Archive for June, 2012

June 27, 2012

Fellow lady scientists: the jig is up, they’re on to us!

This was brought to my attention this morning by a friend. I give you the horror that is: “Science: It’s a Girl Thing!”, a PSA from the European Commission in an attempt to woo women into the field of scientific research, where there is a troubling gender disparity. It’s a noble undertaking to be sure, but it would be a gross understatement to say this ad is misguided in that attempt; a more accurate description would be to say that it is a horrifying travesty. The ad opens with three female models strutting into a laboratory where a properly attired male scientist is clearly intrigued and then goes into a sequence of images of lipsticks, nail polish, and high-heeled shoes interspliced with images of bubbling chemicals and Erlenmeyer flasks. Essentially, they are trying to attract women by appealing to the things they think we’re into, namely, make-up, shoes, glitter, and giggles. I’m going to be opinionated for a moment and say that anyone who sees this should be deeply offended. It should be physically painful to watch.

But how then, I wondered, did such an abomination get the green light from an otherwise reputable (or at least innocuous) organization? I think I have an idea.

What is perhaps more disturbing than the article itself is the comments that follow. Writes one poster: “Where does this video “reinforce stereotypes”? Women bare and take care of the children, men bring the freaking meat. Complain to evolution. Following that which is embedded in us does not make it a stereotype. It does not make us chauvinist, it makes us homo sapient.” Ah yes, the homo sapient, our original ancestor. Clearly, this guy has a stronger biology background than I do because he surely must have read about all the cavewomen that have been unearthed wearing mascara and stilettos.

Apparently, we have “evolved” from “women bear the children, men bring the meat” to “women look pretty, men do the science”. Tomato, tomato. This guy’s best impression of a rational, educated person probably stems from a conversation he overheard about gender differences in the brain. Now, it is true that there are differences in the internal structure of the brain that have been proposed to affect how males and females perform at different tasks and does indicate that men and women might be predisposed to succeed at different things. But let’s not overstate and oversimplify these findings. For if that were true across the board with no other mitigating factors, then all men would be good at science. The fact of the matter is that that actually plays a very small part and pales in comparison to what different INDIVIDUALS are genetically predisposed to regardless of gender and what they can excel at if given the opportunity. And let’s not forget that evolution is driven by our surroundings; male and female brains and behavior may eventually evolve to be quite the same if, for example, jackasses stop saying, “Women should be in the kitchen; evolution has spoken.” This brings me to my most important point: what he is talking about has nothing to do with evolutionary biology. The female body’s fecundity or the female brain’s proclivity for empathy has just nothing to do with a modern-day woman’s affinity for clothes and make-up. It is a construct created and driven by society, nothing more. Furthermore, science is (or should be) genderless. It’s probably best if we assume that everyone in science regardless of their downstairs plumbing got into it because they were interested in, oh I don’t know, THE SCIENCE! And before a friend outs me, I might as well tell you. I am a feminine feminist; I have to say I like shiny, pretty things. So perhaps I am in the best position to assure you that I did not get into scientific research for the possibility of a fashion show. And it is not an indication that my female brain is no good at science. In fact, the day society thinks that the anthropological expert responsible for these inane comments would make a better scientist than me is the day I might as well not go on living. He goes on to say, “hmmm… maybe we should have men get pregnant too so that women shouldn’t have to…”. Yes, dear, that is what we meant by equality. And a biologically feasible proposition too.

