Saturday, July 3, 2021


The words hit me while I was laying on the delivery table at UCSF's Birth Center. Words that had been inert, dowdy even. Words like latch and skin and ache. It was 4 or 5am, I was halfway through labor, and I was having—I'm not sure how else to describe it—a literary experience.

Though I'd recently consumed a lot of fentanyl and laughing gas, at that point the only thing in my system was the epidural. So this experience was not the effect of any drug. But there was something drug-like about it: I was suddenly conscious of a hidden beauty in common words. The words were hugging me, singing themselves to me. It was as if my baby-love hormones were misfiring at language.

Do you know, I wanted to ask the busy nurses, that your entire body is covered in skin? But do you really know this? And do you know, I wanted to ask my sleeping husband, that air is available all around us, as invisible and essential as vowels, and that one need only to open her nostrils to take in unlimited quantities of the fresh scent of life? Everyone went about their business while I was possessed by these stunning, obvious realizations.

When my son finally arrived I did not find him beautiful. He was skinny in that awful way that newborns are, not even really cute yet. But the words that circulated in my mind around his arrival, those were beautiful. Skin to skin, the nurses murmured. Skin to skin to skin, I thought, because there was also the word skin, a third surface there between us.

All through pregnancy and then all through postpartum I was plagued by a nothingness. I was a gestating blob and then a lactating blob. Everything unfolded as it did, and I had nothing to say about any of it. But for a brief sliver in between, the blob-sense lifted. A constellation of words became events in themselves, unhinged from reality and simply floating. Like a mobile.

There was skin, a ligamentous K sheathed in the slick sound of S. The word made me suddenly aware of my skin, the sheer volume of it, every inch susceptible to touch. The tops of my feet, earlobes, scalp, all pulsated in response to the sound of their common name. And when a little mouth came for that most sensitive part of my body, the word latch offered itself up for reverie. I could feel the relief embedded in the word: the searching la? and the tight enclosure tch.

I'd be sitting on the couch just existing in a vague anxious stew of homelife, feeling my breasts engorge. And then a word would occur to me, and its occurrence became an occasion. The ache in my breast wasn't just the ache in my breast, it was the word ache, a throbbing heart of a word that wanted to burst as milk and sputter like mean bright static into the baby's feverish sucking, and suck, like a cup to my ear strung back in time to adolescent kissing, like a ball landing in a mitt with a satisfying smack, its mad flight arrested in an instant, and all the while my little suckling continued his sucking, oblivious to this pulsing fusion and separation of words and the things they described.

Tit, clot, breath, the words made me blush, they touched my whole skin. It was like the moment they laid the babe on my chest and I could see there was another person in the room, a budding will in a sack of fresh skin. The encounter gave certain words a crispness, a just-bornness. A body of their own. A body I could hold in my mind the way you hold a baby in your arms, not expecting anything of it, not making anything of it, just making acquaintance.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Moments of Lucidity


There are many fine accounts of the postpartum experience, but I’m suspicious of them all. They have one thing in common: their authors managed to write them. How does someone write at all, if they really feel how I do? Because now that I have a baby, my brain isn’t the same. I'm not as … sharp. I struggle even to describe it, because the descriptive faculties I would need to do so have atrophied.
It’s a paradox: I want to read a cogent articulation of what I’m going through—a condition defined by the lack of cogency. So I’ve given myself an impossible assignment: to precisely describe this postpartum fog. It must be neither too clear nor too vague, not so close to the experience that it turns out as gibberish, nor so far from it that I fail to describe it at all. Like words written in breath on a screen, I want to create just enough space to glimpse the other side.


I'm surrounded by objects that remind me of my mental state. Baby foods and baby toys, things we bought because they appeared on some list, things soft and safe and easy to clean. 
Picture a carrot: its wispy hairs and faded orange trunk. How it snaps when you bite or bend, how little pieces flint off when you slice it. Steam and mash the carrot and it collapses into itself; it loses all structure and only a flavor remains. Mush is how you feed carrots to babies, whose undeveloped mouths can only gum things up. 
My mind was a carrot. Now it’s mush. 


