Category Archives: Feminist Stylings

The Religion Delusion – Welcome to the Feminist Fold, Atheist Women

Yesterday I read, as a bit of an outsider, much of the goings on between Skepchick and world-famous atheist Richard Dawkins. You can read Skepchick’s post above for a recap of the events, but the short story is that Skepchick was propositioned on an elevator at a convention in Dublin. Richard Dawkins carefully and thoughtfully pondered the situation and responded thusly:

Dear Muslima
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and . . . yawn . . . don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.
Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so . . .
And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

I gotta say, Dawkins’s response is a brilliant diversion technique. Taking a woman’s experience and comparing it to something more egregious in order to belittle it is a totes original tactic! After all, it’s not like she got raped!!
But, I digress. What I really wanted to address is Rebecca’s response:

And then I would make a comment about how there could really be more women in the community, and the responses from my fellow skeptics and atheists ranged from “No, they’re not logical like us,” to “Yes, so we can fuck them!” That seemed weird.
So I started speaking more about women. About how they’re not idiots. About how they can think logically but maybe there are other social pressures keeping them away from our message, like how we tell women they should be quiet and polite and not question what is told to them. I spoke about how people need role models, and there were so few women on stage at these events.
And I got messages from women who told me about how they had trouble attending pub gatherings and other events because they felt uncomfortable in a room full of men. They told me about how they were hit on constantly and it drove them away. I didn’t fully get it at the time, because I didn’t mind getting hit on. But I acknowledged their right to feel that way and I started suggesting to the men that maybe they relax a little and not try to get in the pants of every woman who walks through the door. Maybe they could wait for her to make the first move, just in case.
And then, for the past few years as the audience for Skepchick and SGU grew, I’ve had more and more messages from men who tell me what they’d like to do to me, sexually. More and more men touching me without permission at conferences. More and more threats of rape from those who don’t agree with me, even from those who consider themselves skeptics and atheists. More and more people telling me to shut up and go back to talking about Bigfoot and other topics that really matter.
And I said no. I learned more about modern feminism and about how their goals so clearly overlapped those of the humanists and skeptics and secularists, and I wrote and spoke more about the issues within that overlap because so few other skeptics were doing it.
So here we are today. I am a feminist, because skeptics and atheists made me one. Every time I mention, however delicately, a possible issue of misogyny or objectification in our community, the response I get shows me that the problem is much worse than I thought, and so I grow angrier. I knew that eventually I would reach a sort of feminist singularity where I would explode and in my place would rise some kind of Captain Planet-type superhero but for feminists. I believe that day has nearly arrived.

Pardon the analogy, but we all have our “Come to Jesus moments.” We start off young, with an abstract notion of feminism, and the idea that we’re not like those women. Those women don’t shave their legs. They wear makeup and they burn their bras. We’re sexy and empowered and equal. We get pedicures.
Except that then we realize that we’re not.
And part of the reason that women now don’t have role models is because so many of us are afraid to be the feminist role models that our (generational) mothers were.
I’m pleased to see Rebecca come over to the dark side and embrace her feminist cape. I have faith in her ability to change things. After all, she’s already recognized the impact of the diversionary trap set by women who claim that “sexism has never happened to them”. I hope that she can lead her atheist sisters into a new era of enlightenment. But, as an aging, perhaps eventually retiring, feminist super hero myself, I’d offer her one piece of advice. The atheist feminists need to discard the trope that misogyny and the patriarchy are born of religion. Guys like Richard Dawkins are no different than any of the entitled, white-haired, pale-faced, penis-stroking fucks that plague our entire civilization. Patriarchy isn’t rooted solely in religion. It’s rooted in men’s belief that they should be able to beat their meat to and with whomever they want.
Religion may have been a tool used to reinforce the patriarchy, but it’s only a means to an end. You’ve got to address the end in everyone. Then, maybe the atheist women will stop getting theirs pinched.
feminist now what.jpg
Figure 1: “Now what?”, indeed.

