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Gender Bias in all things Science

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

Maybe it's because I'm actually intimidating, but I for the most part consider myself fairly lucky as a woman in science and mathematical education. The recent story about the lack of medium-sized spacesuits - and the social media chatter about lack of women's field gear - hit a nerve. It made me question my perceived luck.

I also remembered reading other women's long list of times gender bias reared its ugly head in a career perfectly devoid of major sexual misconduct. I bet I could write that, I thought to myself. I wonder how long the list would be. So here goes, starting with the most egregious:

  • I once held the office just inside the front door of my building. I can't tell you how many people walked in and assumed I was the secretary.

  • I was directly asked at a job interview about my partner and family prospects. I had taken my rings off, and patently told them such a question was illegal.

And the little every day, I can't even tell you how many times it's happened kind of thing:

  • While out for coffee or lunch with a male co-worker, the waitstaff assumes we are on a date. Then we remind them we asked for separate checks. Also, who are all these people going on dates in the middle of the workday?

  • I've been called young or confused as a student. Not as a compliment, but as a way to dismiss my science and credibility.

  • I've been called intimidating so many times I wear it like a badge of honor. Also, bossy - one of my earliest memories is of a primary school teacher evaluating me as bossy.

The early years, just to round it out. By far, this is the most depressing category:

  • In fourth grade, my best friend and I were both evaluated as "gifted" and in need of more than our classroom could offer. He was sent to math and science, while I was sent for language arts. Later in life, we discovered our actual talents were the reverse.

  • I was encouraged by many to stop taking so much math because I would likely never need it. Well...turns out they were wrong.

  • Feeling ostracized as a child when I didn't want to play mummy-daddy or Barbie, but instead collect rocks, play with dinosaurs, and grow odd plants. I couldn't play with the boys playing dinosaurs because boys had cooties. I've learned that 7 year old social systems are hard, and very gendered.

Finally, to end with the sweet, the times that sticking out as the odd woman in science really mattered to someone:

  • Students tell me often how my passion for Mathematics and Science opened up new existential vistas.

  • Several students in the classed I teach thanked me for being a good female role model, something they felt lacking in their lives.

  • The friendships I've made by bonding over the lack of pockets in women's clothing. Together, we will burn down the patriarchy.

So there's my list. I hope someone reads it and helps stop these scenes from playing out in future generations. Let's all work to make a world where sexism isn't an integral part of the fabric of life. If you're at all curious why women leave science, this is why. I'm still here, but I'm stubborn.

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