Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Can you imagine this story about a male Nobel laureate?

Here's the headline from today's Sacramento Bee: "Amid chores, the call: You won a Nobel." And here's an excerpt (starting with the story's second paragraph) about Carol Greider, who shares this year's Nobel prize in medicine.

Carol Greider, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, said she was at home in Baltimore folding laundry Monday morning when she received the news that she had won the world's most prestigious science prize.

On Monday evening, as she celebrated with friends and family, Greider said she never had finished folding.

"My heart went into my throat and started beating fast," she said. "The laundry never did get put away, so I'll have to do that tonight."

Can you imagine such a domestic chores angle on a story about a male Nobel laureate? If not, is it because (1) most male Nobel laureates don't do laundry, (b) if they do, they wouldn't tell the media, or (c) the media would not choose to highlight it?


BSH said...

It is hard to imagine that there would not be a parallel story about a male folding laundry while simultaneously being notified of winning a Nobel prize. This anecdote could be cut in any number of ways: (1) it serves to show that this highly accomplished woman has also maintained her sense of femininity and domestic duty and that even (female) Nobel laureates are responsible for these types of tasks; (2) that you too, should be able to do it all; (3) it undercuts the importance of what Greider has done in a male dominated discipline (science and medicine) by subtly relegating her to a role considered by many to be less important (that of a mother and caretaker).

Perhaps Greider is not a mother, a partner or a caretaker and simply had the day off and was folding laundry and catching up on tasks. It is an entirely plausible anecdote. However, until there is a story on the mundane jobs that a male laureate is doing when being informed of this award, I would posit that one of the three reasons above is behind inclusion of the laundry folding story.

Eve said...

This week on NPR, there were a number of interviews with the most recent Nobel laureates. The interview with George Smith, the co-inventor of CCDs, was in sharp contrast to Greider’s story. Rather than asking him about what mundane chore he was doing when he received the call about the prize, Smith was asked about his 17-year boat trip around the world.

The interview with Smith was a romantic tale of a genius scientist who quit when he became too old to be inventive, and spent 17 years traveling with the love of his life; it is story of privilege. The Sac Bee piece on Greider is the story of a homegrown Davis resident and Berkeley graduate who achieved greatness due largely to her late father, a physics professor at UC Davis.

The two interviews demarcate a clear public/private divide. I agree with Brooke that the Sac Bee article implies that she is one of those homegrown women who can do it all: perform domestic chores and win the Nobel prize in the same day. In contrast, Smith hasn’t needed to do anything since he retired in his mid-50s. The moral of the story: Smith can have it all and Greider can do it all.