Tag Archives: response post

It’s my party; I won’t cry if I don’t want to.

When is a moody bitch not a moody bitch? When she decides she doesn’t want to be.

I was at home enjoying a snow day when I saw folks on the Today Show talking about a new self-improvement/pop-psychology book. The interview annoyed me so much that I yelled at my TV. Then someone shared this CNN article with me, and I yelled at the internet.

The book in question is titled Moody Bitches: The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, the Sleep You’re Missing, the Sex You’re Not Having and What’s Really Making You Crazy, and it’s written by a psychiatrist who has apparently never ever been held back in any way by being labeled irrational, moody, or hormonal. She doesn’t think mood swings are a problem at all and that women need to embrace them instead of fighting them:

“Women have this idea that we are supposed to not be moody and we’re supposed to tamp down that moodiness,” said Julie Holland, author of “Moody Bitches” and a psychiatrist who has practiced in New York for 20 years.

“It’s like a problem to be fixed and really, I think it’s our greatest asset. It’s certainly our greatest psychological asset.”

“I hate to see us medicating away our sensitivity and emotionality for the comfort of other people in the workplace. I think it’s a big mistake.”

Sure, it’s nice to say we shouldn’t have to suppress emotions because of someone else’s discomfort at work. But it’s not realistic. Until we can get everyone into training seminars about how women are equals and totally competent even if they cry or snap at someone once in a while, we have to try to keep our emotions level. To do otherwise is to risk being labeled and pushed aside. You’re expected to leave your personal life and issues at home – and this goes for the men too – and focus on work. Being emotional at work is a liability, not an asset. Nobody is going to promote you if you’re sobbing at your desk all the time.

It’s not that women “have this idea that we are supposed to not be moody.” It’s an idea that prevails in almost every workplace. There’s a very sticky stereotype that women are irrational and emotional and aren’t as good as men under pressure.  That we’re hysterical and that we can’t be trusted to make assessments and decisions without letting our girly soft feelings drip all over everything.

Men aren’t immune from criticism about “emotionality,” of course. But it’s not quite the same – at least men are given more freedom to be certain kinds of emotional. They’re not supposed to cry, because that makes them wimps, but they can be pushy or aggressive or confrontational and nobody is going to dismiss them as “moody.” It seems like women are screwed no matter what kind of emotions we show. When we get mad or assertive, it’s because we’re on the rag, and if we show enthusiasm and joy, it’s because we’re flighty and stupid.

“After all, our empathetic nature helps us understand nonverbal babies — and not-always-the-most-communicative husbands and partners”

This is the sort of thinking that keeps women out of science and math and engineering. Out of higher management positions. Keeps them from making the same salaries as their male colleagues in neighboring cubicles. Enough people see women as “moody bitches” already. It’s no surprise that women who want to advance their careers and have the respect of their coworkers feel the need to rein in their emotions as much as possible.

I know that this empower-your-true-self, don’t-let-the-bastards-change-you stuff sells books. LOTS of books. And gets you on TV. I can see how it can get women fist-pumping and saying “yeah, I’m going to be me and if they don’t like it they can go to hell!” But the reality is that we women have to be a different “me” in different contexts, or risk consequences.

The author suggests that too many women are on antidepressants (1 in 4 women vs 1 in 7 men) and many of them don’t need to be. They’re getting depressed looking at Facebook and comparing themselves to others and deciding they must not be happy enough, so they go to their doctors and get medications to help. Let’s ignore for a moment how dismissive the article is about women’s real and serious mental health concerns and focus on that medication for a minute. Why blame the patients? Shouldn’t the doctors be able to differentiate between “real” depression and a Facebook funk, and keep the prescriptions for those who actually need them? And since many women who don’t necessarily fit the clinical labels of depression/anxiety/etc nonetheless feel they need help in controlling their emotional outbursts, shouldn’t there be better access (and insurance coverage) to therapy, anger-management classes, and the like? If you’re going to decide that medications aren’t the answer, you need to find something that is the answer. And “let it all out, you warrior princess of a woman” isn’t going to cut it.