The baby, they tell you, is the size of a thumb, maybe even smaller. It's been nine weeks. The size of a thumb, and you've gained five pounds. When you imagine what kind of a mother you'll be, what posture you'll take toward your child, you imagine the way you'd feel about your actual thumb, if someone severed it from your hand and presented it to you. There would be something uncanny about holding your own thumb in your hand. You'd be missing the very thing that might've allowed you to properly inspect it, to hold it between thumb and forefinger like a cigarette, sniff it, roll it back and forth.
It's a small thing, your thumb, but it's a lot to give up when it comes to manual dexterity. You'd cradle this former part of you in your palm, careful to create a cup shape so as to prevent it from rolling off, you'd look at it and see its size differently, feel its weight differently. Actually, when it was part of you it had neither size nor weight.
Thumb is not a pretty word, and it's not a pretty finger. It's stout and strong and proud, like someone whose thumb you might find yourself under. When you're under someone's thumb you're subject to their authority. Authority is what an author has: writing the world on her terms, calling it as she sees it. It's quick and confident and a little arrogant—like I was before I had a baby. My whole life, everyone assumed I was younger than I am, someone's daughter or kid sister. I needed a strong thumb; it was my back-pocket secret. I'm defenseless now, without a thumb, up for grabs to anyone. 
I've lost my grip on language; I can no longer pluck the perfect word or even the right letter. Before, typing out words like hemorrhage, idiosyncrasy, or repercussion felt like falling down stairs; there was a thrilling inevitability to my spelling them correctly. It was like being possessed, like Linda Blair crawling backwards down the stairs—the words had fun with my body, they used me to show themselves off. Now I spell slowly and deliberately, like a stroke victim learning how to walk again: now one foot, now the other.


My favorite parenting advice is to treat your baby like a stroke victim: he can't feed himself or speak sentences but he's still a human being worthy of respect. Don't interrupt his rapt observations of carpet fuzz with a diaper change. Wait for an opportune moment, or if it's urgent, at least pay him the courtesy of explaining what you're doing.
It's easy to forget that a baby is a person. When Wyatt was very small, I thought of him as a cat. The baby books warned against eye contact at bedtime; newborns find it highly stimulating. I remember reading somewhere that you also shouldn't stare at cats, since they perceive staring as aggression. In my sleep-deprived state, these parallel warnings confused me about the nature of my infant and made me overestimate his powers. If I caught myself gazing at him faceward I'd stop and make slow feline blinky eyes. I’d do this even in the dark of his nursery at night. Cats can see in the dark, even if newborns can’t see 12 inches in front of them.
I didn't love Wyatt as a newborn, but I do now. What would it even mean to love a newborn? I felt compelled to care for him. He was like a starfish, suctioned on to me for survival. It turned me into stone, resigned to do what had to be done. Love needs some distance in order to regard its object, and in the power struggles of toddlerhood we became separate enough for love.


Put him to the breast all day long, the lactation consultant told me. When I made the appointment, I pictured a svelte young woman wearing yoga pants and a flowy top. She’d take off her shoes and hug me when she walked in the door. Melitta did both of these things, in fact, but she was a matronly German tank. Lay back in bed against your pillows, she said, take him into the bath. The two of you will figure it out.
I couldn't bring myself to spend a whole day in bed with him, I hit my limit after a few hours. But by 8 weeks in, we had somehow figured it out. Now he was latching, but I made too much milk. He'd sputter and unlatch and my nipple would spray his face like a firehose.
The oversupply was caused by my use of the breast pump, which started when he couldn't latch but continued because I liked the freedom it afforded me: freedom from being someone's sole source of sustenance. With the fridge filled with bottles of expressed milk, I could leave the house and Wyatt could still eat. In the early days, he would take two or three ounces over a half hour, but at the pump I could fill two six-ounce bottles in 10 minutes. I was unwittingly instructing my breasts to produce for twins.
The more milk I produced, the more often I needed to remove it, lest my breasts become engorged. According to the breastfeeding blogs, the solution was simply to pump less milk. But not too little. And don't go too long between sessions. What this really means is that you have to remove just the right amount of milk at just the right time, which is all the milk your baby drinks, exactly when he wants to drink it. There's no real freedom in breastfeeding.
But I can't lie; in the end, I liked it. It started when Wyatt was old enough to have agency, maybe 8 or 9 months. I'd get home from work and relieve the nanny, and he'd scoot himself up to me and lift my shirt and whine. I'd plop him on my lap, straddling me, giving him access to both tits. And then—there's no other way to put this—he devoured me. It was so obvious that this was pleasure, that it came from the same place as sexual pleasure. Pleasure is derived from plea + jour: demand of the day. A pretend etymology, but it works: Babies demand pleasure in the day, every day, throughout the day.
And I took pleasure in it, too, in freely giving myself to fill a vast appetite. For a few minutes I was nothing more than the willing source of everything good in the world, it was as simple and true as that. I was rich beyond measure and generous beyond belief. And the more he drank, the more the milk replenished.
They say that women's mystical power is bleeding without dying; I think it's being devoured without being consumed. 

