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In the Heat of the Night

It's official: the world is conspiring against me.

I dragged myself to the OB-GYN yesterday (or at least I forced Sweetie to drag me). Turns out it isn't a UTI, but Bacterial vaginosis. The nurse practitioner who examined me said she'd seen a lot of cases in the past few weeks because of this hellish heat wave—women are sweating constantly or sitting around in their wet bathing suits, creating ideal breeding grounds for bacteria. Spending all of my time in the apartment, which with the air conditioner on maximum blast gets down to maybe 80° in the early morning if we're lucky, I spend most of my waking hours with my underwear soaked through, and there's nothing I can do about it.

So yes, the world made me sick. And now I have to take the nastiest medicine I have ever tasted, and I can't even rinse my tongue with mouthwash because the pills kill my body's ability to break down alcohols (Wikipedia). The pharmacist said I shouldn't even use hairspray, and I have to check all of my food labels for hidden sources of alcohol. I really hope the propylene glycol used as a solvent for my vanilla extract evaporated in the oven...or that big slice of Victorian sandwich cake I just polished off could spell trouble :o

The maintenance man cleaned the external filter for the air conditioner this morning to give us a few extra degrees of relief, but the clunky old system can only reduce the temperature by some 10-15 degrees. It's a single unit mounted the wall that takes in air from outside and spits it out through a tiny vent in the living room and a second in the corner of the bedroom. So when it's taking in 100° air, we get a 90° apartment.

On the bright side, the rains are coming soon. We just have to survive one more day of chugging water like fish and huddling around the fans. On the downside, that day will be the worst yet:

It's impossible to concentrate on anything under these conditions—especially tough mental work like writing. I've distracted myself by putting together a new website to advertise myself as a freelance proofreader and web developer.

Freelance Website Screenshot

I also hunted down Sally Mitchell, the author of my beloved Daily Life in Victorian England, and she just sent an amazingly thorough response to one of my questions with tips on where to research next. So that will keep me busy for a while—I spent a solid hour just looking through the results of 1896 editions of The Times for Oxford news now that she's told me which keywords to search for. There was a fascinating thread of articles from the end of January to the beginning of March on the discussion of whether to admit women to degree programs. The earnest justifications for why females should be locked out were both depressing and hilarious:

  1. Admitting women to degrees would take away the "freedom of choice" they currently enjoyed. Since they didn't have to worry about requirements, they could stay in college and putter around as long as they liked, flirting and drinking cocoa with friends and pacing their own studies to suit their meager abilities. Since they were "so much hampered" in scholastic experience and aptitude, not being treated as the equals of their male classmates was an advantage. It would be mean to take it away.
  2. The Oxford B.A. was not just a piece of paper. It signified a certain "old boy" character and gentlemanly way of life. Since women could not possibly lead that life after graduation, giving them the degree would dilute its significance.
  3. If the university conceded on the issue of B.A.s, it wouldn't be long until uppity females would want to apply for master's. It's a slippery, slippery slope.

Another fun argument I've seen before is the c. 1870 assertion by revered Harvard professor Edward Clarke that when women study too much, their brains get heavier and cause their wombs to atrophy. This was supported scientifically by the observation that women who pursued higher education tended to have fewer children than their "normal" peers :p

In the end, the motion failed miserably, and women weren't admitted to degree programs until the 1920s (about the same time as universal suffrage). Instead, according to Daily Life and Victorian England they could do the same work and take the same exams as men for a flimsy certificate of achievement. Their final results would be read out at the end of the degree granting ceremonies, along with the ranking they would have received if their exams had counted. One of my favorite stories in the book is this one:

At Cambridge the final exams were called "tripos" and the man who ranked highest in mathematics was called the "senior wrangler." In 1890 there was an enormous sensation when the name of Philippa Fawcett—whose father had been professor of political economy and whose mother would shortly become president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies—was announced along with her place in the mathematical tripos: "above the senior wrangler."

Getting riled up over the injustices of a different continent 120 years ago helps me forget how miserable I am. Sweetie's method of choice is to sleep...although it hasn't worked out too well so far. Neither of us can stay asleep for more than a few hours before we wake up to hover over the air conditioner and sprinkle water on the cat to keep her alive.

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