Saturday, March 21, 2015

Weekend Reading

Norman Garstin, In A Cottage By The Sea, 1887

Here we are at another weekend! I'm so excited because I've found loads of great stuff to share with you. We've got two very different stories about women in sports, showing how different prevailing attitudes can have dramatically different effects. There's a beautiful piece about the amazing Jane Goodall. And Linda Holmes of NPR goes in-depth in trying to understand the fascination with the Cinderella story and how each new re-telling tells us more about ourselves than it does about the actual princess. Then there's a piece about how a science academic writing a romance about a science academic taught her more about herself and her colleagues than she had expected. And finally, a wonderful conversation between two of my favorite modern feminists!

So let's dive right in!

Photo: Kate Warren

Regardless of how you feel about the sport of boxing, you have to admit it takes a special kind of bravery to get into the ring for one round, much less to try and make a career out of it. And women boxers have to have the most bravery of all -- not just to face their opponents, but to face the uphill battle of winning over coaches, promoters and the public. Kate Jenkins' piece for The Atlantic, The Real Knockouts of Women’s Boxing, digs deep into the life of one boxer trying to make it, and the battle that switches between foes of blatant sexism and cool indifference.
That’s exactly what today’s women fighters are doing: staying light on their feet, waiting for the perfect opening. They’re struggling to maintain their balance and their sanity. Nelson has found hers in God, and she keeps training, keeps delivering pancakes, with the faith that her dedication will give way to an answer. If she could eat title belts, Nelson wouldn’t have a care in the world. But undefeated or not, there’s no clear strategy for turning her athletic success into financial success just yet.

Meanwhile, Douglas struggles to keep her anger from controlling her. She once thought boxing could help her overcome a past filled with abuse and foster homes, but after she debuted as a pro, a bad experience with a promoter left her jaded. “They told me, ‘You need to change the way you dress, you need to put on makeup, do this, do that,’” she says. “They were trying to change everything about me, and I wasn’t having it.” The promoter also dragged her out to nightclubs, where they’d hang around with wealthy men who frequently propositioned Douglas, implying that they’d take sex in exchange for financial support. “It really used to bother me. I used to cry. Now I’m like, ‘How ’bout I break your jaw?’”
Courtney Force greeting her fans. Photo: NHRA

Tony Fabrizio's great piece in ESPNW, How the Success of Women Drivers in NHRA Engages, Inspires Fans, shows that if nowhere else in racing, at least in the NHRA there are excellent opportunities for women racers, which is fueling the overall success of the brand, as well as attracting whole new segments of the population to the races.
Anecdotally, though, anyone can clearly see a difference in the NHRA pits and grandstands.

"The women are out there," [Gary] Darcy said. "The young girls are out there. And when you see somebody like a Courtney Force, a Leah Pritchett, both boys and girls are paying attention, but certainly you see the young girls and the moms that are there trying to get a glimpse. Because it does become very inspirational, and they see somebody doing what they could maybe do one day.

"That's the great thing about our sport. Those barriers don't exist."
Jane Goodall on Lake Tanganyika. Photo: Michael Christopher Brown/Magnum
Paul Tullis' article Jane Goodall Is Still Wild at Heart is as amazing as you would want it to be. Last summer he traveled with her to visit her old research facilities in Gombe, making note of her interactions with tourists and officials alike, and perfectly capturing this remarkable woman's talent for patience and determination.
But if her interactions with government officials from the United States, France, Tanzania and Burundi, as well as executives from Silicon Valley, are any indication, the skill sets are not so different: patience, purpose, perception. It took her only a few months of observing chimps before Goodall noticed that some of their behaviors were remarkably similar to those of humans. Now, perhaps, it has come full circle: Her understanding of people has been informed by her time spent with chimps, giving her an intuitive power of persuasion that even she does not seem to consciously grasp.
Photo: Disney
You think you know the Cinderella story, but do you really? I love Linda Holmes, and this piece she wrote for NPR, A Girl, A Shoe, A Prince: The Endlessly Evolving Cinderella, is just plain brilliant. In it, she discusses the background of the Cinderella story and its variations from around the globe, and why it still has such a powerful hold over our imaginations.
The actual Cinderella tale, while a nebulous thing that can be hard to pin down with precision, is more than that. There's very little that's common to every variant of the story, but in general, you have a mistreated young woman, forced to do menial work, either cast out or unloved by her family. She has an opportunity to marry well and escape her situation, but she gets that chance only after being mistaken for a higher-status person, so she has to get the man who may marry her to recognize her in her low-status form, which often happens either via a shoe that fits or some kind of food that she prepares.
In this fantastic guest post over at Tenure, She Wrote, Physicist T.K. Flor writes about her experience writing her novel Initial Conditions, about a female scientist pursuing a career in academia, and the problems so many women in that world face.
For me is was very valuable. It gave me a broader view about professional compromises and personal choices. Moreover, a novel-length format provides something unique: it gives the readers (and the writer) an opportunity to experience the situations emotionally. One can then get a richer impression of what is going on and what kinds of pressures a woman-scientist feels, and what drives those around her. It is such understanding, rather than any practical advice, that may help women in science.
Oh yes! You absolutely have to watch this conversation between Tavi Gevinson, founder and editor in chief of Rookie Magazine, and Anna Holmes, founder of Jezebel.


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