Into the mush

I’m pregnant again, and I can already feel my mind quieting a bit behind the rising hormones. One day my insides are lined with pink, a plush pink fatness that suffocates thought. The next, my stomach feels like a labyrinth of green ribbon, fluttering queasily in the digestive breezes. I wake early and stare out the window, wondering how I used to occupy these morning hours before Mike and Wyatt awoke. I was so industrious! Now I sit here like butter left at room temperature, my hard angles warming and loosening.
I used to be someone whose intelligence was taking her places. I moved through the world like an elastic band released, thinking nimbly, speaking quickly. Cleverness was a power I could summon at will, both a weapon and a shield. But something changed. I can no longer pick up a word and throw it like a dart. Or I can try, but I might miss my mark.
It’s taken me two years to write this, the only thing I’ve written in that time. My decayed machinery strains with effort, the old elasticity gone. I want to attribute this to the baby, but I’m willing to consider that it might not be the baby. That it’s the usual decay, of the type that everyone I love is subject to.
Babies are distracting. They distract from whatever you were doing before, which had to have been something, but it’s hard to remember what. I worry that I’m losing the ability to describe, but I know that description is only as good as the observation that precedes it. Looking is harder when you have a new baby; it’s like looking out the window of a car on a rainy day, except instead of rain, the glass is covered in infant effluvia.
And here I am, looking out the window. What was I just thinking about? It doesn’t matter. It’s actually quite engaging to watch the beads of liquid race down the glass. I root for one, follow it for what feels like raindrop miles, leaving all the other raindrops behind. Then, for no apparent reason, it stalls out. Other drops pass while mine just sits there, stuck on some invisible nick in the glass. Finally another drop collides with it and devours it, and on they go down the pane. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Cure for Dying

I pick at death like a scab. Well, not entirely like a scab—no relief comes, there's no satisfaction in it. But I do pick at it. I direct my attention to eternity every now and then. And when I do, something that was previously sealed up nicely bleeds and stings. I feel that dizzy fear, that forever fear, the fear that nothing can heal.

No, that's not right. Life is a scab, not death. The distraction of every day life forms a protective coating. Death is the blood that flows forth when I scratch.

Mike says he's afraid of suffering, of pain, but this is not my fear. This is far too rational. For Alek and Rachel, it's life's meaninglessness, the fact that all of this will eventually be dust. I see their point, but no, that's not what scares me either. My particular manner of fearing death feels inherited, inherited from my people, the Jews. It's a whiny, anxious fear, a fear that wrestles with life's basic premise.

This is what scares me about death: not pain, not suffering, not being forgotten, but of being left somewhere forever. And when forever is over, more forever after that. It's the windowless waiting room I sat in as a child when I accompanied my grandma to a doctor's appointment. There were no Highlights magazines, no toys, no light from the outside world. Just green chairs and ugly adults and an oppressive air of resignation. If my mom was there, I'd be complaining vociferously. Instead I sat in itchy, uneasy silence, poised to claw my skin off.

