Feeling underrepresented? Of course! So, I handle it myself.

According to a new paper Degrees of Difference: Gender Segregation of U.S. Doctorates by Field and Program Prestige published February 6, 2017, women not only earn fewer doctorates in fields that are traditionally separated by gender (golly gee, “Math is hard!”), but also are separated by prestige. Here’s what they say about the paper over at Sociological Science:

Abstract: Women earn nearly half of doctoral degrees in research fields, yet doctoral education in the United States remains deeply segregated by gender. We argue that in addition to the oft-noted segregation of men and women by field of study, men and women may also be segregated across programs that differ in their prestige. Using data on all doctorates awarded in the United States from 2003 to 2014, field-specific program rankings, and field-level measures of math and verbal skills, we show that (1) “net” field segregation is very high and strongly associated with field-level math skills; (2) “net” prestige segregation is weaker than field segregation but still a nontrivial form of segregation in doctoral education; (3) women are underrepresented among graduates of the highest-and to a lesser extent, the lowest-prestige programs; and (4) the strength and pattern of prestige segregation varies substantially across fields, but little of this variation is associated with field skills.

It’s not much of a surprise to me. And looking at the graphic of the distribution of PhDs, why look – there I am in one of the least represented areas – Comp Sci – which looks to be #5 from the bottom, with philosophy not far behind.


At first blush, it’s a little irritating (that’s catching me at the start of the day after 9 solid hours of sleep). It speaks to systemic issues of segregation, exclusion, good-ole-boy-ism, and so forth. You know, the standard-issue stuff that women in STEM come to take for granted, but never 100% get used to. Maybe 97.352636%. Or maybe not.

Anyway, be this as it may (here’s hoping it changes – and I suspect it will), the fact still remains that there are ways to enter those fields without a doctorate. True, you may not be ensconced a the highest tiers of the ivory tower, but you can still get in, and you can still work your way up.

As I have, for example. Back in the day – not as early as the ARPANET, but earlier than most people thought they would ever need an email address – it was possible to build up considerable skill and ability on your own. Get yourself access to a computer and an internet connection (at home or at your local library), print out some documentation on emerging technologies (since there were no books, yet, to teach you), study on your own, practice on your own, built real-life applications and design increasingly sophisticated implementations, and before too terribly long, you’d have a solid skillset you could parlay into a real job. A good job. An opportunity that was only available to people with actual skill.

That’s how I got started web development, back in 1995, and that’s how I landed a fantastic job at one of the planet’s leading financial services firms in January, 1997. From there, it was onward and upward — with a lot of bumps and slams along the way — and guess what. I’m still here.

See, this is what people tend to forget in this age of globalized skillsets, where certification and qualification are the currency of the job-application hopefuls. Granted, with regional and cultural barriers to entry considerably less, we need more ways to figure out if someone is actually going to do what they say they’re going to accomplish. Certifications, degrees, standardized qualifications, etc. are great ways to vet people up front, weed out the wanna-bes and put people through the paces before handing them the reins.

But we can get so caught up in the surrogate screens of official vetting, that we stop thinking for ourselves, relying on those official blessings as a cognitive short-cut to save time and energy. We can lose sight of the validity of actual experience, genuine innovation, and the drive of those who are opening up the jungled path before us… not trailing behind, taking advanced courses in road-paving. The work of opening up a path for the first time, takes a certain type of person, while the work of paving that path, then widening it so heavy equipment can fit, is quite different.

Which is why I can’t lose too much sleep (for myself, anyway) over the barriers of entry to anyone who’s not a well-heeled “pale male”. Yes, it’s troubling that women are so under-represented. But there are corners of the world where it’s possible to practice and contribute and innovate, regardless of academic qualifications. And it might just be that the numbers about segregation in doctorates doesn’t tell the whole story, in terms of the true leaders, the true innovators, the ones who are actually leading the way.

It’s still possible to dive into cutting-edge technologies without an advanced degree and open a new path in ways that no one ever thought possible / necessary. In fact, for the most advanced, innovative, emerging areas, you’re not going to find a whole lot of formal education, anywhere, because standards have yet to be defined, textbooks have yet to be written, syllabi have yet to be compiled. Likewise in philosophy, it’s perfectly possible to use your own mind for the furthering of the practice. You can develop your own theories, you can evolve your own individual thinking process (which is nothing like anyone else’s), and there’s nothing to prevent you from putting your work in writing, publishing it, and carving out a place for it in the world.

