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misogyny patriarchy we hunted the mammoth

Rebecca Solnit Tracks, Kills the Myth of Man the (Mammoth) Hunter

So I missed this when it first came out, but an alert reader by the name of Rebecca Solnit recently alerted me to an eloquent Harper’s Magazine takedown of the “myth of man the hunter,” by, well, Rebecca Solnit.

Solnit, you may recall, is the writer who came up with the idea of “mansplaining” after a dude mansplained one of her own books to her.

In her “Man the Hunter” piece, which you should all go and immediately read, she lays out the assorted sexist assumptions underlying the notion that our cave dude ancestors basically did all the real work while their prehistoric wives sat on their asses back at the cave eating prehistoric bon bons.

Yep, it’s the old “we hunted the mammoth” thing. Solnit describes it, quite aptly, as “the story of the 5-million-year-old suburb.” Every day, the story goes, cave men put on their grey flannel suits mammoth-hide shorts and trudged off

carrying their spears and atlatls to work and punching the primordial time clock. Females hang around the hearth with the kids, waiting for the men to bring home the bacon. Man feeds woman. Woman propagates man’s genes.

The reference to prehistoric suburbs is especially apt, because, as Solnit points out, the myth of man the hunter is actually a pretty new myth, as myths go, gaining widespread currency only in the 20th century, the century of the suburb.

In what we might call The Flintstones Era, anthropologists as well as TV producers set forth a vision of prehistoric life that

trace[d] the dominant socioeconomic arrangements of the late Fifties and early Sixties back to the origins of our species.

But it turns out that The Flintstones wasn’t a documentary.

I’m tempted to keep quoting until I quote virtually the entire article, but you should just go read it.

Oh, and while I’m talking Solnit, she’s also got a great new article up titled “Men Explain Lolita to Me,” discussing the reaction she got from the dudes of the internet after taking on an exquisitely dudebro Esquire list of “80 Books Every Man Should Read” — all but one of them written by, you guessed it, dudes.

Our old friend Scott Adams makes a cameo in the Lolita piece, BTW.

PS: If you’re doing any last minute Christmas shopping, or just looking for an interesting read, might I suggest Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me

 

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snork maiden
4 years ago

Whenever The Flintstones comes up, I think of this video:

guest
guest
4 years ago

@EJ (The Other One) 🙂 thank you, I could go on–I didn’t even mention his take on feminism…just quoting a few things from my rather angry set of notes. For a book that had got a lot of positive notice in my social circles, by someone who seems to be a pretty smart guy, it’s shockingly retrograde and in some places just plain dumb.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
4 years ago

@ Guest

non-Western societies did not develop technology

Well, you lived in Yorkshire long enough to know that Western societies (i.e. Lancashire) would still be looking in awe at stone tools if it wasn’t for the civilising effect of their East Pennine neighbours 😉

WeirwoodTreeHugger
WeirwoodTreeHugger
4 years ago

I think any research institution that gets any public funding at all should be required to publish their research free online. It’s important for democracy to make knowledge accessible IMO.

guest
guest
4 years ago

@Alan Robertshaw and eating stones instead of parkin and puddings and decent cheese…. Oh, I saw this on Twitter the other day, here it is if you haven’t seen it:

JUST TER SEH

Av etten parkin
Tha kept
In’t pantry

That tha woh
Savin for
Thi tear.

Soz.
It looked reyt grand.
Tha noz: moist, like.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
4 years ago

@ guest

Ah, parkin! I was trying to explain to a friend recently why we celebrate an attempted terrorist outrage by eating gingerbread pigs 🙂

EJ (The Other One)
EJ (The Other One)
4 years ago

@WWTH:
It’s an interesting point of view. The downside of it is that it makes the peer review process very difficult, and peer review is a cornerstone of scholarship. The upside is that it allows more public engagement with science, which… I’ll be honest, I personally don’t much see as an upside. Non-scientists tend to misinterpret early results and get carried away with weird theories a lot, which is a massive headache. Look at the whole “vaccines cause autism” thing as an example, or the “climate hockey stick.”

There’s a website called ArXiv which does more or less what you’re asking. It’s very good for some fields (particle physics, for example, where it is in the process of supplanting other methods of publishing) but full of nonsense for others.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
4 years ago

@ EJ

Totally off-topic (except in so far as there’s been a discussion about films) but have you seen “The Wild Geese”?