In a slightly less disturbing comment that I still completely disagree with, another poster said: “My earlier objection was to commenters who seemed so focused on the idea that stereotypes are bad that they failed to consider the possibility that this advertising campaign could actually have a net positive value. There is a big difference between reinforcing a stereotype and using a stereotype to understand how some population is likely to respond to something.” The interesting thing here is that stereotyping actually does have an evolutionary basis; the ability for early man and woman to categorize something from its outward appearance and predict its behavior based on that was a necessary means of survival (Is it food or a predator?). And as their descendants, we do the same thing as a way of organizing and understanding our world. This just makes sense. Imagine if every time you encountered something or someone, you had to relearn what is was anew. Or how chaotic our minds would be if we treated everything and everyone as an individual instance instead of placing them in recognizable groups (e.g. “cats” or “people I know from work”). The problem arises when people start incorrectly using this to justify their bad behavior. One would be hard-pressed to find something generally regarded as “bad” in our society that we aren’t hard-wired for from hundreds of millions of years of evolution. In fact, almost all bad things we think and do occur to us naturally, so it would be absurd to excuse that behavior away on that premise. I’m sure the people who cite this argument sound initially thoughtful and learned. But the overlying and inescapable fact is that forming prejudicial notions about a person based on her gender (or age or ethnicity or sexual orientation or whatever) is universally agreed upon as bad and is discrimination, which is illegal in certain cases. And, make no mistake, believing that an ad for science that flashes around a bunch of pink and poofy things that have nothing to do with science will attract women (or girls) to the field is prejudiced.  Period.  The concept that this ad campaign is only addressing preexisting stereotypes, that it is less harmful because these notions were already prevalent and is even somehow cancelled out by the possibility of what could be gained from it is a fundamentally silly argument. “There is a big difference between reinforcing a stereotype and using a stereotype.”  Um, no.  No, there isn’t.  It’s the same thing.  Stereotypes, by definition, are bad; this particular one about the superficiality and frivolity of women is centuries old. But has this stereotype become so long-standing that people no longer hold you accountable for propagating it? If you are one looter amongst many, are you still responsible for the brick you threw through that window? Yes. Even if there are other looters doing far worse? Yes. Even if it has a “net positive” result? Yes. Yes, yes, yes. You are still responsible for your own actions.  Wrong is wrong.

As it happens, I am reading Anna Karenina right now, and I’m seeing a lot of the same arguments about the duties women are fit for as they were making back in 19th century Russia. In a discussion among male aristocrats of women’s suffrage and whether or not to educate women, it says:

“What seems strange to me is that women should seek fresh duties,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, “while we see, unhappily, that men usually try to avoid them.”

“Just as though I should seek the right to be a wet-nurse and feel injured because women are paid for the work, while no one will take me,” said the old prince.

Hmmm…kind of sounds like poster # 1’s look-ladies-don’t-blame-us-blame-evolution and you-don’t-hear-us-complaining-that-we-can’t-get-pregnant approach, doesn’t it?  This whole business is misogyny disguised as intellectualism.

June 23, 2012

Things that didn’t used to happen to me when I was twenty: The 30th birthday edition

So, I’m driving home from work the other day on I-95.  I’d overslept, and it was all I could do to drag my toothbrush across my teeth and pull on some jeans that morning.  As I’m going along, this truck beside me starts honking his horn lightly.  I look over, and he starts waving his hand at me.  I immediately look to see if my headlights are on and then I look in my sideview mirror to see if maybe my gas cap is open.  I have no idea what my problem is.  So I start waving back at him trying to indicate where the issue on my car is.  It wasn’t until he started involving his tongue that I came to the horrific realization that what he had in fact been doing was making obscene gestures at me and what I had been doing was reciprocating them.  Awesome!  Since when does three days without a shower and my why-can’t-these-people-drive frowny face make me irresistable?  Back in the day, I would have immediately known what was going on!  Why, even now I remember the time my college girlfriends and I were heading up to a club in Baltimore.  We thought we were really hot stuff when these overly horny and increasingly aggressive guys were trying to get our attention.  Yep, those were the days!  Unfortunately, we finally discovered they in fact were actually trying to tell us our headlights were off…on the freeway…at ten at night.  Oh well, it’s nice to know I still got “it”.  But it got me thinking about things that didn’t used to happen to me back when I was younger.  And with the big 3-0 steadily and steadfastly (and unavoidably) approaching, I thought, what better time to reflect upon the last decade of my life and how I’ve changed.  And what better way than with humorous anecdotes, you know, to dull the pain at the inevitable (and now visible) decay of the body and mind that comes with aging.  ARGH. 