Gender (and Sexual Orientation?) Inequity at the American Heart Association?? Et Tu?

This afternoon I sat in my chair, revitalized form my weekend trip to the Jersey Shore, where I can assure you I did not partake in any fist pumping, spray tanning, pickle eating, or felonious activities, when I received an email from the American Heart Association announcing new scientific findings. I like these emails and generally find them informative.
This particular email announced the placement of the first completely lab-grown human vascular grafts. The email linked to a presentation from Todd N. McAllister of Cytograft Tissue Engineering Inc. These blood vessels were apparently engineered from donor skin cells and:

The tissue-engineered blood vessels, produced from sheets of cultured skin cells rolled around temporary support structures, were used to create access shunts between arteries and veins in the arm for kidney dialysis in three patients. These shunts, which connect an artery to a vein, provide access to the blood for dialysis. The engineered vessels were about a foot long with a diameter of 4.8 millimeters.
At follow-up exams up to eight months after implantation, none of the patients had developed an immune reaction to the implants, and the vessels withstood the high pressure and frequent needle punctures required for dialysis. Shunts created from patients’ own vessels or synthetic materials are notoriously prone to failure.
Investigators previously showed that using vessels individually created from a patient’s own skin cells reduced the rate of shunt complications 2.4-fold over a 3-year period. The availability of off-the-shelf vessels could avoid the expense and months-long process involved in creating custom vessels for each patient, making the technique feasible for widespread use.
Besides addressing a costly and vexing problem in kidney dialysis, off-the-shelf blood vessels might someday be used instead of harvesting patients’ own vessels for bypass surgery. A larger, randomized trial of the grafts is under way for kidney dialysis, and human trials have been initiated to assess the safety and effectiveness of these grafts for lower-limb bypass.

This is an amazing bit of engineering and I was excited to watch Dr. McAllister’s presentation on the AHA website. As with most websites, the AHA website asks you to register. I clicked on the registration page and found this:
AHA Misogyny.jpgFigure 1: Hmmmmm….which do I choose?
The AHA apparently allows married partners to register together. Note the presence of “Mr. & Mrs.” and “Dr. and Mrs.”. And yet…not “Dr. and Mr.”? Not “Dr. and Dr.”?
For balls sake, American Heart Association. For balls freaking sake.
As I was sitting, feeling once again indignant about the world, Dr. Triple Threat came in to my office. I pointed this out to him. He, realizing my tendency to rage against the man, opted to probe the untamed beast, stating:

Maybe the “Dr. and Mrs” option is for women who have married other women?

That gave me pause to stop and consider my own currently heterocentric view of the world and the heterocentricity of the options. And, while I am still cheesed off that one of the largest American medical societies has basically told us that “Dr. and Mr.” is not an option, I wonder what additional options my homosexual brethren would want? After all, another state has passed legislation allowing gay men and women a basic right they should never have had to fight for.
And yet, our options remain “Dr. and Mrs.”and “Mr. and Mrs.”.

It’s Not the Obvious We Need To Worry About…

Before we begin this evening’s delicious cupcake topped with whipped feminism, I must share evidence of why housework and reproduction and other “womanly” tasks are hazardous to your health.

The other night I was cooking dinner, as is a wife’s rightful place, and I leaned forward to grab something from the cabinet above my stove. As I leaned, I smelled a bad smell. I mean, I really bad smell. Worse than the smell of oppression and misogyny. More like the smell of the burning flesh of Eve. Indeed, I had leaned forward and touched my 6 month pregnant stomach to the front burner of the stove. The front burner, which I had accidentally turned on instead of the turning on the back burner. When I looked down, I noticed that my shirt was actually en flame.

Burnt Shirt.jpg
Figure 1: The aftermath.

Because I was wearing a cotton/polyester blend, the shirt did not burn so much as melt to my skin. Hence the hole in the shirt. The missing fabric from the hole was left melted to my sperminated stomach.

burnt stomach.jpg
Figure 2: Two days post burn, I am simply left with a crispy strip where the shirt adhered.