Scildfreja
Scildfreja
4 years ago

I’m in Canada, not the US, but the situation on publishing scientific findings is similar. It’s basically up to the individual lab/institute/organization to determine how they publish their findings, and the only time we have to demonstrate that we’ve done enough is when we go back to the parent organization (read: funding source) for the next set of grants.

My own lab is trying to improve our presence, but at the moment we’re just publishing in a fairly small set of journals. Which, honestly, is good for our case, because we’re working with some things with, aheh, some fairly wide error bars right now. Probably a good idea to not distribute that too widely, until we have more confidence!

I’m personally in favour of abandoning the journal model for an open source peer review model. Gets rid of the scammy pay-for-publishing journals, makes the process transparent. Still needs editors involved to stamp an “approved” or “rejected” on it, but that process really needs more exposure. In my opinion!

Binjabreel
Binjabreel
4 years ago

Hey, scientifically accurate Flintstones included a reference to my favorite piece of cave art, often described as “a man, on skis, apparently having sex with an elk”.

Mike
Mike
4 years ago

The story was that, because you can’t see gender or race through the Internet, people would interact with other people of other genders and races without even realizing it, and therefore racism and sexism wouldn’t happen, nor would any other -isms.

My theory: I think the big problem with this idea (which I vaguely remember hearing way back when) was that it made a sort of category error – one which a lot of people make when they talk about -isms – that is, it treats racism, sexism, etc. as matters of individual will and personal belief, rather than as systemic social forces. So, what happened with the internet was that ideas of cultural normativeness came to supersede the sense of anonymity in a lot of online spaces. Like, if a bunch of people post on a messageboard for a field that’s culturally understood to be male-dominated – like, gaming, or science – then even if everyone’s anonymous, they’re presumed to be male by default; if a user mentions that they are, in fact, female, then that’s viewed as somehow disruptive or invasive.

In other words: the anonymous character of many online spaces has helped to underscore ingrained cultural biases, rather than erase them.

Snork Maiden
4 years ago

@Binjabreel,

well that’s sent me down the rabbit hole of google image :/

chippy
chippy
4 years ago

Well, I just stumbled down the rabbit hole of comments on the “Lolita” piece. I shouldn’t have gone down there.

chippy
chippy
4 years ago

@Mike

I think also that preconceived notions of racism, sexism, etc. would have an impact on anonymity anyway.

Like if someone posted a comment you don’t agree with and find infuriating, people would just say, “clearly a woman wrote that comment, only females would say something so stupid.” and such.

People will be jerks forever. There is no way around it.

reymohammed
4 years ago

Five million years ago… was the Pliocene. The ancestors of our ancestors were cute little things that ate fruit… and grubs, and termites, and such, which to this day have been caught by female anthropoids, who make simple tools to catch them with. If Elaine Morgan went overboard with the aquatic hypothesis, she was still, in my opinion, not wrong. We probably went through a phase of living near estuaries, spent a good deal of time clamming with our toes, and learned to make nets– all things well within the capacities of even modern, city-bred women. Where do we go when we’re stressed out? The beach. What do we like to snack on? Little salty things. When do we have sex? Normally, during our designated sleeping hours, an anomaly most readily explained by our spending daylight hours “out of our element” (movie scenes aside, it is very difficult for human beings to consummate a sexual union in water, and then there are washouts). It is only in periglacial and arid environments that childbearing women are handicapped in providing for themselves and their children, and I suspect that this is why male supremacists are also so anti-environmentalist.

EJ (The Other One)
EJ (The Other One)
4 years ago

My own lab is trying to improve our presence, but at the moment we’re just publishing in a fairly small set of journals. Which, honestly, is good for our case, because we’re working with some things with, aheh, some fairly wide error bars right now. Probably a good idea to not distribute that too widely, until we have more confidence!

I feel your pain. My own work was lucky to get within an order of magnitude of known values.

Scientist fistbump. What’s your field, if I may ask?

@WWTH:
My apologies for the above; I didn’t realise how unkind what I wrote was until I reread it.

At the risk of mansplaining, let me try to explain myself and not dig deeper.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that there should not be a scientific priesthood that locks away its data and doesn’t tell anyone else what it is. I also agree with you (and Scildfreja) that the field of science publishing has severe issues, and that locking everything behind paywalls is definitely not the answer, not least because it massively disrespects the general public.

However.