I would love a world where I can be a moody bitch when and where I please and nobody will think any less of me for it. But we’re not there yet. I’m glad to know women who embrace the “fuck it” attitude and let their bitch flags fly, but it’s just not possible – not yet – for all of us to follow their lead. So many of us risk careers and relationships if we stop suppressing our natural mood swings. We just don’t live in a world where we’re allowed to feel freely, and I think that it would be much more helpful for us to be discussing ways we can get there rather than reading self-help books that tell us to pretend we already are.

Outrage and Manatees

I’ve been quiet lately.

Some of that was deliberate, as I chose to focus on myself for a while to get through what I expected to be a rough time. It turned out that my support group was wonderful, and I was stronger than I gave myself credit for. I’ve had a happy month.

I just haven’t really had anything to say. I’ve done plenty of things this month, many of which I’m sure would make for lovely posts, but I just wasn’t feeling the spark. Normally, when I can’t find a source of inspiration in my own life, I look elsewhere for that spark. Facebook, the news, Twitter. I follow fascinating people who link to fascinating articles and have many thoughtful things to say about them. But while most of my friends have been posting funny and wonderful things, I feel like the tone of my feeds has recently veered towards the negative.

There have been shootings, and the discussions about mental health resources and gun control that inevitably follow. There has been talk of censorship and intellectual property and plagiarism. Sexual harassment and discrimination and what consent and equality mean. Political corruption and incompetence and people on two sides of an issue who just refuse to aim for a middle ground. Food stamps and abortion and health care and a childish government shutdown that cost my household two weeks’ pay. I’ve read articles that surprised me about each one of these topics; articles that made me sad. And, of course, comment threads that made me angry.

These topics push buttons inside me and make me want to speak up. Scream, in some cases. But I can’t bring myself to add to the negativity. I’ve been unable to shake the feeling that if you can’t say something nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all, but didn’t realize that was a source of my “writer’s block” until a friend posted this on Twitter today:

manatee

There’s a term I see a lot online: Recreational Outrage. Getting upset for the sake of getting upset. I’m not saying that the writers and sharers of the things I’ve been reading are necessarily guilty of this, but I feel like anything I’d say on those topics would earn me that label. I get riled up too easily. I need to keep reading and absorbing and sorting out my opinions and thoughts. Right now, I have nothing constructive to say about any of it. I don’t want to fill my blog with rants. Not before I can make them clear and purposeful rants, anyway. I don’t want to feel angry right now. I don’t want to fight evil and injustice with my little blog today.

I’ll keep poking at the dusty crate of archived blog ideas in my brain until something pops up. Something happy, or something constructive. If that means I write about cookies and soup for a while, so be it. I miss writing. I miss sharing.

Until I figure out what’s next, please enjoy a calming manatee.

The Obligations of a Scientist

As much as I wanted to, I initially decided against answering Dr. Stemwedel’s questions about scientists’ obligations. She split the respondents into two groups – scientists and non-scientists – and I was uncomfortable with choosing a side because I wasn’t sure where I belonged. Yes, the word is in my job title (I’m a Medical Laboratory Scientist), but I always imagine “a scientist” running experiments and curing cancer and discovering quasars and writing papers that will earn them a Nobel prize. I don’t do any of that. I just play with blood. I used to work in a hospital blood bank. These days, I work in manufacturing.  I make specialized reagents for reference immunohematology laboratories to use in solving complex cases and finding rare blood types for transfusion. I work in a scientific field, but am I a scientist? I don’t think Dr. Stemwedel intended for her questions to open up cans of introspective worms in her readers, but they gave me a lot of thinking to do.

After discussing my dilemma with friends who feel the same way, I finally decided that I am comfortable saying that I am a scientist1. Wearing that badge, I will offer up my thoughts, even if I’m late to the game by a couple of weeks.

