Category Archives: about me

Toxic Things I Once Believed

Once upon a time, I believed that: I had to adhere to a commonly-accepted standard of beauty for women, in order to be found attractive at all. (And “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”) It was normal and natural for a woman to be considered less and less attractive as she got Read More…

Once upon a time, I believed that:

I had to adhere to a commonly-accepted standard of beauty for women, in order to be found attractive at all. (And “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.”)

It was normal and natural for a woman to be considered less and less attractive as she got older – men would always prefer younger women. Yet even very young women were supposed to be attracted to older men for their maturity, experience, power, and money – the men’s physical attractiveness barely entered into the equation.

It was important for a woman not to “let herself go,” and especially not to get fat. She should make every effort to stay attractive to her mate (while he was not required to make any such efforts).

I was “too smart” and “too self confident,” and this would scare off most men – I was therefore lucky to have a man who “put up with me.” (I repeated this “wisdom” more than once to my daughter, a memory which now makes me feel ill.)

A woman might have a career (and her financial contributions to the family are welcome), but it is always of secondary importance to her husband’s career. She should also do the bulk of child-raising and housework so that he can focus on his Very Important Career. Even when she’s also working hard at her own job, and making two or three times his salary.

On the professional front, I internalized things like:

Women should first of all be decorative; any skills and knowledge they happen to have are a bonus.

Women are never as “technical” as men, whether from lack of innate skill, lack of interest, or lack of determination. (“Math class is tough!” exclaimed Barbie.)

Women developers exist, but the male ones are 10x, more gung-ho, just… better. Women engineers should be shuffled off to management ASAP, because they are better at those soft people skills, and should leave the real work of engineering to the men.

Engineering is the the only job that matters in any tech company; everyone else is at best useful to the engineers, at worst a moron who gets in the way of engineers doing the Really Important Work.

The role of women in all areas of a company is to support the far more important work of men. (Even in parts of an organization that are mostly staffed by women, such as marketing, who’s in the top roles? Men. I’ve never understood how any company justifies that on any statistical basis.)

As I got older, the world tried to make me believe that:

We should leave off older experience and specific dates from our resumés, so that potential employers won’t know our real age.

We should make self-deprecating jokes like, “Oh, this will date me…” or coyly say: “A lady doesn’t reveal her age.”

We should obsess about our rapidly-fading looks and sagging bodies, subjecting ourselves to expensive and painful diets, “treatments,” and surgeries, because standard beauty and looking young are still all that matters in a woman, and looking old is to be avoided at all costs. Even in the workplace.

We should be grateful to keep or get any man who will have us. Even an abusive, toxic one. Because, at our age, we might not get another.

We should be grateful to keep or get any job that will have us. Even an abusive, toxic one. Because, at our age, we might not get another.

There are undoubtedly other toxic ideas that I still live by without even realizing it. But, with 55 years of life and a hell of a lot of experience behind me, I have at last perceived the bullshit of many of the “rules” that once governed my thinking.

How did I unlearn what I have so far?

Partly, it’s being with a good man who values me and finds me attractive – physically, intellectually, and professionally – as I am (even when I was undergoing chemo and looked like Dr. Evil).

There’s also something that comes with age. Not necessarily wisdom, but… a lack of patience with bullshit. At this point, I’ve dealt with more than enough for one lifetime, and I’m no longer willing to put up with it for the sake of getting along with or appeasing anyone.

And, after years of trying to “fit in,” I came to terms with the fact that I’m not good at being anyone but my weirdo self. I’m ok with that, because I like who I am, and I’m finally able to say that anyone who doesn’t appreciate me just as I am is not worth having in my life. I have plenty of friends and loved ones who do appreciate me exactly as I am –  I need not put up with anyone telling me that I should be otherwise.

“In youth, it was a way I had,
To do my best to please.
And change with every passing lad
To suit his theories.

But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do,
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you.”

Dorothy Parker

Deirdré Straughan by Helena Price 2016-0

The Techies Project

I am thrilled and honored to be included in the Techies Project, which launched this week as a way to showcase some of the diversity that does exist in the tech industry. There’s not nearly as many of us as there should be, but we are definitely here. And we are staying, and growing. Projects like Read More…

I am thrilled and honored to be included in the Techies Project, which launched this week as a way to showcase some of the diversity that does exist in the tech industry. There’s not nearly as many of us as there should be, but we are definitely here. And we are staying, and growing. Projects like this can help us know that we’re not alone in this.

