We love interviewing awesome women, because their stories are often unique and always inspiring. Find out below what it is like to be a woman who is also an author, rock star, researcher, activist, combat medic and artist!
Angela Gbemisola: Feminist Activist, Writer, Designer and Founder of Str(angela)nd
Angela Gbemisola is a feminist activist, a fashion and graphic designer, and writer. She lives and works in London, UK, and is the founder of fashion brand Str(angela)nd. Her desire to be involved in fashion came from a quest for meaning, for answers. Like many women of her generation (she was a young teenager during the rise of the supermodel culture), she has always felt ambivalent towards fashion, fascinated by the beauty of the clothes and the perfect image while recognizing more or less consciously that these images were in fact harmful. She became obsessed with exploring the sociological meaning of garment within contemporary visual culture; observing its interaction with society, economics, and politics. Investigating the impact of garments from a feminist perspective has allowed Angela to consider a series of ethical questions and to comprehend why she often felt frustrated about the fashion industry. Angela says, “I believe that the rules imposed by the fashion world upon women are more often than not, conformist, oppressive and exploitative. The search for beauty is a vain, absurd, and painful thing women do repetitively.” For that reason, the pure research for new shapes, new prints, and new ways to style a garment are meaningless unless they take into consideration the matters mentioned above, and Angela feels it is critical for any woman designer today to question these issues.
1. How do you feel about fashion, especially as it relates to the female form?
“Women’s fashion” is a euphemism for fashion created by men for women.” – Andrea Dworkin
Fashion today from Haute Couture to the High Street is male-centric in essence: men design garments for women to wear so that women can be looked at by men. As a feminist fashion designer I recognize that fashion as a social system has been and still is being used against us. That system works in many different ways.Women are objectified; the idea is that women are sexual objects on display for male sexual entertainment. This ideology creates a fashion that is normative, physically restrictive and painful, where women through their clothes need to show their sexual availability, submission and physical frailty.
The first issue I see is that self-objectification is widely considered a cool thing for women to do. We are now encouraged to discover your inner sex-worker identity in pole dancing classes at your local gym, with our designer’s vagina, our breast implants and latest diet as super trendy fashion accessories. It is not very popular to say in non-feminist circles that this is not in fact women’s agency but a huge social pressure imposed by society and the industry combined. There will be very little progress made until this trend is reversed, awareness is raised and objectification recognised as a sexist, physically and mentally armful practise, in place to restrict our physical and social freedom and ultimately our access to true equality.
Breaking it down, you realise fashion works on several layers and oppresses us in many different ways: Fashion imposes compulsory sexualisation and defines women as sexual being, denying our humanity and reducing us to an instrument for men’s pleasure. Fashion is focused on female nudity: to be naked in front of someone who is fully dressed is to be weak. In the fashion images everywhere, it is the women who are naked in front of fully dressed men, thus defining us as weaker and inferior. Fashion celebrates physical frailty, it is obsessed with body size and specifically tells us what our body should look like and precisely how much we should weight. By glorifying size 0, and celebrating anorexia, it promotes women’s physical weakness, youth, immaturity and lack of experience. It promotes immature childish bodies as the norm for grown up females, increasing women low self-esteem. By sexualizing and objectifying young girls, fashion also promotes pedophilia.
The size system itself is an excellent way of oppression. Constant dieting, unachievable size standards, ever changing ideal body shape are tactics used to keep us on our toes, the aim is that we should never consider ourselves good enough. Fashion defines pain as women’s condition and denies our physical integrity: the Lotus feet and corsets are classic examples of what generations of women have been coerced to endure in the name of beauty or what is considered socially acceptable for a woman to look like at a certain period in time. Behind these practices is the lie that the pain is worth the social status gained by achieving “beauty”. Today we also find that ideology everywhere: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is a slogan printed on trendy tee shirt popularised by Kate moss. In the name of beauty, we are led to take the most extreme risks, deny our own bodies and consider plastic surgery as a reasonable option.
Fashion supports the idea that femininity is based on artifice. It is assumed that women must be beautiful but no female can ever be expected to achieve that result just by being herself. The idea that women are naturally beautiful is not good for business. Indeed beauty require a lot of work: waxing, plucking, nip/tucking, make up, gym work out, the right clothes, the right accessories… Femininity is therefore attached to all those artefacts and ultimately becomes a drag.
