Thursday, March 10, 2011

Gendered perspectives on the same book

One of my favorite books is A Primate's Memoir by Robert Sapolsky. It's especially great Africa/field biologist reading since it's about Sapolsky's field work in Kenya and other adventures in the late 70s and early 80s. I've recommended it to many people, and people rarely seem disappointed. Therefore, I was a bit surprised at Cam's reaction when I asked him what he thought of A Primate's Memoir. He said, "It was ok... I liked it, but I spent most of the time comparing myself to him and feeling like I'm not having nearly enough adventures." This was a reaction I'd never heard before, and certainly not a reaction I had myself for one simple reason: Even though it's been 30 years since Sapolsky was hitchhiking around East Africa, I still don't think a woman by herself could do many of the things he did. I read his adventures and think, "My gosh! Even today I couldn't hitchhike by myself to Sudan with some Somali truck drivers!"

Cam, like Sapolsky 30 years ago, is a single man in his 20s doing field work for his advanced degree in Africa. I guess the comparison is easy. 

I suppose I can relate, as when I read Jane Goodall's books I can't help but compare myself to her, delight in the similarities, and then marvel in amazement at everything she did before age 30, not to mention everything she has done since. 


penn said...

I have to admit that I sometimes make up things Jane Goodall and others did NOT experience just to make myself feel a bit better. Because I am intimidated by all the these great people have accomplished, I try to put it all into perspective. They worked hard, and they also got lucky. And they also gave up a lot of stuff, I am sure, to do the amazing things they did.

As for me, my one little awesome thing is that I spent this past weekend tapping trees for maple syruping. And I am sure you did something interesting and awesome recently. So what if it's not quite up to Jane's level? She got lucky. We just have to all make the most out of what we've got.

Karina said...

I know what you mean, penn. I have to remind myself that Jane Goodall was not allergic to a tree at her field site! It's been frustrating for me how much that #@^&!% tree dictates my actions.

I've been reading Jane Goodall's biography and one thing I hadn't really realized before was the extent to which she went into the project without a clear goal. I mean, she didn't start her Ph.D. until she already had been (trying to) observe chimps for 3 years! So little was known about chimps at the time that basically anything was better than nothing. There was pressure from National Geographic to produce an article with great photos, and that publication launched her stardom (since she was able to observe many awesome things).

Now Robert Sapolsky, on the other hand, has achieved a different kind of fame that I aspire to- he's interviewed on Radiolab! *swoon*