But, I digress from the real point of this post.

The other evening I was trolling the Twitterz when I noticed a tweet from Kate Clancy about an article in The Weekly Standard. I should have known better. I really should have known better, but I clicked on. It appears Harvard Professor and known knuckle-dragger Harvey Mansfield continues to spew the same tired drivel about men and manliness and ladies and, um, ladiness? Womanliness?

The current sagas of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn have given Professor Mansfield quite a bit to ponder. Yet, in a not so surprising turn of events, Mansfield takes advantage of the opportunity to applaud the actions of these men as indicative of the positive qualities that make men “manly.” He writes:

Men are more adventurous and aggressive than women. This is true for good as well as ill. Men are much more violent, but also more given to innovation and invention. Most science and all common sense says this, but our society now wants desperately to be gender-neutral, and it has great difficulty in admitting this obvious difference between the sexes. Many think that admitting such differences will hurt the chances of women to gain for themselves formerly male occupations that require initiative and drive. It certainly seems strange that being capable of rape can make a person better qualified for greatness, but it’s probably true. Yet it’s not surely true; some women do have these manly qualities and do succeed.

That’s right. The more likely you are to be all rape-y, the more likely you are to achieve greatness. Michelangelo? Rapist. Gandhi? Rapist. MLK? Rapist. You can’t tell me that you don’t get a rape-y vibe from Shakespeare or Darwin. And Jesus? Why do you think he took 12 dudes around with him? Gang rapist.

But Mansfield is right. Surely admitting that having that urge to merge with the less than willing makes one more likely to succeed ain’t gonna hurt nobody…

Figure 3: That dude in the middle is destined to be the next attorney general.

At least Mansfield asserts that we should applaud women who stand up for themselves when they are attacked.. He says…

When she defends herself like DSK’s alleged victim, however, she may be frightened, but people, and especially other women, will be proud of her.

Except that it takes him less than 500 words to lay out a contrived conspiracy theory that blames “DSK’s” victim. Oh, Mansfield……..

So, whether it’s because I have studied Machiavelli or am now a grand–father wise in the world I couldn’t say, but I can think of scenarios in which Dominique Strauss-Kahn might be excused (still assuming he is guilty). Many French now think that he has been the victim of a plot, which seems far-fetched and against the evidence. But suppose he were; could that plot not be justified if it removed a very bad man from a situation in which he could do much harm? And, on the contrary, supposing he were a very good man essential to the good of his country, could not another plot have been mounted to cover up his unfortunate moral failing? Working out these possibilities will keep you from feeling too much moral indignation. Not too much of it, but not too little, either.

Still, Mansfield’s woman-hating ways are no secret. He’s been fighting the long, lonesome struggle to keep us lasses in line for years now.

Video 1: Here he is in 2006 with Stephen Colbert.

The fact that Mansfield is so outspoken and off the wall makes him less than a threat, except to Harvard if he’s been involved in tenure and hiring decisions. Writing about him almost doesn’t give me feminist wood because he is so utterly laughable. No, people like Mansfield aren’t the ones we need to protect our daughters from. The assault against them is much more subtle.

The other day one of you lovely readers sent me a link to a product being sold at the popular clothing chain Forever21. The product is now listed as out of stock, but I luckily had the good sense to catch a screen shot:

Math is for ugly girls.jpg
Figure 4: Click to embiggen.

Oh yes, my lovelies. For $3.80 you can make sure that your fridge reminds your little princess that she is too pretty to do math.  That and an “ethnic knuckle ring” and she is all set for the season.  And although the magnet is out of stock, you can get similar products elsewhere.

This is the kind of nonsense that frightens me.  Washed up old fucks like Harvey Mansfield don’t worry me.  I worry more about the small messages that pervade popular culture.  The messages that we have to defend our girls against when we take them to the mall or the market.

Things like this make me realize just how far we have to go.