Fashion reduces us to our appearance; the outer shell becomes our being. Our judged beauty, our bodies and faces and everything we have done to make them look “beautiful” in the mainstream sense of the word becomes who we are. There is a terrible loss of substance, the content is gone, what remains is the envelope. We are only what we look like, the only identity we are allowed to have. What is this fashion fantasy saying about the world we live in? Overwhelmingly, fashion for women is fundamentally women unfriendly; unethically anti-women, because fashion for women is created in a world which is still male dominated.
2. Where do you find your inspiration?
The first thing is that no matter what concept inspires me I always design with women in mind. Creatively, I am attracted to abstract concepts. I am usually inspired by ideas I read in fields that are very far away from fashion: it could be science, it could be sociology, it could be politics… It generally revolves around the idea of doubt, of questioning, these areas of knowledge that we do not fully understand. Creativity is about going where you have never been before, fearlessly exploring the unknown, finding new solutions to old problems or identifying new problems to solve. And you can’t achieve that by being conservative. You have to push yourself beyond your creative limits and doubt and question everything you know, question your views, question about what you have been taking for granted.
3. What is it like to be a female designer? Do you feel that gender plays a role in your professional life?
The fashion industry is very exploitative by nature, from the studio to the factory – it works on free labour. Most companies employ (exploit) an army of interns who are not paid and expected to work extremely long hours and deliver work of a very high professional standard. Not all interns are female but a vast majority are. To paraphrase the Guerrilla Girls, we have more chance to be involved in the creative industry if we are naked on a poster than as an active participant or designer of that industry. Women designers are under-represented, under-paid, and under-valued.
But that is not to say women have never made it to the top! Thankfully there are female fashion designers and sometimes, they have expressed themselves in a different way from their male counterparts. Madeleine Vionnet, Clare McCardell, Mme Gres, Rei Kawakubo… for example have brought a different approach to clothing; flattering without being sexualised, taking into account practicality and wearability, showing respect for the actual size of women’s bodies, empowering women with garments, engaging with women’s intellect by creating conceptual garments… These are some aspect of fashion that men designers rarely take into consideration. As a woman designer, I experience fashion from the inside, as a customer, as a wearer. I know how garments feel; I have an intimate knowledge of clothing. My understanding of a garment comes first and foremost from my physical familiarity with it. This defines my practice as a designer.
4. Your clothing offers a radical alternative to mainstream fashion. What fashion statements are you especially focused on and what influence do you hope to have on the progression of women’s fashion?
I offer a radical alternative in the sense that I breakdown all the strategies the fashion industry uses against us and offer women garments that respect women in every way that the mainstream fashion industry doesn’t. I have a one size fits all policy. It means all garment are cut to adapt to different body sizes and shapes so that most women can wear them. It also means that you can grow bigger or smaller and the garment will still fit you. This takes into consideration real life situations: you can go to the restaurant being beautifully dressed and enjoy your food because after the first course your dress has not become too small and uncomfortable. All the women I know can relate to that example but none of my male friends consider those things when going out because they take it for granted.
The clothes are flattering without being hyper-sexual, beautiful by respecting your natural body shape, your body doesn’t need to adapt to the garment, the garment adapt to the body. I am careful when designing to give women physical space and mental peace of mind, the garment is not to make you feel weak or vulnerable in any way; it is comfortable and fashionable. I consider myself a critical voice in the world of fashion, an outsider. I position myself against the establishment. I want to shake the current ideology that surrounds fashion and expose it for what it is, fundamentally uncool because restrictive, uncreative because normative, and deeply woman hating. My aim is to give a real alternative and redefine fashion by women, for women.
5. Do you have any advice for future female designers?
The fashion industry is extremely normative in many ways, be true to yourself and go in the direction that you believe in no matter what advice you will be given. It is a very challenging industry to work in but don’t give up! You probably are in this field because you have something different to say. Say it!
Steph, Creator of Iamdrtiller.com, activist and heroine for Women’s Reproductive Rights!
1) Steph, you are a heroine in the field of women’s rights, please inform our audience of the origin and purpose for your creation, IamDrTiller.com?
I was working at an abortion clinic when Dr. George Tiller was murdered. I had worked with him before, not closely, but sent patients to his clinic knowing they would received compassionate and respectful care. The news of his assassination was devastating to me, as it was to the whole abortion provider community. We had a staff meeting at the clinic to discuss how we felt about his death and of course, our safety going forward, What came out of that meeting was the sense that while we do everything we can to make sure our patients feel safe telling their abortion stories, abortion providers don’t have a place to share their experiences. I decided to take on this project and set up the site over the next day or two. It was and continues to be an incredible experience, collecting and sharing the stories of abortion providers from around the world.
