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March 12, 2005

Hire her at Harvard

If women who are professors at Harvard and other top schools have lately seemed unusually prone to become emotional, I have a candidate for a professorship: Jeanne Marie Laskas, a Washington Post magazine columnist. To her credit, she tells the story about herself with a sense of embarrassment. But, after all, it's that kind of column. In which we talk about our feelings.

JM, playing the role of MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, is stopped for speeding by a Maryland state trooper, playing the role of Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who proceeds to write her up. JM is crying, not about the ticket, she says, having just had a "woman-power" day, and not because it's hormonal, but because "every once in a while a woman needs a good weep, and apparently this is my time."

The trooper (call him Larry) comes to her window and acts the ogre that all men, especially those named Larry, can be:

"Ma'am?" the cop says. He's standing out there now, just outside my window, with his little clipboard thing. "Ma'am?"

"What?" I mutter into my coat.

"Are you okay?"
She quickly says she is. And then "Larry" continues:
"Look, it's just a speeding ticket," he says, handing me the clipboard and pointing to where I sign. "It doesn't mean you're a bad person."

I let that thought hang in the air a moment. Then I burst into sobs.

"Aw, man," he says to his shoes. "I'm sure you're a very good person."

I'm sure he's just saying that. Should I say that? Sniff, sniff, sob.

"Aw, man," he says.
And then this exchange follows:
"Look, I'm just tired," I say to him, through hiccups.

"You need to go home, put your feet up," he says. "Get yourself a cup of tea."

"I have to go to gymnastics," I say. "I have to do a seat drop."

He has no immediate response. "Well, go on then. And be careful as you reenter the highway."
Thank you, "Larry," for being a credit to the Maryland State Police, and thank you, JM, for being a credit to your sex. A chair at Harvard awaits you.