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A friend posted a video clip of Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking about his experience with being a black man who wanted to go into science, and the opposition he met - some passive, some actively malicious - because he was going against societal expectations. The woman panelist sitting beside him was nodding in agreement so emphatically that her entire body was moving. It was a 4 minute clip out of a panel that ran well over an hour. One of the things he said was that after he'd bulldozed through the obstacles, he looked back to see the people who should be behind him...and there was no one. "What blood is on that track?" he asked. What blood indeed.

It made me cry, and it made me angry. My blood is on that track. I had medical school ambitions. I started out in a small university as a chemistry major, and because of the schedule took my chemistry courses out of order. I'd gotten a position in a biochem research lab the summer before I started college. It was a program for college students planning on advanced degrees in the sciences. I wasn't yet in college. I was 16. I'm not being boastful when I say I had to be brilliant to get that. I'd taken an aced what were considered the two hardest courses in a chem major, physical chemistry (there were bumper stickers that said "honk if you passed P-Chem") and analytical chemistry. And then I went back to pick up organic chemistry.

It did not occur to me to wonder until much, much later why there was only one female chem major beyond sophomore year. Nor did it occur to me to notice that there was only one Jewish student past that point. I didn't think of it on my own at all; it was my husband, 15 years after the fact, who asked those questions. There was only one professor that taught organic chemistry, and he was a smooth, smiling misogynistic, antisemitic bastard. It was my husband who pointed out that the rest of my academic record did not match up with what that man had me believing of myself - that I had no particular ability at science and would do better in another field. By the time he was done with me, I withdrew from his class rather than have the failing grade on my record. The condition he set on permitting me to withdraw was that I change my major. I didn't realize he had no right to demand that of me. I made the promise, and when I transferred universities I kept it. I changed my major to medieval history. Ultimately I went to law school. That was not a happy ending, but that's another story.

I'm sure what N.dG.T. faced was similar, or perhaps worse. No one assumed I was a criminal; they just assumed I couldn't be good at science because I'm female. But what makes me so furiously angry is that it's still happening to girls and people of color nearly 40 years later. That's two generations! The girls I talk to now aren't assuming that their only options are mother, nurse, teacher and/or secretary, but neither do I see them on the science team, the math squad, the chess team or the Brain Game team. I don't know that they're getting the sort of active discouragement that he and I got, but I am very clear that they aren't getting much active encouragement either. I'm very clear that they're still under great pressure from their peers to cede the sciences to the boys. I doubt that teenagers now are more likely to have the strength of identity to stand up to that sort of pressure now than I did in the mid-1970s. But knowing that our society still sees a black or female astrophysicist rather than an astrophysicist that happens to be black or female makes me angry, and breaks my heart.

It's Time

Aug. 16th, 2015 06:51 pm
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For reasons more complicated than I want to get into, I stopped blogging a couple of years ago. But I still want to read others' blogs and to be able to comment on them. That's primarily what I'm using this account for at present. Perhaps, with somewhat more time and distance from a debacle I was entirely too close too, I'll be able to start blogging again. I hope so. I miss it.


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August 2015

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