2) What was the most troubling, or moving experience you recall from working in an abortion clinic (positive and/or negative)?
It’s difficult to pinpoint just one experience. Being able to talk to women every day about their pregnancies, their hopes and dreams for the future, was really a moving experience daily. A few women stick out in my mind, but I’ll just share one story. One particular woman was a minor whose mother wanted her to have an abortion, but after talking to her alone, she confessed to me that she wanted to carry the pregnancy to term. We came up with strategies together for the best way to tell her mom, and then I facilitated that conversation. I felt really honored to be a part of that process, of helping this young woman find the words to tell her mom how she was feeling, and help the mother figure out how to support her daughter’s decision. Many people think that the only decision abortion providers support is abortion. That’s just not the case. In reality, we do everything we can to support the parenting decision of the individual woman, whether that be to carry to term, place for adoption, or have an abortion.
3) What are the most common misconceptions and fabricated allegations about abortion and abortion providers that you hear? Is it infuriating, and if not, how do you keep it from getting to you?
There are so many, it’s hard to know where to begin Instead of listing them all here, I’ll direct you to some reading: 10 Worst Abortion Myths–and How to Refute Them, Myths and Facts from the National Abortion Federation, Debunking The Myths About Race And Abortion, Women Who Have Abortions, and all the research on abortion from the Guttmacher Institute.
You’re right, dealing with the constant barrage of anti-choice misinformation and lies can get infuriating and, let’s be honest, exhausting. My best coping method is my family in the reproductive justice movement, people like Shelby Knox, Aimee Thorne-Thompson, Jamia Wilson, Erin Matson,@ClinicEscort, and all others who are in this struggle with me. They keep me sane, keep me laughing, and keep me on my game. It’s critical to have a community that supports you when doing this work.
4) I was first introduced to you and your cause (though not formally) at the National Young Feminist Leadership Conference in D.C. this year, where you gave a very dynamic and inspiring speech; you were present among the Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, and many legendary figures in the women’s rights field, how did that feel to be asked to speak there and are you planning on any future lectures, or appearances?
I was so honored and humbled to be speaking alongside a group of such accomplished, badass women. Since then, I’ve spoken at several conferences and colleges, both on panels and on my own. I love talking to other young women about our movement and how we can support each other in this difficult and critical work
Molly Shea from Acrylics
Molly Shea is a musician living in Brooklyn, NY. She is one half of the band Acrylics. Their debut full-length record Lives and Treasure is out now.
1) Molly what is feminism to you, and does it inspire what you do as a woman or translate into who you’ve become as a person (musically, creatively or otherwise)?
On the most basic level feminism is about women being treated equally and paid equally to men. Personally, I think it has a lot to do with defying expectations, persisting in an environment that seems impervious, accessing the inaccessible. There are examples I find inspirational if you look at the history of women in rock’n’roll. It’s a history that is full of contradictions. Carol King, for instance, was one of the most important songwriters of the Brill Building as a very young woman. She wrote huge hits for the “girl groups” who were essentially interchangeable to the male producers. She discovered her cleaning woman/babysitter, Little Eva, and brought her in to sing “Locomotion.” So King was a very important woman behind the scenes in what appeared to be a very sexist environment. The story of women in music cannot really be told without talking about race, either. From the beginning of rock’n’roll women have been exploited for their sexuality, but so were men. You can’t say that Elvis was not a sex object when you look at his dancing. The same goes for the Beatles when you see girls swooning at their shows. By the time punk rolled around women figured out how to take their sexuality and use it to gain lots of power. At the same time, I think there’s always been a reverence for women singers and their ability to convey a heavy message. The type of singing that that comes out of spirituals, work songs and jazz.
2) What made you want to be a musician/singer? Were you inspired by anything or anyone in particular? Was it a specific moment that clicked for you?
Throughout my childhood I was fascinated by early rock’n’roll, its evolution from rhythm and blues, and luminaries like Buddy Holly. I learned about melody and harmony from the Beatles. I was hit hard by a documentary I saw when I was twelve-years-old about the British Invasion. I became obsessed with bands like the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who, Cream. I was in love with all of the guys in the bands but simultaneously wanted to be them. Later I learned about women like Kim Deal and Kim Gordon and felt some sort of kinship to them. My dad is a musician so we always had instruments around the house. I started writing songs and realized that, as a shy young person, it was a good way for me to communicate with people.
