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Aunt Pythia’s advice

November 29, 2015

Readers, Aunt Pythia must apologize. She was taken over last weekend with the intense urge to craft. This is a coping mechanism of hers which takes over in times of stress, and the Paris attacks combined with anything Trump says, ever, overwhelmed her for about a week and it started last weekend. The good news is she got her project done:


It’s a baby blanket for my friend Adrian’s new baby. The design is here.



It’s reversible. Except for the name.

As for yesterday, Aunt Pythia had family over and was whipping up 5 dozen pancakes. Forgot to take pictures of them, but there were a lot of bananas and chocolate chips involved.

Anyhoo, that’s the explanation, but rest assured she has recovered and has emerged from her craft cave that exists inside the head. She is here for you and wants nothing more than to listen to your questions and give her half-reasoned and pseudo-sound advice. Before that, though, a small interruption.

Public Service Announcement: Reading Aunt Pythia has been known to improve mental and physical health, if only because it keeps you away from Thanksgiving leftovers for a few extra minutes. This effect is not statistically significant. I repeat, not statistically significant. This has been a Public Service Announcement brought to you by state and local authorities. In the event of an actual emergency, this announcement would not be helpful. I repeat, unhelpful.

If, after reading the below, you want to waste even more time, please don’t hesitate to:

ask Aunt Pythia any question at all at the bottom of the page!

By the way, if you don’t know what the hell Aunt Pythia is talking about, go here for past advice columns and here for an explanation of the name Pythia.


Dear Aunt Pythia,

I’d like to tell you an anecdote, one that is both mortifying and instructive. I offer it in the hope that it will elicit some thoughtful discussion from you, and from your other readers.

I am a male mathematician of a certain age. About twenty years ago, in my capacity as a member of a journal editorial board, I received a paper to handle. The author, a European, was nobody I had heard of. I took a look at the paper and decided that it was not up to the journal’s standards. The theorem was correct, but I could explain it to myself quickly using standard ideas in a routine way, by arguments simpler than those in the paper.

So without sending it to a referee I wrote a polite rejection letter explaining my reasons. From the author’s name, I assumed she was a woman. In fact he was a man.

I learned this about ten years later, when I happened to meet him at a small international conference. I don’t believe that either of us acknowledged the fact that our paths had crossed long ago. Several embarrassing thoughts flew into my head. Had he received a rejection letter starting “Dear Ms ____”? I would like to think that I knew enough back then to write “Dear Professor ____” or “Dear Dr ____”. Maybe I did.

But the thing that really made me squirm was that, as soon as I learned that she was a he, it came to me in a flash that I had written the letter in a sexist frame of mind. Imagining that I was writing to a woman, probably a struggling new-fledged female PhD, I had adopted a condescending tone that I don’t think I would have taken with a struggling new-fledged male PhD.

I can’t say for sure whether the air of condescension would have been obvious to the reader, but it was certainly there in my head. If I couldn’t see my own sexism in that case until this chance discovery made it apparent, how can I guard against similar attitudes when I’m teaching, or writing a reference letter, or reading a job application or a grad school application?

Baffling, Our Own Biases, Yes?

Dear BOOBY?,

I get it. I’m like that too. In fact women are just as sexist as men. I often find myself wondering if I spoke too condescendingly to women. I sometimes wish I could “play back the tape,” as it were, from old conversations so that I could apologize when appropriate.

But of course, you can’t do that in a conversation, because we don’t record conversations, or for that matter take any other anti-bias steps for real-world interactions. On the other hand, we can and should for formal situations like submitting papers.

Here’s a very concrete suggestion: Make it a rule that you obscure the name of every article that comes in to every journal, and that at least one referee sees each one. This way you, who saw the name before it was obscured, will not be tempted to immediately dismiss articles written by women. And as a happy by-product you won’t have to fret later on about your own sexist impulses, which again we all have.

Maybe you can arrange for someone else to do the obscuring-of-the-names process so you can look at the papers yourself. Maybe you could arrange with another editor to obscure their names in return for them obscuring yours. Whatever. Do what it takes to make it a blind audition.

I’d like to add that, whenever possible, do this for grad school applications and job applications as well. I know it’s hard for job applicants, because they are known personally at that level, but try to put processes into place that at least mitigate this kind of thing.

Good luck, and please know that once this system is in place you will have accomplished way more than you are now by kicking yourself needlessly and fruitlessly.

Aunt Pythia


Aunt Pythia,

My wife, her sister and I are all in our late 40’s and empty nesters. My sister-in-law, Naomi, is divorced and currently between boyfriends. As a result, she usually shows up at our place Saturday mornings. She and my wife, Allison, go shopping or to an art exhibit or other places, returning to our house in the late afternoon. They both shower and get dressed and then the three of us go out for dinner and other activities. I’ve edited some of the conversation below to make it more coherent.

Allison showers in the master bath and Naomi in the guest bath. They both come to the double sink in the master bath to fix their makeup, do their hair, and talk. I’ve taken to joining them because they both primp while wrapped in bath towels and I’m hoping for a flash. Allison will usually oblige pretending to need to get something from the under sink. She bends over keeping her legs straight. Then she’ll straighten up and smirk at me.

