Letters to the Editor

Paglia attracts modest proposals for MIT's gender woes; is Mary Roach a misanthrope?

Published April 14, 1999 4:07PM (EDT)

Biased science


I have a vivid memory of being an undergraduate in a political
philosophy course, the only woman in the class. On one occasion, to
be heard, I had to stand up and pound on the table to get the men's
attention. It shouldn't be like that. But it was, and I did what I had to do
to be heard. Paglia is right -- no whining allowed.

On the other hand, the world is not a classroom; the factors
involved in gender parity are not easily solved with a little shouting. I
currently work as a chef (another male-dominated business) and have had some
real battles with male co-workers concerning my level of knowledge and the
authority I had in the kitchen. What did it take to work things out? Intervention, open discussion and
a laying down of the rules about what is tolerated in the
workplace -- as well as a lot of gut-level compromise and flexibility on the part of
all the people involved.

Yes, the MIT report leaves a lot to be desired -- but where else do you
start? The process of achieving gender equity in the workplace is
long and hard and distasteful in a way -- who wants to deal with it? But those
women are pounding on the table at last. Hopefully, this will lead to the
types of study, discussion and resolution that will even satisfy Paglia.

-- Beth Twomey

Paglia's question, "Who gravitates toward science and why?" and her own
answer "It may be ... that relatively few women are attracted to
people-free zones" reminds me of the old-time assertions that
neighborhoods need not be integrated because "those people would want to
live with people like themselves anyway -- they won't like it here."

I have worked for years in science and technology. I have heard men say
"we offered her every encouragement," and wondered if the woman seemed
like a curiosity, a mascot rather than a colleague. A coach knows that his players need comparable equipment
and time on the field to do their best, but somebody has to pass them
the ball.

It saddens me that Paglia, as a woman, would spend her time and energy
defending the status quo, but it does not surprise me. It is all too
common for women to be the gatekeepers restricting other women,
or snipers taking shots at successful ones. I was one of two women
engineers at a particular firm in 1976, and heard some secretaries
gossiping about and undermining the other woman engineer. The
viciousness was alarming. There was a hatred just because she was there,
taking her place among the men.

It is not "self-pity" to look objectively at a situation and acknowledge
that you have a smaller piece of the pie. It is not special pleading to
say that, when women are not represented in various cultural
environments, there may be unrecognized obstacles for them. It is not
anti-male rhetoric to say that many men haven't acknowledged the obvious
advantages which still exist. Women gained their shot at equal
employment only because a Southern senator added them to protected
classes in an attempt to defeat the Equal Employment Opportunity Act.
That was only a generation ago.

-- Joan A. Hoenow

San Jose

So MIT wants to get more women into science?

Here's how. They need to underwrite a biopic about a glamorous
woman scientist. Remember the Madame Curie movie? No? My point

The conditions:

1. The lead must be played by Gwyneth Paltow. She's cute and
hotter than a Taos tamale.

2. No sad gorillas or whales. In fact, no sad anything; just
some perseverance and pluck. The lead must drive a sports car and
wear sunglasses: NO dresses. I'm thinking maybe Rachel Carson.

3. A handsome man falls in love with her, and makes the agonizing
decision to sacrifice his career for her love. Gotta be Hugh Grant.

I guarantee, if you follow this prescription, in 15 years the
girls of today will be clogging the groves of science tomorrow,
searching for their Hughie. And some good science will be done along
the way.

-- Jim Ward

Divided we stand


J.J. Goldberg is clearly
out of touch with everything which has been going on in Israel for the
past few weeks.

Perhaps Goldberg should stop basing stories on sources like the
English-language ultra-Orthodox Jewish press in the United States, which represents
less than 5 percent of the Israeli population and has a readership which
probably doesn't exceed a few tens of thousands. Just because Goldberg
(presumably) cannot understand Hebrew doesn't mean that he or she doesn't
have a responsibility to find out what is going on in Israel from primary
sources before lambasting an entire nation.

While Goldberg is correct that Netanyahu and Sharon have been insensitive
to the plight of the refugees from Kosovo, it is incorrect to paint the
entire country and its people in this light. Israelis have already raised
millions of shekels and collected warm clothing and equipment for the
refugees through appeals from the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, public
and privately owned television stations (which run appeals for aid as part
of the nightly newscast), the Foreign Ministry and the army-run radio
station. Planeloads of Israeli military aid are on the ground on
Kosovo's borders, as is a military field hospital staffed with Israeli
doctors and nurses.

