each other, but then the trolls can find us, too.

Whenever something on the internet makes me sad, my husband asks me why I don't just quit the internet. Shut down my blog and twitter account, and find a different way to build the business I want to build. Perhaps I could do that, but I would lose something real and important, too. Humans are social animals. There are all sorts of studies showing that we are happier and healthier when we have a peer group in which we are comfortable. Our need to "fit in" goes deep, and honestly, the only place I've been able to find a community in which I truly fit in is here, online.

On Wednesday, Matt Taylor chose a shirt that reminded me that I don't really fit in the STEM world. But that is old news. I've been getting reminders of that for most of my life. Today, some other women on the internet reminded me that I don't really fit in with most other women, either, not even the feminists. That should be old news, too, but for some reason, it stung more.

I've debated whether to go ahead and post this or not, because it feels a bit whiny. But I'm going to post, because I need to say it. I apologize for the whine. I know that me getting my feelings hurt was far from the worst thing that happened today.


  1. I am very happy that you are here and part of this community. It's nice that there are others in my tribe. I work in a big company and encounter many women engineers - some also mothers, some feminist, but I don't think we can be as open with each other there as we are on the internet, in spaces like yours.

    I also sometimes get the feeling that we, women in STEM, are just abstract concepts, not real people, to many feminist activists. I am grateful for the work they do, but I also sometimes want it acknowledged that for some of us, just going to work every day, running our simulations, dealing with the day-to-day, is feminist activism of its own kind.

    The shirt: It's inappropriate. My reaction, though, was just to roll my eyes at one more small thing that idiot men in STEM do sometimes. It doesn't feel like a big deal because I am inured to this kind of thing. Maybe I should care more because I am also in aerospace.

    1. Anonymous4:58 AM

      The original tweets about the shirt were also equivalent to eye-rolls. But the attacks that came after for those who tweeted--those were misogynist. Those showed there is a huge problem for women in science.

    2. Yes, that's it exactly. I appreciate the work of feminist activists, but sometimes it seems they don't really understand my career realities. There are actually feminist places on the web where I will not comment if they discuss women in STEM, because my lived experience is less important to the discussion than the theory. Life is to short for that aggravation.

      And I agree w/Nicoleandmaggie. The original reaction I saw from women (and men) in STEM to the shirt was sort of like an eyeroll. I think it would have all blown over in less than a day except the women hating trolls moved in and started arguing and threatening the women who spoke up. That may be why it is so painful to see prominent feminists from other fields call the original comments a "mob." They have it exactly backwards as far as I can see.

    3. Same here. I saw the shirt, rolled my eyes, moved on. I haven't really been following the storm. Much of the online feminist activism is really exhausting. There is only so much energy I can devote to the bottomless pit of negativity that is widespread misogyny.

      Also, I want to second, and third, and fourth, these so hard:

      "Men, you have no idea how fraught shopping for something like this [a blazer] is when you have breasts. ... the aforementioned breasts make the "dressy button down shirt and trousers" look not really an option, unless I want to pay to have the shirt tailored. GAH. I hate getting dressed."

      I have completely abandoned the idea of a button-down shirt. Those that fit across boobs look like a freakin' tent around the waist, and most are painfully tight in the shoulders and have short sleeves anyway because nobody ever imagined 6 ft women with boobs existed. FFS.

      I have boys and I teach to classrooms full of boys. As much as I am aware of the misogyny around us, I am hopeful because my students make me hopeful. You cannot meet a stream of 18-22 old boys and not feel hopeful, as most of them are really very nice kids and they will be nice people, and hopefully the fact that they took these courses with me where it was fun and they learned a lot will shape how they treat their female colleagues down the road...

      (WTF is wrong with me? I am sounding uncharacteristically optimistic. Hm.)

  2. Anonymous4:55 AM

    You fit in with us!

    But yeah, we're internet...

    1. Yes, I needed a more inclusive term than "women in STEM" for my internet circle, because there are also women from other fields and I appreciate all of my online friends so much!

    2. Anonymous7:04 AM

      The NSF says that social scientists are also STEM. :)

  3. Engineering Elf11:51 AM

    I agree with the eye roll about the shirt. It isn't appropriate and someone should have had to sense to say so. It is quite disheartening that it did not occur to anyone before the cameras rolled.

    Yay for finding your clan on the Internet. You keep me feeling sane, even if I don't post often.

  4. The point is that the chief scientist for a big project doesn't think there is anything wrong with that shirt.

    The problem is that our careers depend on us staying in the good graces of powerful men who don't think there is anything wrong with that shirt.

    Have you ever gone to a classified meeting in a classified facility? You leave you cell phones outside. The computers in the room have an "airgap", meaning no internet access. The doors are closed and locked, with a guard outside. The rooms are soundproof and dampened to reduce the risk of electronic eavesdropping. There are no windows.

    Now imagine you are the only woman in that room and the guy running the meeting is wearing that shirt.

    1. Anonymous7:48 PM

      "Now imagine you are the only woman in that room and the guy running the meeting is wearing that shirt."

      Um ... what is that supposed to mean? I am often in that position -- I work at a national lab on classified projects. Thankfully, the men who run those meetings have more common sense than this guy. But even if they wore something like that, it would never occur to me to fear for my safety.

      You can be a raging sexist asshole in a very nice suit, and that is just as much of a threat to my career advancement as this guy.

      I do think it's *very* sad that someone smart enough to do his job would need to be told that especially on that day, it's probably best not to dress like he's on vacation in Hawaii.

  5. Ug, that shirt. I just rolled my eyes but yes, it is serious, it's one thing to wear it and his co-workers see it but another for millions to.

    I totally feel you on the 'fitting in' thing. I struggled for so long, and I think I felt more welcome in the uk than here, I don't know if it is a specific chemistry thing but phd students in this country appear to be treated so badly that when they make it into industry they seem to make a point of trying to belittle anyone around them that they can.

    It was a huge relief to find a new calling where I didn't feel like an imposter, this industry is relentlessly competitive and brutal at times also, but thankfully most people I've come across have been friendly, supportive and kind so far.

    1. Anonymous3:17 PM

      Oddly, DH's grad school labmate who ended up in the UK says that engineers are treated much better in the US and are looked down on in the UK.

  6. Alexicographer6:46 PM

    Oh. My. Dear. God. I had somehow missed that shirt, having figured I'd take you at your word on your weekend post and not try to find out what shirt you weren't talking about. But for Pete's sake. Major eye rolling over here, I think my eyeballs may actually fall out. WTF?

    Also: professional clothing: one more reason to be grateful I'm small-breasted. So I can't really claim to empathize, because I haven't BTDthat particular thing. But I certainly empathize with the problem of finding reasonable (affordable) professional clothing.


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