The research, the work I am doing for my thesis, can be incredibly disheartening. Diving in deep with the realities of a life scientific for Women, knowing that so many of us are dealing with the same issues fifty and sixty years later that pioneers like Rita Colwell, Barbara McClintock, Anna Berkovitz, Barbara Barres, Alice Huang, and so very very very many others did, it’s enough to break down even the most calloused individual. This work is breaking. But it is so vitally important.
So I keep pushing. I keep reading. I keep talking with Women like myself each with our own stories of what it is like in university science departments. So many stories… so so so many stories. It gets hard to breathe at times.
Drowning in this sea of sexism and racism, of a science not built to be inclusive, of a science built only for white men of a certain affluence, sometimes I have to remind myself to come up for air. It is too easy to get pulled into a horrifying current that would leave me bleeding out upon the rocks. So I remind myself to stop. I remind myself to breathe. I remind myself to find the sun. And how do I do that? Picture books.
This last year I’ve found many glimmers of hope in picture books. These books did not exist when I was a child. Books full of strong, amazing, intelligent, Women willing to fight for themselves and for all of us who would come after them.
It’s too easy to get lost in the dark sea that is the stories of these Women when told for adults, told for my fellow scientists (too few who have cared to read them, to swim with them, to hold space for them in their hearts and minds). The realities of their stories can very quickly leave you split open. …but these same stories are being told in heartening and inspiring ways for children.
Yes, when told like this, the stories are stripped of the horrifying details. But sometimes that’s what we need if we are going to move forward. Sometimes we just need to know that these Women existed, and persisted, and did such amazing things. Sometimes we need to hear their stories presented in a way that lets us believe we can accomplish magick.
Today another picture book arrived for my tiny but growing collection, and just in time. I have had a rough week. Too much heartbreak, too many times being dashed against the cutting corals in this cold sea… and yes, I may be beating this metaphor to death, but damn, it’s one I hold to because of how desperately my heart clings to the memory of warm Caribbean oceans.
Today I read about Eugenie Clark in picture book format. And it reminded me again of why I am so determined to continue this work, even though it so completely tears me apart. Because, as Colwell confides in her incredible autoethnography, A Lab of One’s Own; One Woman’s Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science, “Although we all felt less alone after telling one another our personal stories, I was eager to do more than just share sad and futile anecdotes. I wanted action”.
Thus I do what I can to heal my heart between the deep and terrifying dives, so that I have the strength left needed for that action. And that means reading picture books. Books that didn’t exist when I was a child. Books then show people like me doing amazing things. Things that my wild child self didn’t know were possible. Things that inspire the “I can.”
So thank you to all the Women who fought so hard before me. Thank you for your courage and your strength. I borrow yours when mine is lacking. Thank you for giving me the fight I need to keep going, thank you for inspiring me to dive into these cold waters where I too can swim with sharks.