In the last week, I read two articles by tech women talking about the overwhelming sexism they experience in the workplace, to the point that one women had considered switching careers. The remarks they experienced were hella denigrating, but also the guys who said these remarks were clueless as to how horrible it is to experience these kind of things day after day. The men acted like the woman was silly and over-reacting. Of course. These guys don’t know, nor do they care to know, what it’s like to hear this shit all the time.

Women, I just want to point out that when men said stupid things to you, sexist or sexual, you are not defenseless. You are smart, and all you need to do is channel your anger and develop your rapier-sharp wit.

First, there’s just basic assertiveness. At my first programming job, I was on a team at a software company where we all got along very well, and took all our breaks and lunches together as a group. One day we went to the break area and there weren’t enough chairs. One of my coworkers — a guy I liked in general — said, “That’s okay, I’ll sit on the floor so I can look up her skirt.” (meaning me)

I didn’t say anything at the time. I waited until later in the day, went over to his cube, and told him privately what I thought. I told him his remarks were extremely disrespectful to me, that is was very insulting, and he was NEVER to say anything like that to me again. He just kept saying, “Okay. Okay, ” and looked a little afraid. This is when I had my great realization: I don’t have to take shit. If you speak with authority and a little bit of rage, dudes will back the hell off. Women, remember: YOU DON’T HAVE TO TAKE ANY SHIT.

Now, another technique is the snappy comeback. If you need good examples for this, look no further than your gay male friends (you do have those friends, right?). In my experience, gay men are the master of the disparaging remarks and the withering look. These are you basic tools for countering sexist or sexual verbal attacks. The guys who say shit to you think they are “all that”, but you know they’re not. You know they kind of suck in some way — their bad cologne, their lame clothes, their obvious insecurities. If they comment on your body, comment on theirs — but in a far less flattering way. For instance, if they comments on your breasts, you could comment on theirs if they are chubby, or their chicken-chest if they are skinny, or suggest they are jealous of yours — or perhaps just miss their mommy. I’m sure you can come up with something better, these are just some basic examples. The key is to make it humorous, so that they’ll look the fool if they act insulted.

Lastly, is THE LOOK. You must be able to give guys a look so full of threat and anger that they will just give up. I developed THE LOOK back when I had a stalker. At first I was terrified of this guy. But after a few months I got tired of being scared, and I got mad. Really mad. One thing he kept trying to do was to get me to talk to him. Now I am a stubborn motherfucker, so I thought, no matter what I am not saying a word to him. I had to come up with a way to get rid of him using only my eyes to communicate. I practiced. I would look in the mirror and try to summon up all my rage and channel it through my eyes.

Then one day I was walking home and there was the fucker pretending he just happened to be passing by. He smiled and said, “Well, hi…” all smarmy-like. I locked eyes with him and gave him THE LOOK, like a death-laser boring into his skull. I did not look away and walked right passed him. He looked a bit shocked and mumbled, “Uh… okay…” as I walked away. He never bothered me again. After months of his leaving creepy messages on my voice mail and other harassing what-not, he was just gone.

Now, this example did not happen in the workplace, but I have found THE LOOK to be useful at work, on dates, or pretty much anywhere. In general, become comfortable with the idea of guys being a little afraid of you. This small bit of fear will nip in the bud all stupid comments.

In self-defense classes, they point out that many women cannot summon up the anger necessary to protect themselves. To these women, they advise that if you can’t do these things for yourself, do it for all girls and women. I’ll give you the same advice. Perhaps think of a 14-year-old girl that guys are giving shit to and has no self-esteem to defend herself. (Was that you? It happened to me.) When someone says sexist shit to you, summon up your rage, whatever it takes. Then take the guy down, with words or looks. Or both.

Sexism and sexual harassment are not going away. Neither should you. Hold your ground. You can do it. Do it for all of us.

And now, a word from the fabulous raging Hothead Paisanhothead.jpg:

universe.JPGI recently finished A Universe From Nothing: Why there is something rather than nothing, which I have to say, was a little disappointing. Even though the physics were clearly explained and even somewhat exciting, the overall tone of the book is a bit pedantic.

I’ve contemplated this very question quite a bit and wrote about here on The Nerge, mostly it in this post The Origin of Everything. I was very excited when I saw this book and immediately reserved it at the fabulous Oakland Library (because, as you may know, I never buy a book unless the library doesn’t have it, or I absolutely adore it.) When I got it just a few weeks later and began to read it, I was amused that Krauss, the author, began the book by immediately discounting any notions of god creating the universe. Which is fine, except that he seems quite stuck on this idea, and returns to it repeatedly throughout the book, which is very unnecessary, as he makes his point quite clear from the get-go. Now, I understand it may be really boring and annoying to constantly explain to people that you don’t need god to have a universe. Conversely, I feel that life is difficult and incomprehensible to most folks, and if believing in god makes it feel more sensible or even benevolent to someone, I’m fine with that as long it harms no one. Additionally, even though I myself am an atheist, I found it almost as annoying to have Krauss repeatedly talk about god not existing as I find it annoying that people assume I celebrate Christmas. Okay, the Christmas thing is way more annoying. Skip that.

So, I hate to be redundant, but I keep going back to Alexander Vilenkin’s book Many Worlds in One as the pinnacle of fun cosmology/quantum physics reading. Vilenkin has a sense of humor and also draws humorous illustrative cartoons sprinkled throughout his book. (Krauss refers to Vilenkin in A Universe From Nothing, and points out that Vilenkin worked crappy day jobs while pursuing his PhD. Maybe this gives him a sense of humility that ivory-tower academics lack.) That aside, other books of this genre seem hella dry in comparison to Many Worlds in One, as this book did.

Next, the whole point of the book is to show that elementary particles appear from nothing on a regular basis, therefore a universe could have easily come from nothing. Although this is startling and fascinating information, it wasn’t completely convincing. I was convinced that particles *appear* to come from nothing (appear to appear?), but I wasn’t convinced that we know enough (or could ever know enough) about how the entire universe works to show that they come from nothing rather than, say, another imperceptible dimension, parallel universe, or time warp. Krauss writes about how previous supposed breakthroughs in quantum physics in the last couple of decades have since been disproven, discounted, or fallen into disfavor (26 dimensions, anyone?) but doesn’t seem to consider that his own breakthroughs may also end up on the theoretical trash heap in the not-too-distant future (theories of non-existent time aside). (Okay, I’m done with my overuse of parenthesis).

Then, towards the end of the book, I feel Krauss really blows it. He posits that when people ask “Why?” they really mean “How?” so when people ask the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, what they really mean is “How is there something rather than nothing?” For such an intelligent man, I can’t believe he could believe something so lame. The question “Why do I exist?” is NOT the same as “How do I exist?”. The latter can be explained through sex education, but the former requires contemplation and perhaps philosophy. So much moreso does “Why is there something rather than nothing?” begs thoughtfulness beyond physics. It’s a copout to even put forth the idea that How means Why, especially when Why is the subtitle of the book, and worse when it come at the end of the book.

The book does have some nice, clear, fun science in it, but it really falls short of its ambitious title. I’m sure titles like that are dreamed up by publishers to sell books and commercialize what is a rather poor commodity in our anti-intellectual country, so I can’t fault them for it too much. But I get the feeling that Krauss wants to be the next big pop-culture science-guy icon, and I feel that he has a way to go to fill Carl Sagan’s shoes.

Okay, you knew this was coming when I wrote “time warp”… admit it…