Speaking only for my own field, we would have severe issues with simply releasing all our data into the public regularly. The problem isn’t to do with money. The problem is with the speed of information. If I publish a paper on a great discovery today, it won’t be anything like ready for public consumption. It might take a year or more for other people to be ready to even reply to it meaningfully at all, and in the interim a whole lot of other research will come out. When others finally reply then it might be to support my findings or to contradict them, or even to suggest a new interpretation or an overarching narrative. Even the most frenzied, fast-paced conversations within science need people to have a patience span measured in months. Any one of these papers may need to be withdrawn later, even if they were published in good faith and total confidence. Any number of people are going to be publishing reviews which attempt to link these data points to draw grand overarching patterns, and these need to be reviewed in turn. One month X is going to look good; the next month Y will be ascendant; and nobody knows what the final consensus will be. This is precisely the sort of environment in which creationists, climate change deniers and other smug, preening assholes can stick their noses and do immense reputational damage by imposing a false description upon it; and in which the normal news cycle is badly suited to reporting a developing story.

In other words, science needs a safe space where we can talk to other scientists without journalists and/or political ideologues wading in. We need to be able to publish potentially wildly wrong results without facing ridicule or censure, because if we didn’t have the courage to publish knowing that we might be wildly wrong, we wouldn’t publish at all.

What science also needs is for the public to see this discussion and feel involved in it, rather than just seeing science as an esoteric priesthood behind whose closed doors robed figures lurk, and from which occasional enigmatic proclamations are issued ex cathedra.

Of course, these two goals are contradictory, and this is a problem. If it’s solved I think it will genuinely help bring in tremendous amounts of new talent, especially female talent which science desperately needs, but it’s a problem that many people have struggled with and failed to see an easy answer. The current thinking is to raise an entire new discipline of science communicators whose task it is to be the liaison between science and the public, and to train people for this purpose straight from university rather than rely on occasional charismatic exceptions like Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Ben Goldacre. Encouragingly, many of the people I’ve met who studied science communication are female. Less encouragingly, many people see it as a form of second-class citizenship into which women and other excluded groups can be marginalised. Time will tell.

By all means, have ideas about how to solve the problem. I would genuinely love to have that discussion, and really don’t want to shut it down. It’s a vital and important thing to do. But a blanket “all science should be done in public” isn’t going to help.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
4 years ago

@ EJ et al

In other words, science needs a safe space

I often have to attend things where we operate under “Chatham House Rules”.

To oversimplify, it allows people present to utilise information provided but not to attribute it or disclose the source. It’s an extension of the “without prejudice” discussions we use a lot generally.

The rules are quite handy as people can toss ideas around without the risk of them being misrepresented so it promotes free thinking. Also, it promotes cooperation, or at least trying to come to see if a compromise can be established between opponents. You can say “Well, you might have a point there” and not have someone Tweeting “Alan agrees I’m right!”

Perhaps the scientific community could adopt something similar; if you haven’t already.

DepressedCNS
DepressedCNS
4 years ago

@DepressedCNS

It wasn’t this video, was it? 🙂

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2z6unh

@ Evil Inky

Hahaha basically yes. Though if that were the actual video I may have been able to sit through the whole thing for pure entertainment value

DepressedCNS
DepressedCNS
4 years ago

@EJ, WWTH

I actually agree that scientific discourse would benefit from open access with a peer-review process.

EJ, you make some good points, but the example you use re:autism and vaccines is not great, because that original study was willfully and (I’d argue) maliciously falsified. The big deal with that study was that if failed to replicate, which brings me to my next point; if the public had access to studies that were not published because they failed to replicate a finding, they hopefully would be less likely to latch on to a false finding like that (autism and vaccines). Replication studies are a really important part of the scientific method and in my field especially they are unlikely to get published, which is a huge problem. Plus you have laymen who are research literate and the like, and open access would enable them to more cogently understand scientific discourse, even if the general public doesn’t.

