This is something I only started thinking about recently as I somehow stumbled upon some blog entries discussing various aspects of being a female scientist, scientists who are LGBTQ, why heteronormativity* is a problem in scientific institutions and so on (sadly, in my frantic reading, naturally, I forgot to bookmark those posts). And while I was reading social studies papers on people in Science-Technology-Engineering-Maths fields, it suddenly hit me – that I’m a minority in science too, because I’m female. I mean, I don’t know if it’s weird or not, but I never thought of myself like that before, even though for the last couple of years I’ve been doing my researchy stuff at a laser technology department which was 100% male before I came along, and my supervisor keeps asking ‘are the guys treating you all right?’ pretty much every time he sees me**. But the reason I’m writing about this today is that I found this post by Suzie Sheehy and this video.
The video is about two female inventors/businesspeople who invented this bike helmet that is sort of like an air bag for your head which, in my opinion, is very cool. But then (and this is the part the post takes issue with) they get to talking about how it’s all totally amazing that two girls managed to do this. Um, what them being female has to do with anything? Apart, you know, from the fact that this sort of “helmet” doesn’t squish your hair (unless there’s an accident, but in that case I think your hair is the least of your problems), but with Edward Cullen and Justin Bieber inspired hairdos for men, I’m fairly sure guys would appreciate that too. Anyway, I digress.
And now I’m just going to quote Suzie Sheehy from the post I linked to, because she basically expresses my thoughts too***:
I’d like to know who these mysterious people are who think women can’t do things… because as far as I can tell they don’t exist. As far as I can tell it’s only ever women who say ‘no-one expected us to do this because we’re women’. This is my whole problem with a lot of ‘women in science/engineering’ stuff. By making out like there’s something special about your achievements because of your gender, you’re undermining the whole achievement.
I guess this comes in part, with our cultural heritage/identity or whatever. I mean, men have been “doing things” for centuries while conveniently keeping women with baby cribs and pots, so they (we) had little opportunity to express our abilities. And during like the last 100 years, we started getting more opportunities and it’s like whenever a woman achieves something, she (and some other women) are like: oh, wow, I didn’t know we could do that! So, yeah, I think, humankind has a bit of growing to do there still. And in the interest of full disclosure I guess I should admit that I’m not entirely free of stereotypes either. I mean, for instance, part of the appeal of the Physics department for me was the fact that there were a lot of guys in it and I thought it should be free of drama and other sort of craziness.**** However, looking at my experience since starting University, I have to say that I’ve met a few male professors which I rate rather high on the wacky/irrational/narrow-minded/’I’m-always-right’ scale, but no such female professors. I know they are out there, though. My point is that there are all sorts of people and their gender most often doesn’t matter. It’s difficult to get over prejudices/biases though, but I’m trying. I’ve always took pride in my achievements (however small they might have been so far), like kicking ass during exams and stuff, not because I wanted to prove that a girl can do something like that (because I think that should go without question), but because I want to see that I can do it. If that makes sense. Though in the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I do sometimes feel proud that I’m a girl who isn’t afraid of wires, screwdrivers or lasers, simply because I haven’t met that many other females who are like that, but IRL and interwebs experience is quickly teaching me that there are loads of them and that this isn’t something extraordinary.
Wondering if I managed to make my point clear,
*I didn’t know what it meant at the time: it’s an assumption that everyone is heterosexual until revealed otherwise.
**’Yes, they’re OK.’ is always my answer. And it’s true. I’ve always thought that was nice of my supervisor to ask that. However, in the light of the thoughts I expressed in this post, I’m wondering whether I should be a little offended at his question. I think, I’ll choose not to be offended, because ‘mistreating’ could also be the guys looking down on me as though I couldn’t understand things which they’ve never done.
***This post somewhat reinforces the point.
****I chose a different department in the end, but I’ve had a fair share of classes at Physics.