Arguing with the Finkbeiner Test

Apparently we’re feminine/ist this week, or so far Emma and I are.  I want to argue about the Finkbeiner Test.  The test began with a heroic vow:  I would write a profile of a woman scientist without the clichés that litter these profiles.  The test took off when Christie wrote a post about my post for Double X Science*, making a solid argument in which she listed the cliches as bullet points.  And it became nationally famous when the New York Times began the obituary of a woman rocket scientist with “She made a mean beef Stroganoff.”  (The Times had to change that sentence and you may picture me smiling evilly as I type this.)  In general, the Finkbeiner Test comes down to this:  if you’re not writing it about a man scientist, why would you write it about a woman scientist?

Recent specific examples:

  • Last week, I heard a woman scientist being introduced as the first woman to win the Crafoord Prize.
  • Also last week I read a well-researched, well-written profile in a science magazine of another woman scientist whose science is careful but her results are unexpected and therefore controversial: she has children, her ex-husband’s opinion of her work is low, she finds the controversy difficult to handle, in fact, her field’s aggressiveness has cost her an NSF grant.**
  • And the week before last, I finished writing a profile of yet another woman scientist: she worked much of her career without a university job, finally got one with tenure at age 59.

Would you write any of these things about a man scientist? any at all?  You would not.  He’d never be the first man to win an established prize.  His children and is ex-wife’s opinions would be seen as patently irrelevant.  His controversial work and his ability to withstand his field’s aggressiveness would make him an iconoclastic hero.  And by age 59 he’d be thinking retirement.  You write about women scientists saying these same things, even though all are meant as compliments, and wouldn’t you suspect these women of being, well, you know, sort of affirmative-actiony, kind of weepy, a little second-tier, maybe not quite top-drawer? You would.

The Finkbeiner Test caught a certain amount of flack***, all of it rational and politely-expressed and usually posed as questions.  I am here to answer them. Continue reading

Feminine and unapologetic

A bride and groom in a photo from the 1920s. The bride's dress has a long train that is held by two small childrenI started crying while doing the dishes last week. Domestic weeping of this kind used to be rarer for me before the Trump election, but I am afraid it is all too common now since, like everyone else, I listen to the news while I do housework.

In this case, for once, it was happy tears, though I didn’t quite understand them at first. I was listening to the NPR podcast Hidden Brain, which is about psychology and social science. The episode was about regrets. Host Shankar Vedantam was interviewing psychologist Amy Summerville from he Regret Lab at Miami University in Ohio about her own lifehacks to avoid regret.

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The Last Word

And how did we entertain our gentle audience this week? Hopefully with great aplomb, Oxford commas, and the finest of verbs. You be the judges:

Rose kicked off the week explaining why talking about online harassment to people who get harassed, rather than to harassers (who don’t bother showing up to listen), seems pretty damn pointless.

Craig recently flew over a “museum of erosion,” Monument Valley, and took cool photos and thought about the forces that have shaped and reshaped such an oh-my-god-amazing landscape.

Helen loves to walk home. Sure, she could hop on the train and get there faster, but her after-work commute on foot gives her time to notice stuff the rest of us ignore.

Michelle ran a post from last March that is oh-so important right now: Compassion (like violence) is contagious, she explains. Now we just need an epidemic of kindness.

And Cassie, oh Cassie, she wrote a lovely little piece about storms and soup and humanity. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.

Thanks for reading our stuff!

Chicken Soup for the Hurricane-ravaged Soul

About a year ago, I bought a kitchen gadget. I don’t need more kitchen gadgets, but this one, I was sure, would change my life. It’s called the Instant Pot. It’s a pressure cooker. It’s a rice cooker. It’s a yogurt maker. It’s a steamer. It’s a slow cooker. It does it all. The world has gone bananas for the Instant Pot. I had to have one.

But once I had the gadget, I realized I didn’t really know how to use it. So I joined the Instant Pot Community® on Facebook. Yes, this exist. Yes, there are 665,070 members. Like I said, the world has gone bonkers for the Instant Pot.