Anyway, here I list a few more:

1.   I didnt’t used to put quotation marks around words to indicate that I’m using slang.

2.  Tickets.  Speeding, parking, illegal manuevers, expired tags, no seatbelt, headlight out, you name it.  If there is a traffic law, I’ve been ticketed for it.  There is also no age, race, or sex that hasn’t ticketed me.  I’ve been given a ticket by a white policeman, a black policeman, an old policeman, and a policewoman.  There is also, apparently, no extraneous circumstances that could excuse me from a ticket; being completely lost, for instance.  I have been ticketed for making an illegal U-turn in the dead of night with no other cars around (other than the police car it would seem) and then been given proper directions to 495 by the cop himself.  When I was all of 19, my girlfriend Amy and I, already a couple rum shots into our evening and decked out in more sequins than a Vegas showgirl, were headed to an off-campus party when we got pulled over.  Not only was I going 50 in a 30, but I handed him the wrong registration.  When I handed him the correct registration, it was expired.  And did I get a ticket?  What do you think?

3.  Getting carded and having the person humpff when they realize how unnecessary that was!

4.  I can no longer make guys do dumb things when they’re drunk.  Cruel and manipulative you say?  A demented interpretation of the interplay between man and woman?  Absolutely, but I did it, and I can make them do it no longer!  This one is not entirely my fault (for aging?) because the guys went and got themselves old too.  Why, the Greek, who once let me paint his toenails red one of the first nights we met, now gets tired and wants to go home after his first beer.

5.  I now have three different designated spots for Rolaids: at home, at work, and in my purse, so that wherever I am, I have them handy.

6.  On Saturday nights, I can now be found…at Lowe’s picking out lumber to haul home, plopped in front of the television bitching about how uninteresting I am, staining the deck, conked out facedown in bed since 8:30 that evening, trying to call younger people or still-exciting people in their late 20’s and early 30’s to chat only to realize that it’s Saturday night and they’re probably out doing something, trying to coax the Greek into playing Scrabble or watching an old movie with me (nine years, still no success), at Costco trying to convince the Greek that we should buy that Bocce ball set I’ve been eyeing (once more, no success, something about the mud pit we call a backyard being unsuitable for it), Facebook-stalking people in my fuzzy slippers, negotiating the price on a used lawnmower…Yeah, it’s an amusing post until you realize all I did was give you a rundown of my activities for the last four weekends.  Still in disbelief?  I give you

Exhibit A, kindly taken by my Greek in what I thought was a private moment one Friday, I suppose as revenge for this…

…which I did not delete as I may have otherwise asserted

7.  Since when did my significant other become a crotchety old man?  I have witnessed him on more than one occasion shaking his fist and yelling at neighbors in his pajamas from our yard.

8. Tattoo regret. Now, some people can wear their tattoos with dignity well into their lives. I do not believe I am that person. Already I am beginning to feel the pangs of regret as my thoughts invariably turn to in-laws, job interviewers, and children and the fact that little red hearts on a vine will be dancing across my ankle for all of it.

9.  Receiving catalogs from Coldwater Creek in the mail

10.  Understanding almost all of the jokes on Family Guy: I can’t say my knowledge of 1930’s vaudeville, 1950’s movie musicals, and 1980’s sitcoms was quite as prolific then as it is now.  I attribute this to the fact that I increasingly find the new, hip things kids these days are into nothing more than shiny, trashy noise and find myself pining nostalgically for the olden times when TV, movies, and music were actually good, much like your intermittently lucid grandpa ranting about the good ol’ days.  By the way, I found out a search of “crazy old man” in Google images will give you a 50-50 split of pictures of actual senile people intermixed with images of public figures from Ron Paul to William Shatner to Kanye West.

