Yvonne Brill was a genius of rocket propulsion, a “pioneering spirit,” and — above all — a monster with some beef and noodles.
Yvonne Brill, a Canadian rocket scientist who developed jet propulsion technologies, died recently at 88, after a long career propelling human beings toward the stars. The New York Times obituary by Douglas Martin began with a quote about her cooking and mothering skills:
“She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. ‘The world’s best mom,’ her son Matthew said.”
Brill developed the concept for a new rocket engine, the hydrazine resistojet, but the paper of record starts off with her beef noodle skills.
Not a month earlier, writer Ann Finkbeiner had promised that the next time she profiles a female astronomer, she’s “not going to mention her husband’s job or her child care arrangements or how she nurtures her students or how she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field.” In other words, “I’m going to pretend she’s just an astronomer.”
Colleague Christie Anderson namechecks other egregious ladyprofiles — biologist Jill Bargonetti, who “is married, has two children and has been able to keep up with her research”; neuropsychologist Brenda Milner, who “was determined to compete with the best scientists, male or female”; physicist Lisa Randall, who can’t escape “the fact that she’s just turned 43 and that if she wants to have kids she’s going to have to get on with it soon” — and further refines this into what will be called The Finkbeiner Test.
To pass the Finkbeiner test, the story cannot mention
* The fact that she’s a woman
* Her husband’s job
* Her child care arrangements
* How she nurtures her underlings
* How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
* How she’s such a role model for other women
* How she’s the “first woman to…”
Here’s another trick: Take the things that are said about a female subject and flip them around as if they were said about a male. If they sound ridiculous, then chances are good they have no business in the story.
Tech blog LadyCoders has a monthly Men in Tech profile that asks all the burning questions: What is it like being a man in tech? How does your wife support you in your career? How do you balance work and family? Have you had to make sacrifices in your career to accommodate your relationship? What are some of the struggles you’ve overcome to reach where you are in your career? Have you had problems with other men trying to hold you back from success? What advice do you have for other men in tech?
And, one assumes, What is your secret to a really rich stroganoff sauce?
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