I waited for 20 minutes while my grandma visited with her doctor. That's it—there's nothing more to the story. But children are as animals, lacking the experience to distinguish actual threats from imagined ones. Like a cat yowling in its carrier, I wasn't sure anyone would ever come to retrieve me. I genuinely believed this was my life now, sitting in the waiting room among the gray borings. That, however silly, is how I picture death.


After living most of my 31 years with this fear—a fear that I accepted as the burden of consciousness, an inevitable shadow—it recently occurred to me that my fear was misplaced. What I was afraid of this whole time was life, of what it would be like to live forever. The whole point of death is that you don't have to experience it. You're not there during that long forever. The only way to experience that would be to not die. If forever is what scares you, death is the good guy, the one who rescues you from your fears. How kind of death to obligingly play the bad guy, to accept my scorn and derision when all the while he was the one protecting me.

The fear that nothing can heal. Yes, nothing can heal it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

treatise on textures


Cornbread is the opposite of oysters. Cornbread is gritty, all those little grains of meal like footholds for your tongue. Tongue-holds. You feel the individual grains dissolving at different rates, and it's as if you could taste the twinkling night sky.

Oysters are nothing like this, of course. Oysters are a fog of sex and seaweed; they make me forget who I am. Cornbread's grit gives you something to hold onto, oysters are slippery and hard to fathom.

Most viscosity is disgusting: think of the quivering translucence of under-fried egg white or the loathsome semen of someone you don't love.

Now think of the semen of someone you do love: no less disgusting, but you love it in all its disgustingness. Love doesn't overcome disgust; it includes it. This is how it is with oysters.


I used to live around the corner from a fancy chocolate shop run by an old French man: a Frenchman. Chocolate was his passion and he read your confectionary palate like it was your palm. The first time I visited, he laid out five squares of chocolate on the marble countertop and watched as I tasted each one. I don't remember the first four, but the final square I will never forget: it had the texture of sand.

Tell me your favorite, he said when I finished. I pointed to the sandy one. Ah, he said knowingly. That means you are impatient. Most chocolate contains an emulsifying agent, which slows its disintegration to convey an impression of melting. The chocolate you chose contains no emulsifier—it dissolves quickly on the tongue. You sacrifice butteriness for instant gratification.

That's not what I like about it, I protested. Without emulsion, each individual particle of chocolate is perceived separately. It cackles! It's more interesting.

No, he said. That's simply another way of describing speed.


I enjoy voices. They're what I remember best about old boyfriends. Niko's voice tasted squished. Not squishy, but pressed, as if it was being run through a panini press and you could hear the cheese gasp and the bread brown. Galen's voice was so lovely, with its rounded words like intricate hollow objects, or piping with water trickling through. And Tyler had a pop-goes-the-weasel voice, with all sorts of crackling surprises that made me blush and demur and look on in awe.

Mike's voice is like an airplane. It's cold metal but there's an engine behind it.


I was at a sushi restaurant in LA a couple of months ago, and a plate appeared with a beautiful iridescent shell. It looked like I should put it on my ear. I turned it over and lifted up the little disc that covered the opening, and a jet black length of snail came spiraling out. I didn't eat it.

I have a history with snails. I worked on a farm for a year after college, and we were always finding snails on the lettuce. We flung them into the dirt, until someone got the idea of collecting them for dinner. All the snails we found that day were placed into a sealed container with some cornmeal to purge them of funk and improve their flavor. There they remained, day after day after day. None of us could muster the courage to cook them.

One night, we were having a late night cavort, sitting in our little outdoor kitchen drinking whiskey and looking at the moon. “I have to go to bed,” I said—I was always the first one down. Tyler sensed a rigidity in me that I could tell he was desperate to break.

“You don't have to do anything, Lindsay,” he said with eyes aglow. “You can stay up all night and go for a run on the beach at dawn. You can even eat a snail.”

The plastic container was on the shelf just beside him. He reached for it and plucked out a specimen. He held it an inch from his face, and after a brief hesitation, slurped the snail from its shell. Then he took a shot of whiskey and ate another.

