Monthly Archives: October 2013

As I write this, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is on MIT’s campus giving a talk about her book Lean In, which advocates for women in corporate positions of power and general feminist ideas. I knew about this talk and my UROP supervisor even sent out the info to all of the women in my lab asking if anyone wanted to go with her.

I found this article by bell hooks (through Tumblr, as always) at around 3pm today, and I’m really glad I did because it solidified my decision not to go to the talk. I’ve known about “Lean In” and Sandberg herself for a while now, but something about her perspective always seemed a little bit lacking and wrong, although I couldn’t clearly articulate what bothered me. bell hooks, as usual, knocks it out of the park. The article is a bit long but well worth the read, especially because this white “faux feminism” is a lot more widespread than Lean In.


Also, another interesting article recommendation: this gem from Cosmo. (I use gem very loosely) We’ve talked a fair amount about Cosmo and attaining liberation through the oppressive standards already in place, but this is a great 2013 example of the continuing focus on finding a man, even (and especially) for educated working women. I found this one through Facebook because MIT is listed as the top school to find your dream mate. Anyone who actually goes here will definitely call BS, but it  highlights what Cosmo still considers “good man qualities”: education and money.


Yet another article about the ugly side of gender, race, and science.

I’ve always known that STEM is a male-dominated field, but I thought that it wasn’t as bad in biology (my field). Yes, there are more women in bio than, say, physics, but it’s still not that great. Biology suffers from the horrible trend of women dropping out because the career path isn’t compatible with children. There are more men than women in positions of power, and female lab techs definitely outnumber the male ones. Whenever I’d sit in on lab meeting this summer, I’d notice that the men in my lab were much more vocal than the women. They’d sit around the table and discuss results, argue, and question the speaker, while the women were much more likely to occasionally chime in. This happened regardless of seniority. I didn’t attend enough meetings to get a sense of how everyone responded to a male speaker vs. a female one, but I probably already know (even if it was a subtle difference).

I’ve been reading a lot about science and gender and race in the past couple of days and it’s extraordinarily frustrating to realize that white patriarchal values have hindered (and continue to stunt) a lot of scientific progress. I grew up with the idea that science was logical and elevated and unbiased, but I can’t entertain that fantasy anymore. 

*post ends on sad note sorry this isn’t really a happy topic*


Also, this is not directly related to science, but here’s a post about religion and racism that blew my mind today. If you’re on Tumblr, I highly recommend following medievalpoc.

WHERE’S THE MEDIA GIANTS ARTICLE I CAN’T FIND IT IN MY TEXTBOOK OR ONLINE :((((( You all are posting some great responses, too!

Anyway, here’ a great (if a bit outdated) NYTimes article I found on Tumblr the other day about Afghan women using poetry as resistance. It’s a great example of non-Western feminism and grassroots activism, which is something about which I’m constantly trying to educate myself. Link here.




Miss Representation talked about the phenomenon of female politicians (or any woman in power, really) being discredited and disrespected by references to their physical appearance and personality. While men are asked about politics and business, questions towards women revolve around beauty, motherhood, and interpersonal drama. This detracts from the woman’s professional talents and interests, and is a subtle but very widespread form of sexism. This happens to the most respected and powerful women in this country, so it says a lot about how ‘ordinary’ women are treated on a day-to-day basis. Here’s a recent example of the GOP being the worst yet again:



Hillary Clinton has been dealing with this crap for YEARS; even as Secretary of State, her hair, fashion, and age were under constant scrutiny. She has been an accomplished lawyer, a First Lady, a Senator, a Secretary of State, and now two-time presidential candidate, but apparently the most interesting thing about her is her boobs. Which of course have everything to do with her competency as a politician.

Full story behind the buttons: these were seen and tweeted by journalist Carla Marinucci, who found them outside VIP reception at a California GOP convention. In follow-up tweets, she clarified that the buttons had been removed less than an hour after she tweeted, and many convention attendees were also “concerned” and “appalled.” So the GOP is not ALWAYS completely terrible to women, just most of the time when it comes to their actual policies. Good to know.

This isn’t directly pertinent to gender & media, but I have a lot of ideas and no opinions/conclusions so maybe writing will help.


The November Project is a fitness initiative that started in Boston and has now spread to cities across the US. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, the “tribe” (which is just whoever wants to attend) meets at different locations around Boston to perform an outdoor workout. It’s completely free and has a CrossFit-like ethic – grit, determination, and bodyweight exercises. I have several friends who do it and the general consensus is that it’s awesome. Personally, I love the idea – free fitness, customizable to your ability level, with random people who become your friends.