Note: Because of my background, I’m biased towards biological and medical sciences. There are many different species of scientist, of course, and I can only speak for myself.

1. As a scientist, do you have any special duties or obligations to the non-scientists with whom you’re sharing a world? If yes, what are they?

As a person whose daily work affects the lives of others, I think I have a general obligation to give a damn about the work I do, and take pride in doing it well. I’ve written about professionalism before, and I still think it’s a critical quality for a scientist to have. That said, I don’t think a commitment to quality is in any way restricted to scientists. I think that any human being who’s taken on a career of any sort has that same obligation, although laziness and corner-cutting will have a greater impact in some fields than in others. A bolt missing in a box of Ikea furniture, while annoying, isn’t as bad as a bolt lost in the assembly of a helicopter.

Scientists are held up to a different standard, I think, than the average person. The title of “scientist” often carries with it an presumption of intelligence and authority, which is why an answer from a scientist on a scientific topic will carry more weight than the same answer from a bus driver. The same can be said of anyone who’s an expert in a field, from law to medicine to electrical work. We need to be aware of the fact that people will trust our answers, and we must be comfortable with admitting ignorance instead of making guesses. As scientists, we should be the very last people pulling answers out of the air (excepting, of course, the atmospheric scientists among us) when we’re not entirely sure. Our training urges us to do the research, check sources, and back up our assertions with facts2.

Over and above avoiding statements we can’t back up, I think we have an obligation to call out bullshit science when we see it. Homeopathy, wacky diets, “OMG the moon will be BIGGER THAN MARS tonight” Facebook posts, and that sort of thing. If those of us who know better don’t step in and replace false claims with correct information, then the level of scientific literacy in this world will keep declining. That would make for a sad and ignorant world, and i’d very much like to avoid it. We get bonus points if we can make the real science as exciting as the fake science, because then people will be inspired to share the good stuff, and it will get out there faster and crush the forces of bullshit. I hold up Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, as an example we should all aim to follow.

2. If you have special duties or obligations, as a scientist, to the rest of society, why do you have them? Where did they come from? (If you don’t have special duties or obligations as a scientist, why not?

I was raised believing that we all have a duty to contribute to the world in some way, and to live and work with integrity. My teachers in the medical technology program reinforced the importance of quality in laboratory work, and I’ve taken that to heart. Thanks to those teachers, I’ve always felt very strongly about promoting my profession. I don’t scribble fun lab facts on a sandwich board and stand in the park with a megaphone, but when Medical Laboratory Professionals Week comes around, I put in a lot of effort to get information out there.

We need a scientifically literate society if we want to keep making progress as a species. If I don’t support and promote science when I’m given an opportunity to do so, then I’m not contributing to that end.

3. As a scientist, what special duties or obligations (if any) do the non-scientists with whom you’re sharing a world have to you?

To ask questions, even if it means challenging a scientist. It’s just like the “Ask me if I’ve washed my hands” buttons you may have seen nurses wearing – just because we know we should be doing it the right way doesn’t mean that we always are. And it’s okay to remind us of that.

1.  That discussion deserves a post of its own, and it will get one soon.

2. I’m looking at YOU, “Doctor” Phil.

Nothing To Prove

I’m not sure I want to wear the Geek Girl label.

I don’t deny that I am both female and geeky, but there’s something vaguely condescending about the term “Geek Girl,” and it bothers me. I’m sure I’ve never heard anyone called a Geek Boy. Or a Geek Guy/Man/Dude/Bro/Gentleman, either. So why is there a special term for the females of the geek clan? Why does gender matter here?

We don’t speak of “lady doctors” or “authoresses” anymore. We’ve slowly transitioned to using neutral labels for people like “postal workers” and “flight attendants,” to reflect the fact that one’s genitalia are irrelevant to one’s career choice1. It’s not about “political correctness,” it’s about evolving away from a sexist society that thinks it’s adorable when a woman does physics and hilarious when a man goes into nursing.