11. Having my naturally round cheeks go from being thought of as “baby fat” to just plain fat.

12. Genuine looks of pity and incredulity at the fact that I’m not married. From subtle hints like my aunt saying “The clock’s ticking, girl!” last Thanksgiving or my hairdresser audibly scoffing at my suggestion that I don’t need to marry a rich man as I plan on having a glorious career of my own to the Greek’s Yiayia full-on weeping in my arms one Christmas (holidays seem to be the reminder to preceding generations that the succeeding generation isn’t getting any younger).  Or perhaps I’m just becoming more sensitive.  Perhaps the fact that an HPV vaccine is no longer free after age 26 isn’t my gynecologist’s delicate suggestion that, either I’ve settled down by now or at least am too old and gross for anyone to want to have anonymous, unprotected sex with me. 

13. “Ma’am”

Anyone else have silly things to add?

June 20, 2012

My weekend camping at Loft Mountain, Shenandoah National Park [LETTERS]

Dear Nature,

You can’t make me sleep in a tent for two excruciatingly uncomfortable nights in 40-degree weather and yet when I come home my limbs are covered in mosquito bites.  I will not suffer the consequences of camping in hot AND cold weather at the same time.  You cannot have both.  You must chose.

Dear Extremities,

It’s nice to have the sensation back in you.  Regrettably, the sensation I am most feeling is “racked with pain”.

Dear Mountain biking,

You are a horrid activity, and I don’t understand why anyone would do you.  That is all.

Dear Tree I Hit Whilst Biking That Caused Me to Fall (for the second time),

Sorry about that.  Believe me, that hurt me far more than it hurt you.

Dear Laura and Dan,

So sorry to have attended your wedding the following weekend in a sleeveless tea length dress covered in cuts, scrapes, bruises, blisters, and bug bites. Mazel tov, you two!

Dear Londoners of the early 20th century,

While enjoying an afternoon drink at The Mimslyn Inn in Luray, Virginia this weekend,  I noticed the entire front driveway of the hotel lined with vintage cars.  As it turns out, there was a gathering of Morgan enthusiasts that same weekend.  For those not in the know, Morgan Motor Company is a British-based car manufacturer and a Morgan is their signature car, which they began producing back in 1909 and which they still make.  They are made-to-order, assembled by hand, and have a waiting list!  What I also learned from the loquacious owner of two Morgans at the adjoining table was that the Morgan was originally a three-wheeled car (two in front, one in back) known as a cyclecar.  This was done to bypass the hefty British tax levied on cars since the three-wheeled Morgan was considered a motorcycle.  Now, Lord knows I’m all for saving money, but the idea of riding around in a rickity, unbalanced, steel Deathmobile to shave a few pounds off the cost of owning a car, which I’m going to guess, at the turn of the 20th century, was a luxury only afforded to the wealthy, is cuckoo puffs.

Dear Ears a Week After Returning From Mountain,

Stop popping already!

Dear View from the Mountain,

Well done.

Sincerely yours,


June 19, 2012

Wine (website) pairings worth mentioning

Wine pairs well with many things. Wine pairs well with cheeses. Wine pairs well with chocolates. And wine pairs well with great deals on wines. Similarly, a wine website that offers great advice and recommendations on wine pairs well with a wine website that gives you great deals on high-quality, hard-to-find wines.  These websites are and, respectively.  I have online relationships with both websites, owned by the same NYC-based company, so I was naturally quite excited when I noticed they had joined forces, so to speak.  Snooth, which was first introduced to me back in 2007 by a dear friend who used to be a contributor, is a unique, social, online wine-shopping experience.  I use it primarily to find different types of wine and reviews on wine.  And with its recently beefed-up settings, it can now pair me with experienced “mentors” based on my preferences in regions and grapes who can guide and educate me in everything wine.  And once you have selected a wine, the website allows you to compare prices from over 10,000 merchants worldwide!  You can also save your favorite wines to your profile and leave your own (frighteningly amateur) reviews.  It’s a great little community!  My Snooth membership also earned me an invitation to Lot18 about a year ago, but they did not really interact with one another so closely until now.  Lot18, which boasts a beautiful website (these things are important to me), secures “lots” (Aha!  I get it.) of sought-after wines at reduced prices.  They also sell gourmet foods and luxury trips if your budget is significantly more substantial than mine and $80 olive oils and private dining experiences with Eric Ripert are your thing.  Some other attractive features: you can set up your email preferences easily to ensure that you don’t get inundated with deals and specials, and they are now doing this thing where you can buy wines and they won’t ship them to you until you accrue a half case worth and then the shipping is free, even if the wines come from different wineries!  They also have a fantastic blog.  And now, my Snooth Daily Deal emails connect me directly to great wines available through Lot18!  Both are great websites, and now both work together to bring you everything you’d ever need to expand your palette (and knowledge) and try new wines you might not otherwise have access to.