Daycare Didn’t Screw Up Your Baby, But Who Cares?

So, I fear that this is all my fault. I posted a letter from a woman asking about the effect of staying home with a baby for a year on a career in teaching and the well-meaning comments focused on the effects of daycare on a child’s development.
I will admit it. I totally released the Kraken on this one.

Many of the women who read this blog, including the woman who writes this blog, chose to put their infants in daycare and return to work. Maybe it helps them. Maybe it hurts them.
Why were so many of us quick to assure this writer that she could put her infant into daycare without doing harm? Maybe some of us put our children in daycare and return to work quickly because it really was the best choice – we weren’t happy staying home and were eager to return to careers. Or, maybe this is a way we reassure ourselves because we know the reality of the situation. Women who leave science to raise a family are regarded as less serious than those who stay and tough it out. Maybe this is our way of subversively telling each other what we know our colleagues are thinking – Put that kid in daycare and get back to work.
After all, it only took 10 comments before the hot, stinky truth was laid out for us all:

Many undergraduate institutions are expecting tenure-track faculty to maintain a proportionately scaled research program, and significant time off can be seen as a detriment to one’s research momentum.
As a recent hiring committee member, I can say that all things being equal, if I have to choose between a recent post-doc at the top of their game, and someone who’s taken a few years off, I would probably lean to the applicant without the resume gap.

Blogs can be a fascinating place. People feel free around here to say all the things they aren’t allowed to say, well, aloud. But, it’s no secret that this is what people are thinking. A woman who leaves for a period of time is wasting her education and potential. She’s not enthusiastic. She’s not at the top of her game and will always be light years behind.
I say “bullshit” unto thee.
I think the NIH also believes this to be bullshittery of the highest degree, which is why they have offered reentry supplements. Knowing some of the recipients, I can say that they are fierce scientists.
I don’t think that gender parity will be achieved simply when we can advance with our male colleagues. Real parity comes when the means by which we raise our children are not questioned professionally. Even when we make the seemingly unforgivable choice to stay home a while with them, cuddle them a little more, sing to them a little more, and love them a little more.
I hope that the letter writer from the last post makes the decision that is best for her. I can guarantee that, at the end of it all, I am not going to wish I had spent more nights at work writing grants or grading or doing experiments. I know that I am going to wish I had read The Pokey Little Puppy a few more times, or that I had pushed a little body on the swings a few more times, or that I had baked a few more cupcakes.
And I don’t really know if putting Little Isis in daycare at 8 weeks old was the “best decision” or “worst decision”. It’s just the decision I made at the time with the resources that I had and I know that even with the one I’m carrying now, I’ve worried that the people around me would think I was losing my momentum and drive. Even though I have never been more at the top of my game, that doesn’t seem to be enough to counteract that. Any momentum is stopped by childbirth.
But, here I ramble on. And, instead of rambling, I am going to go and snuggle my baby for a while.

Shameful Gender Discrimination at UC Davis Veterinary School

I have been distant the last few days, dear readers, because I have been pensive. You see, a few days ago I received an email from a reader from UC Davis and I have been questioning whether it was a good idea to share with you. But, after reading an especially lame post today at Science 2.0 about how women create gender discrimination in their own minds, and after verifying with this reader that it was alright to share the intimate details of the email with you, I have decided to share it and I hope that you will share it with others.

To be honest, I am a bit floored by it all.


Figure 1: An artist’s rendition of Isis being floored.  The source image is from this incredible photo blog.