I feel that the word “girl” makes it that much more convenient for jerks to marginalize female geeks2. It singles out female geeks as different. So when they come to the table with their games and their comics and their cosplay and their big beautiful brains, they’re challenged and accosted and harassed. They’re not really geeks. They’re just girl geeks, which means they can’t possibly be taking Batman as seriously as the rest of the gang.

These men are not to be taken lightly. BIFF! POW! BLORT!

The “Fake Geek Girl” phenomenon is real, in that there are plenty of folks who analyze the motives of female geeks, and try to cast out those who don’t measure up to some nebulous geek ideal. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid harassment, whether by happenstance or obliviousness to my surroundings, but I’ve heard stories from many friends about being dressed down in front of a group for daring to geek while female. Why do I only hear these stories from my female friends? Why isn’t there as much finger-pointing towards men who travel in geek circles, calling them fakes and poseurs? Why don’t you hear stories of guys at cons being challenged to prove their worth and their right to be there? There seem to be an alarming number of jerks out there who think that women can’t possibly like anything geeky except as a trick to infiltrate the geekosphere to seduce a sexy nerd-mate.

Dude. Tiaras? Totally geeky in the right context. And don’t you also love the implication that pretty girls aren’t really geeks?

I really hate that even though I’m an adult, people might judge me and challenge me to “prove” that I love Star Trek or Doctor Who or Jonathan Coulton. That’s completely unacceptable. I spent far too much of my childhood trying desperately to fit in with the popular kids, and I know that many of my current friends can relate. I spent years trying to like what they liked, because what I liked wasn’t cool enough to share with anyone. To be mocked as a child because I loved nerdy things too much, only to find myself, as an adult, accused of not loving these same things enough? I will say it again: unacceptable. We all went through a similar hell as geeky children – why perpetuate the discrimination as adults? None of us has anything to prove to one another, so just stop it. Live and let live and let people be excited without challenging them about what they say they love. You know more Star Wars trivia than me? Cool! Maybe I can learn from you.

geek

And you know what? If there are young women out there who are faking it, and only pretending to love things to get attention, so what? How does it hurt you? Let them try on different selves until they find the one that fits them. Hell, I tried on the Backstreet Boys in my teens to see if I could be like the cool girls I idolized. Maybe she’s trying on manga because she thinks you’re cool. Be flattered, and be kind. Thinking you’re a better geek than someone else because you loved something first, or you love more things, or different things, or you love them differently? That’s bullshit. And using that as your default approach to female geeks is even bullshittier.

I am absolutely delighted to have found acceptance as an adult in my geek tribe. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally felt like I could be entirely myself and still have wonderful friends. Nobody has the right to take that feeling away from me. I have nothing to prove.

And neither does anyone else.

 

1. Unless you’re a penis model. You’ll probably need a penis for that.

2. I’m not saying that everyone needs to stop using the term “Geek Girl.” I understand that some find it empowering, and that’s fine. I just feel uncomfortable using it to describe myself, because I know I’d never put up with being called a stewardess or a policewoman. I do believe the internet is making a feminist of me.

The problem with “crazy.”

A friend on Facebook pointed me to a scary firsthand account of a random shooting. It’s terrifying, and I’m glad that the author and bystanders weren’t badly hurt. But the article bothered me. Quite a bit, actually.

He says (bolding mine):

“All things considered, I’m really lucky. Not only am I alive and didn’t witness him shooting himself, as so many did, I have extremely supportive family and friends, I have an understanding employer, and I have resources to talk to.

The shooter was mentally ill and wasn’t so lucky. The lesson I’m taking away from this is that we need to make mental health a priority in ourselves and in our communities. Support your local mental health organizations in whatever ways you can, financially and by forcing politicians to take the issue more seriously.”

I don’t know the details of this incident and can’t speak as to the mental health of this particular shooter, but I’m seriously uncomfortable with the way we tend to jump to analyze shooters’ motives (often after they’re dead) and so often conclude that they must have been mentally ill. Some undoubtedly are, whether they were diagnosed by a therapist or diagnosed posthumously after examination of their personal effects and interrogation of their family and friends. But some of these guys are just angry assholes with a score to settle with the world.

