Science, in and of itself is dear to me. I love math, and I’ve always been a good troubleshooter. But this question really made me stop and think because at about the same age I finally got it beaten into me that “math is for boys” and “talking is for girls”. A lot of times I would have a math teacher ignore me, or flat out tell me no, when I felt very right. I remember, to this day over 15 years later, my last high school math class. I had excellent scores, and in a lecture I found an alternate way of doing a problem. When I asked the teacher about it, he told me that it wouldn’t work. I asked him to prove it to me, and he told me that I needed to be quiet.
That day I could have registered for an advanced math course. I didn’t.
I stopped caring about science because I wasn’t valued by it. This wasn’t simply one time, this was constant. From a misogynistic father to people assuming something would be too hard for me, I was done with it. I never got funny looks for reading a book. I never was told that I was wrong for thinking about writing. But if I thought about mathematics? The thing is that I don’t feel that these adults in my life meant to crush something I actually have an aptitude for. I think that their own attitudes prevailed. Their own stresses caused them to rebuff the annoying student (I was mouthy, loud, brash, your basic normal teenager). Their own hardships or pressures caused them to subtly shape me into someone who left science altogether for many years.
My family is not highly educated. This isn’t to say that my mother didn’t value educating me. She simply didn’t have time or the ability herself. You can’t lead the way when the path isn’t known to you.
Like this little girl, I know I had figures that supported my love of math, but they were by far overshadowed by “you’re not good enough” or by indifference. There are thousands of articles out there discussing this topic, why women stray from the sciences. A quick google search can turn up a multitude of studies on the topic. But it goes to show that research and action are two different things. There are still people out there who want Engineering/Science to be something so lofty that lowly minorities and women cannot reach it. They have this burning urge to be super special snowflakes. If everyone can get an Engineering degree then what good are they? Then they will have to compete.
A strange conversation during my second undergraduate degree started by me complaining that fewer people were enrolling as engineering students. A young man laughed and said “less competition”. Without thinking I blinked and said that he must not be a very good engineer to think like that. He was, understandably, insulted by the statement. I explained that I had faith in myself and my abilities, why didn’t he? But there’s the rub. As a woman you’re told in this field that if you try hard enough that something good will happen. For many of us “enough” never comes. Even after we’ve surpassed our male counterparts. This is changing. It’s slowly turning into a more even playing field.
But until then, we can’t really ignore it.