Edit: here’s an NPR article about replication studies failing to get published http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2014/06/02/318212713/science-trust-and-psychology-in-crisis

JoeB
JoeB
4 years ago

While I support shaming Wakefield for being a garbage person who did massive harm to try to enrich himself and am kind of encouraged seeing it used as a science education lesson, it’s actually not a great teaching tool unless you are at a pretty high level. There is so much wrong there you can easily lose the forest for a particular tree. It’s hard to make a specific point about how science is suppose to be done when you are talking about a case study where there is unethical data collection, conflict of interest, data manipulation and a media overblowing of what was at best a tiny pilot study suggesting an avenue for further research.

weirwoodtreehugger
weirwoodtreehugger
4 years ago

The thing is, bad science reporting in the mainstream press is already giving the general public bad ideas. The fact that the actual data is constantly locked behind a paywall just makes it harder to counter because all anyone has for information is the interpretation and the dumbed down-ness of the mass media. If someone Googles a scientific query that get bad journalisms and biased blogs. Keeping the data in the hands of the privileged few just encourages ignorance and anti-intellectualism.

I’d be fine with some sort of waiting period. But it’s beyond fucked up to ever place any barrier on learning IMO.

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
4 years ago

I think also that preconceived notions of racism, sexism, etc. would have an impact on anonymity anyway.

Like if someone posted a comment you don’t agree with and find infuriating, people would just say, “clearly a woman wrote that comment, only females would say something so stupid.” and such.

People will be jerks forever. There is no way around it.

That’s not actually the problem. The problem with anonymity without any identifiers is that everyone gets mentally slotted into whatever the reader’s “default human” looks like. In the United States, this is going to be a white, able-bodied, hetero- and cis-sexual, middle-class man (age variable) for a huge number of people.

If a white, able-bodied middle class young man assumes he is in a community with other people exactly like him, and he is racist or misogynist or ablist or whatever, he is going to make comments that are disparaging to marginalized groups. Some of the anonymous people in the community who are members of those marginalized groups, unsuspected by the racist/misogynist/etc., now find themselves faced with a bad choice in whether to speak up or stay silent, with no realistic expectation for a good outcome to any option.

This is not speculation; I have seen this happen over and over. The dynamic changes when the community features identifiers, because racists are less likely to casually spout racism if they can clearly see that the community has a large nonwhite population. In that case, while you certainly get trolls, the trolling is at least deliberate and not someone just automatically presuming that racism is okay because everyone else is (presumed to be) white.

Communities back in the early 90s were shocking, in some ways, because you could get really involved and invested in a group that seemed to be warm and welcoming, and you’d think to yourself, these people like me for me, and I know this because all they know of me is my personality. Then one day your friends would suddenly start making rape jokes, and you’d be slapped in the face with the realization that this group was not actually welcoming to people like you, and they’d only welcomed you because they had a mistaken idea about who and what you are.

Frank Torpedo
4 years ago

Communities back in the early 90s were shocking, in some ways, because you could get really involved and invested in a group that seemed to be warm and welcoming, and you’d think to yourself, these people like me for me, and I know this because all they know of me is my personality. Then one day your friends would suddenly start making rape jokes, and you’d be slapped in the face with the realization that this group was not actually welcoming to people like you, and they’d only welcomed you because they had a mistaken idea about who and what you are.

Also, there was this joke going around that black people and women did not know how to use the Internet.

As a black man who more or less grew up alongside the internet and had been using computers since 386 processors were the hottest shit ever – and 56kbps was ‘blazing fast’ – I did not appreciate people saying things like that.

Back then, people would tell me I was just pretending to be black for laughs.

Nowadays, people insinuate that I might be pretending to be black because of all the fucking white supremacists who use a picture of a black person as their avatar and then express themselves in mangled English, because durr hee hurr that’s how all black people type, am i rite!1?1

Perhaps you’ve personally observed the latter.

Sigh.

SIGH.

SIIIIIIIIIGH.

Paradoxical Intention
4 years ago

All this talk about the idealization of the internet in the 90’s reminds me of this Last Week Tonight sketch:

budgie
budgie
4 years ago

Although the theory of man the hunter may seem sexist it’s supported by a lot of evidence and rather than being a product of patriarchy it actually explains why we’ve evolved to be a patriarchical species.

Among the Kalahari women do bring home more food than men and aren’t bossed around much by then men but these people are unusual for HG societies. The habitat they live in is basically a crappy desert with few animals for men to hunt so the women end up bringing home 85% of the food and the men just 15%. On average in HG societies around the world men contribute about 70% of the food, the women are much more dependent on the men.

The women in most HG societies are treated pretty badly by the men. A common occurrence is that when a man comes home from hunting his wife is expected to jump and and get the fire going for cooking. If she doesn’t she gets a walloping. It’s like a man in our society coming home from work and shouting at his wife to get in the kitchen and make a sandwich. The women are often treated like domestic slaves and made to carry out labours like fetching firewood, cleaning and carrying stuff when traveling. Basically, all the ways women in our societies get pushed down and used are seen in most HG societies.