Several weeks ago Allison was alone in front of her sink when I came in. She smelled so fresh that I couldn’t resist. I knelt in front of her, put a hand behind her thigh for balance, pulled down her towel, and licked her nipples. All of a sudden Naomi showed up. Allison was trapped.

“Ronnie, don’t embarrass Naomi!”

I took one more lick of each nipple making sure Naomi could see my tongue flicking each bud. I stood up.

“Sorry, sometimes I get carried away,” I said to Naomi.

“Looked like fun,” Naomi replied. “I wish I had someone to do that to me.”

The minor exhibitionism revved me up. That night I was harder than I had been in a long time. Allison was hot also. She had a couple of orgasms.

Since that Saturday night had gone so well, I decided to try the same thing the next week. When I walked into our bedroom Allison was naked and still drying off. Unfortunately Naomi was already there. My disappointment showed.

“Aww, no sugar tits this week, Ron,” Naomi said and laughed.

The following week I pulled down Allison’s towel before Naomi showed up. Allison was moaning when Naomi walked in on us.

“Ronnie, stop Naomi’s here.” But she didn’t push me away.

“Yeah, Ron. You’re making me jealous.”

I took one last long lick to make sure Naomi saw.

“Doesn’t your sister have nice breasts?” I cupped one of Allison’s breasts and turned to Naomi.

“Mine are bigger.” Naomi pulled her towel down for about three seconds before covering up again.
That night Allison was all over me as soon as Naomi left.

“Did you like seeing my slut sister’s big boobs?” I was sucking Allison’s breasts so it took me a few seconds to reply.

“They’re okay.”

“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. I saw the way your eyes bugged out when she flashed you.”

“Honey, I’ve told you before, anything over a mouthful is wasted.”

“So you would waste a lot if you sucked her boobs?”

“I guess so.” After that the conversation waned as I moved lower on her body.

We all felt a certain excitement the next Saturday when the girls got ready for their showers.

Allison was still drying off when I caught her out of the shower. This time as I lowered my lips to her nipples I slipped the hand that I used to balance on the back of her thigh up higher until my fingers were against her sex.

“You be good if Naomi comes in. Don’t embarrass me.” Naomi showed up a minute later.

“Don’t you two ever get enough?” I licked both nipples before raising my head and looking at Allison.

“If Naomi is going to watch us each week, don’t you think she ought to show us something?”

“Yeah, Sis. Show us your boobs again.” I dropped my head back down and watched out of the corner of my eye as Naomi lowered her towel to her waist. After about fifteen seconds I raised my head again.

“Do you think she wants her nipples licked?”

“Sis, do you want Ronnie to lick your nipples?” Allison moaned. Then she spread her legs farther apart. My index finger slipped between her moistening lips.

Naomi didn’t reply, but she drifted over beside me. I turned my head and put my other hand on the back of Naomi ‘s thigh to balance. Of course that hand slipped higher to touch between her legs. I moved my mouth to her nearest nipple. As I sucked, Naomi spread her legs a little. I extended my finger upward. After about five minutes of switching back and forth and tonguing four nipples, I was about to explode.

“Ronnie, we need to finish getting ready for dinner.”

“Yeah, Ron, I bet you’re hungry,” Naomi added hoarsely.

I got up reluctantly.

That night I was licking between Allison’s legs.

“Do you think Naomi would like it if I licked her clit?” I asked as I stopped briefly.

“My sister’s such a slut. I bet she would give you a blowjob and swallow if you licked her clit. But maybe you shouldn’t get confused about which sister you’re married to.” With that she dug her fingernails into my shoulder hard enough to hurt. “Get back to my clit.

So, here’s my question. Is my wife giving me permission to steal third base or is she calling me out and sending me to the dugout?

Wants to Smell the Roses but Afraid of the Thorns

Dear WrStRbAotT,

First of all, I want to thank you for your letter. I appreciate the work you put into it, I really do. It’s obvious what you put yourself through on Aunt Pythia’s behalf, and she appreciates it.

Second of all, I don’t have a sister, but if I did, I am pretty sure I’d never want to be sexual with her or in her presence. I mean, I have a brother, so I know how I feel about that kind of thing, and I’m pretty sure sisters are similar. Even so, it seems like – and I’m generalizing from Happy Days and Fonzie, but who doesn’t – it seems like this is a common enough male fantasy.


I guess to probe just a bit on this topic, how would you react if I talked about having sex with you and your brother at the same time? Would that turn you on? I doubt it. Just saying.

In answer to your question, I think your wife has been giving you mixed signals, and maybe you should take that as a sign of ambivalence, or maybe she’s just saving the best for the next chapter, if you will.

To sum up: I’d definitely let her take the lead if I were you. If she wants you to do the nasty with her sister, believe me, she’ll tell you to. Or maybe show you how (cough).

Good luck!

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

About seventeen years ago when I was a grad student I was in the computer room of a national science facility analyzing my data. The only other person there was a fellow grad student analyzing her data when her thesis supervisor came in the room and started to sexually assault her.

