A Quick and Questionable Post About Wearing Gloves

No longer considered taboo, condoms even have their own day of celebration.

If you’ve read the back of Mixed In you know that the plot involves condoms. This is nothing new. Literature about condoms goes way back. In 1655 “seed catchers” made from linen cloth tied on with ribbons  were celebrated in L’Escole de Filles (The Philosophy of Girls) which was both a novel and a play. In this popular work, the suggested use of a condom was to spare the woman. This was a revolutionary idea because they were only used as a disease protection device for men. The hero in the condemned but popular tale wore a condom. Thus, the association of heroes wearing condoms and scoundrels not wearing them was forged.

As the popularity of condoms spread throughout the 17th century, so did euphemisms for them. During Shakespeare’s time naughty slang words began with “qu” which was pronounced “k.” For example, a male’s private part was a “quipped” and a woman’s a “quaint.” Shakespeare used the word “quondam” much as one might used “condom.” He later used the word “glove “in this way and “glove” became the English term for condom for many years after. Let it be noted that gentlemen wore gloves out of respect for ladies.

This wasn’t the end of quondams as a topic for literature and conversation. In 1709 the Second Duke of Argyll waved one about in Parliament and blamed them for allowing gentlewomen  and women of quality–this means women who were financially independent– to be “debauched.”He wanted them to be outlawed. Fortunately, he was an unpopular fellow so his rant simply helped spread the word about quondams. In this same year, a poem about them called “Almonds for Parrots” became popular followed by “Ode to a Condom” which praised them for preventing big bellies, bubos (syphilis), and squabbling brats.

During the 18th century, women were the primary condom sellers and producers. Mrs. Phillips was a popular condom merchant in London with a shop near the Strand in the early 1700s. She made her wares from sheep caecum and brimstone (sulfur) vapors.  After 1843, rubber condoms became the norm.

As you can see, condoms have long been used, admired, and written about fondly.

I’d like to credit this book for the information used in this post with additional support from this one. And if you’d like to support/read a modern sci-fi about condoms, here’s a  link.

Periodic betrayal or clueless man?

thIn every profession, the newcomers rely on the old guard to help them make their way. There are many tales, as that of The Tragic Triumph of M.S. Tswett, where the established powers fail to recognize the achievements of the outsider. Sadly, science is a human endeavor and one can’t write about women in science without mentioning bias and harassment. My observation is that this is most common in that bastion of male dominion, physics. In a recent study of women in astronomy, 82% of them had heard sexiest remarks, 57% had enjoyed verbal sexual harassment, and 9% physical harassment. To put it into perspective, part of getting a Ph.D. is to put up with the abuse of the powerful, but this shouldn’t include sexism. When you reply on those who sexually harass you for approval and letters of reference, it’s a powerless place to be. This is nothing new.

Lise Meitner is a famous case of sexism and betrayal. This occurred at the hands of a male colleague who she considered a close friend. Did this happen hundreds of years ago? No. Less than 100 years ago, in the 1940s science saw perhaps its most infamous blackguard in the person of one Nobel prize winner, Otto Hahn.

Dr. Meitner earned a doctorate in physics in 1905. In 1918, she and her lab partner, Otto Hahn, discovered protactinium. They began a series of experiments designed to make a heavier element than uranium, the largest natural element. They did this by hitting uranium with subatomic particles known as neutrons. Instead of getting larger, the uranium got smaller. It was surely puzzling.

Lise was born to a rich Jewish family and had to flee to the Netherlands during this time of Hitler’s power. However, she had plenty of time to think and wrote to her partner, Hahn, about a new process that they were observing: fission.

Hahn published and later won the Nobel prize for his discover of fission. Did he take the trouble to mention his lab partner of thirty years, who interpreted the results of the experiment for him? No. He did not. In fact, he spoke badly about her behind her back. His excuse: She was in exile when the famous paper had been written. She had won a “Woman of the Year” prize. Wasn’t that enough for her? She was portrayed as having fled Germany with the secret of the bomb and giving it to the Allies. For this, Hahn saw her as a traitor. This whole treatment shattered her self confidence.

Lise herself spoke of the overt sexism she faced. She said that being a woman was “almost half a crime.” She was sad about her treatment by Hahn, but never did despair about not getting the Nobel Prize for her discovery. It had been used to make a weapon and for this she held remorse. Hahn himself never rested easy with it. To honor Lise, element 109 was named Meitnerium. Is there a Hahnium? Well, it was once proposed as a name for element 105, but in the end, this element was named Dubnium after a town in Russia. At least on the periodic table, there’s no place for a sexist jerk.