This month, the November Project has initiated the #deckaday challenge. You take a pack of randomly shuffled cards and turn them over one by one. Red is pushups and Black is sit-ups. The amount on the card corresponds to the number of reps you do: 2-10, then Jack 11, Queen 12, King 13, and Ace 14. You go through the entire deck as fast as possible. For the #deckaday challenge, you complete this routine every day this month, and try to get your times lower and lower. 

I’ve never actually attended the November Project, but I saw the challenge on Facebook and thought I might give it a try. Now, this is no easy challenge; no “plank a minute a day for a week” here! Going through the entire deck means you do 208 pushups and 208 sit-ups. THAT’S A LOT. Yesterday (Tuesday) was 10/1, the first day of the challenge, and my chest was already quite sore from a Monday dance rehearsal. I decided to switch up the challenge – I substituted squats for pushups. It was definitely hard, but I enjoyed it in a masochistic kind of way and I felt pretty accomplished afterwards. Today I woke up and my abs were sore, my legs were sore, and my chest was still sore from Monday.

…But you’re supposed to do the challenge every day, with no exceptions. What? If my abs are sore, that’s a very clear signal to rest and let the micro-tears in my muscles repair. My idea of rest is not 208 more sit-ups.  Here, then, is where the whole dream starts to break down. It’s not healthy to intensely work specific groups of muscles for 31 consecutive days, and it’s not a constructive way to build fitness. In general, it’s better to fatigue a muscle group, then let it rest for a day or two or three (allowing it to repair and regain strength) before working it again. This staggered training prevents overuse injuries while being consistent enough to build power or bulk or endurance or whatever your specific goal is. When you train every day, you’re not giving your muscles enough time to recover, so they’re constantly fatigued and trying to catch up. The #deckaday challenge magnifies this problem because of its high rep count and focus on speed. 208 pushups is a huge amount no matter what type you’re doing (normal, military, knee, etc.), especially if you’re using proper form. However, the focus on speed is a blatant invitation to sacrifice form; there’s a limit to how fast you can properly do a pushup or a sit-up no matter how strong you are. This is especially true as you reach the bottom of the deck. If you’re shooting for a low time, you’re picking up the pace for the home stretch, but this is also the time that you’re most tired and are most likely to sacrifice form. 

So what did I do today? I did the full deck. I modified it again – sit-ups and high planks – but I still killed my already sore abs. At this point much of my body is sore, I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow without feeling unsafe. And should I even continue the challenge? I don’t have a ‘challenge buddy,’ and there’s no social pressure for me to keep going. So why do I have motivation to keep going? I almost feel a sense of obligation, but to whom?

This is where I start to really look at the #deckaday challenge and its broader fitness ethos. CrossFit’s popularity has exploded in the past couple of years, and it’s reaching the point where people are starting to examine and critique it. (Crossfit is a fitness method that’s unrelated to the November Project but the two share some similar values.) I’ve never participated in CrossFit, but I’ve read a fair amount of the criticisms. The first one that comes to mind is Eric Robertson’s fantastic exploration of the dangers of an extreme attitude towards fitness, found at this link. The #deckaday challenge exposes many of these values – faster, more, stronger, better. What it does not recognize is the importance of body awareness and respect, and the flexibility that this requires. This fitness challenge, and almost all others, are so enticing because they’re rigid: do x for y days and you’ll obtain z! These concrete promises are almost irresistible, and exploring why is something I’ll maybe discuss later. In the end, though, #deckaday does not guarantee fitness success and a rockin’ bod and total confidence. It is not a magical solution, and it doesn’t make you a “good” athlete or person. It just makes your muscles really fucking tired.

Despite me recognizing all of this, however, I still really want to complete the challenge. I feel like it will make me better and more accomplished. This disconnect is frustrating to navigate, but it boils down to a simple decision every day. Do I do half a deck some days? If I just stop, am I giving up or am I making a personal statement? Why am I drawn to fitness in challenge form, rather than a more holistic and balance and personal exercise schedule? Why am I making this into a moral issue, when nobody actually cares about how many sit-ups I do in a day? 


I feel like this might be a multi-part thing; I’ve laid out the problem here but I haven’t really gone into a deeper analysis. I can definitely bring gender and media into this as well. Stay tuned?

Okayyyy I haven’t even looked at this week’s readings (I will by tomorrow no worries!) but here’s a quick look at branding and its huge influence. Video here. Jimmy Kimmel Live polled people on Obamacare vs. the Affordable Care Act, and the results are fascinating; the moniker “Obamacare” apparently brings up all the stereotypes and misconceptions about Obama and healthcare reform, while “Affordable Care Act” seems to instill pride and support. By the way, they’re both the exact same thing. This is the kind of thing that’s played for laughs, but on a deeper level it’s a bit frightening.