Every week, the Chronicle of Higher Education arrives in my mailbox, and nearly every week there's some new exciting story in the science and gender trauma category. I call it the science and gender trauma category because, by now, after a quarter-century of observation and experience, I believe I speak not just for myself when I say that the unchanging, nay, eternal nature of this shit is traumatizing to witness. But bear witness we must.
The eternal nature of science and gender trauma:
- 1977: Rosalind Yalow, who developed the radioimmunoassay, wins the Nobel Prize in medicine. Newspaper headline reads: "She cooks, she cleans, she wins the Nobel Prize".
- Late 1980's. One of my best friends, an engineer, plans her pregnancy to give birth at end of spring semester, arranges in advance with boss to take summer off. Returns in fall: he accuses her of being "non-productive" over the last three months, threatens to cut her position. Fortunately for her, the department head intervened. Unfortunately for her, her boss blackballed her when she went on the job market. She had to reinvent her research area to continue her career.
- This week's news in the Chronicle: Physicist Sherry M. J. Towers discovered, in December 2003, evidence of a new particle; Fermilab put out a press release about it in August 2004. Unfortunately for Dr. Towers, she also gave birth in 2003, and was silly enough to think that just because there was an explicit, written policy stating that postdocs at Stony Brook were eligible for maternity leave, she could actually take maternity leave. She was somehow unaware of the unspoken true policy which states that, if a female scientist finds she must give birth, she may leave the lab to do so but should be back as soon as possible after the placenta has come out.
And so she must be punished for the crime of taking three weeks off after the birth of her child, rather than the three months she was entitled to from accrued sick and vacation leave, not to mention her maternity leave.
In these enlightened times, we no longer have our whorish women wear a scarlet A upon their breasts. No, we are more civilized. We merely threaten to withhold letters of recommendation, if we are their boss, and privately bad-mouth them behind their backs, so that no one will hire them when they apply for jobs. And if we are their employing institution, we neglect to renew their contract. If they protest, we feign surprise - We thought you wanted to leave! what with the baby and all. And we already hired somebody else to replace you. Gosh, you should have said something.
Then, when they have accepted that their careers are ruined, and they must start over in a new field, but nevertheless have the strength and nerve left to file a complaint with the EEOC, we begin a public campaign to besmirch them. Here's what we have our colleagues say for us:
Robert L. McCarthy, a professor of physics at Stony Brook, says he is not clear on the details of the dispute between Ms. Towers and Mr. [John] Hobbs. But he says the word around the department about what happened is this: 'She had a baby. She asked for a leave of absence and we arranged a half-time appointment. She eventually resigned because of taking care of her baby and then decided to leave to join her husband at Purdue. Then she changed her mind after already submitting her resignation."
Let's deconstruct, shall we?
- HE SAYS HE IS NOT CLEAR ON THE DETAILS, BUT THE WORD AROUND THE DEPARTMENT IS...
I don't really know what the hell went on. You can't pin this statement on me because I am just repeating gossip. Yes, I am a respected professor of physics at a respected university, but I am not above spreading rumor and innuendo, even if I don't know if any of it is true, and even if it hurts the reputation of someone at a lower status, whose career we professors are supposed to be nurturing. This kind of petty backstabbing shit-spreading work is what makes American physics so strong.
- SHE HAD A BABY
That stupid bitch. What was she thinking?
- SHE ASKED FOR A LEAVE OF ABSCENCE AND WE ARRANGED A HALF-TIME APPOINTMENT
Yes, we have an official policy that said she was allowed to have a maternity leave, and she shouldn't have needed to "ask" for anything; what's your point. And yes, the half-time appointment was arranged after she returned to work and Hobbs was pushing her to 70-hr work weeks that were killing her, so we told her she could work 35 hrs and take a 40% pay cut. You know, half of 70 is 35. But we let her keep 60% of her salary. I think that's pretty generous, don't you?
- SHE EVENTUALLY RESIGNED BECAUSE OF TAKING CARE OF HER BABY
It was the baby's fault. That baby sucked up so much of her time. I always said, from the very beginning, I blame the baby. It is a sad situation, but it is not my fault, nor Professor Hobbs's, nor Stony Brook's. I'm not even saying she was a mediocre scientist, what with the new particle and all. And we are perfectly happy, as an institution, to have that to our credit. Everything here was fine and dandy, we were all one big happy family, so to speak...uh...except for that baby. Who, I think, we can all safely blame.
- AND THEN DECIDED TO LEAVE TO JOIN HER HUSBAND AT PURDUE
She's married, so she never was really committed to science anyway. And her husband was somewhere else, so we always knew she'd be leaving someday to follow him, right? And look, she did. They all do. You invest all this time and energy in them and then they just trail away after their husbands. What can you do?
- THEN SHE CHANGED HER MIND
Women! Always changing their minds! Ha ha. What can you do? They're the fickle sex. So cute, though.
- AFTER ALREADY SUBMITTING HER RESIGNATION
See, she resigned. It wasn't us. Not at all. We had nothing to do with it. Nothing. We're innocent. Really. And can you believe, she has the freaking nerve to go file a complaint after she willingly resigned on her own and all? Women! This is why I'm always saying - and let's just keep this between you and me - we shouldn't even let them into the undergraduate classes to begin with.
And that, my friends, is why being an outstanding scientist is not enough, if you possess a uterus and insist upon using it.