This sort of activity, this sort of developmental discipline, doesn’t require the presence or avid support of an academic community. In some ways, in fact, you might be better off not having any of that. You might not have a built-in entourage of colleagues who eagerly support / promote / challenge / criticize / plagiarize your work, but there’s nothing to prevent you — as a woman, as a person of color, as a non-PhD philosopher — from moving your own work forward.

In the end, it’s what we all have to do, anyway. Your mind has to be your own (as much as possible). Your work needs to be original. And it needs to stand on its own. Smart people who take the time to think for themselves may respect your work on its  own merits, and those are the folks you care about, anyway.

A doctorate isn’t going to guarantee that any more than a daily discipline to targeted development that’s totally devoted to your path. So, while it might be nice for various industries to have more diversity in more advanced positions (they seem to think so, based on all those inclusive-seeming Super Bowl 51 ads), it’s not a prerequisite for your own path. You can still do The Work. You can still develop your skills in ways that no one else on earth can rival. Innovation has its home far out in front — where there are no courses or certificates yet available.

If that’s where you belong (as do I), looking back is just going to delay your forward movement. So, look ahead, beyond, above, ahead.

The world needs you there.

When you get down to it… Where do we find our answers?

dark-forest-dreamThe last two dreams I posted have had a lot of significance for me.

Digging Deep” is very much about digging into the unseen regions of our lives — our psyches, our pasts, our histories… the things and experiences and thoughts and feelings we have buried, in hopes of never finding them again. It’s about taking a deep breath and plunging in, to see what’s there.

Even if it makes us feel sick.

Even if it frightens us.

When we dig, we can find amazing things.

The old woman by my side represents to me the generations up on generations of others who have gone before us, who have done that work — and lived to tell the tale.  They speak to us from their silenced experiences, to remind us — it’s okay. Keep digging.

Digging for what? For the things that we crave… the things that will make us whole. For the things we have pushed away from us, thinking they are too frightening or uncomfortable or even useless, to be much good to us now.

That dream was an excellent reminder, and it gave me a much-needed boost in a time when I needed it. Funny… my dreams often do that.

Reclaiming the Castle” also gave me an incredible boost, at a time when I was doing my best not to lose my cool at a job that was financially necessary, but just murder on my self-esteem. The little software company where I’d written and managed a full documentation set had gotten “dot-bombed” about a decade before everyone else, and I had to take an admin job in the HR department of a major multi-national tech company. Talk about lousy gigs… it was not my finest year. (Then again, it did provide excellent experience, and I ended up turning that sow’s ear into a major silk purse full of money, so it wasn’t a total waste.)

At the time when “Reclaiming the Castle” came to me, I was meditating regularly.  This was around 1994, and I’d just found out about sitting zazen (where you sit motionless and just “be” for extended periods of time). I was also discovering and diving into the works of medieval European women mystics, and liking what I found. Their works meshed nicely with my lifelong fascination with the Holy Grail mythos, and I found traces of that long-beloved mythology in their words.

One of the things that struck me, as I was sitting zazen and reading up on women mystics, was that I was combining traditions from East and West in ways that really complimented each other. At that time, I recall coming across an increasing body of work by  Western writers about Eastern spiritual practices. And I discovered some books that connected both ends of the spiritual practice into a continuous spectrum.

One thing that struck me, however, was an apparent assumption that Eastern practices are somehow better or more elevated than Western ones.  Yoga and meditation and Buddhism were all very popular in the area where Laney and I lived at the time, and there was no lack of talk and instruction on them. And somehow, it seemed that underneath all the instruction was an all-too-eager genuflection to the East — where you can really get enlightened, not just pass your time in a consumption-driven, manic-depressive haze till you drop dead in our industrial, spiritually dessicated wasteland.

And that troubled me.

Because I knew — from my own personal experience — that the Western tradition is anything but spiritually dessicated. Sure, a lot of Westerners have abandoned their faith and their spiritual practices, and there’s been a sh*t-ton of oppression and bloodshed by the Powers That Be to keep people in line with their religion. But the apparent belief that the West has little to offer in the way of enlightenment and spiritual connection seemed, well, fundamentally flawed.

And it struck me that people were really looking in the wrong place (and faulting the wrong things), in hopes of finding their way to the Light they  needed.

It seemed to me — then, and now — that the real source of our despair, our sense of desolation, is that we’ve abandoned our own indigenous paths to Light. We’ve gotten our fill of the standard-issue religious structures, we’ve witnessed the abuses of power and the overthrow of authenticity, and we’ve decided to reject the whole lot. We look elsewhere for answers — never realizing that the fact that we’re not actually “getting” what they offer. Eastern traditions originate elsewhere — from languages and cultures and historical contexts completely different from our own Western ways.