I have absolutely no problem with the rest of that particular post. I agree wholeheartedly that there needs to be a change in how we deal with mental illness as a civilized society. But we shouldn’t be doing it because of all these dangerous “mentally ill” people shooting up our schools.

We should be doing it for the anorexics who think their skeletal bodies are still too fat. For those with anxiety disorders severe enough to keep them shut up in their homes. For those plagued by addictions and compulsions that have taken over their lives. For those who are so deeply depressed that they can’t see a way out of the darkness except to take their own lives.

It should be obvious that we need to increase funding for mental health resources. It should not take tragedies to make that happen.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that everyone knows someone with a mental health issue. Mental illness is more than schizophrenia (and schizophrenia isn’t the devil it’s often made out to be, either). The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is a standard published by the American Psychiatric Association to serve as a reference for the definitions of mental disorders. Take a moment and have a look at their list of mental disorders, then think about all the people you know. Do you know someone with autism? Alzheimers? Bipolar disorder? Depression? These are legitimate mental illnesses. People living with any one of the DSM’s list of disorders would be better served by better public awareness of the realities of mental health issues, as opposed to the scary stuff we see about “crazy people” on TV.

I don’t know what to call the people with a broken moral compass and a need for vengeance or notoriety. “Mentally ill” or “crazy” are convenient and do have a ring of truth, because what adult human being of sound mind could walk into a school and murder children? We need a way to express that there must be something wrong with these people; they’re not like the rest of us. But we need a better way. When “mentally ill” is used as an explanation for reprehensible behavior, it takes that label out of its medical context and makes it into something so much more dangerous. We need to encourage people to get help, not keep them quiet around their families and teachers and doctors for fear that they’ll be labeled. Because we’ve made “crazy” a dangerous label.

Mediocrity

A friend sent me a link to a contest. To enter, people write blog posts about their greatest fears and submit them to a published author, who will choose the best story and give the winning writer a trip to anywhere. How could I ever enter such a thing? My piece would be compared to hundreds of others. It would likely come up short.

I am afraid that my writing isn’t good enough. That I’m not good enough. That when I think I’m going to be a great writer someday, I’m wrong.

I am afraid that the voice inside my head that says I’m silly to want to be a writer, the voice that says I should give up and just keep a little journal for myself, might be right.

I am terrified of my own mediocrity.

I grew up nerdy, awkward, and quiet. I never had many friends, and my family didn’t have money for music lessons or sports teams. Instead of popularity, I comforted myself with my brain. I could read at three, write sentences at four, and I was so bored by the A-B-C of kindergarten that I was skipped through to second grade the next year. My parents praised my grades, so I kept bringing them quizzes adorned with gold stars and smiley faces. My teachers told me I was smart, told me I was talented, told me I should be a writer. Daily, I was praised for my brain. I was a very smart kid.

Then I got older, and I met more people. Smart people. People who were better than me at so many things, and so much more confident. People who inspired and intimidated me. I attended medical conferences and heard scientists speak excitedly about their work. After every conference, I wished I had gone on to grad school so that I could stand up there with those amazing people. But I doubt I’m smart enough to get through it. I went on a special cruise with hundreds of other geeks and was blown away by their guts and creativity. Singers, comics, writers and artists – I want so badly to be like them and to share myself with the world, but I don’t know how. Deep inside, I feel that my efforts would never compare to theirs, so I am afraid to try.

I am afraid that my brain has failed me. I used to feel so smart, and now I feel so… stupid. Is my pond bigger and more crowded now than it was when I was young, or has insecurity shrunk me into a smaller fish? I have grown into a woman who surrounds herself with intelligent and engaging people – why does this intimidate more than it inspires? In comparing myself to these people, my sense of self has begun to crack. If I’m not as smart as everyone’s been telling me I am, then what is left of me?