As I mentioned, earlier in the week, I received an email from a student at UC Davis. I won’t directly reproduce her email here, but the back story is that she is friends with a veterinary student at the university and, as a result, became privy to a communication sent fro the presidents of the 3rd year students to the rest of the class.  The note reads:

Dear Colleagues,

One of our classmates recently gave birth and will be out of class for an unknown period of time. This means she will undoubtedly miss one, or more, or all quizzes in VMD 444.  Dr. Feldman is not sure how to handle this and has requested the class give input and vote.  He has provided us with 6 options on which to vote and is open to any other ideas you may have.  Most likely a CERE poll will be up next week and a voting will close no later than Wednesday.  If you have other suggestions please email them to Dan or I ASAP. We will alert you to the opening of voting. Below are listed the options that Dr. Feldman has suggested. Please reserve comment on these options and provide us your opinion on them by voting when the time comes.  Thank you for your understanding in this matter.

a) automatic A final grade
b) automatic B final grade
c) automatic C final grade
d) graded the same as everyone else: best 6 quiz scores out of a possible 7 quiz scores (each quiz only given only once in class with no repeats)
e) just take a % of quiz scores (for example: your classmate takes 4 quizzes, averages 9/10 points = 90% = A)
f) give that student a single final exam at the end of the quarter (however this option is only available to this one student, all others are graded on the best 6 quiz scores and the % that results)

Please let us know if you have other thoughts on how to handle this situation and please keep your eye out for the upcoming vote.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Your Presidents

In response to this woman’s pregnancy, the class has been given the option to choose this woman’s fate including 1) Just giving her an ‘A’ or 2) Giving that careless floozy a ‘C’.  If she had earned an ‘A’, why would the ‘B’ or ‘C’ be an option?  The arbitrary nature of these options is baffling.  I also fail to see how the issues related to this individual student are of concern to the entire 3rd year class of a veterinary school.

The Dr. Feldman mentioned in the note is Edward Feldman DVM, Chair of the Department of Medicine & Epidemiology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.  According to his biography,

He has taught small animal internal medicine for more than 25 years and authored
more than 50 book chapters, authored or co-authored more than 140 peer-reviewed
scientific publications and more than100 scientific abstracts. Dr. Feldman is a
cofounder and former president of the Society of Comparative Endocrinology, a
special interest group open to all veterinarians. He is the recipient of
numerous awards, including the Norden Distinguished Teaching Award, the
California Academy of Veterinary Medicine’s Award for Teaching Excellence, and
SmithKline Beecham Award for Research Excellence. He has co-authored two
textbooks, the Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine with Dr. Stephen
Ettinger, and Canine and Feline Endocrinology and Reproduction with Dr. Richard

Yet, despite his extensive teaching experience and awards, textbooks, and research publications, Dr. Feldman simply could not figure out how to deal with a the academic status of a pregnant student. 

how-to-become-a-veterinarian.jpgFigure 2: “What should we do with that pesky knocked up student, Rover?  Just give her a ‘C’?”

From subsequent emails that I have exchanged with folks about this:

A friend showed me a class-wide email the student recently sent, stating that Dr. Feldman had not spoken with her before he asked the class presidents to send out the poll (I’m pretty sure this is really, really bad…).  Another friend of mine reports that the professor asked the class to participate in the poll, while the relevant student was sitting in his class and that he basically ignored her when she pointed out that she was present and absences wouldn’t be an issue.

In my mind I imagined Dr. Feldman swaggering in to class one day, frowning, and saying…

Alright, kids.  We got a dilemma.  Jolene done gone and got herself knocked up.  What are we gone do about it, now?

And, I have to admit. Although I could see the name and affiliation of the person that sent me the email,  I thought at first that someone might be messing with me.  It was unbelievable to me that someone would treat a pregnant student this way, leaving her fate to the whim of her classmates.  So, I emailed Dr. Feldman for comment.  He replied promptly…

Dear Isis, thanks for your note. i have no comment on the email you received which was to be sent only to members of the UC Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, current 3rd year class.

Edward C Feldman

…thus confirming that Dr. Feldman had indeed asked his 3rd year class to set up a poll to determine this woman’s fate and that Isis the Scientist was most certainly not supposed to have read the emails related to this woman’s delicate condition.  I have asked the presidents of the 2012 class for comment, but have not received it.  Should I receive comment from them, I will publish it here in its entirety.

