Tag Archives: The New Agenda

Those Nobel Dames

For all of the controversial statements we’ve heard in recent years about which fields are best suited to the lovelier sex, today women may rightly celebrate headlines filled with female scientists’ achievements.

Marie Curie

No, Not Whistler's Mother; It's Marie Curie

Since 1895 when Alfred Nobel established the Prize to honor outstanding achievers in the fields of science, literature, peace, or medicine, 754 men have been awarded alongside 35 female laureates. While many more men than women have taken these prestigious awards, women have long held their own in the Nobel arena. Marie Curie became the first female Laureate in 1903, only two years after the Foundation’s came to be. Inasmuch as women have been involved in scientific endeavors, the Nobel Foundation has acknowledged our achievements.

Women have also contributed to the expanding Nobel Prize tradition. Czech writer and baroness Bertha von Suttner influenced Alfred Nobel to establish a Nobel Prize for Peace, which she won at its inception in 1905. Indeed, Economics remains the only Nobel field still bereft of that blessed abundance of X chromosomes.

Enter today’s women scientists. Honored lady researchers fill today’s news with their achievements. Dr. Ada E. Yonath represents the first female Israeli Nobel Laureate honored in tandem with her team, while MIT scientist JoAnne Stubbe will receive a National Medal of Science from the White House this afternoon.

Both Drs. Yonath and Stubbe work with DNA. Their work contributes to critical modern research useful not only to advancing our understanding of the basis of life itself, but also as a tool for developing needed new antibiotics.

The New York Times describes Dr. Yonath’s study:

If the sequence of lettered amino acids in the DNA forms the blueprint for life, ribosomes are the factory floor. In a news release the Swedish academy said the three, who worked independently, were being honored “for having showed what the ribosome looks like and how it functions at the atomic level.”

The ribosome research, the academy said, is being used to develop new antibiotics.

Similarly, Dr. Stubbe’s research touches the very fabric of improved quality of life for our aging population:

Stubbe’s work unraveling the mechanisms of enzymes has had significant impacts on fields ranging from cancer drug development to synthesis of biodegradable plastics.

Her studies of ribonucleotide reductases (RNRs), which play a key role in DNA copy and repair, have led to the design of a drug, gemcitabine, which is now used to treat pancreatic and other cancers. She also discovered the structure and function of bleomycin, an antibiotic used as a cancer drug.

Both women contribute lifesaving research to critical fields, and both pave the way for building greater progress in the future. By mapping portions of the human genome these women make it possible to create antibiotics immediately useful against today’s pandemics. More impressively, their research preserves the potential for future scientists to work more closely with the body.


Perhaps the most memorable controversial statements about women’s scientific capacity came from 2005 Harvard president Lawrence Summers, who claimed that “innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers.”

Innate differences, indeed. As long as women have worked outside the home women have worked in scientific fields. As long as women have sought equal opportunity women have enjoyed recognition for the scope of our achievements.

Congratulations to these and other female scientists for their contributions to humanity. Congratulations for allowing not the least of these contributions to rest in encouraging other young women who aspire to science.

At The New Agenda.


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Hillary Clinton: Femme-inist?

I blog occasionally for a women’s group, and what I hope to bring to that table is my own search for what kind of woman I’d like to be: lawyer, mother-of-five, patient and kind, MILF, etc. I write about gender issues a lot just because articulating demographics — racial tension, gender stereotypes, politics that revolve around any of the above — never fail to fascinate me.

Ever since Hillary’s interpreter-flub outburst this summer Hillary has been very much on my radar, perhaps for the very first time. This week I’m thinking about Hillary’s perception as the “Lady Macbeth of Little Rock,” and whether that reflects more discomfort w/ the idea of a woman on top than actual “blood” — even just blood of the “bitchy” variety — on Hillary’s hands.

For that matter, Lady Macbeth was just doing the best she could ambition-wise under the limited circumstances available to her back in the day.

The Clintons-as-Macbeths analogy may be old news, but it’s new enough to stay interesting to me. Hillary’s position and perception as Sec. of State is of particular interest; if we thought she was such a “bitch” during the election season, why are we relying on her to cultivate peace? Why would Obama hire someone he can’t fire without mobilizing the Clinton Machine? Why would North Korea chant a Red Rover for sending Former President Clinton right over, and why would we — and Hillary — comply?

Yes, I’m exploring a bromidic, already-oft-discussed, would-have-been Girlie Studies thesis. I’m sure every college library in the country is flooded w/ feminist looks at Macbeth. Still my heart goes out to Hillary, wearing her ridiculous banana-colored suits (I have a polo dress in the same color). She never smacked a glass ceiling; she just did what many politicians did, and became much too human.

I feel for her, I’m fascinated by her, and for a little while I plan to blog (perhaps annoyingly) about Hillary doing the best she can despite her frequent, unintentional trudges through mud.