Here, on my blog, I feel safe. I write more for myself than for anyone else, and nobody is judging me. If readers don’t enjoy what they see, they don’t come back, and without a statistics counter embedded in my code, I’ll never know. It’s comfortable and isolated, and I can pretend here that I’m a wonderful writer who just hasn’t been discovered yet. Because, truth be told, I might not be all that good, and that’s a reality that I don’t want to face.

I am afraid to expose myself to criticism. I know it’s the only way to grow, but doing so may force me to admit I’m mediocre, and not the writer I wish I were. I fear that rejection will break me. It will reinforce the negative voices that whisper to me at night and prompt my retreat.

By entering this contest, I am choosing to face that fear. I’m handing in my assignment for some very talented and intimidating people to read and criticize. The little girl in me hopes desperately for a gold star. The insecure adult in me worries that putting my post in a pile with those of better writers than me is a mistake, and I shouldn’t try. They’re both wrong. What I need is not empty praise to puff my ego. I need to improve, both in skill and in guts, and the only way to do that is to take a deep breath and ask for criticism from people who are qualified to hand it out.

 

 


Love with a Chance of Drowning – A Memoir by Torre DeRocheThis post is part of the My Fearful Adventure series, which is celebrating the launch of Torre DeRoche’s debut book Love with a Chance of Drowning, a true adventure story about one girl’s leap into the deep end of her fears.

“Wow, what a book. Exciting. Dramatic. Honest. Torre DeRoche is an author to follow.” Australian Associated Press

“… a story about conquering the fears that keep you from living your dreams.” Nomadicmatt.com

“In her debut, DeRoche has penned such a beautiful, thrilling story you’ll have to remind yourself it’s not fiction.” Courier Mail

Find out more…


Discombobulated

Last week, a post on a message board made me angry.
That’s not unusual. But this post didn’t involve my usual trigger subjects of homeopathy, Ryan Seacrest, or teen paranormal romance. The post was about words. I love me some words.
This guy, this… troll, claimed that some words are “unnecessary”. The words he chose to accuse of superfluity: copacetic and discombobulated. His argument: they’re hard to pronounce, “sound stupid”, and other words can easily be used in their place.
Okay. Come on. First of all, they sound fantastic. Saying “discombobulated” out loud just now is the most fun I’ve had all day. Give it a shot, you’ll enjoy it. Secondly, if you think “copacetic” is hard to pronounce, try some of the easy beginner words on for size, like “lamb” and “knife”.
As for those other words that could be used in their place: forgive me, but isn’t that the entire point of synonyms? Having slightly different ways to say the same thing? If you kill off synonyms and antonyms, you end up in a world of emotionless Orwellian Newspeak, devoid of nuance and tone. That’s a boring damn world and I don’t want to live there. We’re talking doubleplus ungood here, folks.
Yes, I could use “bewildered”, “taken aback”, or “rattled” in the place of “discombolulated” and the meaning wouldn’t change. The words all have a very similar denotation in that they all mean “confused and upset”. But they’ve each got their own connotation, which is the connections your mind makes to other words and feelings when you read them. When I’m writing a silly story and a character is approached by a wizard who hands him a magic hat and tells him he’s destined to save the world, I may say he’s discombobulated by the encounter. If I’m writing a serious story and someone’s being told that the man she’s been married to for a decade has a secret life and a second family overseas, I may say she’s rattled by the news. I know I would be!
I will grant that sometimes fancy-pants words get used unnecessarily in the place of simpler ones. Not everyone in every novel needs to have creamy alabaster skin, and sometimes the sky is just blue. Not cerulean or aquamarine or azure. Sometimes blue will do. Simplicity is generally the best rule. That’s not to say that fancy words don’t have their place. I use many a highfalutin word when the mood strikes and I feel like it conveys what I want it to. Sometimes you need to break out some discombobulation, and that’s just copacetic with me.
But people who utilize “utilize” when they could totally be using “use”? Beatings. Beatings for all.