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Did we have it all and lose it?

mtbrown at geocities.com mtbrown at geocities.com
Mon Sep 7 23:36:59 EST 1998

Hello All-- This is a copy (slightly modified) of my response to Linnea,
which I was unable to post  simultaneously to the group. (My newsreader isn't
working properly right now.)

Linnea, I'm just back from vacation. I felt from your response that you took
my post as a personal attack on you and it was not intended as such. I did
not mean "to argue with you about who is more oppressed." When I wrote about
the "superscientists" and the career-only women with high-powered science
careers, I was not writing about you but about men and women from both my
past and present. I know very little about you and your career and did not
mean to classify you in those groups and should have made that clear, but
apparently did not. Probably I should have started a new thread on this new
topic instead of appending it to yours. This is a topic that affects many
women scientists and thus is appropriate for the women-in-bio newsgroup.
Raising this new topic in no way was went to minimize the original topic.
Both topics point out important pressures that women scientists are subject

I have many friends who have chosen the no children route but are not the
sorts of people who criticize my own choice to have children. I did not mean
that all people who choose to have no children have been critical of my own
choice to have a family. I agree, those people who sit around and complain
about how hard their lives are because they have children must be quite
annoying. Fortunately, I do not know any of these people or perhaps I have
unconsciously sought to eliminate them from my circle because of their
tedious views. There are also "complainers" who have no children but have
some other excuse in life. This is indeed an annoying personality type. Like
your own generous helping out in the lab when the parents tend to their
children's activities and sicknesses, I too help out when the folks in the
lab have outside activities, e.g. the people who go for a day of skiing on
the spur of the moment or mountain climbing or sailing or take days off to
entertain out- of-town visitors or care for their kids or ailing parents.
Whatever. We help each other out in the lab and I don't dwell on the reasons
for a person's needing a little help. (There are indeed occasional people
>From whom one senses a begrudging sort of help and I don't know what the
reasons behind their attitude are, but I just make sure not to ask them in
the future.)

I will mention another sort of social pressure I have had to deal with which
childless women do not. These pressures probably come from the same groups
that you say pressure all women to have children. The pressure is, once I had
children, for me to completely stop working, abandon science, and stay at
home fulltime with my kids. I have been criticized as a bad mother, bad
person, ruining my children, contributing to the destruction of society (!!),
etc. etc. The criticisms come from family, church, other mothers who gave up
their careers (usually the loudest criticisms come from this group), and

I try to do what is best for me and my family and this sometimes means
compromise. Many women I know have made their own choices and respect one
another for whatever choices were made. Outside influences that are
negatively critical have been ignored as much as can be and the "best"
paths chosen. These women include single and married women who have chosen
to not have children, fulltime working mothers in both "high-powered" and
"low-powered" careers and jobs, part-time working mothers, and fulltime
stay-at-home mothers. Working together for a better world, both at home
and in the workplace, is indeed possible and I have many great friends and
acquaintances who do just that. They are indeed role models.

Megan Brown
mbrown at fred.fhcrc.org

In article <Pine.WNT.3.96.980831101437.-331049G-100000 at Guinevere.unm.edu>,
  Linnea Ista <lkista at unm.edu> wrote:
> On 29 Aug 1998 mtbrown at geocities.com wrote:
> > In article <Pine.WNT.3.96.980824104809.-406915I-100000 at Guinevere.unm.edu>,
> >   Linnea Ista <lkista at unm.edu> wrote:
> >
> > > We will continue to struggle with these questions as long as the notion
> > > prevails that the greatest tragedy that can happen to a woman is that she
> > > didn't have the opportunity to be a mother.
> >
> > Unlike many of the posters in this thread, I didn't really feel this pressure
> > to have kids because I knew all along that that's what I wanted to do.
> Exactly. I am glad you feel that way. But there is an assumption out there
> that deep down inside, *all* of us feel that way and that somehow if we
> don't we are missing out on something.
> > Instead, I felt the flip side of that pressure--that I was being a poor
> > scientist and a career failure because I chose to have a family. From many
> > who had "made it" in academia, I received both subtle and overt commentary on
> > my failure or couched in less negative terms, their "disappointment" in me.
> > The censure most frequently came either from older men who had wives that had
> > taken on the bulk of the responsibilities for raising their kids or from
> > career-only women who had chosen not to have families or even spouses for the
> > sakes of their "high- powered" science careers.
> This is exactly the sort of thing I am talking about. I do not consider
> myself a "career -only" woman who has chosed not to have a family for the
> sake of science. I have chosen not to have children because I do not want
> ot have children. I would probably feel the same way if I were a ballet
> dancer or a minister (other early "career" considerations).
> And I am the one who will watch people's experiments (since the lab is
> mostly men, it is for them) while they go fetch kids from daycare or take
> them to the doctor. I do that gladly because I respect other people's
> choices.
> However, I DO NOT take it well when parents of either gender sit and
> complain about how HARD it is to do both and how I have it so EASY
> comparatively. At that point I WILL remind them that I have made a
> conscious choice not to have children.
> >
> > Like the situation with the super-moms clamoring that all women should be
> > like them and have kids and devote every minute to them, the
> > "super-scientists" need to be tuned out if one is to have any satisfaction
> > with one's chosen path. Who are those people to say what is best for me?
> I am very sorry if you have chosen to put me into the "superscientist"
> category. That is not me at all. I actually have quite an active life
> outside the lab.
> Unlike you, though get the vast majority of the calmoring for people to
> make decisions about my life not from at work, but in those other
> activities. Several of us have noticed that at our church that people of
> our age are not treated as adults until we reproduce (and this is a UU
> church where we are supposed to be so liberal) and it is worse for women.
> I guess the two of us face opposite problems. I am doing what "science"
> expects me to do out of my personal inclinations rather than pressure and
> am not facing pressure on that front. You are doing what outside society
> expects from women and are not facing the social pressure on that front.
> Neither of us have experienced what it feels like on the other side.
> However, if we work together and say that a woman's (or couple's)
> reproductive choices are really no ones business but her (or their) own
> and support one another, rather than arguing about who is the more
> "oppressed" we may actually accomplish something!
> Linnea

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