For more about the project and the woman behind it, Helena Price, read here:

And there’s been lots of press:

The portrait of me above is the one Helena did for the project (she’s a great photographer!). There’s also a somewhat edited transcript of two hours of conversation we had about my history in life and in tech – I really need to edit that down more, it’s a lot of words! But you should read all the other stories on the site – there are some truly amazing people in tech, far outside the mental picture we all have of tech as being all young white dudes in hoodies.

Books I Read (or Re-Read) in 2015

Not surprisingly, I had a lot of time to read this year. I also had a lot of material, in part because many kind people bought me books (and DVDs) from my Amazon wish list. Below, in no particular order, is a not quite a complete listing of what I read and re-read this year, Read More…

Not surprisingly, I had a lot of time to read this year. I also had a lot of material, in part because many kind people bought me books (and DVDs) from my Amazon wish list. Below, in no particular order, is a not quite a complete listing of what I read and re-read this year, I’m certainly forgetting things, and not listing some books that I haven’t finished (or, in some cases, even started) yet.

…one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” In fact, I now sometimes wonder why I ever thought it profound. In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.
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Mean Nasty Ugly Things

I listened to Arlo Guthrie’s – Alice’s Restaurant Massacree around Thanksgiving (as tradition demands). This part hit particularly close to home, and is likely to do so for some time to come: “…Proceeded on down the hall gettin’ more injections, inspections, detections, neglections and all kinds of stuff that they was doin’ to me at the thing Read More…

I listened to Arlo Guthrie’s – Alice’s Restaurant Massacree around Thanksgiving (as tradition demands). This part hit particularly close to home, and is likely to do so for some time to come:

“…Proceeded on down the hall gettin’ more injections, inspections, detections, neglections and all kinds of stuff that they was doin’ to me at the thing there, and I was there for two hours, three hours, four hours, I was there for a long time going through all kinds of mean nasty ugly things and I was just having a tough time there, and they was inspecting, injecting every single part of me, and they was leaving no part untouched.”

 


my breast cancer story (thus far)

Storyteller

My dad was a virtuoso storyteller. He could hold a roomful of people spellbound, recounting events from his life and others’ with wit, style, and humor. Most of his stories he presented as fact and, for the ones I could personally vouch for, this was mostly true. He was not above embellishing for effect, but Read More…

My dad was a virtuoso storyteller. He could hold a roomful of people spellbound, recounting events from his life and others’ with wit, style, and humor.

Most of his stories he presented as fact and, for the ones I could personally vouch for, this was mostly true. He was not above embellishing for effect, but his life had contained so much real adventure that this was hardly necessary.

(Having a storyteller in the family has its drawbacks. The storytelling art must be practiced, each story burnished to a shine by retellings to different audiences. As a family member, you hear those stories over and over again, and some you get tired of – a common complaint, especially among storytellers’ spouses!)

As he became increasingly house-bound in his later years, I urged my dad to write things down, to capture those stories forever and share them online. I knew that people would enjoy them, and the interaction with an online audience might alleviate his boredom and isolation.

But he never did. Partly because he was working for many years on a sprawling, complicated novel, the research for which led him eventually to a quite serious attempt to convert to Judaism. But maybe he also resisted because, to write down the stories and finally capture them in text would be to acknowledge that he might not always be around to tell them in person.

Whatever the reason, he did not write down his stories. When he died, one of my first reactions was regret that he had not. All those wonderful stories should not be lost! I wondered if I should try to write them down, but quickly decided against it. I had already lived much of my life as my father’s audience. It’s time to tell my own stories. Where our story lines run parallel and his stories are also my own, I will tell them, and maybe a few more, strictly his, that happen to crop up in my mind. But I will not make a concerted effort to be his scribe. I have plenty of stories of my own!

Yes, I have inherited the storyteller mantle. It’s only since his death that I can admit that I am my father’s daughter in many ways, including (perhaps above all) this one. Now I’m the one who entertains people (at least, I hope it’s entertaining) with stories from my rich, strange life. Sometimes when I do, I catch echoes of him in my own voice, gestures, and physical presence. I’m not large enough to have his rich, booming laugh, but I do have his sense of humor and delight at the vast, ironic complexity of the world and everything in it. And that’s a fine inheritance.