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You know, we catch a lot of flack around these parts for being too “political”, and for straying away from “science”. Well, that’s a big load of crap, and two posts by Isis show why. It is impossible to separate politics from science from personal life, at least on one level. Now, perhaps I’ve become more conservative with age (although I doubt it), but certain parts of the discussion really disturbed me.

The rhetoric turned to some classical 70s-80s feminist themes, which can be rather useful, but as with most ideologies, trying to hard to cram all the facts into the theoretical framework leaves neither undamaged. Of course, I’m writing as a male who has experienced many of the benefits of the so-called patriarchy, but folks, it just ain’t that simple.

We all need to keep utopian ideas in mind. It give us hope, something to strive for. But in our real world, there will be no revolution, no turning-on-its-head of our society and its norms—and that’s a good thing, as dramatic revolutions never seem to work out quite the way they are intended. Change—change that is acceptable to individuals, and not forced upon them in re-education camps—comes incrementally.

Let me tell you the first thing that made me nauseated (from Isis):

[A prominent scientist] was visiting the MRU I was attending to give a seminar and I heard it casually mentioned that she had four children. After her talk I had the opportunity to attend a group lunch with her and during a lull in the conversation I asked how she managed to raise four children while managing a large lab and holding down a slew of research funding. She told me quite abruptly that her children and her work were separate entities. She keeps no pictures of her children in her office and does not display their artwork. She told me that she does not want people to walk into her office and immediately identify her by her family instead of her science.


A few years later I met a very prominent female physiologist at a seminar, except this time I was about 12 weeks pregnant. Again, it was mentioned that she had children and during a group meal I brought up the issue of raising children as a scientist. She told me that the only way her career worked was because she was able to send her children to live with her parents during the school year. I was devastated and seriously doubted my decision to become a mother or continue as an academic scientist. Then again, I had already sealed the deal, as it were.

What a crappy role model. This is the real world, and in the real world every family, every individual is different. Financial needs often determine which parent is staying home more, and this is not just the influence of patriarchy. My wife and I chose careers whose earning potentials are very different. You could argue that she was pushed toward hers because she’s a woman, but she like it and she’s damned good at it and it’s important work. You could argue that mine is paid better because it’s male dominated, but you’d be wrong. In my profession, about half of medical students are female. They face different challenges than their male colleagues, but there here and there stampin’ out disease. They’re also becoming mommies. As physicians, we work together intimately enough that it would be very hard to hide the fact that you’re a parent, and we’d all think it quite strange if you tried.

What kind of message would it send to my female residents if the female attendings “hid” their motherhood? Who’s the oppressor now?

Life is work. It’s hard. And finding balance, for both parents, in a world where we all have to earn a living and put food on the table, and have time to cuddle and care for our kids is sometimes nearly impossible. But nothing about that is ever going to get better if we tell our younger colleagues that it truly is impossible.