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Guest post “The Worst Part Is Not.”

I am humbled that my mentor and my friend Dr. Hope Jahren has honored me with her voice on my blog. (n.b. Hope has transitioned this piece over to her own blog here and if you’d like to carry on the conversation with Hope, that’s probably a better place for it.  Also, you should all read Hope’s blog, it’s fantastic -JAD 11.21.13)

Here are Hope’s words:

The Worst Part Is Not.

The worst part is not when it all blows over just as you thought something was going to finally happen.  When everything goes on as usual, except that your colleagues pass you in the hall with a wider berth.  That when all the shock and outrage dies down, the only job that changed is yours.  You used to be a valued mascot.  Now you’re a traitor.  You’ll never be Department Chair or Dean now that this has happened.  How dare you throw all the Monopoly pieces in the air – we were letting you play!  But that’s not the worst part.

The worst part is not when his wife and his employees come to you and say please don’t do this to us.  Our mortgage, our children, our paychecks are at stake.  When they ask you if you care about anything besides yourself.  When they tell you the full story, which you never wanted to know.  That there’s a rotten root of sickness and betrayal underneath it all.  That this is your big chance to be the bigger person and walk away, proving that you are actually more compassionate than you seem.  This is not the worst part.  Although that part is pretty damn bad.

The worst part is not when you see it happen all over again to a woman young enough to be your daughter.  What is the right thing to tell her?  That twenty years ago you remember holding tight to the idea that twenty years from now it would be different.  That grief and surprise are two different things, one you will feel forever, and the other you will never feel again.  That she should let this harden her towards the field, and soften her towards those she loves.  To be careful who you trust, and don’t trust any one too much, or for too long.  Trust them until you don’t.  This is not the worst part.  But it is sufficiently bad.

The worst part is not that your expectations have changed.  That you’ve given up on the National Academy, the HHMI, the Ivy League job.  It’s unreasonable to expect to be made MVP of an all-boys team.  You should just be grateful that they drafted you at all.  That your highest career goal has become to be left alone to do your job with the people that you actually trust.  This is not the worst part because maybe that’s not it after all.  Maybe it’s you.  Maybe you’re just not good enough.  Maybe it’s that huge chip on your shoulder.  Maybe … Lather, rinse, repeat.

The worst part is the pivot.  The click.  When the switch flips.  When you press down, turn the child-proof cap, and the thing breaks in your hands.  When it dawns on you that this isn’t an interview, it’s a date.  That there’s no study group, it’s a date.  That this isn’t office hours, it’s a date.  That it’s not a promotion, it’s a date.  That it’s not a field trip, it’s a date.  It’s a weird f*cked up date and you had no idea, you dumbass.  You’re just as stupid as he thinks you are.  Why are you carrying a backpack full of questions, homework, manuscripts, resumés and various other homely hopeful aspirations?  All you needed to do was to show up.  Show up for this weird f*cked up date.  Sucker.

You fight for some control.  You sit in the back and avoid male eyes.  You listen for which classes to avoid, and turn up sick before certain field trips.  You don’t exchange numbers with your lab partner.  You make sure you study twice as hard and do twice as much as they ask for.  And you slowly realize that you want this twice as much as any of the boys.  And this keeps you going, and it keeps you safe.  A good professor is the one you never met and who never knew your name.  He was smart and intense and assigned the right readings, and lots of them.  Who never knew how much he changed your thinking because you never told him.  Who gave you an A in permanent ink, that you gathered up with all the others and cashed in like poker chips for a ticket to graduate school, where the whole thing started all over again.

But the best professor was a terrible teacher.  He spoke from yellowed, cracked old notes with a thick accent for hours, unbothered by the possibility that no one understood him.  When you went to tell him that you were dropping his class his wife was with him, and they invited you in.  They gave you a cookie and asked what was wrong, and you said you didn’t know.  They said come to the theater with us, you Americans don’t go to the theater anymore.  And bring your transcript.  While they ate they said you have done well, and you are good inside, and you will change the world.  And they let me pay my own way.