For those who read this blog, I welcome your emails/comments on whether and what you think of Hillary, and whether she’s what you’d call “a feminist” or, more importantly, “feminine.”

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Women Take an Afghani Stand

Rosie the Riveter has come a long way since she first raised her hammer in 1943!

World War II was the first war in which women played an “official” – read: directive – role in the war effort. A mere twenty years after the Nineteenth Amendment prohibited voting discrimination based on an individual’s sex, women joined the war effort to tend victory gardens, weld steel weapons, and generally fill the gaps in production left for them when the Y chromosome-carrying world waged a war.

Women entered the factory workforce en masse soon after Rosie paved the way. This early female-oriented war effort represented a negative effort, maintaining the status quo. Women entered the workforce to keep the factors of production running; to supply their country with the materials necessary for war. “Rosie” and her sisters showed a heroic spirit that kept our country afloat through a very rough time. But their effort merely filled the stop-gap requirement for badly-needed equipment.

NPR ran a story this week describing a distinctly different female war effort, this one a positive input. Rather than merely fill an existing need for equipment, in Afghanistan women are changing the face of war through this novel mission. Women are actually effecting a different environment, moving the effort forward, and altering the method in which nations interact with an unprecedented attempt to wage war in an undeniably female way.

Though Afghan men were understandably hesitant to allow their women to interact with such alien females, NPR notes that the mission shows promise so far. In one notable drawback, female interpreters remain even scarcer than female Marines. Without a bevy of females appropriate to chat with conservative religious Afghanis, precious few Americans have successfully bonded with their counterparts, but Capt. Jennifer Gregoire, who heads the relationship-building team, notes that their success is “worth the wait”:

“This is going to be a slow process,” Gregoire says. “We have to understand when we go out, we might not get that contact that we want, that we have to establish a relationship. Because even if you really engage women at first, they might not give you the answers they mean, but the answers they think you are looking for.”

Gregoire and other proponents of the female-engagement teams believe such relationships are worth the wait. The Marines say similar teams in Iraq helped turn Sunni Muslim communities that once backed al-Qaida.

Relationship Building

Reading NPR’s report about female Marines on a relationship-building mission in central Afghanistan, I’m reminded of that line in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” where the wise Greek mother says: The man may be the head of the family, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants. Indeed, while men provide testosterone-driven, aggressive tactics, women tend to look more quietly for subtle strategy. If female Marines can encourage Afghan women to turn the heads of their household away from aggression, this could change the landscape of the Middle East, and of war at large, forever.

Building female-based relationships may not be the most direct route to encouraging men to lay down their firearms, but it might be the most sustainable way to keep those arms lowered. Wise scholars have often cheekily pointed out that war is what happens when one or more nations decide that they want something more than they want peace.

Whether or not we classify the situation in Afghanistan as a “war,” the fact remains that we are occupying that country. American men and women are spending vast tracts of time away from their families, to take a terrible chance in a hostile environment.

We have not seen a major wartime innovation since the American Revolution, when we abandoned squared-off fighting stances in favor of armed men concealed and ready to ambush the Red Coats. While this strategy fared well in the eighteenth century, we have not enjoyed as much success in the past forty years of armed activity.

Evidently the American Marines are finally ready for innovation. Statistically women have long excelled at relationship building. Studies in business, marriage, and sports indicate that women tend to plan for longer-term relationships based on trust and reciprocity. While this tactic does not always yield paychecks as hefty as our male counterparts’, relationship building remains primarily the domain of the fairer sex.

A Fresh Slate

For foreign policy this new position for female soldiers suggests a shift from a policy of “peace through superior firepower” to a more sustainable relationship. Female soldiers have long encountered some resistance in their cadres. Wherever battle-weary groups gather in massive male-to-female ratios, lonely, frightened instincts will necessarily stumble upon tension more easily avoided at home.

With this new positive role for women in war, Rosie’s millennial cousin finds an unprecedented opportunity to leave a deep impact on intercultural relations. While many Afghan men remain deeply distrustful of towering American soldiers in their thick body armor and mirrored sunglasses, women have had little personal experience with Americans.

In a sense, we have a fresh slate with women in Afghanistan. Women with few preconceived notions about Americans have little reason not to engage with female Marines in building strategic alliances based on the trust and collaboration common to our gender, not limited to our culture.

What better time than the present to acknowledge a giant leap for lady-based strategy, on the surface of a nation that has proven so hostile to male tactics? How refreshing to shed a stagnant model in favor of innovation no country has tried before!

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The New Agenda

I’m thrilled to guest-blog today on The New Agenda, a smart, bipartisan webgroup supporting women.

See my post here.  I look forward to cooperating more with these inspsiring women in the future!

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