And because of that, we’re never going to fully understand what they mean.

Our translations are flawed — in word and deed — but of course, we never realize it, because we’re the ones doing the translating. Our modes of practice are necessarily going to be completely different in substance and nature from those of the originators. Our measures of whether we’re “getting it” or not are going to be skewed, because what we seek may actually not be what those practices are actually offering.

But because we’re so hungry, so determined, so needy of these things — which are part and parcel of any complete life — we don’t see it.

And in chasing after those “otherly” ways, we lose our connection with our own histories, our own practices, our own paths. That just separates us all the more from what we seek — a sense of connection, a sense of belonging.

Reclaiming the Castle” to me is really about that conflict. Patrick Stewart, to me, represents our Western impulse to boldly go where no one has gone before, and in the process, leaving behind a connection with a valuable, anchoring past. He’s a technological sage, a hyper-modern character, and he is desperately lonely and sad. His soul is depleted, and he knows it.

And he says so. To me, his opinion that herbalists are “the real thing” is a parallel with the parts of our modern selves that look to ways which are more connected with the natural world for relief and solace. “Herbs” can equate with anything in our modern lives that isn’t manufactured, marketed, and tracked. They can be the equivalent of anything we associate with more natural, less artificial approaches to life. Look at all the dollars spent on alternative healthcare and healing modalities. Look at all the money spent on supplements, herbs, and various forms of yoga, not to mention DNA analysis and ancestry research. They’re both connected, as very real needs in the population for approaches that connect us with our own health and well-being, as well as our history.

We know our history is there... we just have to uncover it
We know our history is there… we just have to uncover it

Reclaiming the Castle” isn’t just a treatise in favor of herbalists. It’s a metaphor about how we actually feel about our place(s) in the world — and what we think will save us. And it’s about how, deep within the symbolic forest of the unseen and nearly-forgotten aspects of our lives, we can actually find something there that will bring us back to ourselves.

That dream was an elaboration on “Digging Deep”  — it showed me what can come, when we don’t shy away from our past, when we truly excavate the traditions and practices of those who passed our DNA along to us. I believe that we inherit the orientations, capacities, and capabilities of our ancestors. And I believe that our spiritual practices and traditions become all the more meaningful and potent, when they are aligned with our heritage.

Of course, our Western heritage reaches far, far back… much farther back than the version we’ve been living with for the past 1,500 years or so (give or take). And when we do connect with that — as I did, through exploring ancient women’s mythology, as well as the words of medieval women mystics — the change it can bring to us… well, that’s nothing short of miraculous.

May you dig — and dive — deep. And find all you need… and more.

The Voice of Night – A House Full of Women

I dreamed of a Victorian house...
I dreamed of a Victorian house…

In a dream, I followed a woman down a street. I knew and respected her in real life, and she was actually something of a role model for me, as one of the most independent women I knew. I tried to catch up with her as we went down the street, but she was always a step or two ahead of me and wasn’t even aware I was following her. Just as I was about to catch up with her, she suddenly turned and went into a house.

The house was an old, white, 2-story Victorian – very ornate, with gingerbread all around the porch, white marble stairs rose up from the street, and a door with very intricately etched glass windowpanes. Inside, it was dark, but as my eyes adjusted, I could make out many, many rooms and a wide staircase that spiralled upwards from the middle of the entryway. The rooms were filled with flowing draperies – sheers, white – that wafted to and fro on a breeze. The whole house was shadowy and filled with women – all of them considerably older than I.

The woman I was following marched right into the house and up the staircase. I tried to catch up with her, but she was ahead of me and out of sight very soon. I looked in each room, trying to locate her, but was only met with the sight of other older women.

Some were middle-aged, talking in pairs and threes. Others, very elderly, white-haried, sat silently, looking out the windows or just meditating. I stumbled up the staircase, looking for my role model, but she was gone. I tiptoed into some of the rooms, following them around to see where they led, but I got confused and ended up in dead ends, with white pillows and drapes all around, confusing me. I tried to stay calm and not panic, but I was frightened and wished I could find the woman I was looking for.

In and out of rooms I went, and the older women there either ignored me totally or eyed me curiously, without saying a word. I tried to approach two women, sitting on a window seat, talking quietly with one another, but when I approached them, they were distant and barely polite. I seemed not to belong there, and I knew it – but I had to find the woman I was following.