I couldn't eat the snail—not that night, and not any night. The texture of snails, I know without eating them, is like the inside of your body. You don't often encounter the inside of your body, but think about your eye, now think about peeling back your skin and everything underneath is all eye, one big continuous eye with rivulets and folds. I can't.

Monday, January 30, 2017

My Oatmeal

I will share with you my special method for eating oatmeal. I cook it the night before with a little bit of miso paste. Miso contains enzymes which break down the starch in the oats, and if allowed to sit at room temperature overnight, a bowl of oats inoculated with miso will turn sweeter and milkier than any you've ever had.

It has to be the right kind of miso, the young kind, it won't be any good at all if you use aged and salty miso. Young miso is sweet and light, like butterscotch almost, which I don't like. I don't like sweets, but I do like it when things that aren't meant to be sweet are sweet. Like bacon, salad dressing, scrambled eggs next to pancakes when you purposely let some of the syrup touch the curds. Or just scramble them with sliced dates as they do in the Middle East. Other cultures seem to understand better about commingling their sweets and their savouries.

The oats: steel cut, always. I let them bubble away on the stove for half an hour or so, then turn off the heat and let them cool just a bit before I add the miso. The oats always congeal as they cool, but when I stir in the miso they loosen back up again as the enzymes begin to act immediately. The effect is quite magical, and I often call Mike in to witness it. When the miso is sufficiently mixed, I cover the pot, lick the spoon, and leave them be.

In the morning I re-heat the oats and prepare the following accoutrements:

  1. A ripe banana, cold from the fridge. I leave half on the counter for Mike to add to his cereal when he wakes up. The other half I cut into slices and fan them out in a small rectangular tupperware (this container allows me to easily capture each banana slice by trapping it between my spoon and the vertical wall).
  2. Black sesame, ground over the sliced bananas from a spice mill.
  3. Salt after the sesame—salt is very good on a ripe, sweet banana.
  4. Walnuts—toasted, of course. Walnuts are better than almonds or really any other nuts, and nothing goes better with bananas than walnuts, except maybe salt. And these, these aren't just any walnuts. I make them in a very particular way, which anyone who tastes them says are the best walnut they've ever had. I break up my magic walnuts one by one and arrange them atop the banana slices according to size—larger walnut pieces on thicker banana slices and so on. When all the bananas have their walnut I remove one final walnut from the jar and set it ceremoniously atop Mike's banana half. If he happens to wake before I've left home, he'll try to goad from me another walnut. I usually acquiesce, but it pains me.
By now the oatmeal is hot. I take the long handled spoon I have been borrowing from a Korean restaurant for about seven years and peel off a wisp of butter. Then I hold the spoon over the bowl and pour just enough maple syrup to come to the lip of the spoon. Next, I pour the steaming oats into the bowl and stir so the butter and syrup dissolve. That is the preparation.

This is the eating: I set before me the bowl of oats and the tupperware with the bananas. I spoon up one walnut-topped banana slice and dip it into the hot oats briefly—I want a temperature contrast, not a mushy banana. Scoop, dip, bite, scoop, dip, bite, all the way through until I've eaten the last banana slice, at which point plenty of oats still remain to eat all by their splendid porridgy selves.

Thank goodness for a meal that is eaten alone so it may evolve over the years into precisely the thing you crave. I love a late Saturday morning scramble with buttered toast and a glass of grapefruit, but I also need time to enact my strangest impulses, and if this can be done in a domestic and routine setting, all the better. For then there is always space for it. It is never furtive. It is there, beckoning me from bed at 6:30am. It is there, when I go to sleep on a Tuesday with nothing in particular to look forward to the next day, it is there: my warm miso oats, milky miso oats with the cold bananas all fanned out in the Tupperware in two neat layers—three layers, perhaps, if the banana is large. It varies barely, but my allegiance to it is strong, my ritual, my breakfast, mine.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Bread is Hard

I made this!
Friends have been asking me what I’ve been doing lately. Sometimes I answer straightforwardly: I’m freelancing a little. Thinking about what I want to do next. But that’s a boring answer. So other times I just say that I’m baking a lot of bread. 

