Where we've been

S L Forsburg forsburg at nospamsalk.edu
Thu Oct 16 11:54:15 EST 1997

I was sent this letter by Mary Ann Sesma in response to my post
on stigmas associated with women's groups.  Mary Ann has given 
me permission to post her comments. Her letter is a  reminder
of where we've been, where we still have to go, and that we get 
where we're going because of those who have broken the trail
before us.

>  [This] is meant as a personal reply from an old lady who has gone
> through the" stuff." I have many women friends who are retired
> Ph.D's., M.D. and Chem. Engineers. They all have the same story to
> tell. It just seems to me, that our young women need more armament .
> This may best delivered in the form of the LIST. I read the list
> "womenbio: regularly but rarely take place in discussions. I have
> responded only once before in one year. I was struck by the candor of
> your remarks and felt that I simply must reply. 
>    Older women and younger women must stand together in terms of this
> issue. 
>  We may not succeed: we may make some major dents. . I am an a"old
> girl" and had to give up a career as a scientist because the "dear
> old boys" got 
>  me in 1951. I don't want to talk about that time, because although I
> was 21 and now am 68--those scars are very deep. They are better
> buried. 
>    However, historically these items maybe of interest to you and
> your newsgroup. I have debated long and hard over whether or not to
> send this piece of mail. However, I will always be a risk taker. I
> give you the discretion of "trashing" or "posting". 
> 1. YOUNG WOMEN: I never in 1951 (at age 21 as a grad student in
> Biochem) 
>  brought up "women's issues" - too painful., although I had outlined
> my agenda early on having been "carefully taught" by a group of
> ladies from Wellesley and Vassar who were teachers. 
> 2. EGO CHANGES: The old boys really worked me over as a grad
> student--efffectively cancelling me out and almost destroying my ego.
> One of the issues was grades--grades were posted by student number. I
> consistently would hit 95 or better. The boys got to me. because they
> found out where the numerical assignment of students were located and
> raised some nasty issues such I was functioning as a TA at the time
> and they were GI's with the GI bill to foot their educational
> experience. As luck would have it, the ego got repaired. I was not
> permitted to go to meetings, either local or national when the "boys"
> were subsidized by the profs. 
> 3.CHANGE IN CAREER: I went on to another career that utilized my 
>  background and made a whacking lot more money as a high school
> principal that "the dear ones" ever did. In fact, I had one of the
> "dear ones" plead with me for a job at my school on the basis of
> having been in school together. There were two more highly qualified
> candidates both women that I hired. One has since gone to get a Ph.D.
> In truth, I did not care, because I did what was right, moral and
> ethical. I chose the best people for the openings. As a high school
> principal, I was extremely active in women's issues. I had to be. I
> recognized that we needed the best, and the best were not necessarily
> men. The graduates from my school indicate that there was an
> overwhelming number of girls registered in both AP Chem and AP
> Physics. 
>   This high school was deep in the Latino barrio of Los Angeles in
> Bell, California not necessarily the high spot site for academia. But
> it has to start somewhere. 
> 4. Co-PI's : After I retired, at 62, I have worked as a Co PI of an
> ELSI Project ( the other Co Pi was an African American woman Ph.D.)
> for the 
>  Hispanic Educational Genome Project financed by DOE. She and I work
> together at a distance: we have different job statements. We have
> attended many meetings together. We make a great pair---Only at the
> ELSI meetings do we get acceptance. 
> 5.ETHICS: ELSI as you well know is the Ethics, Legal, and Social
> Issues arm of the Human Genome Project. As an official statement of
> DOE, this should have a great deal of leverage. However, truthfully
> it does not,. It only seems that ethics, morals etc, become pertinent
> when we reread (or see on video) the Syphillis experiment at Tuskegee
> and Schindler's List. I consider ETHICS to be crucial to science at
> all levels. Too many (at high levels) people (as in science) blunder
> as a result of deficit of ethics. 
> 6. MEETING ATTENDANCE: I attended the Santa Fe DOE Human Genome
> Contractors conference in 1995. There were probably10-15 women in
> addition to the women who had organized the event and yes, it was
> primarily women who were the organizers other than Dan Drell(who is
> extremely to these issues). (All Ph.Ds'. from Lawrence Hall of
> Science). The entire group of the contractors was something like 400
> (inclusie of PI etal) At this conference, when I sat down to lunch
> one day, at a table of 9 men, young Ph.D's. I tried to initiate a
> conversation. Not on any technical issue, but 
>  small talk so I would be able to know these young gentlemen better.
> They could not carry out a conversation. The table was virtually
> silent, even in the males that were not sitting next to me. (Maybe I
> had the plague) I could not have been a threat to these young
> laddies--I was SIGNIFANTLY older, behaved myself, pleasant , retired,
> demonstrated no sexual interest, and 
>  walked with a cane. These men could have been my sons. These guys
> did not even have the grace to hold my chair out for me when I
> excused myelf. I rarely ask for assistance by I wanted to know if
> they felt they had a social obligation--when obviously they did not.
> They were social ignorarmi. 
>     This group of "young turks" need to have some social education in
> addition to an academic education. I have not attended since because
> of personal mobility concerns. 
> 7.. STANDARDS: I never have asked for reduction in standards. I never
> will. I did take place in a "class action suit" against the Los
> Angeles Unified School District when 20 women who had been qualified
> to be principals were not placed. It is the "Ya Basta" attitude. I
> was appointed a secondary high school principal as the result of the
> intervention of an enlightened superintendent. I was labelled as a
> "potential troublemaker"/ 
>  However, when affirmative actiion hit the deck, all the women
> (whether minority or non minority) had to prove themselves to better
> than the male counterparts. The minority women had to work even
> harded. I am minority.(Latina). However, the "boys in education" just
> could not bypass my CV. I have too many other things to do--such as
> being productive. 
> 8.VICTIMS AND PERCEPTIONS: There is a extraordinary attitude from
> women and women scientists(and educators) in particular that
> seemingly says 
>  "well, we have never victims of discrimination"---GARBAGE. It seems
> to indicate that some women want to be victims and plead
> victimization. I leave it to young women to draw the evidence from
> comparability studies and outcomes in the area of domestic violence
> in which the female consistently accepts the vicmization by the male.
> perception may even affect this issue. Women have accepted the role
> of caregivers not "hunters". 
> I choose not to be active in women's groups. My time is measured. 
> Sincerely yours, 
> Mary Ann Sesma 

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S L Forsburg, PhD  forsburg at salk.edu
Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 
"These are my opinions.  I don't have  
time to speak for anyone else."

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