Sunday, May 17, 2009

Back to the Sixties.

Next time you're looking for inspiration, watch the Obamas' graduation day speeches. These two could have been very successful as televangelists for education if we hadn't given them their current jobs.

Michelle Obama spoke at University of California at Merced and you can read the text of her speech online.

I thought it was interesting to note, too, that Michelle's speech was mostly about other people. She mentioned a lot of names of students, those who apparently pushed hard for her to visit there. I thought that was interesting, especially given that our President uses his own experiences as examples, and he talks about his mother quite frequently in his speeches.

The text of the President's speech at Notre Dame is here and I watched it live on, of all places, Fox. I really enjoyed learning about how the civil rights negotiations almost broke down. I never learned the history of the 1960's in school.

Of course as soon as the speech ended, despite the standing ovation, Fox brought out our favorite chump, Michael Steele, who immediately started criticizing the President. If you don't know who Michael Steele is (and I was surprised to learn recently that some of my friends had never heard of him), go to Rachel Maddow's show online and type his name in the search box. I particularly like the way she highlights what a joke he is. So I turned the tv off when he started saying the same old things he always says.

Overall, I was hugely impressed with the Notre Dame speech, with only perhaps a very minor quibble over a point at the end- the last analogy to "fishermen." It's stupid that semantics matters, but I think it would have been better to say "they discovered that they all enjoyed fishing." Why re-emphasize that no women were included on the original civil rights commission? In the same speech where you want to make a claim for women's equal rights? Come on, who edited that?

(And I'm not even going to mention what some of my hippie-ish vegan, animal-rights activist friends say about fishing.)

In the end, we're not all fishermen. The point is supposed to be that we're all human beings.

Speaking of human beings, I guess I was thinking about these "little" slights we all take for granted, because like a lot of geeks I saw the new Star Trek movie.

I liked it well enough, but one thing stood out to me. By keeping basically the same characters as the original show, and the same miniskirts, the people who made this movie are helping (inadvertently or otherwise ) to perpetuate some of the same old stereotypes.

The original show had almost no women, and the new movie was the same in that regard.

Why? Just a total lack of originality? Because of Pepsi throwback, we have to be all nostalgic for the 1960s?

Perhaps the blackest humor of these filmmakers' choices is that the story is set a couple hundred years into the future, and yet childbirth still appears to be the same medical mystery (just like in the Star Wars movies). How depressing is that. Here's hoping that in the future, someone will at least have figured out some better solutions for PMS.

I always liked how the Star Trek franchise promoted technology, the spirit of exploration, and diversity: celebrating the differences and commonalities among races, and (at least among the imaginary space varieties) species.

I can only wonder how much watching these shows as a child must have influenced me to want a career as a scientist. They were some of the only shows I remember watching that promoted women in roles other than the traditional mom, girlfriend, daughter or housekeeper (unlike watching reruns of The Brady Bunch from the same era).

And although it was too late to help me choose a major, I rejoiced when they created a woman character who excelled at engineering.

Yet here we are, more than 40 years later (the original show first aired in 1966), and girls are only recently starting to be allowed to command space missions, both on tv and in real life. While some shows are attempting to put women in other interesting science-related careers, like CSI, what still gets the most attention? Their cleavage.

So I can't help feeling like the uproar over Obama's speech with regard to the abortion debate highlights how in the real-life year 2009, women are still pretty far from "equal".

Even our President doesn't have a solution to bridge that particular divide, but I like that he wants to try.

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At 10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In saying fishermen I think Obama was slightly alluding Jesus' interaction with the fishermen (Matthew 4:18-22). Saying "people who enjoy fishing" wouldn't have the same connotation.

At 6:05 AM, Anonymous a physicist said...

Regarding Star Trek -- one of my disappointments with the new movie was that apparently, even in the future, it's still funny when we make fun of people's accents. And yeah, they missed a good chance to introduce other female characters (which was a big problem I had with the newer Star Wars movies).

Although otherwise I thought the new Star Trek movie was a lot of fun.

At 9:21 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon- yeah, I got that. But the Bible is inherently misogynistic, hence my questioning the wisdom of emphasizing certain religilous references while pushing for women's rights.

Actually, I really admired how he managed to talk about his spirituality in a way that didn't bother me much re: separation of church and his position as our Head of State.

Except for that one part. And okay, it's a cute anecdote and it made his point, but I'm sure he only wanted to tell that story because it referred to Notre Dame's contribution so specifically.

And yet, the whole thing was kind of comical since he was telling this story in what looked a sea of almost exclusively white students.

Although Notre Dame's past leaders apparently took an interest in "equal" rights, they haven't made much more progress than most other schools, see for example:

4% = still a tiny minority.

At 9:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, let me say that overall I really like your blog. I'm sympathetic to most of your complaints and struggles. You seem to be a thoughtful and basically good person, and the more people like that in science, the better. You've done a good job of communicating how many unscientific and ridiculous obstacles there are to success for young scientists, women in particular. I think however, that you undercut your credibility a bit when you kvetch about things like gender ratios in the latest Star Trek movie. Intentionally or not, you come across as hypersensitive to questionable slights against women, which sounds a lot like you're crying wolf. I agree with you that discrimination against women permeates just about every profession, but sometimes a miniskirt is just what it seems: an homage to an old show, that anyone with half a brain knows was both sexist and groundbreakingly diverse. Plus sex sells, both men and women. If it didn't, maybe I'd be on TV instead of suffering through my own postdoc hell! Anyway, thank you for your voice. I'm a male (and minority) postdoc, going through a lot of similar struggles and I look forward to your entries. Also, I encourage you to write a book on this material. I have little doubt that publishers would be interested in a distillation of the material from your blog. p.s. I don't care if you post this -I mostly just wanted to say good job and thanks! :-D


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