Male vs Female: a mistaken notion

A new study confirms: male and female brains are remarkably similar. The idea of gender similarity isn’t new. A pioneering paper by Janet Shibley Hyde (U of Wisconsin-Madison) came out ten years ago and has been supported by subsequent and previous research. In this paper, she finds a few gender differences such as  muscle mass and in some tasks such as throwing (men excel) and sexuality (men masterbate more for example, or at least, they did in 2005). She also mentions that cancer may behave differently in males and females.

However, men are not better at math or abstract reasoning, women are not more caring or moral. Adolescent boys are just as vulnerable to self-esteem issues as are adolescent girls.Girls are not more social. Boys are not better at higher order thinking. Both men and women act heroically. Men are slightly more aggressive but not by much. As these studies point out, the idea that men are from Mars and women from Venus is not based on biology. In fact, that idea is hugely harmful. It can lead to low expectations for communication between men and women. It can cause young women to forsake math and science.  I was urged to do this by the high school counciler since supposedly women did not have the brains for it. The idea that just girls have self-esteem problems leaves vulnerable boys overlooked.

Harping on gender differences goes back to  1879, around the time people also thought that there were racial differences that mattered.  As early as 1918, this notion was being questioned. Scientists couldn’t find the cognitive differences. This didn’t stop the book Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus from selling over three million copies. The author of that book even maintains a relationship advice site and sells nutrition products from it. I was given a copy of it by a boss.I’m not sure why. Bottom line: it’s crap. Feel free to defy expectations.

Ogle vs bogle

A new study confirms the obvious–men size women up by how they are built. Women even do it to each other. We’ve all caved in to this notion that a woman’s value is in her body. But read the article further. What kind of women embrace this objectification? Those with low self-worth. It’s a destructive pattern–look good or be worthless, get insecure about your worth as you age. You’re not going to win. As a young woman, my high school guidance councilor discouraged me from getting a degree in science. Women don’t have the brains for it, he said. I’m glad I didn’t listen. In science, your data is what people look at. In fact, scientists who look too slick bring out my suspicions. Yes, books are judged by their cover elsewhere. I’ve even heard people in business laugh about not hiring someone because of their shoes. This makes me happy to have gotten that chemistry degree. I know when my data is good and I can get good data even on a bad hair day. There’s something freeing about putting on those safety goggles and saying “Screw you world, for the next few hours, I’m not even trying to impress you with my looks. I’m going to boggle you with what I discover.”

New species of spider and a discussion on sexuality

I’m not the first one to wonder why in humans, it’s often the females who adorn themselves. It’s not natural and you need to look no further than newly discovered Eresus hermani

to see yet another example of this.  Which one do you think is the female?


You guessed it. The one on the left. According to biologist Paulina Mena “Evolutionarily speaking, sexual selection has to do with investment in reproduction. The mode in nature is that females invest more in making gametes and in many cases in parental care than males. This means that females maximize their reproductive success by being choosy. This is what leads to the elaborate adornments, bird songs, dances, etc. in males. They are trying to be picked.”

Of course,as my anthropologist/sociologist friends point out, not all human cultures put an emphasis on female adornment. In some cultures, males and females are equally adorned or not and in others, the men are the fancy ones.  Jeff Bass points out that “There is a general observation that there tends to be less gender equality (or more female dis-empowerment) in societies based on intensive agriculture.” This possibly comes as women are less central to economic production, and is less of a factor in industrialized countries where there’s plenty of work for women to do. In this case, adornment is less important.

When males and females look different, it’s called sexual dimorphism. (Sexual dichromatism is the term for different coloration between males and females.) As far as humans go, we don’t have exaggerated sexual dimorphism. Some studies have suggested that when males and females look similar to each other, there is less fighting and competition among males. Is grooming oneself, trying to look different, encouraging competition? If we were a gender neutral society, would we be more peaceful? (more on this topic in the next post)


The Unbearable Lightness of Romance

There’s plenty of lighthearted science in Natural Attraction. As I wrote it, I had a hard time deciding if it should become scifi or romance. Both include passion, mystery, discovery. I went with romance because the romance industry is a nice place. As Emma Teitel points out, in romance the female always wins. And the man always wins. What’s not to love?  Have you read about all the fighting over the scifi Hugo Awards? I’m glad to have made the decision to go with a happy genre where women support each other. Romance can be clever, fun, and funny. The first romance novel I ever read was The Changeling Bride by Lisa Cach. It was creative, informative, sexy, and it made me laugh–and think. Almost like the ideal partner. Almost like science itself. And as someone who was once part of a Shakespeare festival, I can tell you that those romantic happy endings are a lot more challenging than the sad ones.  As Malia Wollan points out, romance springs from “a desire to see goodness in the world.” Glad to be a part of the romance industry! There can’t be too much love in the world.