Thursday, January 15, 2015

Women, work, and what I've been reading lately

Today at work, a colleague sent me this article by Alice Zielinski about being a young, blonde engineer at MIT. It's a fascinating look at the thousands of little cuts that can convince someone that they don't belong in a top-tier STEM program.

Perhaps more disturbing is the follow-up piece the author wrote to address a lot of the criticism she received, which ranged from, "You think you're hot, but your picture isn't that hot" to "You're at MIT, so you're fine. Do you realize how many worse problems there are in the world?"

So many things frustrated me about this: the fact that she had to respond to criticism about her appearance, the fact that readers discounted her viewpoint because she could only speak to her experience, the fact that readers felt they could comment on her intelligence and ability to actually work as an engineer, and above all, that some people discounted the idea that the comments she was receiving were damaging at all. How does being asked constantly whether you actually go to a school not make you question whether you really belong there?  

Zielinski's piece reminded me of Rachel W. Miller's excellent article, "My Life is Good*" for A Practical Wedding. She writes about criticism women receive for appearing too perfect, for complaining about supposedly insignificant problems, and for simply existing in public. As a result, women often downplay accomplishments for fear of inviting criticism or appearing arrogant. I could see this play out in Zielinski's follow-up, where she felt she had to explain that her life wasn't perfect and that she had challenges beyond stupid, dismissive comments about her status as an engineer. Her piece should have been able to stand on its own as her experience with a specific problem.

A bit of related reading:
- Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant's New York Times article "Speaking While Female," as well as Jazmine Hughes's response at The Hairpin
- Beulah Maud Devaney's "How To Interview a Woman Writer" at The Toast
- All of Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist, but specifically the chapter "Peculiar Benefits" on discussing privilege

And unrelated, lighter reading to improve my mood:
- E.M. Freeburg's "Questions for My Mugger's Friends Who Keep Calling Me" at The Toast
- Roxane Gay's "Why I Want a Tiny Baby Elephant"
- "A Four Year Old Reviews the French Laundry" by Jessica Saia and Isla Bell Murray at The Bold Italic

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