And it’s true, I’m suddenly quite taken with bread. I’ve cooked for a long time, but baking never interested me until now. The effort-to-results ratio didn’t seem worth it, especially in a city where excellent bread was so easily procured. But in November I went to fermentation fantasy camp in Tennessee. On the last day, when everyone was breaking down their tents and arranging rides to the airport, Sandor set up a little fermentation starter buffet on the kitchen island. He put out kefir grains, koji, yogurts, tibicos, tempeh spores, and sourdough starter. What the hell, I thought, and spooned some of the sourdough into a ziplock bag, then tucked it into a mitten for the long journey home. 

The first loaf I made—and each one Ive made since—was Tartine's country bread. The recipe in Tartine's cookbook is 38 pages long, but I use an abridged, though still quite complicated version (see for yourself). Before you can even begin the recipe, you have to feed the starter, which consists of discarding the entire starter save for one tablespoon, then adding equal parts flour and water to that. It takes several feedings, spaced 12 or so hours apart, before the starter becomes bubbly enough to bake with. Once that happens, you feed it again, wait a while, gently fold it, shape it, whisper incantations to it, flip it over, put it in a towel-lined basket, and finally bake it. Before each successive step, you have to check that the dough has reached certain milestones: that it’s increased in volume a certain amount, or it doesn’t bounce back when you poke it, or a spoonful of it floats in a bowl of water. The process is absurd, but the resulting bread is transcendent.

Even though this is one of the longest recipes Ive ever encountered, it doesnt nearly cover everything I need to know. All cooking is about observation; you have to notice things like the slant of your stove, if your cabbage seems a little on the dry side, if the butcher sliced your meat too thin. But baking bread is especially so, and maddeningly so. In the beginning, I had a 50% success rate. The bread needs to rise in a warm environment, and I struggled to find a spot warm enough but not too warm. Twice I ruined the dough by overheating it. As soon as I checked it I could tell what had happened by how ragged and sticky the dough had become. I was too far into the recipe to quit, so I pressed on, resigned to deliver a stillborn-loaf. (I finally learned to put it on top of the radiator with two folded towels underneath.)

Five loaves in, I see bread differently than I used to. I mean that literally: struggling and suffering and cursing through the process of baking has made the final loaf appear visually different to me. The texture of the crumb, the color of the crust, those elegant scores over the surface: before I started baking, all of those things were just "bread" to me. Now I see each of them as distinct. 

I drew a lot when I was younger, and my art teacher Marya taught me exercises to help me see better. Sometimes, when we were drawing a live model, Marya would forbid me from looking at my page. Stop worrying about whether her breast looks like a breast, she’d say. Don’t draw a breast, draw that weird thing that is Merav’s breast. 

Marya showed me how to see by making everything unfamiliar. But with bread, I’m learning that the opposite is also true. When I first started baking sourdough, everything was so new it was almost blinding. But as I fumbled my way through the 13 steps of the recipe, I built intimacy with the process, especially the parts that I fucked up. The more routine bread becomes, the better I can read it. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It's Hard Being a Short Woman in Tech

In The New Statesman, Laurie Penny argues that tech is inhospitable to women because it’s run by resentful nerds, “some of the most privileged people in the world who are convinced that they are among the least.” She’s responding to a piece of writing by Scott Aaronson reflecting on how his painful nerdolescence makes it hard to identify with being called privileged. Penny’s piece is an attempt to set Aaronson straight. Nerds’ childhood trauma, she argues, is nothing compared to the “structural oppression” experienced by women and ethnic minorities:
Scott, imagine what it's like to have all the problems you had and then putting up with structural misogyny on top of that. Or how about a triple whammy: you have to go through your entire school years again but this time you're a lonely nerd who also faces sexism and racism.
She says that Aaronson’s writing is “painfully honest, but also flawed” because his childhood suffering blinds him to others' suffering and oppression:

“…I want you to understand that that very real suffering does not cancel out male privilege, or make it somehow alright.

