Photo: Chris Blakeley

Women We Read This Week

Jessica Pishko’s “It Took Being in an Abusive Relationship to Make Me Understand the Importance of Access to Abortion” in Elle

Jessica Pishko adds her voice to a growing movement of women who are sharing their abortion stories, which is an important political act given that one in three U.S. women have had an abortion and that we are currently facing a wave of legislation to restrict our access from everything from birth control to abortion. Pishko recounts how, during an abusive relationship, her period was late, leading her to believe she was pregnant. How many of us have been pressured or forced to have unprotected sex when we did not want to? Pishko uses her story to make a larger point about abortion access, describing how,

States like Texas have slowly begun to use legislation, like the TRAP laws currently being challenged in the Supreme Court, to close clinics. Where would I have ended up if I was currently a pregnant 20-year-old living in Texas? Would I have been able to escape? My decision not to have his child was probably the single healthiest thought I had at the time. I couldn’t quite think of a way to get myself out of the relationship at that moment, but I knew enough not to have his child.

It is important that we, like Pishko, give voice to our stories, because the personal is political, and there is no reason that old men should continue to legislate our bodies.

Alice

Lyz Lenz’s “Writing My Context” in The Rumpus

With wit and sparkling prose, Lenz charmingly illustrates the daily chaos that is working from home with small children, but this essay is so much more than that. She writes with nuance and insight on how motherhood can shape our professional lives, and our very selves. I truly appreciate Lenz’s emotional and self-aware, but not overly sentimental musings. It’s a touching and hilarious essay that perfectly captures the conflicting, coexisting feelings involved in being a mother and a writer: you can at once feel overwhelmed by and enamored with your children; they can feel like both a hindrance to your work getting done and a great source of writerly inspiration. It’s when she finally gets time to herself away from her family at a writing retreat that she realizes the identity of “mother” is not an outfit you can put on and take off. It’s far more complex than that.

I told my husband this writing trip would be “a chance to really focus on my writing, you know. Without someone interrupting me to say that lions are coming out of the wall, again.” I believed it would be a chance to be “myself” again. That woman without Band-Aids, diapers or distractions. When I got to the conference, I heard the author Maggie Nelson advise the writers in the room to, “Sit down and write an essay that begins ‘Today my body.'” Alone, without my children, in a room with no distractions, I did what she told me and I wrote about my children. I felt both betrayed and heartened. I had come on the trip to be more of myself, but when I searched inside I found them. It made me feel like I had become the stereotype of the codependent mother I had feared becoming. It also made me feel like I had more lives than just my own in me and I wasn’t trapped by them; instead, these bits of them in me made me free.

Dana Goodyear’s “The Stress Test” in The New Yorker

In this fascinating article, Dana Goodyear tells the story of “rivalries, intrigue, and fraud in the world of stem-cell research”: the tale of American and Japanese scientists attempting to create stem cells from other types of cells by subjecting them to stress. Goodyear explains this complex science using incredibly beautiful and understandable language: “…they described an experiment in which they took cells that had an incontrovertible marker of maturity and got them to express the signals of embryonic stem cells—the cellular equivalent of looking at a sonogram and seeing an unborn child with a faded tattoo.”

The piece centers on a young, female Japanese researcher who co-authors this groundbreaking stem cell paper to incredible fanfare—forgetting to acknowledge the mentor whose idea it was to attempt this finding. The fanfare soon turns to scrutiny and she is accused of fabricating or misreading the results. The paper is retracted, she goes into hiding and receives treatment for depression while another of her mentors commits suicide. According to Goodyear, “delusion and fraud exist along a spectrum of deceit—first you fool yourself, then others—and one measure of a scientist is his ability to see that he is mistaken.”

The drive to publish in the best scientific journals can foster an atmosphere of intense pressure, competition, and even suspicion among researchers. In order to be able to reproduce a result, scientists must share the techniques they used, but they are often wary to do so, worried that others will steal their ideas. This pressure can also lead to over-working or even obsession — with seeing what you want to see in your results.

The progress of science requires bold ideas; it also requires patient, plodding work on small problems. Scientists grope their way forward, making false starts, hitting dead ends, and falling through trapdoors, all the while struggling to stay both radically open to insights and ruthlessly skeptical of them.

Olivia

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