Shirts Belonging to the Emperor Scientist

Gentle Reader, how long do I have to go without blogging before you start sending me solicitous letters of concern for my health, my Internet connection, and the distribution of my assets after death, huh???

I’ve got a backlog of stuff to write about, which summer lassitude will mostly doom to obscurity… but here are a few of the gender and science things:

  • Someone’s started a geek feminism wiki. The entries are still pretty sketchy – the “women in science” article is just an empty link – but what a great concept!
  • I’ve always assumed that the reason no one has ever marketed a male hormonal birth control is that it is a difficult biological problem. Apparently that’s no longer true; there are reasonable (if less than ideal) systems in advanced stages of development, but intractable kneejerk sexism on the part of drug company executives leads them to consistently underestimate the potential market. Because the concept doesn’t seem profitable, no one is investing in the final stage of clinical trials. File it under “patriarchy hurts men too”:

    “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” says Dr. David Handelsman, an Australian researcher who has spent two decades studying male contraceptives, including an implant-injection system that delivers testosterone via an implant in the arm, plus a progestin in four yearly injections. “The pharmaceutical industry is completely disconnected from the public and medical perceptions of need.”


    If even a small percentage of sexually active men agreed to try a new method of birth control, that would amount to a colossal number of potential consumers. That’s why [director of the Male Contraception Coalition Kirsten] Thompson doesn’t believe the drug industry’s hesitance to develop male hormonal birth control is merely about money. “The biggest hurdle that I’ve encountered in trying to share this information is a sort of knee-jerk reaction that men aren’t interested in these kinds of contraceptives and that women won’t trust them to take them,” she says. “Neither of those assertions are supported by the data.”

  • Dr. Isis discovered that half of the most gratuitously cleavaged women on television are in STEM professions.
  • The August Scientiae is up, in a part of the Internet no one thinks of as “real blogs” ’cause it’s populated by lots of women.

Most women’s tops, on television or otherwise, can be divided into the following categories:

  1. Crisply tailored
  2. Modestly draped
  3. Suggestively draped
  4. Tentlike
  5. Tight sweaters
  6. Conceiving of breasts as incompressible floating orbs
  7. Expediting the transformation from buttoned-up nerd to breathless movie love interest
  8. Pert
  9. Romanticized visions of an exotic Other
  10. Revealing a touch of cleavage which grows and shrinks in the eye of the beholder
  11. Revealing a touch of cleavage which grows and shrinks in the eye of a Beholder, unless you make a saving throw
  12. Requiring a special bra
  13. Drawn with a very fine camel hair brush
  14. Shirts that from a long way off look like flies

During my first year in college, my body finally left its gawky adolescence and these options gradually dropped away from me. After gaining some weight last spring I am left with the following taxonomy:

  1. Unprofessionally boobulous
  2. Shirts which appear to be professional attire in the morning, but when some slobberfaced lecher looks at you the wrong way in the afternoon they are revealed to have been unprofessionally boobulous all along
  3. Muumuus

… yeah, okay, I have no actual lesson about womanhood in science to draw from these lists, but it’s been several months since I last made a gratuitous Borges reference and my literary clock is ticking, you know?

Also, I am going to drop a bunch of money on fancy photography next month, and still haven’t figured out what to wear, so I’ve got necklines on the brain to a particularly uncustomary extent. You’d think wedding dresses would all be drawn with very fine camel-hair brushes, but you would be wrong. Mostly, from a long way off they look like maggots.


  1. Lynne wrote:

    Working in her office, making her rounds, evaluating a patient: it doesn’t seem to matter who she is distracting, or how much she risks undermining her authority.

    Wow, the language in that tv cleavage article is crazy. It’s all, “how can anyone be expected to take a woman seriously if we notice she has breasts!!!” I mean, the gratuitous cleavage accented on tv scientists to make them non-threateningly feminine and simultaneously present for sex appeal is blatantly ridiculous and more than a little sexist, duh. But at the same time, the commentary to make on that is NOT “I can’t a woman seriously if she looks sexy!”