The structural oppression faced by women and the individual hardship faced by nerds are different beasts, no doubt, but I’m not sure it’s possible to compare them in the way that Penny does. For one thing, structural oppression is a lot easier to measure, since by definition it impacts clearly defined demographic groups. But when it comes to teenage nerdishness and the loneliness and bullying that go along with it, we don’t have as clear a sense of the impact. There’s no way of knowing who was a teenaged nerd and who wasn’t without asking each person individually, and even if you do, most men probably don't want to reveal that they spent their virile youth as Starcraft-playing virgins.

Since we don’t know who the nerds are, it's hard to say how their nerdiness impacted them. And it certainly doesn't make sense to demand, as Penny does, that Aaronson identify as privileged, when we can’t accurately assess how much nerds like him have struggled. Maybe nerd-boys' feelings of sexual rejection, combined with living in a culture that measures manliness in terms of sexual prowess, translates to lifelong feelings of loneliness and a higher risk of depression and suicide, and maybe these feelings of inadequacy have professional as well as emotional repercussions. For all we know, male nerds could be worse off than female nerds in this regard.

Penny seems to believe that the male-skewed gender ratio in Silicon Valley is proof enough of the superior life outcomes of nerds. But that’s not fair, because successful Silicon Valley nerds are a tiny minority of all the male nerds in the world. What about nerds who don’t have a good work ethic, or simply aren’t that smart? Penny talks about how, when she tried to escape from her teenaged loneliness into the heady abstraction of science, she was met with gender discrimination. But that’s not necessarily worse than a male nerd who can’t escape into science at all, because he doesn’t have the intellect for it. 

I'm not suggesting that social scientists start asking men if they used to be nerds so we can more precisely compare the relative struggles of different demographic groups. Different groups struggle in different ways, and there’s something unseemly about arguing over who has it worse.  There are so many ways to slice privilege; it’s not a linear scale, with white males +1, gay men and women -1, black gay men and women at, I don't know, -2. Struggling is everyone’s birthright. Penny reminds Scott that he doesnt know what it’s like to put up with “structural misogyny,” but neither does Penny know what it’s like to put up with being a nerdy, bullied teenage boy (which is not the same thing as being a nerdy teenage girl, like she was). 

Ethnicity and gender don’t tell the full story when it comes to life struggles. You could be a white guy with mental health issues, a black lesbian with a trust fund and low self-esteem. You could be me: I’m 4’10", and everywhere I go, people mistake me for a child. When I’m out with a group of colleagues, all of them younger than me, some of whom I manage, I’m the only one who gets carded. Waiting in line at the butcher counter, the butcher ignores me because he doesn’t see me over the counter. Once, when I walked into the conference room to present my work, the client asked if I was the boss’s daughter. 

I assume that this bias against me has also affected me in ways I’m not aware of. This pisses me off. I’m outside the normal range for height and there’s nothing I can do about it. (Even trying to look professional is hard, since grown-up clothes don’t always come in my size!) But it’s okay, because everyone is outside the normal range for something. Right now, being a women in tech means you’re "outside the normal range" for gender in your field. That means that sometimes people assume that you work in marketing or HR, and while this is infuriating, it’s no more sexist than assuming I’m a kid is height-ist. Of course people aren’t accustomed to meeting female engineers; there simply aren’t that many of them. 

All of this is to say, maybe the whole women in tech conversation sometimes mixes up cause and effect. It’s not that gender discrimination keeps women out of tech, it’s that too few women in tech leads to gender discrimination. In other words, it’s not an ideological problem, it’s a practical one. The way to solve it is not by asking men to do more soul searching about their male privilege; it’s by working to get more women in tech through practical means like mentoring programs, exposing more kids to computer science, etc. As more women enter tech, people will get used to seeing female engineers, start-ups won’t feel like fraternities, and sexism will fade to the background on its own. 

If only my condition offered the same such hope! My only solace is that eventually I’ll reach an age when getting handed kids menus is more flattering than infuriating. Either that, or I’ll have to move to Asia.