A. Hope Jahren is a Full and tenured Professor at the University of Hawaii.  She is hardly Mother Theresa herself and she’s been through her share of crap.  She already knows that she’s an unreasonable bitch* so there’s no need to reiterate this within the comments.  She didn’t come here to make friends.

*editor’s note I disagree

Ed note 2: Hope adds more here


  1. That you will never shake the deep suspicion — and a correct one — that nature made a mistake giving your brain to someone who wore the wrong body, and that you will never be able to make up for that.

  2. For me, the worst part had nothing to do with dates. The worst part was when I realized I was viewed as just the maid. “Clean up my mess at the balance, little girl.” Because “women have nothing to offer technical fields, and you [floozies] under thirty are worse than useless.” And the great idea that he shouted down and ridiculed in front of everyone became his lauded brainchild two weeks later. The sad thing is that this happened five years ago, not thirty-five. We’re not done yet; in a lot of ways, it feels like we have never had further to go than we have to go right now.

  3. Sarah Tuttle says:

    Here’s to helping women make it through with less battle scars every time.

  4. Ruth Hufbauer says:

    Wow, from one female-full-and-tenured-perhaps-a-bitch-perhaps-not professor to another – thank you so much for this.

  5. […] Hope Jahren’s The Worst part is not. […]

  6. […] a prominent scientific blogger about work and received a creepifying interaction for her troubles, a scientist from the ecology/evolution neck of the woods talks poignantly about her experiences with…, and the twitter outpouring of women expressing how sexual harassment has made them doubt […]

  7. […] up on her post "The Worst Part Is Not", guest contributor Hope Jahren has asked my to post the […]

  8. m l dewar says:

    Great piece of writing. But we strong women need to stop calling ourselves “bitches” because that is a word that misogynists use to maim and destroy us.

  9. gibbs says:

    Thank you for this, you articulated wonderfully what I have struggled to find words to describe both to myself and to others.

  10. […] disappointment and disgust at this formerly revered man are wide and ranging. But by far the best response I’ve read thus far was penned by Hope Jahren, a professor at the University of […]

  11. […] The whole thing also led to the heartbreaking #ripplesofdoubt hashtag as many people shared their stories of how pervasive harassment and sexism affects them. See Hope Jahren’s piece. […]

  12. Another woman scientist says:

    For me, the worst part was not the dates. I was 10 years older and X pounds heavier than all the other women at the field station. Instead, I watched the youngest and cutest get the fawning attention – and collaboration offers, symposium invites, job interviews – of the alpha males from the sidelines. But that feeling of not being young and cute enough to get the same opportunities was not the worst part.

    I also overheard the alpha males talking later, when it was just them and me (one of the boys rather than a woman, apparently), about the young and cute. Instead of talking about the quality of their science, as they did with the promising young men, they talked about their looks and personalities. It broke my heart to see the same women I was seeking to mentor spoken of disrespectfully, as objects. But that was not the worst part.

    No, the worst part was realizing that, if you’re a woman, you just can’t win. That whether you’re young and cute, or old and fat, you’re not going to be treated with the same immediate respect as if you were a man. That you’re going to have to work at least twice as hard – meanwhile carefully policing your dress, your talk, your body language, to maintain professionalism at all times (but not too professional, less you be seen as an uptight witch) – in order to earn the same respect easily granted to men.

  13. […] ich auch auf einen sehr besonderen Text hin, den Dr. Hope Jahren als Gastbeitrag geschrieben hat: The worst part is not; als perfekte Ergänzung zu diesem Sujet und generell zu (viel zu häufig gehörter und gelesener) […]

  14. Just another person trying to do what's right says:

    To “Another woman scientist” and anyone else that cares to listen. Your voice is important and your points are poignant and spot on. This is coming from a male (albeit, not an “alpha” male) that has seen it from all sides. Apparently, you have too. What you speak of is the reality women in science have to deal with and it is wrong. The more people that speak out, both male and female, the more progress we can make in taking sexism out of the equation.The internet is a powerful force! Use it for good. The most tragic part of it all: the males that are usually the worst offenders are the ones that portray themselves as the most progressive in terms of women’s rights. They gain your trust, then before you know it, the pivot. WTF?

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