I looked around, and I thought I caught sight of her on the staircase, which was visible from nearly every room in the house. I hustled to the landing and looked up, then down, but I only saw sheers drifting to and fro. Frustrated and confused, I decided I’d had enough. I started down the staircase toward the front door to leave. With that, my dream ended.

A welcome reminder of how much myth matters to me

books-dustySo, just by chance, a couple of weeks ago, I accompanied my partner Laney to the annual conference of The Association for the Study of Women and Mythology.  A few months ago, Laney had gotten a (surprise, last-minute) email from a colleague about how the conference was still accepting applications for workshops and presentations… and would she be interested?

Well, yeah. Of course she was interested.  It was a conference of several hundred women, all gathering to talk about women… and mythology. Laney’s an incredible drum circle leader and ceremonialist, and we both thought her work would fit just perfectly into the program.  Lots of academics sharing papers and discussing their areas of study… and surely there were some women in the midst who could go for an “extra-intellectual” activity (“extra” as in, “outside the immediate purview” of intellectualism — not uber-intellectual).

Anyway, we scrambled a bit, put together a write-up of what she’d offer, then we crossed our fingers and — voila — before long, we heard she’d been accepted.

Then came the coordination activities. And the logistics. And making sure that the drum ceremony would not drown out the goings-on in adjacent rooms. And lining up  help to get the room setup, because it’s a conference, after all, and there is a schedule to adhere to. We got pretty much everything sorted.

Or so we thought. Turns out, the original schedule we mapped out just wasn’t going to work. More juggling. More adjustments.

Anyway, long story short, everything turned out great, because I managed to get a day off work (paid vacation days are a thing of beauty), so I could help her load in and load out on Friday afternoon. Drums, drums, and more drums — including the “mother drum” which is a large “community” drum, about 3 feet wide and nearly 2 feet tall, and comfortably sits 5 people around it. It takes a special sort of maneuvering to get where it needs to go, and I’ve had years of practice, so off I went to drive Laney there, catch up on my reading, then help with the ceremony, load out, and ferry us home.

My plan all along was to help with logistics, and then take the hours that I wasn’t at the conference just for some of my own work. I had some reading to catch up on. I had some writing to do. I hadn’t paid the money to join in, and it wasn’t cheap, so I figured I could just linger in the halls, curled up with a book in a spare armchair.

And I did a fair amount of that. At least, as much as I could, considering that I kept seeing old friends I hadn’t seen for a number of years, and of course we wanted to catch up.  Of course! It was great to see people again, and a bit surprising — although it shouldn’t have been, considering that I have a bunch of friends who are into women and mythology.

I guess I just had a fairly narrow view of who would be at the conference. Lesson learned.

And as it turned out, I had a fairly narrow view of how much I would be interested in the conference. I mean, yes, I’ve been fascinated by mythology in general (and women in mythology, in specific) for just about all my life. But for some reason, I didn’t think I’d really find it that interesting. Looking at the program, it was chock-full of some heavy-duty scholarship… far beyond the scope of my own interest and involvement. Maybe I figured that if I didn’t have all the degree letters after my name, I somehow wouldn’t qualify to attend, let alone participate in any of the discussions.

Gluehende_KohleA funny thing happened, though, just from hanging around the fringes of the conference.  As it turns out, I was interested. And I’ve actually become increasingly interested, over the course of the past couple of weeks. It got me thinking. It got me remembering. And beneath the shiny veneer of a life that’s more about modern technology than ancient mythology, these days, I actually found a glowing coal of interest that has stayed alive — banked in the backwaters of my full spectrum of interests.

And calling that interest — that passion — in mythology “banked” is the perfect metaphor. When you bank a fire, you cover it up with the ashes its produced, keeping it alive and glowing, till you come back to it later. I’ve heard tell that people used to travel with banked coals in a little tree bark container, so they could have fire wherever they were.

As it turns out, I hadn’t lost my interest in mythology and symbolism, as I tended to think while regarding my bookshelves sagging heavily under the weight of myths from vanquished and long-forgotten peoples. I’d just banked it. And it’s still very much alive. It still burns beneath the accumulation of extras from my necessary life, waiting for me to breathe new vigor into it and warm the rest of my everydays.

Myth still matters to me. As does symbolism. It’s never stopped mattering to me, I just got busy doing other things. And now those other things turn out to mean a lot less to me, than mythology always has. Life changes. We change. We shift and find new directions to take. Sometimes life brings us full circle, to remember just what used to light our fire — and still does.

Here’s to life. And all that it offers. Especially our stories.