Emotion in Motion

Like many smart girls, I made astonishingly stupid choices. What doesn't show up in most studies of women scientists is how strongly their psyches are shaped by the traumas of high school. Even women who grow up to be feisty, successful feminists spend much of their adolescence obsessing about their body image, romance, sex, and their popularity with girlfriends. If the 'cool guys' their own age won't date them (and in high school, even the smart, socially awkward boys moon over the conventionally popular or pretty girls), girls may dumb themselves down, hide or repress their interest in classes or activities their peers deem nerdy. They may develop crushes on their teachers and other older men, who don't see them as threatening. A boy might pursue a subject because he respects the man who teaches it, but unless he is gay, he won't fall in love with that teacher, as so many young girls do.


In high school, when science and math seem challenging and girls begin to feel isolated or ostracized within such courses, the social pressures loom larger than one would think. A nerdy boy might be as undatable as a nerdy girl, but at least the boy can dream that he will grow up to become a physicist whose Nobel Prize will attract a mate, or a technocrat like Zuckerberg or Musk whose fortune will allow him to marry well. By contrast, the nerdy girl is baffled by the realization that the more obviously successful she becomes, the more likely she is to find herself sitting at home on a Friday night. Not to mention that the men who teach English, drama, or art in high school may be easier to fall in love with than men who teach physics, chemistry, or mathematics, if only because the content they cover in class is more likely to cast a romantic aura about their heads.

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