The attitude that women are lesser than men is not just a phenomenon of modern societies but seems to be innate and natural to our species*.

* Hopefully, I shouldn’t have to point out that saying it’s natural does not mean I think it’s right.

guest
guest
4 years ago

@budgie Where have you heard/read about the behaviours you’re describing? Nothing I’ve read about either ancient or modern hunting/gathering societies–this book, for example:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Other-Side-Eden-Hunters/dp/0865476381

suggests that what you describe is typical; in fact it’s often suggested that when we see these kinds of behaviours in non-industrial societies now it’s due to colonial/occupying influence.

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
4 years ago

Although the theory of man the hunter may seem sexist it’s supported by a lot of evidence and rather than being a product of patriarchy it actually explains why we’ve evolved to be a patriarchical species.

Citation needed. Primeval-style hunter-gatherer cultures are highly egalitarian. It’s only with the introduction of agriculture that kyriarchial systems start to develop. There is no evidence that what you describe is true in any fashion for hunter-gatherer cultures untouched by agriculture or modern-day slave raids, or other forms of cultural contamination.

http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/may/14/early-men-women-equal-scientists

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201105/how-hunter-gatherers-maintained-their-egalitarian-ways

Dave
Dave
4 years ago

Firstly I’d like to say that I’ve really been enjoying this thread and have really liked hearing people talk about science. I was hoping that maybe I could ask people about science.

I want to get into a career in science and I’m at the point in school where I have to start thinking about which field of science I want to go into but I don’t actually have much information about it. My school and parents are being very supportive but they haven’t told me what it’s actually like and are just trying to encourage my enthusiasm which I really like but it also makes me feel scared because I’m just going in blind and I’ve heard lots of bad things too but only second hand. I want to do research but I want to work in a field which is female friendly and which won’t be too mean for me for coming from a religious family. I was hoping that if Scildfreja and EJ are still reading then that would be really great.

Also hi everyone, this is my first real post here. I’ve been reading for ages but have always been a little scared to post but I really like lots of the people here and feel that I know them after reading so much of what they’ve written. I hope that isn’t weird. I really like how safe this site feels. David does a really good job.

WeirwoodTreeHugger
WeirwoodTreeHugger
4 years ago

Welcome, Dave!

Dave
Dave
4 years ago

Thanks! I’m a fan of yours so this is sort of scary for me. Are you ever going to do more of your drunken game of thrones writings? I found them very funny even though I don’t drink.

I’m girl Dave by the way. The name is a sort of joke.

WeirwoodTreeHugger
WeirwoodTreeHugger
4 years ago

Dave,
Oh, you’re one of the few who read my blog? Thanks!

It’s a little harder now that I’m no longer unemployed, but I have been thinking about resuming it lately. Maybe I will soon.

Viscaria
Viscaria
4 years ago

The women in most HG societies are treated pretty badly by the men. A common occurrence is that when a man comes home from hunting his wife is expected to jump and and get the fire going for cooking. If she doesn’t she gets a walloping.

I mean… Really? The sexual partner of the specific man who made the kill (on his own I guess) is the person who is expected to cook it? That’s kind of weird and arbitrary, and while lots of weird, arbitrary systems exist in human societies it’s hard to argue that natural selection put them in place. There are much more efficient ways of hunting meat and then preparing it for a group of humans.

It’s like a man in our society coming home from work and shouting at his wife to get in the kitchen and make a sandwich.

You say this like that’s a typical behaviour, rather than something that happened in upper middle class households in the 50s and essentially never again.

The women are often treated like domestic slaves and made to carry out labours like fetching firewood, cleaning and carrying stuff when traveling.

Even if the division of labour that you’re describing did/does exist, which I’m not sure about, the tasks you’re describing are just as necessary as hunting food, so I’m not sure why women are “dependent” on men when men handle the one task but women are “treated like domestic slaves” when they handle the other.

guest
guest
4 years ago

Re coming home with game:

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22595-the-fold-behind-the-knee-kopenawa-and-alberts-falling-sky

‘For example, we learn that Yanomami hunters never eat their catch: they give it away, relying on what others give to them. It makes no commercial sense: the best hunters derive no benefit.