3) As part of a lead singer duo in your band (Acrylics) what is your role as the only female and is it different than your male bandmate’s roles? How so? And do you feel pressure because you are the only female in the band?
Of course I feel pressure to sell myself and my looks as the only female in the band. But that’s all the superficial stuff that goes into the performance and marketing (photographs, videos). When it comes down to actually writing and recording songs, I work very closely with a male counterpart and our roles are not very different. We respect each other equally as songwriters.
4) In the music industry there is more pressure on women than men to look a certain way (i.e. sexy,pretty,fake); do you feel that sort of pressure and what do you think about it? Do you think it’s harder for female musicians/singers to be successful on sheer talent alone, than it is for men?
I think that sort of pressure is more evident in the very mainstream music world less than the “alternative” worlds that have cropped up. But it definitely helps if you are tall and attractive, whether you are a man or woman. If you can’t sell yourself with sex, you have to sell something to your audience.
5) Are there any specific kick-ass women in your industry that exhilarate you musically/creatively, and how? Also, when you’re performing, do you ever feel like screaming “I AM WOMAN! HEAR ME ROAR!” on stage? I totally would. : )
If you watch someone like Joni Mitchell you’ll see that you don’t have to do that because her genius speaks for itself. Same goes for some of my other favorite singers: Wanda Jackson, Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, Christine McVie, Elizabeth Cotton, Kate Bush, Mavis Staples and many others. All of these women inspire me. The type of riot grrrl music that is specifically about being a woman does fill a cultural void, but it’s definitely not the only place where feminism exists in rock’n’roll. The most important thing a woman can do is prove her talent and make sure she is compensated equally.
Patricia Park, Artist and Teacher… of many things
Patricia’s Profile at NMWA: http://clara.nmwa.org/index.php?g=entity_detail&entity_id=12081
1) As a female artist, do you think it is important to show that influence in your work?
I believe it’s instinctual. Sometimes I’m specifically and very obviously incorporating my gender into the narrative, but that’s dependent on the subject matter. Even if the work is not directly centered around feminist issues, my identity as a female and as an artist, is intrinsically interwoven with and related to where my source of creativity springs from. I can’t change that. My work is an expression if my inner life, who I am, and how I relate to the world.
2) In your opinion, is there a distinction between male and female artists (their subject matter, approach, etc)? Why do you think the art field is male-dominated and do you see that changing?
It’s hard to define forms that intrinsically male or female. When you look back at the classical era, the Christian round to modern art, the female form is ubiquitous throughout. We know however, that unless it was crafted for magic purposes , art was created in a patriarchal society of male artists. I do know that the female reaction to life experience is distinctly different. Our experiences shape our personal vision of the world and our expression, naturally. I believe the main reason men make art, and have dominated the field is because they cannot create life, cannot reproduce. Why do they pursue the human form? It seems like male artists have liked playing God. The big difference, in my opinion, is that men cannot have babies. They only have an indirect, filtered approach when creating. The difference is that one can reproduce species-the other can’t. I believe this is the main reason males have been more active in making art.
3) What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your life as a woman?
Life’s journey should be expressed-handed to the world in a way of your choosing. When you release the experience, with some luck, you will find some level of external support. Now that I’ve reached maturity, I find I’m not seeking ambition and recognition so much as a sense of self-discovery and meaning. The goals and desires of my youth are no longer satisfying as I move away from narcissism toward meaning.
4) In a past solo exhibition in New York City on your series titled “Public Myth,” it seems there was an underlying message about the social influence/unconscious formation of a concept. What can you say about that?
The purpose of myths is to explain things we don’t have the capacity to understand. Public simply means understood by many. I see people reaching blindly to old patterns instilled in the dominant culture. These ideas may have roots in cultural perspective from long ago, another distant time, but in our contemporary world they are still accepted without question. As a conceptual artist, I use art to try and understand, resolve social issues, problems, and explore the great mysteries; life, death and regeneration on my own path toward self-discovery.
5) Growing up during the Social Revolution of the 50′s/60′s, how were you inspired? What was the atmosphere like and how do you see the consequences of the movement today?
