What Has Your Congress Been Doing?
The INSPIRE Women Act! Apparently meant to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers. A goal I wholeheartedly support, probably more than most of the people who voted for this thing, and certainly more than POTUS. After all, a fuckable woman is wasted in STEM careers in those ugly lab coats and safety goggles. A STEM girl, like a B-cup (or smaller) girl, can never be a 10, which is what girls should really aspire to be in Trump’s America.
To be fair, I’m quite sure that this bill’s sponsors really believe in STEM for girls. The bill passed by a voice vote in both the House and Senate, so there is no record of who voted for/against, so it’s difficult to speculate about the motives of any individual member of Congress. Voice votes are handy ways to hide controversial viewpoints. They are also handy ways to efficiently rubber-stamp meaningless stuff without all the trouble of debate and roll-calls, etc., which is actually a large proportion of what actually gets accomplished in Congress. Examples are naming a new post office/VA medical facility after a local hero, resolutions for National Right-Handed Non-freckled Paraplegic Potato-Eating Fans of Duckpin Bowling Day. Sure. Whatever. “Aye.”
However, when you actually read the bill, the smell of bullshit is palpable. First of all, it may be called The INSPIRE Women Act, but it takes pains to include programs for boys as well. The reason for this is, as we all have learned over the last few years, efforts to combat or ameliorate the effects of sexism are sexist, and while traditional direct sexism against women is perfectly OK and natural and required by God, remediative sexism against men is pure evil.
Second, the new law requires NASA to “encourage” women and girls by “promoting” particular named STEM programs for girls AND boys, and to write up a plan to submit to Congress. That there is a lovely empty platitude. What means “encourage”? What means “promoting”? Not only that, but those of you not in government may not realize that “writing up plan” might mean one person in an office spending a month doing some research and writing something up, buy it almost certainly doesn’t. More likely, there will be a team of Management Analyst types, a zillion meetings with “customers” and/or “stakeholders” (which are the Clinton-era and Obama-era euphemisms for The American People), another zillion meetings to discuss the first meetings, then a series of meetings in which management strips everything tangible and substantive out of the draft plan, then more meetings to bully the people who were naive enough to think that the project was actually supposed to produce something useful into joining the mandatory consensus, then meetings in which the senior management strips out everything that suggests that what senior management has been doing all along could be improved in any way, and then it all goes to the PAS’s, where anything remotely useful that happened to survive to this point is removed. Sometimes there is a kernel of something that can be contracted out at that point to someone’s buddy, but that’s only if “more study” is required or an extant program to accept grant applications (with the grant eventually going to someone’s buddy). All of this costs a gazillion dollars that no one much cares about because the overall Federal budget is so gigantic. But Congress is certainly not going to appropriate any additional funds for all of this, so the real cost is the opportunity cost, i.e., all that stuff that NASA might have actually done to support STEM girls but can’t because those resources have to go to writing up a plan for supporting STEM girls instead.
I’m good at math, or at least I was before depression killed off so many of my brain cells. My high school Calculus teacher, Mr. Childress used to bump into my mother at Virginia Commonwealth University regularly back then, and he always had loads of praise for my brother Aaron, widely considered to be a math mega-genius. However, “It’s too bad that Laura is not mathematically inclined.” Motherfucker. I was the best math student in my class. Not so much in English (Hi Kim! and probably 10 other people), but math belonged to me. I got straight As in Mr. Childress’ calculus class. I took 10 hours of college calculus too, and not the baby math classes for humanities majors either (although I was one). Level 151-152, for science majors. I got straight As in that too. Mr. Childress could not see me because in his red-faced, slow-thinking head, math was not for girls.
Here is my 2-point plan for promoting STEM girls:
1) Heavily support scholarships, internships, science camps, etc for STEM girls.
2) Get the sexist dirtbags like Mr. Childress out of STEM education and out of positions of authority in STEM careers, and stop tolerating all the low-level bullshit sexism that STEM girls get from their peers every goddamn day.
If you’ve lasted this long, there is a tiny chance you could be interested in my story about The Day Laura Lost Patience with Mr. Childress: He was working out a long problem on the blackboard and he got stuck because he made a minor error early on in the solution that threw everything off. He stood there staring, trying to figure out where he went wrong. Several of us (maybe including me, I don’t remember) shouted out what the problem was and where he could fix it, but he just stood there staring as if his brain had completely turned off. He wasn’t listening to any of the suggestions, I guess because he was The Teacher, and no bunch of 17-year olds could tell him anything. This went on for some time. Eventually, I got sick of my time being wasted, so I got up, picked up some chalk, erased his mistake, and finished the problem for him while he continued to stand there like a statue. Having said not a word, I then just sat down. It was an asshole move, I suppose, and who cares about making a mistake and getting stuck? Happens to everyone. But he wasn’t listening either and I have always resented having my time wasted by anyone but me. So I fucking fixed it and, let me tell you, it was fucking satisfying as hell. Maybe I shouldn’t have done it. It was definitely arrogant and disrespectful. All these years later, though, I now see it a bit differently. What about the disrespect for me? What about the disrespect shown to everyone in that class by imposing such a crap teacher on us in the first place? Weren’t we worth anything? I’m not sorry for what I did. I’m sorry that I couldn’t figure out a way in the moment to accomplish the same thing with better manners, but I’m not sorry for the thing itself.