Monday, January 05, 2009

A little bit of heart

Do you remember the scene in Wayne Wang's Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart where Geraldine watches a paper decoration rotate in the breeze, alternately flashing a picture of a dragon lady and a geisha girl? At the time, I thought that the imagery was clumsy and terribly unsubtle. I am reevaluating my position.

I had my own Wayne Wang moment at dinner, between meetings at AGU (American Geophysical Union). I sat across from a female academic who had recently won tenure and next to senior scientist at another FFRDC and his wife. During dinner conversation, the academic asked when I graduated. She quipped that she graduated a year after me and already had tenure. The wife of the senior scientist asked me how many children I had. When I replied one, she said that I needed to provide Iris with a sibling.

Never mind that the wife had worked part-time and only for a few years after her children were grown. Or that the academic had no spouse or children and her parents enjoyed good health.

The academic is famous in her field for her willingness to literally travel to the ends of the earth for long field campaigns, and her ability to coax experiments to work under harsh physical conditions (while enduring them herself). Over-wintering in Antarctica is not for the faint of heart, and it is overwhelmingly done by men and unencumbered women. Come to think of it, that's the population that does Science.


  1. Anonymous09:15

    When eating dinner with people we don't know well I usually prefer to sit opposite of my husband. People will say ridiculous things like that, and I can always catch his eye and know we are thinking the same thing.

  2. It really is sad that people still need to justify their own choices by offering stupid advice to others or those "look what I've done" quips.

    It does help to have a strategically placed partner or companion with whom to exchange knowing glances. For years a friend and I who ended up in many of these kinds of situations would exchange knowing little glances, and be there to diffuse the situation whenever either one of saw the other starting to head into "mad dog" territory in response to some inanity or another.

  3. Anonymous12:53

    I would bet that both women are a bit jealous of you, and were trying to make themselves feel better. The academic probably regrets that she never got married and had children, and the wife probably regrets that she never had a professional career.

    Consider yourself lucky to have both

  4. The comments at dinner didn't put me in "mad dog" territory at all. On the contrary, it made me realize how lucky I am to have achieved some semblance of balance.

  5. It is good that you can laugh at these things. I, too, feel very lucky that I have both a family and a career. But I am still saddened by the fact that we women often have a hard time supporting each others' choices. And I hate, hate, hate other people telling me how many kids we should have!

  6. You sound like you have a good perspective. I don't miss those kinds of comments at all. It made me mad to read them: why do people give out advice or 'look at me' comments anyways?


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