Without thinking, I pulled him away from her and dragged him to my desk where I said “here are those plots which I mentioned before” which is true because a few hours earlier I was talking to him about that data. He looked quite livid, but said nothing and left the room.

The grad student was stunned and left the room. Neither of us said anything either then or later. I have not seen XXXXXX (AP: name redacted) for at least ten years. The recent news about the sexual harassment case at Berkeley has made me think of these memories after so many years of not wanting to think of them. I have also started wondering whether what I did really made a difference in her life and so I have thought of contacting her directly and asking that question.

There is no question in my mind that what I did was the right thing, yet somehow it would be nice to get some sort of acknowledgment. Do you think contacting her and asking her whether what I did made any kind of difference in her life be a good idea and if so, how would you word it ?

Old Memories Arise Again

Dear OMAA,

Hmm. I’m thinking, you maybe didn’t do the wrong thing, but I don’t think I’d characterize it as “the perfect thing”. That’s not to blame you at all, because I think your intuition was good, and you definitely defused the situation. But I’m wondering if the internal conflict you’re feeling might arise from the fact that you could have done more. In short, you diverted him but you didn’t keep him from trying it again.

The problem with diversion, as a technique, is that it doesn’t address the underlying issue, and it doesn’t call it out as fucked up. It simply avoids it in a short-term way. So for example, there’s no reason to think that your colleague ever felt safe going back to that computer lab to do work again, even if she got a new advisor.

So, if you’re wondering what you’d do if that situation came up again, I’d suggest 1) telling him he’s doing something illegal while he’s doing it, 2) telling your colleague she has every right to call the police, and 3) calling the police yourself in front of both of them. That way he gets the message, and even if he ends up thinking he did nothing wrong, which is typical in this kind of situation, at least he’s been through enough that he doesn’t think doing it again is worth it. Introduce serious friction into his predatory ways, in other words, and it will at least slow him down, and at best get him fired.

As far as contacting her, I don’t think you should, especially with your current expectation of “acknowledgement” for “doing the right thing.” If I were that woman, I’d kind of want to say, “why the fuck didn’t you speak up?” and I would definitely not appreciate it. If, on the other hand, you wanted to reach out and ask her what you should have done, and what would have helped her the most, then yeah, maybe that could fly. But it would have to be done carefully.

Finally, I think it’s strange that you’d say her name. Is that some kind of signal to me that this is a fake question? In that case, please don’t send me fake questions; better to say what you’re sending me is a hypothetical. Otherwise, I’m not clear on why you’d name the victim at all. Is it an unnecessary pseudonym? I don’t get it.

Aunt Pythia


Dear Aunt Pythia,

What do you think of the heartbreaking story of Anna Stubblefield – to me it reads like a Shakespearean tragedy: brave woman leaves her white cis-male husband for a differently-abled man of color, but instead of being praised she is arrested and send to prison on ridiculous charges without any evidence.


Dear LIM,

Wow. Seriously?

Anna Stubblefield is super nuts. Yes, in a tragic way, but still. The best thing I can say about her is that she’s nuts and I don’t think she had evil intentions. But she’s still nuts.

Otherwise said: people have an amazing ability to believe what they want to believe. I know this because I worked in finance and I get that Lloyd Blankfein was not joking when he said that Goldman Sachs was “doing God’s work.” For reals some people are true believers, and they are the scariest people around.

Aunt Pythia


Readers? Aunt Pythia loves you so much. She wants to hear from you – she needs to hear from you – and then tell you what for in a most indulgent way. Will you help her do that?

Please, pleeeeease ask her a question. She will take it seriously and answer it if she can.

Click here for a form for later or just do it now:


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 30, 2015 at 9:26 am

    I think LIM missed some key points about Anna Stubblefield’s husband, Roger. He is black, not white. Also, he is a tuba player. A professional tuba player. As someone who has struggled with various musical instruments for years, I respectfully submit that makes him highly differently able.


  2. Leyla
    November 30, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    Dear Wants to Smell the Roses but Afraid of the Thorns,

    You must hold one heck of an honorary title in the dark recesses of the internet troll kindgom.

    Someone who stopped reading your sad fiction one quote in.


  3. g
    November 30, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    What baffles me here is that Aunt Pythia called out exactly one of these questions as possibly fake … and it wasn’t WtStRbAotT’s.


    • November 30, 2015 at 6:29 pm

      Ha! Well, it’s true I didn’t explicitly. But I did refer to it as a “fantasy” and I also mentioned that there’d be another chapter coming soon. I mean, I thought it was too obvious to say explicitly.


  4. Amos
    December 2, 2015 at 2:19 am

    BOOBY sounds like he has other biases he doesn´t recognize. When he writes “was nobody I had heard of” he doesn’t seem to realize how much that judgment apparently conditioned his response. It sounds like the fact that he hadn’t heard of the author predisposed him to dismiss the author’s work, just as much or more than the fact that he thought she was a woman.

    This gets to another point – some men are just arrogant and condescending – it’s part of the general male psychology – and this can be perceived as sexist when directed at women, although it is in fact general, directed at everybody. Of course some arrogant and condescending men are also sexist …


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