Women’s Liberation movement of the 1960′s absolutely instilled in me a sense that I could find my own identity, rather than have it defined by an outside male-dominated social structure. I was raised from my adolescent years in a middle class society and that spirit of rebellion really sparked something in me-a desire for independence, freedom from mundane expectations and a sense of adventure, all of which are still an integral part of my character today.
Shelly Park: Combat Medic Deployed to Iraq
Shelly has been in the Army for 16 years. She spent 4 years on Active duty and 12 years in the National Guard. She is a 68WM6- aka Licensed Practical Nurse. She is also a Healthcare specialist or Combat Medic and has been on 2 tours to Iraq. Her first tour was 2006-07 to Balad, Iraq. Her second tour (where she currently resides, is 2010-11 to Camp Bucca, Iraq and COB Basra, Iraq. Shelly also had to leave her beautiful, young daughter behind each time she was deployed.
1) In three descriptive words, what has your experience in the military been like thus far?
Educational, Unforgettable, Life-altering
2) Do you ever experience gender bias, harassment, and/or prejudice because you are a woman, and from a woman’s perspective, how do you think the military can address these issues more acutely?
I personally have never experienced any form of gender bias in the Military. It may be because I am in the Medical field and there are plenty of opportunities for women in my career field. I do at times; feel that women are under appreciated in the military. It isn’t because we are in non-combat jobs generally, but because we are in non-combat jobs in a combat zone.
3) What benefits/significant contributions can women make as part of the military and why do you think the population of women in the Armed Forces is increasing as time goes on?
I think that women are becoming more independent, and the military offers a great opportunity for women to gain their independence. Women have equal opportunity for promotion in their respective career fields that men do. Promotion is not based on gender, but on your ability to be a good soldier. So, if you can prove yourself to be a good soldier, then you are judged on an equal basis as your male counterparts. You often do not see this in the civilian world.
4) What were, and are presently your personal goals in life? Has the military helped or hindered you in those goals?
I have always wanted to be a nurse. The Army has given my tremendous opportunity to become a great nurse. I have been able to care for and treat patients that I would not have had the opportunity to treat in the civilian world. The biggest hindrance has been my two deployments to Iraq in the fact that the places I have been, do not have big educational centers. This makes it difficult to take college classes to further my education. I also want to be the best Mother I can be to my daughter. She is an extraordinary young lady because she has been able to cope with separation from me at pivotal times in her life. The first time was when she was 10 years old and going to a new school, and the second time when she was 13-a teenager (enough said).
5) If you could say one thing to any other woman in the world to help empower her, or to help her evolve in a positive way, what would that be?
Follow your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot accomplish something. If you truly believe in something and want to make a difference, then don’t let anything hold you back. Be strong and believe in yourself and you can accomplish just about anything.
Interview with Claire Hoogendoorn, Representing the STEM World!
Photo Credit: Annie Hoogendoorn
Claire Hoogendoorn is a 28-year-old research scientist and doctoral student at Brooklyn College in New York City. Claire received her B.S. in Biopsychology from the University of Santa Barbara, California in 2005 and completed her M.A. at New York University in 2009. Her education and work has been centered mostly in the fields of social and cognitive neuroscience. Ms. Hoogendoorn has a journal publication in press on brain differences associated with obesity in teens, and her work has been mentioned in the New York Times and other new sources. She currently investigates the intersection of psychological and physical wellbeing in adolescents with a chronic illness and is preparing to present a poster on her current work at the upcoming 31st Annual Conference for the Anxiety Disorders Association of America in New Orleans.
1) There have been numerous studies conducted (namely one rather recently by the American Association of University Women) on the underrepresentation of women in the STEM fields. Did you ever see/experience this disparity first hand and/or experience adversity in either your academic or professional environments? Did this ever cause you a moment of hesitation to enter in your field of neuroscience research because of the overwhelming statistics?
First of all, the good news is that I think the gender disparity is shrinking. I especially see a lot of young female scientists in their 20s and 30s coming in and being very aggressive about claiming a higher position. The last scientific conference I attended was the Social and Affective Neuroscience conference in October of 2009, and I was pleasantly surprised to see so many young female scientists give a large proportion of the presentations. David Brooks, who spoke at the conference, touched on this youthful energy among both men and women in his Op-Ed “The Young and the Neuro” in the New York Times shortly following this conference. He wrote that, “When you go to an academic conference you expect to see some geeks, gravitas and graying professors giving lectures. But the people who showed up at the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society’s conference in Lower Manhattan last weekend were so damned young, hip and attractive.” I think that what David Brooks also touches upon here is that women have found a way to incorporate aesthetics and social intelligence, together with their academic knowledge, to create a researcher who is not only intelligent but also charming. This has, in my opinion, resulted in men having to up the ante as well.
