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.