Such explanations are often met by a sneering, “noble savages” riposte from uninformed cynics. But whatever else giving away your food might be, it’s a sacrifice to the community’s well-being above the personal. Davi has his own quite different explanation: the animals, it turns out, recognize a “hunter who generously gives away all the prey he arrows, they fall in love with him.” Yanomami boys are taught that they will never become good hunters unless they are generous.

It turns out that this is the most fundamental of all Yanomami codes and extends beyond life. Davi explains, “Since we are mortal, we think it is ugly to cling too firmly to the objects we happen to possess. We do not want to die greedily clutching them in our hands.”‘

guest
guest
4 years ago

Hi Dave–I’m an engineer, not a scientist, so you didn’t ask me, but I’m going to suggest you get in touch with your local Women in STEM group; you’ll probably get some great advice online but it would also be valuable to you to meet people face to face who’d be happy to share information about their jobs, and maybe invite you to have some experience of them.

I’m also going to mention something to you that may seem counterintuitive, but finding work and making a living in science is highly dependent on government policy. This was pointed out to me years ago by someone who works in environmental science–government doesn’t believe in environment, doesn’t fund environmental research, no jobs for environmental scientists. This is true to some degree of every branch of research. I guess your job security would be relatively safe if you’re into research for war stuff, or stuff that will guarantee that someone makes lots of money.

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
4 years ago

Although the theory of man the hunter may seem sexist it’s supported by a lot of evidence and rather than being a product of patriarchy it actually explains why we’ve evolved to be a patriarchical species.

The women in most HG societies are treated pretty badly by the men. A common occurrence is that when a man comes home from hunting his wife is expected to jump and and get the fire going for cooking. If she doesn’t she gets a walloping.

Eew, who bought us evo psych and dog whistle racism for Christmas? Please tell me you kept the receipt so we can exchange it for a nice kitten video. =|

@Dave

Welcome! ^^

DepressedCNS
DepressedCNS
4 years ago

Hi Dave

I’m also a new commenter and have been enjoying reading WHTM scientific discourse for some time now; it’s really the only place on the internet where I feel I actually learn something from the comments. I look forward to talking with you in the future!

Edit: I feel like I didn’t actually address what you said. I love neuroscience, I can’t imagine working in any other field. If you like science I just recommend following your passion, as cheesy as it sounds.

Dave
Dave
4 years ago

WeirwoodTreeHugger:
If you start writing it again then I’d very much like to read it.

guest:
Thanks very much, that’s a good idea. I looked on the internet and there’s a group called WISE in my city. I’ll see if my school can get me to go to something that they do. They have an event on 14th January but I might not be able to get there.

I don’t really want to make large amounts of money but I also don’t want to work on weapons. It might be difficult to know whether your research is going to be used for weapons or not though, lots of my favourite scientists discovered things which have been used for weapons. I would like to have something which pays a steady wage of course but I don’t want to become a millionaire if it means working in an environment that’s scary and full of bullies.

Thanks so much for the advice.

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs:
Thanks!

Dave
Dave
4 years ago

DepressedCNS:
I really like it here even if some of the people terrify me. It took a big act of courage to post for the first time but it’s getting less scary each time now.

My passion isn’t so much for any one field as for being able to discover new things and advance what humans know. When I read books about scientists it’s so exciting to imagine that I was in their shoes and was seeing everything for the first time and trying to work out what it meant. It must be so amazing to realise that you’re the first human being ever to see a particular thing and that nobody can hold your hand and explain it to you, but instead you need to explain it to everyone else, and to know that in a hundred years time other people are going to be learning about it in school. Even if nobody remembers your name it’s still something you can give to everyone that comes after you.

I’m also in the process of trying to work out whether I’m religious or not and while I don’t want to call myself an atheist even online yet, I think science is something that makes a lot more sense to me than a lot of other things that people teach me.

Is neuroscience a woman-friendly field?

Viscaria
Viscaria
4 years ago

Please feel free to comment, lurkers! The first time I ever posted here I was so nervous, and then I put my foot in it rather spectacularly. Luckily everyone was understanding and cool.

Paradoxical Intention
4 years ago

@Dave: Being a graphic designer, I have no idea if neuroscience is a woman-friendly field, but I can share one of my favorite books by a woman neuroscientist!