At first, I read all the recipes. I marveled at the women making cheesecakes in their Instant Pots (yes, this is a thing). I laughed at the pictures of Instant Pot fails. I wondered why someone would consider dragging their Instant Pot along on a Hawaiian vacation. But gradually I lost interest in both the Instant Pot and this strange little community of Instant Pot fanatics.

On Wednesday evening I found my way back. I don’t really know why. Maybe I was tired of hearing bad news — Mexican children trapped in a collapsed school, Trump threatening nuclear war, Caribbean islands pummeled by hurricanes. I needed a break. I wanted some soothing conversation about butter chicken and tortilla soup.

The first post was a picture of an Instant Pot brimming with broth and vegetables. The woman who posted it had written: “Puertorrican Asopao in the works. We survived the worst hurricane in a century.” I looked at the location. San Juan, Puerto Rico. I looked at the time. 6:54PM. Continue reading

Redux: Contagious Compassion

This post was first published in March of last year; sadly, it’s more relevant than ever.

On February 29, after having lunch in Hood River, Oregon, Kozen Sampson drove to a quiet neighborhood to take his dogs for a walk. He was getting out of his car, he says, when a man with brown hair approached and kicked his car door. The door smacked Sampson in the ear, knocking his head against the door frame.

Then Sampson, stunned and bleeding, heard his assailant say: “F—ing Muslim!”

Sampson has been a Buddhist monk for many years, and he was wearing his customary plain brown robes. He’s the founder of the Mount Adams Zen Buddhist Temple in Trout Lake, Washington—about 30 miles from Hood River, and not far from where I live in Washington state—and after his attacker ran off, he managed to stop the bleeding and drive home to the temple.

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What’s So Great About Walking

a worn-out rose

The other afternoon, at work, I suddenly got stuck thinking about a couple of things I’m worried about–and which I’m going to do, even though they make me want to hide under the covers. I expect my medal any day now. By the end of the day, I was jumpy and exhausted from pointless worrying, and I just wanted to go home.

I took off the sandals I’d worn to work and put on the socks and grubby old sneakers that live in a hidden corner of my cubicle. Grubby old sneakers, cute work dress, and all, I walked down the stairs of my office building, went out the door by the loading dock/community urinal, and pointed myself toward home.

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The Case of the Missing Sandstone

Flying through Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah border recently, I was crammed into an old and slow Cessna 140 taildragger. Light filtered through the smoke of distant wildfires. It felt like looking through antique glass at a country of stone giants. We’d arrived at the last blink of this particular landscape, buttes shipwrecked alone in the desert, thin memories of mesas and canyons that used to be here.

When I posted the above photo on social media, one of the LWON writers commented that the landmarks look like volcanic necks, which are the hardened insides of volcanoes left when the rest of the land has eroded away. When I said no, this is straight sandstone erosion and not a cluster of exposed volcanic guts, she said prove it. Continue reading

Why I No Longer Do Internet Harassment Talks

A few years ago, I was doxxed by angry people on the internet. (I’m not going to rehash what happened. You’re reading this on a machine that has google.) After that, I started getting asked to do talks. How can we fix online harassment? How can individuals protect themselves? How can newsrooms better prepare themselves, protect their employees, and respond in the moment?

Before each talk I would get sweaty and shaky. Having to tell rooms full of strangers about one of the most stressful things that has ever happened to me isn’t fun. And in the back of my mind there was the constant fear that some of my enemies would be in the audience. Was I safe? Was the conference going to live-stream the talk without telling me? (Yes, that happened.) Was I going to be able to keep it together as I showed the audience exemplary messages describing all the ways people would like for me to die? Afterwards I would try to make small talk but I just wanted to run away and take a cold shower and sleep for four days.

(I should say that my experience is tame compared to what other people have experienced. Sure, people made my home address public and told me they were going to come murder me, and even sent me photos of themselves outside my house, but it’s been worse for others. Read Zoe Quinn’s new book Crash Override if you want to know what it can be like for the hardest hit.)

Doing these sessions and talks is exhausting and traumatic. But I did them because I wanted to help. If I had to go through this, I could at least try and channel my energy (and my privilege as a white lady) for good to try and help other people.

I don’t do those talks anymore. Because I now think that they don’t really make a difference. Continue reading