Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend Thirsty—On Unexpected Hilarity

Howdy y'alls, this is Aethelfrith of Annapolis, soon-to-be-licensed Bullshit Artist, and we're here to rock your world.

Unlike most people studying Anglo-Saxon Bovine Excrement Aesthetics, we actually have friends in other fields (we know, we know, we're a traitor to The One True Field—sue us later, mmkay?), like Aethelstan the slime mold wrangler. Stan told us a little story from his time TA'ing Introduction to Field Mycology Class, in which one of his fellow herdsmen was busy displaying a slime mold in full mating plumage, with a few spores leaking out of the fruiting bodies.

Now, slime molds don't just leak most of the time; since it may be a looooong time before a lady slime mold comes along, they have to spread their seed far and wide. Thus, this bit of dog barf was pretty full, and needed just a touch to go off in just the wrong way.

Stan's buddy somehow found the slime's no-no zone.

Normally, this would have been bad enough, except that, well, there was a rather prissy girl in the target area—one who didn't get the message that makeup and low-cut tops weren't appropriate for work in the open range. The spores went all over her—her face, chest, in her hair, everywhere. And slime molds spore fluid . . . well, let's just say that anyone who's ever spent any time on the Internet knew what they were looking at.

What do you do when the slime mold lands a money shot—or when any other unintentionally hilarious situation breaks loose? After all, you can't laugh, much as you might want/need to—and the poor Young Charge, you can't let her be shamed by a protozoa! We are mightily curious; please, Gentle Readers (and anonymous), enlighten us.



  1. This is serious. Any accident in the slime mold lab needs to be documented. At the very least, take pictures of the student from a variety of angles and positions. Video of an accident reinactment would be even better. Make sure she is looking at the camera. This type of documentation is necessary in case emergency responders need information about the clean up, university lawyers want to assess the school's chances of litigation by the student, or for private viewing by the dean.

    Assuming the spores are not toxic, this will all blow over in a couple of weeks. Save the evidence and post it online, viewable for $34.95/month.

  2. "you can't laugh, much as you might want/need to..."

    Yes you can.

  3. This was funny right up to the description of the "prissy" girl who dared to wear makeup! and a low cut top! You mean she was actually trying to look pretty? The slut! She certainly deserved to be shamed for that! I guess she'll know better than to try that again.

    In other words, the misogyny in this post was breathtaking. I'm sure the incident itself was funny; I bet I would have thought so too, if I'd been there. It's your description of it that isn't. The mean-spirited gloating just takes away from the humour, you know? A pretty girl who wouldn't be interested in you ("prissy") got hers, did she? Maybe you could try not to be quite so nakedly gleeful about that next time.

  4. kind of a trying-too-hard post that loses its own thread.

    sorry, I know I'm supposed to be nice. "Oh, nice job! You're on the right track!"

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  6. @klytaimnestra: I'm not 100% sure, but I think this incident may have take place on a field trip (the class was an introduction to *field* mycology; there's reference to attire appropriate for "the open range"). In that situation, it can be appropriate to ban/strongly discourage certain kinds of clothing (for instance, shirts and/or pants that expose more skin than necessary to sun, insects, and/or poison ivy, or shoes unsuitable for the terrain), and perhaps even makeup (depending on whether there is backpacking involved; if so, then adding unnecessary weight to a pack, which slows down the group as a whole, is a no-no). Having spent some really boring hours listening to fellow girl scouts complain about the horror of being separated from their curling irons for the weekend (this was the '70s, with Farrah Fawcett flip-backs in vogue), I'm somewhat sympathetic to the idea that some activities and "girly" accoutrements don't mix.

    However, if Aeth (and Beaker) wouldn't be laughing as hard at some preppy guy who showed up in clothes more appropriate for an office internship, or a male homophobe who was horrified to find himself the target of a "money shot," then I, too, am disturbed. I just can't tell whether that's the case.

  7. We have to be nice now? When did that happen?

    And to Klymnestria, best of people, we believe that the point of our friend's use of the word "prissy" was more a shot at someone not understanding the nature of field work (one should never wear anything that isn't already destroyed/held together with duct tape) than anything else; we believe that a young man who was "overcompensating" and placed in the same situation would face even more scorn.
    Additionally, her lack of interest in us may have to do with the fact that "Frideswide of Frederick" would have been a more appropriate title for us—except that we enjoy being "Aethelfrith."
    The hyperbole, however, we did appreciate.

  8. @CC
    A supposed money shot on a homophobic guy or anybody who crusades against porn would definitely be funnier.

    The fact that the girl was prissy could be taken different ways. I thought of a "proper young woman" who, through no fault of her own, had her appearance changed to that of a woman in a porn movie. The 180 degree change makes it funny.

    The fact that she was dressed in an attractive way just amkes the porn image more realistic. If she was wearing a hoodie without makeup, you might just think that she's a mess without any sexual connotations. That's not as funny, possibly not reaching the level of humor that makes it worthy of posting.

  9. Wait, none of my belongings are held together with duct tape. Does that mean I'm not a real fieldworker? I'd like to think that the scars on my legs from some nasty in-field skin infections rather cover my bases...

  10. Frideswide - what, you've never met a female misogynist who would rejoice at the discomfiture of anyone daring to perform femininity differently/ better than she was? I envy you. Also, I think you skipped middle school.

    Beaker Ben - that was my point. It's not funny if the girl is not both prissy and overly made up, and thus needs taking down a peg twice. A male in Clark Kent wear would be funny too, but the kind of hostility under the humor would be very different.

  11. @klytaimnestra: I think what we're learning from this post, and the conversation following, is that just as there are more and less effective/culturally acceptable ways to perform femininity in our (various overlapping/intersecting) culture(s), there are also more and less effective/culturally acceptable ways to perform "field mycologist" -- and that one of the messages that a field mycologist who wishes to be accepted by hir peers needs to send, through clothing, grooming, actions, etc. is that (s)he doesn't mind getting dirty in the service of science.

