The Last Word

September 25 – 29, 2017

Emma started off the week by writing about why she cried while doing the dishes and listening to an NPR podcast. It’s not the reason you might think: What got me about this moment was that this successful, professional woman was using such a traditionally feminine example from her own life—and completely without apology. 

What could possibly be better than Ann Finkbeiner arguing with herself about the Finkbeiner Test? I thought I might have to write a profile that would consciously fail the Finkbeiner Test, then change my name and move to New Zealand. 

Rose reduxes a post about all the clever inventions people have come up with to assist with women’s menstrual periods. Have you ever wanted to know what’s going on with your tampon? Is it too full? Is it ready to come out? Or is it still ready for more uterine gold? Well, there might at some point be an app for that.

Science poetry comics. It’s a thing. It’s a wonderful thing (see image above), and Sarah showed us so on Thursday. They say she must eat light, and steer by it too –/the stars her lamp and compass.

Erik lives in Mexico City. He and his family are okay, but some of their neighbors aren’t. What happened in Mexico City was not what was expected. The buildings that came down not the ones we expected.And regardless of whether you think the city performed better or worse than expected, it was a brutal reminder that none of us is really in control. 

See you next week!


Image by Sarah Gilman

Losing Control Every Day

You’ve never heard a kid scream until you’ve heard one who knows his daddy is no longer in control.

When the earthquake struck, I had my headphones in. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t working, I was starting to zone out a bit. Some days I’m more productive than others and this was not a productive moment. Sue me.

Normally in Mexico City it takes a minute to recognize a quake but not this time. At the first jolt I snapped the earbuds out and bolted for my baby sleeping in the nursery. Normally I would wait a moment by his door to make sure it was a big enough quake to bother waking him up but, again, not this time. This time I grabbed him out of the crib and stuffed him under it, then stuffed as much of me as I could in after him. That’s when he started screaming.

When it was over, we calmly filed out and met with some of the other folks in the building out in the street and made our way to the park around the corner. It was only when I was sure we were safe and started canvassing the neighborhood that I realized what had really just happened.

For blocks and blocks it looked exactly the same as it had the day before. A few bricks on the ground perhaps. For a moment I even lamented the fact there wouldn’t be a decent story in it for me. I saw a building with a piece of a wall missing so that I could see a desk inside. I snapped a photo.

Then I saw the first building down. It was a squat little brown thing I must have passed a hundred times – right next to that cheesy 1950’s-themed hamburger joint I swore I’d never go back to. And it was nearly pancaked. Oddly enough, the bottom floor was still intact but the three above it kind of looked like one. Neighbors were hammering away, trying to rescue those trapped inside. People who had come to their office. People taking a cooking class.

My neighbors were trapped. In other places my colleagues were trapped. My neighbors were dying. Not in some far off place, down the street. People I pass on the way to the cantina. Next to that cheesy burger joint.

Whenever a natural disaster strikes, it’s easy to find a reason why you were clever enough to escape it. Oh, look at that building, why would they live there? Well look where their house is. Well why did they get in their car during a flood? Why didn’t they get in their car during a fire? It gives us a sense of control.

It’s only when control is totally gone that you realize you never had it in the first place. Continue reading

Redux: The Wonderful World of Period Patents


Earlier this week I got an email from my mother. “It appears you are not the only Eveleth interested in women’s undergarments” was the subject line. The body of the email contained a link to this delightful patent that my great great grandmother apparently got on February 13th, 1900. The patent reads:

Be it known that I, ANNIE S. EVELETH, a citizen of the United States, residing at Little Falls, in the county of Herkimer and State of New York, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Underwaists,of which the following is a specification.

This invention relates to underwaists for women; and the object of the improvement is to provide a waist so constructed as to obviate any pressure upon the breasts of the wearer and also permit of free access to the breasts without necessitating unbuttonin g or disarranging the waist-a feature of great convenience for nursing mothers.

It’s true that I am quite interested in women’s undergarments. And patents. And below you’ll find a post that ran on this here blog about a year ago, about patents for menstrual products that I found delightful, interesting and downright bizarre. The post was inspired by the invention of a chiropractor in Kansas, who came out with a “labial glue” to keep menstrual blood in the vagina. To be clear: this is a very, very bad idea. And I added it to my list of strange period-related patents, which you can find below.


I recently wrote a story for Racked about how some of the period underwear on the market work — the kind that either help keep your pad in place, or help replace tampons by wicking and absorbing blood. And because I always like to know about the evolution of various technologies, one of the first things I did in my research was go to the U.S. Patent Office website to see what kinds of patents already existed for these sorts of things.

It turned out that there were a whole lot of patents for menstrual underwear like this. I’ll quote myself here:

The specific materials that Dear Kate and THINX use are new, but idea of specially designed period underwear goes back nearly 40 years. In 1967, a patent for a “protective petticoat” was issued to a woman named Gladys Ruppel Williams. The undergarment was a half-slip, “constructed with a moisture-proof material” to protect the outer clothing from being stained. In 1988, a Chinese company was issued a patent for “woman menstruation underpants” that included two layers of cloth sewn into the crotch of the panties, each lined with a “non-toxic, flexible plastic film.” In 1995 another Chinese company patented a “clean-keeping women undergarment,” which included a leakproof liner.

Yep, “clean-keeping women undergarment.” But these are just a few of the patents for menstruation related items that I found when I started looking. So I want to share some more of them with you. This time with pictures. Because they’re great. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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