But there are still many problems facing female scientists today. In my opinion, the most important and ignored issue is the lack of support for those who choose to have children. To stay competitive, women can’t really afford to take time off to have a child. Even during the initial few months after birth, when a scientist may qualify for maternity leave thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), this will typically only get her out of teaching requirements. Research never stops. I have seen many female researchers working straight up to the delivery and then through maternity leave to keep up with grant time-lines and demands. Not only this, but the path to a successful research and professorship career keeps being stretched, leading to more competition and training during one’s youth. The average age of principal investigators, who are in charge of their own research and grants, has gone up from mid 30s to early to mid 40s over the last generation. This again puts women choosing to have a child during the most competitive career years, at a significant disadvantage.
I have experienced both benefits and drawbacks to entering the academic sciences as a woman, though it can of course be difficult to separate gender influences from other factors. However, the issues I personally have had the most trouble with are, feeling as if I was not being taken as seriously as a thinker compared to male coworkers, and coming to terms with the implicit expectation that I would do twice as much work for less pay. The other female stereotype in the sciences that frustrates me is the idea that women are not as good at math. Math is actually one of my strongest areas. Ever since I moved to the US from the Netherlands I have been two years ahead in math at school, I took math requirements at a city college while still in high school, and scored much higher on Math than Verbal on both the SATs and GREs. Now I teach a statistics lab to undergraduates at Brooklyn College. The way that I have worked around the stereotype is to over-explain the mathematical steps that lead me to a certain conclusion, with clarifies the fact that I know what I am talking about.
And to answer the final part of your question, the difficulties associated with being female have never caused any moment’s hesitation for me in regards to becoming a research scientist. I don’t give up easily and enjoy being challenged. Above all, I very much enjoy proving others wrong.
2) More specifically, what field of study are you interested in researching (if you aren’t already studying it) and do you ever do experiments which isolate the differences and/or outcomes between men and women? If so, what are your feelings on this?
I find it very important that researchers study the cultural disparities between men and women, yet also find many things wrong with gender differences research in some fields. First, gender is affected by so many different factors, such as genetics, gestational hormone levels, gestational brain development, as well as social / cultural expectations and influences. I find it overly simplistic to divide individuals based only on one of these factors such as hormones or genetic makeup.
In addition, statistical analysis in gender differences research tends to point toward a larger percentage of commonality than differences, though people tend to focus most on the dissimilarities. In my opinion, gender is only a small part of who we are as human beings, and should not be given unwarranted importance. My focus has always been on finding common factors and unity.
A researcher named Campbell Leaper, at UCSC, focuses on this large area of common ground, and points out that when a measure shows a statistical difference between men and women, the two bell curves actually still have an overlap above 50%. This means that, even though a statistically significant difference was found between men and women on any one measure, over half of the participants still performed about the same. Instead, we choose to focus on the 30 – 40% or so who are different from one another.
Let me clarify, of course, that the perceived or stereotyped differences can have a huge impact on a woman’s life, as it often leads to discrimination and social inequality. Researchers should thus be focused mostly on social gender differences and not behavioral differences.
3) As a woman in this field, do you hope to maybe mentor or encourage other women to enter the STEM fields and what would you say to them if they were hesitant because of possible prejudices or stereotypes in that field?
I have always chosen to work with strong female researchers and feel quite fortunate to have received a bulk of my training from influential and extraordinary females. As an undergraduate I had the wonderful opportunity to work in the lab of a renowned female evolutionary psychologist, and as a master’s student I was again fortunate to join the lab of a prominent female cognitive neuroscientist. Today, I am once again happy to be mentored by a remarkable female psychologist. I would like to point out, however, that I have received some of my most meaningful training as a scientist working with a young male mentor, who never doubted my intelligence.
I have provided mentoring to young female researchers who are at the undergraduate level. I try to emphasize that female stereotypes don’t necessarily need to apply to all women. Women tend to stand up less for themselves when it comes to pay and receiving recognition for their contributions, because women often feel less deserving. Aggression, which is important in competitive environments, seems to be a difficult quality for women to dominate. It is something I am still learning to fully embrace myself. You have to learn to fight for yourself, though, because often no one else will. Young women need to remain confident and strong, and expect equal treatment.
