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Wilkommen to my blog - my name is Karin Purshouse, and I'm a doctor in the UK. If you're looking for ramblings on life as a junior doctor, my attempts to dual-moonlight as a scientist and balancing all that madness with a life, you've come to the right place. I'm currently a doctor/research trainee in oncology after spending a year doing research in the USA. All original content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Trouble with Girls?

Burlington, VT - although I liked 
seeing the real thing in Machias, NY!
The one point on which I have failed spectacularly to leave my homeland behind is radio - sorry, NPR, I just can't seem to tear myself away from the BBC and particularly its podcasts.  They have been my constant companion through long lab days, making me laugh embarrassingly loudly at its Friday Night comedy shows (which obviously no-one here finds funny, with the subtleties of British life and humour not relevant to the USA at all - but I can highly recommend!) or short novels which run the perfect length of a protein assay.  

There may not be obvious connections with the things I am about to discuss - but bear with me!  Because I'm somehow going to try and connect Sir Tim Hunt's comments on 'the trouble with girls' in laboratories, the United Nations, a BBC World Service book club podcast about a book on Afghanistan under the Taliban and Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame - and why men and women should both be championing equality for their own benefit.  

How could I NOT write a blog post about the absolutely hilarious story that hit the news - ladies of science, tie up your luscious locks, cover up your bikinis and put some long, sensible trousers on, because apparently we are a BIG DISTRACTION in the lab (and don't get all weepy about it in the process).  

Places to be young and grow old :)
Hilarious, but perhaps a serious point to be made.  Lordy knows there aren't enough glass ceilings without eminent scientists such as a Nobel Laureates stating that the problem with women in the lab is that everyone falls in love with each other whilst the women go about crying all the time.  Workplace romances are obviously, clearly, not the select store of laboratories, and hey, I have not cried once about work this year - not a claim that can be made of my job in healthcare!  But anyway - I'm (hopefully?!) stating obvious points here - people fall in love in all kinds of workplaces, and women are not cry babies, thank you very much.  Why do the women have to leave?!

Brewery Tour 2015 - possibly #1 so far...? Switchback, VT.
Obviously his comments were based on women in labs, a world where there is generally (or from what I have experienced) equality.  But his comments are rooted in perceiving the weakness and fragility of women.  Despite this, around the world, women are much persecuted because of societal or religious notions of what they are supposed to be doing - and staying mighty strong in the process.  It rather puts any whining I've done about being a female doctor or whatever into perspective, knowing and simultaneously resenting that I feel 'lucky' to have grown up in a society that broadly respects women as equals.  Although people can express gender equality as an aspiration on morality grounds, when I went to the United Nations those many weeks ago, we were lucky to listen to an amazing talk by a representative from the (deep breath in) Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sexual Violence in Conflict.  It was really quite amazing the evidence she presented, economically, for gender equality and the role of women in society; I mean, obviously sad that some people need this kind of persuasion, but the depth and strength of the arguments were ones even I, as a woman, had not considered.   Yasmina Khadra's discussion of his latest book, The Swallows of Khabul, in one of my favourite book club podcasts to date had me compelled throughout - a book which has some centre on the experience of women under the Taliban, but is very much explored through the perspective of the society, and men, that exist around it.  But - I found particularly moving the author's description of his personal response to the part of the book he found most difficult to write about. 

I would like to live here, please. Littleton, MA.
This reaction towards this, and his general mega-respect for women expressed throughout the podcast, made me think on Emma Watson's talk on gender equality, which I realise has its critics, but I happen to be a big fan of - mainly her section on gender equality being an issue for men as well as women.  A great little excerpt:

'Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals.'

I have written/spoken previously of my experiences as a female doctor or 'leader' (sorry that just sounds so cheesy...) - but even as I wrote those things it felt almost fraudulent to talk just about my experience of these things As A Girl, as if I was missing something.  As 'Hermione Granger' (currently my hair icon...) points out, exemplified by perhaps both Sir Tim Hunt (even if he didn't intend to do so!) and Yasmina Khadra - why must we focus on female habits to be weak and meek, while men are strong, thereby allowing neither to be the other?  In my role as a doctor, and generally in life, I think it is important I am allowed to be both, and my male counterparts to be the same.  Increasingly I realise when I was writing about being a female doctor, perhaps I should have been thinking more about gender equality for both sexes.

Reading back this blogpost, I am led to feel it's rather a swirl of thoughts rather than successful crafting of specific ideas and conclusions.  Another thing to add to the seemingly endless list of things to process from all I have explored during my time in the USA!

In other news, this weak, fragile (!) woman wishes she could chop herself into a few pieces and distribute them in several corners of the world right now - India, Oxford, Wiltshire, Newcastle, and wrap a few hugs around some key people that she is missing a very great deal (despite any game face to suggest otherwise).  But until then, back to the lab - there is nothing #distractinglysexy about lab work - perhaps something to consider for those who read Sir Tim Hunt's comments and were considering a career switch to get in on the action...

*puts her sexy wide-rimmed spectacles back on*

Addendum (21st June 2015) - Given the media storm that has followed the comments made by Sir Tim Hunt, I just wanted to add my personal view given the events that have followed, light hearted as this post was intended to be at the time of writing.  It is my personal feeling that his comments were not made in the serious belief of the inferiority or weakness of female scientists, having since read more details about the whole situation, although undoubtedly his comments were ill-advised (as he has acknowledged).  This blog is not written by an angry feminist (more a positive one!), and I somewhat disagree with the heavy handed-ness Sir Hunt's comments provoked as I feel it rather closes the door for discussion around the genuine challenges facing scientists or doctors where gender or indeed any discriminator are concerned.  That was the spirit in which the above post was written.  

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