The materials you need to study past climates: Ice cores, stalactites, trees rings…BAT POOP. Yes. Scientists can study the nitrogen in ancient deep crap cores to learn about what the climate was like hundreds of years ago. Delicious.
Women – colleagues and friends and acquaintances and mentees – sometimes tell me about the things that hold them back, that bother them in the workplace and in life. And there’s one refrain I keep hearing. Over cocktails or coffee or dinner or tea. In group chats and personal heart-to-hearts. A refrain that sticks with these women for months or years.
“People say I’m too prickly.”
Too prickly. The implication is clear. YOU are too prickly. YOU are sticking the poor person (ok, man, it’s usually a man) with your mean, aggressive spines.
To be called prickly is to be called over-sensitive. It’s to be told your sensitivities, your concerns, don’t matter. If you were less prickly, less pointed, the suggestion goes, maybe people wouldn’t rear back, shake their hands and suck the tiny drops of blood you’ve drawn. Maybe they would be comfortable around you. Maybe they would listen to your concerns.
That blood, that discomfort, that dismissal, is your fault, you see. YOU need to soften. To bend your spines flat and file down their points. You need to be soft and pettable and pleasing.
I have never heard a man called prickly. Men aren’t prickly. They are pointed. They are demanding, they have high standards and they have valid concerns that must be taken seriously. They know what they want and how they want to be treated.
But when women set up those boundaries that say “I don’t want to be treated this way,” it’s not that they know what they want or how they want to be treated, or touched or talked to. It’s not that they suspect they are being talked over, not taken seriously or dismissed.
No, they’re just prickly.
But I don’t think they’re prickly. I don’t think they should dull their spines. When I think of prickly, I think of a cactus.
Cactuses are prickly. It’s their defining feature. But prickles are not an aggressive weapon. They are defensive. They are armor. They are something that plant had to develop, to stay alive and thrive in a harsh landscape where no plant should venture.
Spines aren’t there for fun. Spines are the result of millions of years of harsh evolutionary experiences. Spines aren’t for attack. They are for protection.
Each spine on a person is a boundary. A boundary they have for a reason. A prickle they have grown from their own professional and personal evolution. This thorn says “I won’t be dismissed.” That prickle says “don’t touch me without my permission.” That spine means “My concerns are valid.”
That armor is important. We need that protection. Within its spines a cactus stores water. It grows fat and succulent. It lets its flowers bloom and nurtures its fruit. Prickles allow a cactus to thrive. To care for itself.
And prickles don’t mean that no one gets in. The cactus wren likes a prickly cactus. It builds its nest in places well-protected by thorns. Bats and birds and insects gain access to a cactus’ flowers, without ever worrying about getting impaled. White-winged doves feast on their fruits.
Cactuses let the right animals in. The animals that respect the spines and avoid them. They know a cactus comes with spines, and the cactus will not blunt its spines for them. But if the spines are respected, the cactus shelters the wren. It feeds that bats and the birds and the insects. In its spiny shade an ecosystem thrives.
I want my friends and my colleagues and my people to not to be ashamed of their prickles. I hope some days they take pride in their spines. I hope they embrace them (carefully).
I want them to say:
“Yes, I have armor.
I am prickly because I need to be.
I am prickly because this is how I survive. This is how I thrive in an arid landscape.
I will not blunt my spines for you. I will not become pettable and sleek. My prickles are my boundaries. They are my standards. You violate them at your own peril.
Avoid the spines. Respect my boundaries. Maybe I will let you in.”
We never put sunscreen on our hair, right? Well, why don’t we ever get burned there? Does hair or a beard block the sun? And if so, how much? Well to find out some scientists put beards on mannequins in the sun. You know, for science. And it turns out beards make good sunblock! Good thing movember is almost here!
Also in this edition: The Great Dismal swamp and it’s history as a shelter for escaped slaves, the new gravitational waves findings, Bigfoot, and how we once tried to catch your commuter flight in a net. Get science facts and science knowledge to start your week every Sunday!
Archeologists who dig up humans and animals sometimes wonder if the humans ate the animals nearby. But to find, out they’d need to know what it looks like when a person eats, say, a whole rodent and it comes out the other end. How to know for sure? Well, you need to eat a whole shrew. Without chewing. For science. Of course. Yes, a scientist did that and it won the 2013 Ig Nobel prize. And they found just HOW much of a shrew skeleton our bodies can take care of. It’s about 80%. Go us!
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Want a taste of what’s in my newsletter? Here’s this week’s fun science fact!
When bedbugs can’t feast on delicious humans, they will hunt down and hang in their dirty laundry. There are not enough nopes for this one. Scientists found that bedbugs are attracted to the eau d’human on worn clothes when no people are around. So bedbugs can indeed hitch rides in your laundry. Pardon, I’m going to go wash all my clothes with a flamethrower. By Helen Thompson.
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