4) Have you conducted any studies where there is an overwhelming finding on how women are more subject to certain disorders/stresses more so than men? And are there any possible hypothesis on why this would be?
This is an excellent question with an interesting answer. Research findings indicate that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder compared to men. Women are also more likely to develop depression, and many other psychological disorders. There can be several reasons for this. It is possible that women feel more comfortable, or at least more socially accepted, talking about their feelings; or women may simply be more prone to certain psychological disorders. However, it is also important to note that men are more likely than women to turn to drugs and alcohol when they experience depression or anxiety, in which case many men with psychological disorders may be diagnosed with drug addiction instead. Men and women also tend to report different symptoms, with men’s descriptions being focused more on physical symptoms (fatigue, sleep disturbances, irritability, and loss of interest), while female complaints tend to be more psychological in nature (feelings of sadness, worthlessness and excessive guilt). These findings in combination suggest to me that men and women likely experience psychological disorders at similar rates, but are simply diagnosed and treated differently due largely to cultural factors.
My current work is focused mostly on the interaction between psychological and physical wellbeing in adolescents with a chronic illnesses. Chronic illness can be very anxiety provoking and have significant effect on one’s quality of life, especially for children. This increased level of anxiety, in turn, may have direct biological effects on inflammatory processes, overall disease activity, and even drug effectiveness. I hope to help integrate our understanding of psychological and medical care, and unite the two fields. I thus don’t deal directly with gender differences, though I find the topic interesting.
5) As a greatly accomplished, brilliant and hard-working woman, what are your hopes toward the general progression of women’s equality?
I strongly believe that gender should not be overly considered when judging someone’s preferences and abilities. There are so many variations of influences that act on a person’s strengths, weaknesses and personal inclinations. It is impractical to assume all these differences are due to hormones or genetics alone.
Stereotyping is an unfortunate side effect of how the brain functions. The process of categorizing happens to be the way that our brains learn and remember knowledge. To save time, the brain often creates stereotypes to allow for quick judgment and decision-making. However, when judgments are made based on these compartmentalized definitions of gender, it can lead to significant consequences. Just because the brain has paired “submissive” with “female” however, doesn’t mean that all women are submissive, or should be considered submissive. Even though we cannot alter the way that the brain functions, we can slowly change the contents of the stereotypes to be more positive.
On a practical level, I hope to see more women embracing the sciences and math. I truly believe that science can only benefit from including more perspectives, including those from women and minorities. Women interested in science and math should be receiving more support from family, teachers and the community. As a math teacher and researcher, I definitely hope to be a source of this encouragement.
Thank you, Kiki, for your thought-provoking and intimate questions! It was a pleasure having the opportunity to answer them.
LESLEY CLARK, WRITER
Lesley Clark is a writer, painter, adjunct professor, and observer. She is the author of the book of poems, “The Absence of Colour,” and is currently writing. She lives in Texas and is mighty damn proud to be a WOMAN!
1) If you could describe in 3 words what life to you as a writer is like.
Interesting, necessary and therapeutic.
Because of my nature to explain (sometimes overly explain, ) I get a bit nervous keeping things simplistic or short. I haven’t mastered the art of summarizing my work to one sentence or logline.
Writing is: Interesting, because my mind is always engaged. Since I was a child, I have written. I was writing before I could actually write anything legible. I made up stories, created pictures and read them aloud to friends, family, teachers, anyone who would listen. At four years old, I took my mom’s blank photo albums and turned them into story books. I told everyone I was going to be a writer. Back then, most people shrugged and said I would change my mind. My aunt insisted I was going to be a teacher or nurse. (The early social expectations of what a woman should/shouldn’t do began.) My mom believed in me and raised me to be independent, free thinking and capable of doing anything. She said I could be anything I wanted. I never doubted her and continued writing.
Necessary because unless you really know me it takes a little bit for me to open up. Sometimes I don’t. It’s not always appropriate for me. I take in a lot of things. I spend a lot of time thinking, writing and imagining things. I can live life and also live it in an alternate reality. It’s an amazing thing to be able to re-live all the best moments and change the things you don’t/didn’t like.
When my classmates were out on the playground, I was in the library reading or writing a story. Sometimes my stories were about me playing on the playground. It’s not just something I like to do, I don’t think I’d be complete if I didn’t write.
