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The How and the Why

MissArcher2's picture

 Since I did not post this past week due to note-taking, I wanted to share that last night, I went to the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ to see Sarah Treem's play The How and the Why. I really enjoyed the performance--I thought the writing, acting, and the set were fantastic. The play was definitely relevant to the ideas of gender and science that we are exploring in this course, as it was basically all about what it means to be a female scientist. Rachel, the younger character, is meeting Zelda, the biological mother who gave Rachel up for adoption, for the first time. They both just so happen to be evolutionary biologists (nature vs nurture?) and their banter explores themes of what it means to be--and to have--a family as well as how to be taken seriously as a female scientist in a man's world. Zelda founded her career on a revolutionary theory referred to as "The Grandmother Theory," essentially the idea that ages ago, when lack of birth control found women continually pregnant, women went through menopause to assist in the raising of their grandchildren. Rachel is on the brink of a brilliant discovery herself, the idea that women menstruate each month to rid their bodies of "the toxicity of sperm." Both of these theories are decidedly anti-male, and as such are subject to harsh scrutiny and criticism in the male-dominated world of evolutionary biology. Rachel, however, wants to let her boyfriend take credit for her idea, both so that the idea will be taken more seriously and so that his career will advance and he will propose, giving her the family she never had. The How and the Why is both moving and thought-provoking, with the underlying current of nature vs nurture coming to light even more when, near the end, it is revealed that Rachel's father was actually Zelda's mentor, a prominent evolutionary biologist whose theories lie in direct contradiction to both Zelda and Rachel's. Rachel is determined to have everything her mother gave away but finds herself in Zelda's footprints just by following her heart. 

One of my favorite lines from the play was right after Rachel revealed her theory to Zelda. As the theory is well-received, Rachel bursts into tears and Zelda rushes to comfort her, asking what's wrong. Rachel responds, "I just get really emotional when I talk about my hypothesis." This line for me really exemplified the complexity of being a female scientist: where I envied and admired Rachel for being so passionate about her work, I would have scorned a man who broke down talking about his job. And yet Rachel may be the better scientist both because she cares so much and because she must work that much harder to prove herself. 

This was a fantastic experience and the play runs through next weekend, so I definitely recommend that anyone who can try to see it!

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