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Hey y’all! Josh here reporting in from beyond the
grave vacation to tell you that Uncle Lumpy loves you all too much to favor one commenter over another, so there’s no COTW this week. But I still wanted to remind the Los Angeles-adjacent among you that you should come see me in Chats on Cats, a live late-night talk show all about cats, tomorrow at 10:30 pm at UCB Sunset!
I’ll be talking about my emotional journey with the feral cats I’ve been feeding and trapping and fixing in our neighborhood — if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you’ve seen lots of pictures of them, but now you can get the full, funny story. Plus there are lots of other hilarious people on the show — don’t miss it! You can buy tickets here ($7, with $1 from each ticket going to Spay Neuter Project of Los Angeles) or see the Facebook event here.
And as ever, we must give thanks to our advertisers:
If you would like to buy advertising on the Comics Curmudgeon, and get a text shoutout in these posts, get the details on my BuySellAds page.
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Jen Brea was a 28-year-old grad student when her health began to deteriorate after a high fever. As she suffered from recurrent infections, profound dizziness that left her unable to stand, and eventually terrifying neurological symptoms, doctors told her that she was stressed, or just dehydrated, and finally that a repressed trauma was the source of all her ailments.
Eventually, Brea was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome in the US. And now her documentary on the disease—which she directed mostly via Skype since she’s been bed-ridden for much of the last six years—is coming to select theaters.
I interviewed Brea and include her story in my forthcoming book on gender bias in medicine. It’s estimated that one million people in the US—and 17 million worldwide—have ME/CFS. Over 80 percent of them are women, and sexism played a large role in the public and the medical system’s reception to the disease.
In the US, the condition first came on the radar after a large outbreak near Lake Tahoe in the mid-eighties. But, unable to figure out the underlying cause, the medical community quickly suspected it of being nothing more than the psychogenic symptoms of neurotic women. The media derided it as “yuppie flu,” its sufferers stereotyped as burnt-out “educated white women.” (In reality, the disease, like many health problems, disproportionately affects low-income patients and people of color.) Meanwhile, myalgic encephalomyelitis, a name given to sporadic outbreaks of a similar-sounding illness that had occurred throughout the first half of the twentieth century, had already begun to be reframed as cases of “mass hysteria” on the basis that it was mostly women who were impacted.
Unrest, which tells Brea’s story, as well as the stories of a few other ME/CFS patients from around the world, discusses this history of neglect by the medical system for the last thirty years. After all, Brea is also an advocate. She co-founded #MEAction, a platform for ME/CFS advocacy efforts, that organized the Millions Missing protests to demand more funding for research on the disease (there has been unbelievably little) and recognition for the millions of patients affected by it (many health care providers continue to believe it’s largely a psychiatric condition).
The film itself isn’t heavy-handed or preachy though. It simply lays bare what life is actually like for severely ill ME/CFS patients. Brea initially began an iPhone video diary with no intention of turning it into a documentary; it was just an outlet for herself when she could no longer read or write. So much of the footage is extremely raw and painful. The film is rooted in a faith that if people truly understood what the disease did to its sufferers, it couldn’t possibly continue to be dismissed and minimized. As such, Unrest‘s greatest potential will come if people beyond those affected, directly or indirectly, by ME/CFS see it—especially those in the medical community who too often belittle it and those in the media who too often uncritically accept some of the bad science that’s been done on it.
So see it and also help spread the the word. While Unrest tells the very particular story of ME/CFS, the film will no doubt resonate with any woman who has ever had a doctor dismiss her symptoms as “stress” or who suffers from other poorly understood conditions that disproportionately affect women and have been similarly neglected—like fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis, vulvodynia, to name a few. Which, sadly, is a whole lot of us.
If you’re in the NYC area, you can see Unrest at IFC this weekend. San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles—you’ll have a chance the following one. See all upcoming screenings here.
Bonus viewing: Check out Brea’s great TED Talk too.
My question today is about academia and/or job opportunities and being single. I am a PhD candidate in a Very Good University in the US, and I will be on the academic job market in a year. I have a very good publication/presentation/committee/topic situation, so I should be doing fairly fine. However, my field is totally dominated by men, mostly from quite conservative countries/cultures. It’s even worse in industry (I have work experience pre-PhD and an internship).
Now, I am absolutely sure I don’t want to get married or have a cohabiting partner or “serious” relationship of any sort. If anything, I identify with relationship anarchy. I am happy like I’ve never been, and I feel like I’m thriving and my best self arises when I am alone and free. I do have many short and long romance stories with like-minded folks who are in the same line of thought, but I don’t have or want any “boyfriend” in the sense that other people seem to want me to have (focused on dating – getting engaged – moving in – marrying).
Usually, in academic conferences, in the informal networking events, or in my department, I get asked when I will be on the market, and if I prioritize going back to my country or staying in the US, this kind of things. I think it’s all fair game and I am thrilled some Big Names in the field show interest in me! But sometimes they ask things such as “will you have a 2-body problem?” or “well, eventually you’ll want to marry, right?” or “our school is in a city with plenty of young men!”. Or more bluntly “how come you are not married yet?” (my age – early 30s – is not a secret). I know those (mostly old, mostly men, mostly conservative) professors may just be trying to be nice(?), but I can tell by the way they look that I don’t fit in what they think is “a good woman” or “a normal person”.
