Friday, November 15, 2013

Finkbeiner Test For Everything

I have a modest proposal. Let's apply the Finkbeiner test for everything. Not just Science. You may remember the The New York Times' obituary for Yvonne Brill, a pioneering woman scientist. In the first paragraph the Times discussed how she was a good cook and mother. They didn't even discuss her achievements until later in the piece. After public shaming, they later went back and removed the good cook part, but left the good mom part in the first paragraph. The obituary originally said:  "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children".[10]  (Please note that we know next to nothing about whether or not Werner von Braun was a good dad, or if he could make a good stroganoff..)

The important info came in the middle of the article
"Mrs. Brill — she preferred to be called Mrs., her son said — is believed to have been the only woman in the United States who was actually doing rocket science in the mid-1940s, when she worked on the first designs for an American satellite.
It was a distinction she earned in the face of obstacles, beginning when the University of Manitoba in Canada refused to let her major in engineering because there were no accommodations for women at an outdoor engineering camp, which students were required to attend.
You just have to be cheerful about it and not get upset when you get insulted,” she once said.
Mrs. Brill’s development of a more efficient rocket thruster to keep orbiting satellites in place allowed satellites to carry less fuel and more equipment and to stay in space longer. The thrusters have the delicate task of maneuvering a weightless satellite that can tip the scales at up to 5,000 pounds on Earth."
Myself, I'd like to hear more about her achievements and less about her mothering skills. The Times did not explain WHY the satellite achievement was important, but if they had thought about that for ten seconds and stopped thinking about her casseroles, they would have realized that our entire modern global communications systems and weather predictions depend on these satellites. Wow, you're saying, that's important stuff. Yes, it is, and the Times just says: "Mrs. Brill patented her propulsion system for satellites in 1972, and the first communications satellite using it was launched in 1983. It is still being used by satellites that handle worldwide phone service, long-range television broadcasts and other tasks." So why did this woman not have a Nobel Prize? 

In related sexism news, Janet Yellen gave masterful testimony this week in Congress, and all some yahoo at Roll Call can say is that he's seen her suit before. It doesn't matter that she is a well-respected scholar, Professor and Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve, one of the most powerful people in the world. No. What matters is that she wore the same suit twice. Now I myself think that shows good common sense. Why waste time and money on dumb boring suits when you have better things to do - say, saving the world economy? True confession time. I have worn the same suit to multiple interviews. 

So let's apply the Finkbeiner test. The test states:
To pass the test, an article about a female scientist must not mention:
  • The fact that she’s a woman
  • Her husband’s job
  • Her child care arrangements
  • How she nurtures her underlings
  • How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
  • How she’s such a role model for other women
  • How she’s the "first woman to..."[1]

Wow, it looks like Roll Call, the New York Times and the Washington Post all flunked.

Here's a simple way to remember what not to do: if you would not say it about a man, don't say it about a woman.


Karen in VA said...

Preach on...... So sick of those type of articles...Who cares what we're wearing??? It's bad enough us women STILL have to work harder to be recognized for our accomplishments...sigh...

Barbara said...


Mary said...

Who wrote the offensive obituary? A letter to the editor migt be interesting, if a family member was not the author.