I’m an only child and while I would balk at the notion that my dad was a secret feminist, he always listened to me and took me seriously. Maybe a little more seriously than my mom. But then… well, that’s another topic for another day.
I went out into the world innocent and more than a little naive about what was expected of me. I was seen as pushy and bossy, but I didn’t really care much about those labels. I didn’t care much about being called a tomboy, either. I mean, clearly if it was being said about me, it was an awesome thing to be. I wasn’t exactly a child suffering low self-esteem, for whatever reason.
Sure, things bothered me, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to really feel the constraints of my gender role and it started in debate. Suddenly being pushy and bossy was a bad thing. I had one judge say that I made very good points, but they didn’t like how aggressive I was.
I remember thinking, “But it’s a debate. Of course I’m aggressive.” I took the idea on board at least somewhat, but the appeal of debate had dulled because of that and a few other reasons—mostly disagreements with the debate coach; a woman who found me aggressive, too.
While math wasn’t my strongest suit, I was pretty advanced in science. I’d really enjoyed chemistry, but before I could take chem II, I had to take either biology II or physics. Since I didn’t want to dissect a cat, I went with physics, which I thought would be interesting, and bonus, was taught by a woman.
It was terrible. The woman, for whatever reason, would not call on me when I had questions. I could sit all class period with my hand up and she would not call on me. It was so bad, that the guys sitting around me noticed and just took my questions and asked her. And she’d answer them. Sometimes even complimenting their questions and she appreciated their engagement to even ask. This was the first time I’d so bluntly experienced sexual discrimination and it was devastating.
I didn’t do well in the class and had to get a tutor because I just couldn’t concentrate on the words coming out of her mouth. I tried really hard not to be bothered by her, but physics wasn’t something that came naturally to me and it was tough.
I hadn’t thought about it much until I read this article, The Words Every Woman Should Know. It reminded me of that class and later, working at Motorola when some men would just interrupt and talk over me. Coming from advertising, where the gender split was more natural, I was used to being listened to. Getting into a room of arrogant, dismissive engineers was a huge culture shock. I learned to just keep talking while I stared down the fuckers that interrupted me.
Funnily, I’d thought it was just a Motorola thing. Or an “awkward as fuck men” thing. But the sad truth is, it’s common. I feel like I’ve been lucky to have worked mostly for women. But I wonder if there isn’t some design in that—if it’s harder to get hired in a more technical field by a man because they’re less comfortable with women.
Anyway, that article got me thinking. On the second page there’s a quiet reference to a transman scientist who has experienced academia and research from both perspectives. Male Scientist Writes of Life as Female Scientist touches on that particular issue and the discussion of male vs female aptitude in certain subjects. It’s pretty interesting reading.
“I think we want to step back and ask, why is it that almost all Nobel Prize winners are men today?” she concluded. “The answer to that question may be the same reason why all the great scientists in Florence were Christian.”
Makes you think!