It’s called The Lab Rat Chronicles: A Neuroscientist Reveals Life Lessons from the Planet’s Most Successful Mammals, and it’s by one Kelly Lambert, PhD.

I found it while I was doing a presentation on rats for one of my college-level science courses, and it’s a really interesting read. I learned quite a bit, and it’s one of the books that turned me from a rat-hater to a rat-lover, and I feel like it’s helped me understand myself (and of course the lil’ babby rats) a bit more.

Also, welcome Girl Dave! Did someone link you to your Welcome Package yet?

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
Scented Fucking Hard Chairs
4 years ago

It must be so amazing to realise that you’re the first human being ever to see a particular thing and that nobody can hold your hand and explain it to you, but instead you need to explain it to everyone else, and to know that in a hundred years time other people are going to be learning about it in school. Even if nobody remembers your name it’s still something you can give to everyone that comes after you.

This is why I love my work as a palaeontologist even though it barely pays minimum wage. It’s pure discovery, with every find adding a new piece to the puzzle or a new angle to the view. And every time I see one of my published theories work its way up into a documentary… *happy squeal*

(For the record, palaeontology is surprisingly friendly to women, but it’s not at all friendly to religious people. You need a high tolerance for Dawkinsian asstheists, or at least the ability to tune their self-important hate-rants out. =P)

WeirwoodTreeHugger
WeirwoodTreeHugger
4 years ago

Viscaria,
I wonder how often that even happened in the fifties? Probably less often than reactionaries think. Neither of grandmothers are/were the type to stand for that. They both did the bulk of the domestic work, but they were definitely not domestic slaves. Neither of my grandfathers were the types to have the slightest inclination to treat their wives like slaves either.

Dave
Dave
4 years ago

Paradoxical Intention:
Thanks! Rats are very cute. We had some once in my school and they were amazing. I was always taught that rats are filthy but they were clean and squeaked all the time.

I’ve seen the welcome package. It’s full of jokes I don’t understand but it looks like it would annoy a lot of MRAs.

Scented Fucking Hard Chairs:
Have you published things for documentaries? I’d really like to see those now, knowing that I actually talked to the scientist who did some of that. That’s weird but very cool.

I’m not sure about Dawkinsian asstheists. I like Dawkins sometimes when he talks about science but then when he says things about Muslims then I feel I have to defend my people even if I’m not sure I want to stay a Muslim. It’s confusing. I wish there were people like him who weren’t also Islamophobes. I sometimes dream about being that person myself but I’m not sure I could do it in real life with the amount of hatred that he gets.

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
4 years ago

@Dave

There are a couple of options for you. First, the freshman year of university is practically made for you to be able to dip your toes into a variety of fields until you find what most sparks your passion. There’s not any need to declare a major immediately. Unfortunately this makes you kind of dependent upon the quality of the professor – even a great field can be turned into a snorefest by a bad prof.

Your other major option is, if you have a postsecondary school nearby (university or community college), you might try contacting them to see if there is any way you can arrange 30 minute interviews with faculty in different fields. There is unlikely to be a program in place for this (but you never know until you ask) but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means that you’ll have to set it up yourself. This can be super-intimidating, just cold-calling strangers to ask if you can interview them, but you are extremely unlikely to be turned down for an interview, especially if you approach younger or female scientists.

Something to think about. Welcome to WHTM!

weirwoodtreehugger
weirwoodtreehugger
4 years ago

Dave,
You’ve inspired me. I’m going to write a new blog post tonight. I don’t know if you’re still following this thread so I don’t know if you’ll notice or not.

EJ (The Other One)
EJ (The Other One)
4 years ago

Welcome, Dave!

While I’m naturally extremely fond of my own field, it’s my experience that enthusiasm and talent aren’t fungible: people don’t perform nearly as well if they aren’t doing something they love. For that reason I’m going to recommend that you do as PolicyOfMadness says and behave like a scientific dilettante for a while until you find what you need.

Based on the people I know in science, the two fields that are the most female-dominated are pharmacology and biology, but it really does depend more on what your local community is like than what the global scientific establishment is like. I know less about religion-friendliness; I’m told that geology has large numbers of young Muslims going into it because the Saudis are fed up of relying on foreigners for oil geology, but I would be speaking from ignorance if I said anything definitive about it.

I will give you three pieces of advice:

Firstly, if you want a field which is going to revolutionise itself over the course of our lifetime, do biotech. The next fifty years of biotech are going to be amazing in ways that the last fifty years of computer science were: it’s time really does seem to almost be upon us. If you want to work in a field where exciting research is going to happen during your career, this is my best guess for where to go.