I have told some (younger – some younger than me) professors in my department that I don’t want to marry and they all reply condescendingly “you’ll change your mind!” But they are not the ones who’ll make my hiring decisions (although they’ll write me letters of recommendation) and so I am not that much concerned. What about those from other schools who may want to hire or not hire me a year from now when I am on the market? When I have 5-minute interactions and they ask me topic/advisor/ideal placement/marital status. Should I tell them “I don’t want to marry” and out myself immediately as not-their-idea-of-good-woman? Should I tell them “oh I haven’t found anyone yet” and then lie (or risk that someone will try to set me up – it’s happened before!)? Should I just smile awkwardly and say “I don’t know!”? I also feel that, when I say I don’t want to marry, the person in front of me thinks I am lying. What if I tell them “no, I don’t want to marry, but I do want to have kids and I am very well informed about sperm banks and adoption agencies”. Will this kill forever all my job opportunities because of the single mother stigma?
It’s all a paradox, because they don’t like women because of the whole marriage and maternity thing, but they don’t like it either when women don’t conform to their standards of womanhood (wifehood?).
How can I navigate this? I do want to have a good academic placement but I want to know who won’t be supportive of my lifestyle to avoid their departments. But also, you know, academia is sometimes hard and there isn’t much choice of placement for a candidate. So at this point I mostly want to say something that won’t close all the doors but will make my point clear enough.
Any help will be welcome! Thanks so much!
Future Professor Badass
Dear Future Professor Badass,
As tempting as it would be to say a robotic “That is a sexist question” or give a long rambling Boring Baroque Response involving your theories of Relationship Anarchy whenever this comes up, here is the strategy I actually advise:
Them: “Will you have a two-body problem?” (For people outside of academia, this means will you need the university that wants to recruit you to also factor in a job for your a fellow-professor spouse) or “But surely you intend to marry someday?” (Ugh) or “Good thing there are lots of young men here!”
You: “Thanks for asking. I’m lucky that I don’t have to consider that right now in my search and can just look for the best fit for my work.”
Them: “How come you are not married yet?” (This is a weird, rude question but I too have had older people from outside the US ask me this as if it’s a normal question. Then again, we in the US ask people what they do for a job right away, for this week’s Manners Are Relative reminder).
You: Smile awkwardly and say “I don’t know!“, as you suggest! Or, “It just hasn’t been a priority!” or “Search me!” or “I love being single” or “Has my grandmother been talking to you? It’s a question under much discussion in my family, believe me” or “Haven’t felt like it, I guess!”
Whatever you say, keep it light and vague. The more you can answer calmly and confidently, without apology, the more people will take your cue in how they react.
I know all of this is sexist and invasive and weird and assumes heterosexuality when it should not but the individual people who ask you this think they are being kind and even helpful, especially if they are trying to recruit you to their campus. They want you to be happy and anticipate issues that they might have to work around so that you will want to stay forever at their school. They want to figure out if they have the budget to hire you and a spouse if they want you badly enough. They don’t want you to take the job and then leave in a year because it’s a romantic and sexual wasteland or because there’s no industry in the town except for the university and your (theoretical) partner can’t find work. It can be awkward attempt to mentor you, at least in some cases, so if you can find a way to be vague but positive and deal with the intentions (rather than the effects) of the question it will help you connect.
I wish it were not so, but right now you need a job so someday you can be the colleague who doesn’t ask newcomers these questions (or asks in a way that is actually helpful).
Answer with your vague positive statement, some version of “It’s not my biggest priority right now, which makes me feel very lucky! I have the luxury to just think about finding the right fit for the work I want to do. I know not everyone has that. ”
Then ask them questions about their lives.
You can turn the conversation to their research or their teaching or questions about the students or the department, too. People like to be asked questions about things they are experts on, and in my experience professors like this even more than most people. Use their weird question as an opportunity to make a human connection and find out more about them as people and the place as a place to live and what you’re getting into. Be remembered as someone pleasant to talk to, focused on her work, and someone who asks good questions and is a good listener.
You’ve got this and you don’t need to make excuses for something that isn’t actually a problem. Good luck in your search.
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As a matter of policy, the Comics Curmudgeon stands foursquare behind Love, and specifically condemns ichthyophobia in all its forms.
Arctic Circle, 9/22/17
And here is your second newspaper comic mermaid sex joke of the day. Maybe there’s something in the water?
Hägar the Horrible, 9/22/17
Hägar and Helga take up residence between the whorehouse and the monastery. Expect to be seeing a lot of Brother Olaf, guys: that guy practices what he preaches.
“… I could not stand by and watch you become a murderer. But I’m totally down with watching you shrivel in agony to a desiccated corpse. Out of love! I’m also OK conspiring with Spider-Man to murder you. Um … love!”
Gasoline Alley, 9/22/17
Dick Tracy reads Gasoline Alley twice — once in the paper and once online. He’s just that tough!
Spoiler: Emily is not a cyborg