    Given cultural stereotypes about women, sending that message is probably still more difficult for a woman than a man (and will be impossible, of course, if the viewer of the performance is convinced that anyone who exhibits any cultural signs of femininity also objects to getting dirty). On the other hand, thanks to female pioneers in field science (and the broadening range of behaviors that are accepted as variations on the "feminine"), there's probably a pretty wide area of intersection between the circle enclosing behaviors/choices that will help mark one as a serious field scientist and the one enclosing behaviors/choices that will help mark one as feminine. If the combination of makeup, low-cut top, and behavior suggesting a disinclination to get dirty (which is how I'm interpreting "prissy") don't all fall in the intersection zone, I'm not sure I see that as a priori proof of misogyny. I wouldn't discount the possibility, but I wouldn't consider it a proven case either without additional evidence, including how male field workers who dress more neatly than the norm, or insist on shaving every day while in the field, or otherwise display behaviors that might also be interpreted as "prissy," overly concerned with cleanliness, or otherwise demonstrating a lack of awareness of fieldwork conventions, are received.

    As in any field, I also suspect the person who has established hir bona fides through successful publication will have more leeway in how (s)he performs hir role than someone who is an entry-level student, who certainly has the right to dress and act as (s)he chooses (within the limits of safety), but also has to accept the consequences of those decisions for hir (in) ability to build connections with others in the field.

    That may not be fair, but I suspect it's realistic, and I'm not really any more disturbed by a field scientist making fun of inappropriately "girly" behavior/dress in the field than I would be by a colleague's -- or, I'll admit, my own -- ridicule (out of the student's earshot) of a student's insistence on writing in glitter pen and dotting "i"s with hearts or smiley faces: behaviors that are decidedly coded "feminine," and are also absolutely inappropriate in serious/academic written communication. The young woman (or man) who chooses that means of expressing hir sense of self is absolutely free to do so in any or all situations, but needs to know that it will seriously limit hir ability to be taken seriously by colleagues, bosses, etc.

    Or, in other words, performances have effects/consequences, and the performer is better off for recognizing that, and so being able to make conscious choices about the messages (s)he is sending.

  12. @CC: I'm not buying it. You have to write a lot, and make a lot of assumptions, in order to make the 'hilarity' acceptable. How much makeup is "too much"? Full-coverage, or are we just talking lip gloss? What kind of top is "low-cut"? T-shirt? tank top? moderate v-neck? Is a burkah evidence enough of serious intent?

    I distinctly remember the grad school dress code, "if you don't look like you dressed in the dark you aren't taking your work seriously enough and don't deserve to be here, and also, you're probably stupid." I had a boyfriend who assumed I wasn't serious about grad school because I occasionally wore eyeshadow. He LIKED the eye shadow but it meant that I was a dilettante. And also, probably stupid. He was astonished when my GREs were significantly better than his. He was astonished when I got into a really good PhD program. He was astonished when I left, for that matter.

    Men are not held to such a dress code. The consequences of violating such dress code as they do have are not as high-stakes. There might be, for example, mild hilarity if a prep-school kid got slimed, but not enough to bother to post it here (or anywhere, except possibly Facebook).

    The strictness of dress codes for women, and the high stakes of transgressing them, are a product of cultural misogyny. Surely this is clear.

  13. @Klytemaestra -

    Dude, it's not a huge comment on femininity. We've all seen the girls on fieldwork who think it's necessary to look like major sluts even though they're hiking and what's basically manual labor. I'm a woman and an admitted fashion whore (hell, I run a damned fashion blog) and even I don't wear low-cut crap when I'm out in the field, doing fieldwork. If you're dumb enough to show skin when you can get sunburned (or in this case, spore-shot), and wear a ton of mascara that's going to drip in your eyes when you sweat, you're not "acting feminine", you're acting really dumb. I'm sorry, but it's true.

  14. @CC (and others) - Interesting points, all. We don't know of course that she was wearing a ton of mascara. We don't know that she was wearing anything ridiculously low-cut. All we know is in the opinion of Aethelfrith, she was wearing more makeup / showing more skin than Aeth/Frid considers proper on a field trip. So I have two questions:

    a) "proper" by what standards? Many people would think, if it's going to be hot out, that wearing a tank top and some sunscreen is a good way to deal with the heat. I'm not one, but I know a lot do and seem to be quite comfortable. But she gets slimed and the interpretation is, suddenly, that she was not dressed for the heat, she was dressing like a whore. And this doesn't involve misogynistic assumptions since when?

    Similarly, okay, she was wearing makeup. How much makeup? Are we talking full-face warpaint with drippy mascara? Or are we talking a little powder eye-shadow? Are we talking someone with acne problems she likes to cover up with foundation? A lot of my students do that every day. But she gets slimed and suddenly, again, goodness how hilarious, she looks like a porn star, the painted slut! Boy did she deserve to be humiliated!

    b) if it had been foolishly-dressed male - say, narrow pinstripe shirt done all the way up to the collar, a bow tie and slicked-back hair - who got slimed, yes, that would have been funny too. But would it have been funny enough to warrant a post here?

    The social humiliation of a male is funny, sure. But the social AND SEXUAL humiliation of a pretty girl, or a girl who's trying to be pretty, is really, really funny to us, not because it's actually any more funny, but because we especially like to see uppity girls humiliated. Think it through. Why is that?

    I likely wouldn't have bothered to chime into the discussion if the immediately previous post hadn't been about institutional gender bias, which brought the whole issue to mind. But frankly, also, I didn't find this funny, and I was deeply creeped out by the fact that other people did.


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