Secondly, if you want a field which allows you to go into other areas and work with them in case you prefer those areas to your own, do physical chemistry. It teaches you skills that can easily be transferred to other fields, gives you the freedom to actually work out what sort of science most interests you, and is actually pretty interesting in its own right.

(Disclaimer: my sister works as a physical chemist.)

Thirdly, you may want to stay away from physics. I say this with sadness: I love physics dearly, but it attracts the Great White Male egos like nothing else does.

Dave
Dave
4 years ago

PolicyofMadness:
I live in Britain and our universities make you decide what you’re going to study much earlier, almost making us decide what our career is going to be before we start our A-levels. It’s very stressful. Most of the people I know who know what they want to do are doing it because it’s what their parents have decided for them, usually because it’s what their parents did. Everyone else just thinks of something that they’ve heard is good whether or not it actually is. Our school doesn’t really have a very good careers guidance person either because he’s very friendly and very supportive but if he’s supportive all the time even when people are doing something that makes no sense for example deciding to study art history and start a band, so I’m not sure how much I trust him to give me actually good advice.

Contacting the university directly sounds really really scary so I might have to pass on that.

WeirwoodTreeHugger:
I read it and thought it was really funny. Thanks very much for writing it. Please don’t feel that you have to do it just for me though, I would feel very guilty if you did that.

EJ (The Other One):
Thanks a lot for the advice and for the welcome! I’ll look at the fields you mentioned. I don’t want to do oil geology because of the politics but pharmacology, biology and biotech sound really interesting. I’d never heard of biotech before but I’ve read wikipedia about it now and it sounds interesting so I’ll do some more reading about it. Being part of the growth of a new field sounds really exciting and means that there won’t be as much of an old established group of people to avoid as there would be in other fields.

Thanks again to PolicyofMadness and EJ for being much less scary than I thought you would be.

Mike
Mike
4 years ago

I wonder how often that even happened in the fifties? Probably less often than reactionaries think. Neither of grandmothers are/were the type to stand for that. They both did the bulk of the domestic work, but they were definitely not domestic slaves. Neither of my grandfathers were the types to have the slightest inclination to treat their wives like slaves either.

On the subject of reactionary myths around mid-century American women, I’m gonna go ahead and recommend this 2009 article by Ariel Levy:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/11/16/lift-and-separate

Here’s the third paragraph:

” It’s as if feminism were plagued by a kind of false-memory syndrome. Where we think we’ve been on our great womanly march forward often has less to do with the true coördinates than with our fears and desires. We tend to imagine the fifties and the early sixties, for example, as a time when most American women were housewives. “In reality, however, by 1960 there were as many women working as there had been at the peak of World War II, and the vast majority of them were married,” Collins writes. Forty per cent of wives whose children were old enough to go to school had jobs. This isn’t just about the haze of retrospection: back then, women saw themselves as homemakers, too. Esther Peterson, President Kennedy’s Assistant Secretary of Labor, asked a high-school auditorium full of girls how many of them expected to have a “home and kids and a family.” Hands shot up. Next, Peterson asked how many expected to work, and only a few errant hands were raised. Finally, she asked the girls how many of them had mothers who worked, and “all of those hands went up again,” Peterson wrote in her 1995 memoir, “Restless.” Nine out of ten of the girls would end up having jobs outside the house, she explained, “but each of the girls thought that she would be that tenth girl.” “

DepressedCNS
DepressedCNS
4 years ago

Dave,

Sorry for the late reply. Psychology is itself very women friendly. It’s female-dominated at the student level. Neuroscience tends to have more men as it is rather data science heavy, though I personally have always had positive experiences (After I left Arizona, see first comment!) Neuroscience research itself can be kind of reductionist and sexist though, especially because you might actually have to deal with research on the differences between men and women’s brains which can be wildly misinterpreted by the general population (see EJs comment re: science and the general public). If you are really interested I recommend checking out “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine, the author is a neuroscientist who debunks lots of neuro findings related to innate differences between women’s and men’s brains, though I have not read it. I know I’m preaching here 🙂 but neuroscience is a great field if you are interested in new technology; many labs use technology and statistical techniques that are really brand new, though neuro labs require extensive funding so you have to work in an area where that is available