    I don’t think you can avoid the slobberous leches even if your boobs are well-hidden. ;-) But yeah, the unhideable-chest-in-a-professional-setting (read: male setting) can be problematic. It’s just frustrating because it soooo shouldn’t be a problem to have boobs at work!!

  2. Kim wrote:

    I’m trying to figure out whether the revealing tank top on the TV versions of women scientists is an improvement over the old stereotype. (Lab coat, glasses, hair in a bun. Even if she’s a field scientist. But when she puts Science aside and becomes a Woman, she suddenly becomes hot… and starts wearing contacts, or gets Lasix, or something.)

  3. Philip H. wrote:

    Since I’m married to a hot, boobulous coastal fisheries ecologist, I’m not sure I can help you in your dilemma. I will say though, from the male prospective, if you love what you wear, and you think you look good in it, we generally will too.

  4. Silver Fox wrote:

    Lechers will look at anything, as there seems to be no standard, agreed-upon, lecher code or standard.

    Was that last paragraph an announcement? If so, congrats, and don’t get one that looks like a maggot. Yes, IMO, they can be horrendous. I went with red velvet.

  5. Maria wrote:

    @Philip, I appreciate the encouragement. Really, though, I’m not worried about whether men think I look good or not – men thinking that I look good is often part of the problem (the rest of the problem is when they feel entitled to stare or act on their opinion, or ignore what I am trying to say). I’m worried about the weird line between “looking good” and “looking good baby woo”.

    @Kim, I think it depends on whether you find it refreshing or stifling to be considered some kind of asexual un-woman. I’m mostly in the “refreshing” camp myself – there are plenty of other places in the world where I can be reminded of my duty to serve as male eye candy, or even prance around to be looked at if I want – but people vary. I don’t think forcing female scientists into a different archetype can ever constitute an “improvement”.

  6. Maria wrote:

    Silver: Heh, thanks. We’ve been engaged for so long, I keep forgetting that I need to re-announce it every so often for the benefit of newcomers.

    A detailed, anatomically correct maggot dress would be awesome. About half our friends would find it funny and family would just be confused. Red velvet is a distinct possibility, but my goal is to spend less on a dress than I just did on the liquid nitrogen dewar, so we’ll see what the consignment shops have for me.

  7. coconino wrote:

    I like the science-y TV shows but have lately been very put off by the rediculous display of excess cleavage that one might only see in a red light district in real life. I have to laugh at the prospect of running after a “perp” in spike heels. Broken ankle, anyone?

    BTW, at my wedding I wore a red silk skirt and hot pink silk tank top. No need to look like a maggot and I don’t think it cost more than a liquid N dewar. Good luck and congrats.

  8. Cherish wrote:

    My shirts all seem to fall into category 2 of the second taxonomy.

    I found a wedding dress I loved, but couldn’t convince my husband-to-be to let me drop $5000 on a dress…especially when the nearest retailer would have been 8 hours away. Instead, I hit the sale at David’s Bridal. Since I wasn’t spending as much money, I went with the dress I didn’t like but that everyone said looked the best on me. I wish there weren’t such a disparity between how we would like to look in a particular piece of clothing (especially that one) and the reality. :-)

    Good luck.

  9. Lab Lemming wrote:

    Are the above categories supposed to be exclusive? I would expect 6 and 9 (and possibly 12?) to overlap, for example…

  10. christie wrote:

    Ah! i know what you’re talking about. My thesis-weight didn’t make me less attractive to men but it sure shifted my demographic. ug.
    1+2 = 7.

    I went for the jeans and t-shirt and recommend the same.

  11. Bee wrote:

    Women have boobs, some of us have Big Cleavage. Most men I encounter don’t stare – at least not when I might catch them. You would think, with the vast amount of boobage on TV and in advertising, men would be somewhat desensitized by now, and I suspect many are, possibly a good thing in terms of those of us trying to work.

    Congrats and get a wedding dress you like. I got mine at a bridal rental place. The sales ladies were great, and dug out a dress that they must have been hanging onto since 1950 – it was exactly what I wanted, and the fee was very reasonable.

  12. Isis the Scientist wrote:


    I had no idea my humble post had sparked boob discussions in the science blogosphere. I hope you all feel inspired to show more cleavage.


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