Several at UC Davis have been upset by the treatment of this veterinary student and, with the agreement that I not share the name of the university official with you, I have been given this private email sent from a high ranking university official in response to a voiced objection.  I feel comfortable sharing this with you because this official was warned that I might write about this:

Thank you very much for your concerns. I certainly do not agree with the manner in which Dr. Feldman dealt with this issue, and can think of many other more suitable ways. However, the issue is much more complex than at first it seems for both the student and the faculty.  Within a professional school that has a very intensive and lock-step curriculum, there are many issues to consider in these circumstances.

Which sounds to me an awful lot like, “Sure he could have been more tactful about it but she did go and get herself knocked up.  It’s not our fault that she went and got pregnant.  After all, we didn’t put the bun in her oven.  If she wanted to be a serious professional, she’d have been more careful.  We have a rigorous program here with no room for reproduction from anyone but the farm animals.”

Online resources for graduate students and postdocs starting families were difficult to find on UC Davis’s website.  What’s interesting is that UC Davis has a Faculty Training and Development Program with Work-Life Faculty advisors.  Dr. Phil Kass of the veterinary school writes:

The Faculty Work Life program began after I became a full professor, so I
wasn’t in a position to take advantage of its opportunities. Nevertheless, I
strongly support its existence for a number of reasons. For one thing, about 80%
of the vet school’s graduating class is women, but the gender distribution of
our faculty hasn’t come close to catching up. We need to do everything we can to
make academic careers much more appealing to the next generation of
veterinarians – a generation that will predominantly be female. And on another
level, the idea that young faculty should have to choose between family and
career is antediluvian to me. It’s a moral issue: the University should be doing
everything possible to encourage faculty to achieve their academic potential
while not forcing them to sacrifice their personal and family lives as well. I
see the Work Life program as the first – but not the last – step in moving
toward a more enlightened policy towards a family-friendly academic life.

So, maybe UC Davis, and specifically the veterinary school, only support reproduction after you’ve become faculty.  

There are two pieces of this that relegate it all to a special category of crazy.  First, it appears that there are policies in place at UC Davis that could have guided Dr. Feldman’s decision without involving his students.  According to the UC Davis website, a student with passing grades in a course may ask for a grade of “Incomplete” and finish at a later date.  The medical school has a very reasonable formal planned educational leave policy in place which allows students to suspend their studies and return a few weeks to one year later (although apparently this student asked for no additional time).

The other part of this that bothers me is that it is not the responsibility or privilege of students in a graduate program to determine the fate of their peers.  This is why there are graduate faculty and if Dr. Feldman was truly so baffled about what to do with this student, he should have turned to his peers or more senior university officials for guidance.  My heart breaks for this woman to have been shamed in front of her peers this way.  To have been presented as a problem that must be voted on and dealt with.  I can’t imagine what she must have felt like to know that her peers were given the option to assign her an ‘A’ or a ‘C’, depending on what they thought she deserved. How are her peers in any position to determine her performance in a course in which they have no expertise?

uc_davis_aggies18.pngFigure 3: At UC Davis, we don’t need no stinkin’ graduate faculty.  We just give each other grades!

Certainly her performance in the class to that point should have been more important than the opinion of her peers.  The fact that the choices include “You can reward her with an ‘A’ or punish her with a ‘C’ for getting herself pregnant” is nothing more than shameful.  There is no situation I can realistically ponder where an ‘A’ would be given as a choice if she did not in some way deserve it.

Truly, truly shameful, and this situation absolutely broke my heart. I believe that Dr. Feldman’s actions reflect a failure of the most senior leadership at UC Davis to educate their faculty in the treatment of pregnant students.  As such, I would ask something I rarely ask of you.  I ask that you write the chancellor at UC Davis, Linda P.B. Katehi  (an online form is available here) and ask her office to further investigate Dr. Feldman’s actions. 

Women should not be discriminated against, punished, or shamed for their decision to reproduce.  No matter how “intensive and lock-step” the curriculum is.