Israelis are sensitive to the plight of the Kosovo refugees not only out of
basic human sympathy, but out of a clear, historically based awareness of
our unique knowledge of such tragic events and the responsibility that

-- Barry Barancik


Your article reporting divisions among Jews on the Kosovo issue is
somewhat perplexing. Would you not expect to find similar differences of
opinion among any other religious group?

-- J. Oelbaum

Sarasota, Fla.

Living forever

I know this was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek article (at least
that's the tone I read) but it is rather short-sighted and indicative
of an attitude I find common when people are posed with the possibility
of living for an unexpectedly long time: ageism. Roach assumes that
a 150-year-old person will be cynical, bored and unemployed. The
very question she poses at the end ("What would a society do with its
old people if they refused to die?") assumes that old people who haven't
died yet are necessarily a burden. What a crock! Especially with the
premise in the beginning of the article that science will allow us to
live to that age with the fitness of a 40- to 50-year-old.

I don't know about Roach, but I plan on kicking around for as long
as humanly possible. Hopefully when it's no longer humanly possible,
science will have advanced enough to make it inhumanly possible. There's just
way too much to do and be for me to ever get bored and cynical.

-- Greg Barton

May God strike me down at my tender age of 23 if I ever, at 50 or 150,
stand to become the mentally frigid misanthrope Mary Roach appears to be.
If life has no more meaning to the author than a cheap movie ticket, a
posh seat on an airplane and a short line at the DMV, why does she even
bother to publish her cynical dribble? Perhaps, underneath Roach's
hardened soul, lie the remains of someone needing, and, dare I say,
enjoying, the prospect of sharing the human experience with her fellow

My firm little ass nearly fell off the chair at Roach's suggestion that by
35 I would be "growing bored with almost everything, and disgusted with
everything else." Could it be that instead of the world seeming "stale and
pointless" I might be thankful for the opportunity to apply a lifetime of
hard-won wisdom to another 80 or so years of living? What about the chance
to explore another career, to read the hundreds of books I would have
never gotten around to? Or the advanced levels of thought and emotion a
single lifespan would never allow, the rich and textured people we'd
become from so much living?

I have been out of college nary a year and have already grown worn and
slightly disenchanted from wading through the bureaucratic sludge that is
everyday life. But for the one moment, or two, of inspiration and growth I
experience each day, and for my idealism, which takes a hell of a lot more
guts than the author's tired pessimistic blather, I would take 200
years of lousy parking.

Under the pitiable millstone of so much cynicism, Roach was not even able
to retrieve the one unquestionably redeemable aspect of doubling her
lifespan: Twice as much time to get laid, Mrs. Robinson.

-- Karen Gordon

Mary Roach writes: "What would a society do with its
old people if they refused to die?" I find her
sentiments every bit as charming as Milosevic's.
Roach's cleansing is ageist, rather than ethnic,
but it is every bit as lethal and every bit as evil.
At least Milosevic leaves some refugees breathing.
Roach's call for the elderly to "die and make room
for someone new" doesn't even permit that escape.

-- Jeffrey Soreff

Labels of obscenity


In his article, Jon Bowen asserts that professors'
being obligated to disclose the content of their courses would amount to
an infringement of their academic freedom, that it would do damage to
the liberality of a liberal education. He seems to be saying that if professors cannot hide what they are going to be doing in
their courses until they have students trapped in them, their
prerogatives as professors will be infringed upon. This is obvious
nonsense. No one who sells a product -- not even the product of
ideas -- can claim the right to hide the nature of his product from the
customer until the customer has already bought it. To argue that
academic freedom means that a professor ought in fact to be able to do
so would be to argue that the academic community believes and insists
that it has the right to deceive its customers.

It is truly a paradox
of our "enlightened" age that those who occupy the seats of the
brightest among us would actually not only think this but in so thinking
think themselves superior in soul to the rest of our society. If a
professor is going to espouse a given worldview, certainly she will be willing to state so candidly and
allow her ideas to stand in the marketplace of ideas on their own merit,
not on the merit of a policy, particularly a policy of deceit.

-- Paul D. Muller

Associate Professor of English & Linguistics

Liberty University

Lynchburg, Va.

By Letters to the Editor

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