Therapeutic. It used to irk me when people would say the overly cliched thing that writing was “therapeutic.” I didn’t understand the concept. I wrote because I felt like I needed to. I guess in some way that was therapy for me. When I learned to get over the whole context of being a complete and utter cliche…I decided that it was, in fact, therapeutic. Half the time, I am compiling lists of things to do, accomplish, write; solutions, pros, cons…etc. I work things out on paper. It’s the cheapest form of therapy and a good type of “self help.” I like being able to read things from the past and understand what I was thinking at a given moment. It’s empowering and helpful, an archive and document from my life.
2) What does feminism mean to you…
Feminism is empowerment of women. It is the belief that women can do anything, be anyone and not conform to the so-called gender roles that have thrived in society. Feminism is a woman working in corporate america, a woman nursing her baby in public and not having half the world think something is wrong or sick about it. Feminism is creating equal rights for women and a woman’s right to choose. It is about standing up for equal pay, it is standing up for equal benefits and choices. It is about knowledge, change and adapatabity. If a woman wants to have a baby and go back to work and have her husband stay at home with the baby, then so be it. Every woman should have a choice. If a woman wants to stay home and raise her baby, that’s okay too. It’s all about choices and attitude. There can be a man’s name on the ballot for president and a woman’s name. It’s not about gender, it’s about who will be better for the job. It shouldn’t be a gender issue. It should be a choice.
3) Have there been any particular experiences in your life where you felt empowered as a woman and why?
It’s kind of a funny story, but in my early adulthood, I didn’t really understand the whole magnitude of what it meant to be a woman. There were differences in men and women, I knew that, but to me, personally, I was a bit clueless. I knew that I really didn’t fit in with the whole ideals of what I thought a woman was supposed to be. Most of these “ideals” I got from watching movies. I didn’t wear a bra. I didn’t even own a bra. I hated bras and claimed I was allergic. Turns out, I just didn’t have the right fitting. I dreaded the monthly change and didn’t really get the full picture. It wasn’t until I was invited to be a speaker at a conference celebrating women that I finally got it. I was asked to write a poem about what it was like to be a woman, and I was slightly horrified. I was afraid I wasn’t going to represent anyone at all. I didn’t feel particularly feminine or sexy and I didn’t have children, wasn’t married and frankly, was a bit peeved that Eve got the short end of the stick- and I was asked to write something about being a woman?!!! It got me thinking and for two weeks before the conference, it hit me. I wrote a poem about my findings. I was completely touched and proud to be a woman. I had a better understanding of myself and when I got to the conference and made my speech and read my poem, I had a line of women (and men) waiting to tell me that they had similar experiences and shared them with me. It was an amazing moment. It was an honest moment. It was a moment that made me more than proud to be a woman.
4) Is it important to you personally and /or professionally (in your writing) to be in touch with femininity or womanhood and why?
In order for me to be genuine and true to myself, I have to address my own femininity and womanhood. Right now I am working on personal narratives about my upbringing. Somehow I don’t think that I could narrate them from a male perspective and still capture my own essence. My life is about change and growth, experiments, shortcomings, interests, and a lot of awkwardness. Awkwardness has been a big part of my life and a lot of it has to do with metamorphosing into a woman. My feelings, emotions and outlook on life all have to do with my worldview. My worldview is that of a woman. A woman, though, that truly believes she has the tools (or will find the tools) to do whatever she wants in life.
5) What can we each do individually (men and women) to progress towards more equality and less prejudice towards women?
Individually, we can do what you are doing; get the word out there. Expose everything. You know the saying “ignorance is bliss?” Well, it’s not! It’s horrific. There are a lot of people in this world that only know what their mothers and fathers are teaching them. Or they are stuck in a system where there is no choice. When we have options and education, we have a means to help others. The internet is vast with topics. If we can make these topics mainstream then it is an easier dialogue in order to engage and encourage others. Regardless of race, creed, social status, we need to create open dialogues. Now is the time! I think people can handle it. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin both ran for political positions. It’s paving the way for more people to get out there to reach out, stretch and attain what they want. A woman should never feel like the second sex. A woman should never feel small, little or less than any counterpart. A woman should rise and make her voice be heard. Women should encourage women, Men should encourage women and women should encourage men to speak up, act up, think up and do up! If we are informed and aware, we can make big leaps into making positive changes.