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Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Question For A Distractingly Sexy Mechanic

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The Question: So. What made you want to become a mechanic?

Possible Responses:

  • Because I like being Distractingly Sexy
  • Because I like fixing things (this response is also known as “here’s the Cliff Notes version of my life after leaving journalism”).

I’m getting pretty adept at answering The Question politely and with more enthusiasm than snark.

The first possible response though comes from this whole fracas started by Nobel Prize laureate Tim Hunt about women in STEM being distracting in the lab and prone to crying when criticized.

It’s funny because he chose to make that statement at the World Conference For Science Journalists — because that’s a group of people you can trust to really get to the meat of a speech in a hurry.

Call Twitter’s reaction and the #distractinglysexy a mockery of his career-ending poor choice of words. In reality though, it just highlights what it’s like for women in male-oriented fields.

For starters, you get asked really personal questions that no one ever asks your male counterparts.

Oh hey Sally Ride. Will 100 tampons be enough for a 7-day mission in space?

Then there’s also the unspoken undercurrent of doubt coming from the person grilling you about how you’re doing your job.

Are you sure you want to get your hands dirty?

This week I was asked and answered The Question when one of our drivers visited the garage for an oil top-off. He got the Cliff Notes version. As a public employee, it’s the best response.

What’s always funny is the moment that leads up to The Question.

Tuesday it was after I scooted under the 14-passenger shorty bus and checked to see why it was a quart low on oil. Newer vehicle. No staining. No major leaks around the oil pan. Oil filter was snug and no drips at the drain plug. Therefore, it probably didn’t get its full 6 qts. at the last oil change. Or the filter is a hungry little sponge. Or there’s something else going on.

Duly noted. Something I’ll monitor and we’re moving along now.

But wait!

Next comes the small talk and The Question because I did an unladylike thing.

It was raining and I didn’t bother to grab my creeper first. Just laid down on the ground and inched over to the oil pan. My creeper is easily 60 ft. away from where he parked. I’m lazy and crossing the garage takes effort and time away from my buses.

Cue The Question.

I know. Being a mechanic does not make me a lady scientist.

I fix things. I only sometimes conduct experiments … and even then it’s just data collection and analysis. So I’m not really a scientist. And I’m not exactly a member of the STEM community. Details.

What it does make me though is a woman, like Patrice Banks, who was also tired of feeling discriminated against because of her sex. Banks started Girls Auto Clinic in Philadelphia to empower other women to have the vocabulary and knowledge to know what’s going on under the hood. However, she mentioned in her B-section article in the Washington Post that a technical high school class full of teenage boys admitted that women are too much of a distraction to work with men.

So maybe the problem isn’t ladies in the lab or in the garage …

Even if Hunt meant no harm with his statement, it’s 20-bloody-15. We shouldn’t be fussing over the undercarriage of who’s in the lab. We should be working on designing viable alternative energy solutions and cures for cancer.

If you’re going to advocate for segregation of the sexes in the lab, why stop there?

Better keep those clerks from working together at the grocery store. Can’t let those wily accountants sit too close together. They might be playing footsie. Better still. Let’s eliminate the possibility of anyone finding a co-worker attractive and learning how to deal with separating their personal life from their professional responsibilities.

I know.

Isolation bubble-suits for everyone.

I’m sure a lady scientist could figure out how to invent one once she’s able to see through her tears.


She’s The Tear In My Heart

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Elle broke my heart this morning. It’s happened before, but we switched to summer hours this week and today was the first day I’ve dropped her off at daycare in over a year.

Mornings have been her and Mr. Pirate’s time since I’ve worked the morning shift this school year – 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

And over the course of the year she’s transitioned up into the more traditional preschool setting. She’s doing lots of really awesome things like putting on her shoes by herself (usually on the correct foot) and taking her plate to the counter when she finishes dinner. She’s becoming independent and that’s exactly what she should be doing. Elle is learning her own mind and I am so proud of her.

But sometimes I still have these moments of weakness. Like today. At school, I helped her out of her track jacket, hung it up in her cubby, greeted one of her classmates who was standing at the door and, then waved goodbye. Elle just stood there, green plaid lunch bag in hand and said: “I want my mama.”

Her teachers are great at deflecting potential melt-down situations. I stepped aside so she couldn’t see me and through the open door I heard them usher Elle to the refrigerator to put away her lunch. They then invited her to sit down and eat her morning snack with the rest of the 2-year-olds.

Yeah. She’s still just 2 and already she’s tugging at my heart strings.

Women have always had the greatest potential to break my heart.

My sister has broken my heart a time or two (I’ve broken hers too — it’s what sisters do to one another.) Three out of four college roommates broke my heart over the course of our time together. But Anne broke it first.

For some reason, our teachers thought it would be a great idea to take the entire eighth grade and let us loose at this big wilderness park. I mean, this is a place where there’s a lake and paddle boats during the summer. It’s a great place to spend the day, but it baffles me that they thought unsupervised 13-year-olds could handle it. I marvel that we didn’t all drown or leave pink and bumpy with poison ivy.

As soon as we disembarked the buses, my best friend Anne very deliberately gave me the slip. I remember her stepping off the bus ahead of me, looking back and then walking away very quickly with two other girls who I thought were also my friends.

We had sat next to each other on the bus ride and she gave no indication that we were going to play a big game of hide and seek. So we do-si-doed around the buses for a few minutes and then she was just gone.

Maybe we spoke. Maybe I called out to her, but at that moment of her avoiding me she might as well have physically hit me. It hurt so bad to realize she didn’t want me around anymore.

We had been best friends since the first grade. This was the girl who I took dance lessons with. Whose house I played at in the afternoons until “All Things Considered” came on NPR. She almost had her eye poked out with a stick one summer and I felt so guilty because I was at the beach and not there to protect her.

And just like that, she walked away from me and we weren’t friends anymore.

I realize now that we had just grown apart. It happens. Relationships evolve and change and sometimes that change happens without both parties being aware of it.

She was interested in flirting and makeup. I liked reading and playing outside. I had a vague idea that flirting was a thing you could do, I just hadn’t figured it out yet.

I ended up spending the rest of that day wandering adrift and unsure of where I fit into the social structure of being a teenager without my best friend.

Our breakup made me stronger and spawned my own fierce independence. I can travel alone and am content to sit apart in a crowded room. I’m still not 100 percent at ease solely in the company of women though. People just hurt one another. It’s part of opening your heart to other people in the first place.

I know now that hearts tear and then get mended back together again and again. Like those heart-shaped necklaces that read “Best Friends” when they’re whole and “Be Fri” and “St Ends” when they’re apart (Anne and I had one of those necklaces. Mine’s probably in a box in the basement…).

Elle’s needing me this morning was just another tear in my heart. I’ll heal and we’ll both be stronger for it. I just don’t want to be the one who leaves her standing alone beside the bus.