June 15, 2012

Greek Fest! (BYOG)

I originally had a fairly clever opening for this post; it’s based on a running joke that the Greek and I share.  Whenever we happen to pass by a Greek festival, of which in this area there are actually quite a few, I like to laughingly remark to him that I would be permitted in because I “brought my own Greek”.  As if bringing my olive-skinned and abundantly hirsute suitor is as good as a ticket of admission.  A gentle poke at the rigid racial exclusivity of being in and belonging to the Greek community, a conclusion I’ve drawn entirely from “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding”, which is the equivalent of watching a Tyler Perry movie and deciding it applies to all black people.  FYI, watching a movie about the comically extreme aspects of a culture and applying it unconditionally to every member of that ethnic group: not a great idea.  Nevertheless, the joke does bring me little periodic morsels of mirth (and the Greek tender bouts of annoyance) and has expanded to include all Celtic festivals as well since the Greek is actually half-Scottish, a fact I don’t often mention although I must say, that fairer lineage does rather handsomely soften his otherwise commanding Mediterranean features.  But sadly, of all the activities the Greek and I do together, he did not accompany me to the Greek festival, a gathering that should have guaranteed his attendance (his name IS in the title) and my ability to talk about it afterwards complete with bad joke tie-in (although I suppose I did discuss it anyway…at length).  This is because my Greek is a bad Greek.  He doesn’t speak the language.  He dropped out of Greek school (and has the t-shirt to prove it).  He doesn’t play the bouzouki or enjoy the taste of ouzo.  He’s approaching his mid-thirties and with no wife and no children (having instead a half-Chinese, half-Caucasian American live-in girlfriend…ahem, that would be me), which makes his YiaYia cry.  And when there is a Greek festival taking place, held by the Greek Orthodox Church that his Yiayia attended for thirty years, he’s nowhere to be found.  Such was the scenario a few weekends ago when I attended the Greek festival of the Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in DC solo and met up with my various white friends.  Despite our lack of Greekness (we had one friend there who, with golden blond hair and an Irish last name, still purports to have Greek ancestry), we still managed to have a good time complete with Greek food and pastry, Greek dancing, and (naturally) Greek wine.  Lots and lots of Greek wine!  By a Greek winemaker called INO.  Now, Ino was a mortal queen of Thebes who, after her death and transfiguration, became the goddess Leucothea, “the white goddess”.  She was Dionysos’ aunt and supposedly helped raised him.  She also, struck by Dionysian insanity, murdered her own child.  Apparently, coming into contact with Dionysos can cause madness.  And evidently, the ancient Greeks also had a mythological explanation for getting wasted.  Not the most fabulous omen for one’s Greek company but whatever.  We went through several (and I mean SEVERAL) bottles of their chilled Dry White Wine on that hot and sunny spring afternoon, but they also have another wine called Retsina, which is a white wine flavored with fermented pine resin.  A truly traditional and original Greek wine, unchanged since the bacchanalias of the ancients.  According to one friend, it is the grossest thing you will ever taste; according to another, it is what awesome tastes like.  I didn’t try it; given the fact that I do not appreciate the woodiness of a Chardonnay, it seemed like the right choice.  So, you’ll have to let me know what you think.

More photos of the beautiful church…



Nightfall and still more wine…


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