Hey folks, I’m Brigid. You may remember me from last year. I’m a queer femme writer, sometime environmental researcher, and anthropologist at heart. I recently relocated from Washington, DC to Western Massachusetts, where the beer is crafty and the humor is always self-referential. I enjoy science fiction, political art, and arguing amicably about things I love. I believe asking the right questions is at least as important as knowing the right answers. I’d like to be a romancer of reality. My mission is to drop truth and beauty bombs.
No long treatises or important insights just now, but I thought I’d share with you that I’m reading Contact by Carl Sagan (1985). It is an absolute joy — solid writing full of interesting science and compelling characters and meaning of life stuff. It also has tidbits like this:
[Ellie] set out to broaden her education, to take as many courses as possible apart from her central interests in mathematics, physics, and engineering. But there was a problem with her central interests. She found it difficult to discuss physics, much less debate it, with her predominantly male classmates. At first they paid a kind of selective inattention to her remarks. There would be a slight pause, and then they would go on as if she had not spoken. Occasionally they would acknowledge her remark, even praise it, and then again continue undeflected. She was reasonably sure her remarks were not entirely foolish, and did not wish to be ignored, much less ignored and patronized alternately. Part of it—but only a part—she knew was due to the softness of her voice. So she developed a physics voice: clear, competent, and many decibels above conversational. With such a voice it was important to be right. She had to pick her moments. It was hard to continue long in such a voice, because she was sometimes in danger of bursting out laughing. So she found herself leaning towards quick, sometimes cutting, interventions, usually enough to capture their attention; then she could go on for a while in a more usual tone of voice. Every time she found herself in a new group she would have to fight her way through again, just to dip her oar into the discussion. The boys were uniformly unaware even that there was a problem.
Sagan isn’t making a revolutionary observation here. But I find it particularly refreshing that as he introduces important male characters throughout the novel, he continues to remark on their willingness or reluctance to listen to Dr. Ellie Arroway when she speaks. He doesn’t soapbox about it, just includes it among the details he chooses to reveal about a person. Kind of like … the way I log whether people ignore me among other characteristics when I meet them in real life. Truth in fiction!
And I grinned a little to myself at “physics voice.” I know that voice; I’ve been refining my own since third grade. It’s not the only way to respond to Privileged Selective Hearing Syndrome, certainly, and it doesn’t make the problem go away (see also: “shrill,” “strident,” “know-it-all,” “bitchy”). Still, for what it’s worth, that voice is a part of me. I’ll bet I’m not the only one here for whom that’s the case.