I realize the title of this post might be prone to misinterpretation, but it’s at the heart of the stigma that I’m about to describe. It’s a purely personal post this time and I’m putting myself out there, but it’s stuff that I’ve seen relating to traditional gender stereotypes. As such, I might have exaggerated something in my mind and generalizations are meant as such – they don’t pertain to everybody!
It was my birthday last week. I was very happy for all the congratulations from all around the world given to me. In the evening we went out for an amazing gourmet dinner with my husband and daughter. It was in a restaurant called “Hexenhaus” (witches’ house) and since it was around Halloween the decoration was very according to theme. Anyway, I am not a foodie in the strictest sense of the word, but I do love good food and that it was, yum!
But the funnest part was spent the night before, celebrating INTO my birthday – playing poker! And since I don’t know that many girls/women that play poker as passionately as I do, it meant playing poker with the boys. What was touching, was that promptly at midnight, the boys stood up and sang their “Happy birthdays”, brought out cake and gave me big hugs. I had not told them it was my birthday, they looked it up on their own. awww.
The next few days I got all into this introspective mood, how I am still “playing with boys”. All my life I’ve done that, I’ve enjoyed it much more. It has influenced me to the point that I choose to make those interests that were traditionally pursued by “boys” my own. I am not entirely sure if it was if I enjoyed playing with the boys more of it were more traditional male activities that I liked, but I’ve often found myself in situations where I suddenly had to stop, look around and see I was the only female around. I don’t notice this as often, because you are so immersed in those activities when you are having fun.
When I was a child it meant going go-karting with my dad amongst a trough of boys doing the same thing with their respective dads. It meant playing soccer with my male classmates. As a young teenager it meant organizing Super Nintendo outings with other boys where we would order pizza and just trash talk to each other. It meant playing basketball with the younger boys in my neighborhood. As a teenager it meant long afternoons at the comic book store playing Magic: The Gathering. And here I am, grown woman with a family, still playing with the boys.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like activities that are mostly populated by women – I love chick flicks and girly books, for example. Some of my best friends are female 😛 – nah, they all are. It’s just that again and again, when I’m doing something socially, with people around, I find boys around me. It’s almost as if it is easier for me to communicate to you via games – especially card and strategy games.
You know what has been great? All throughout the years all of the boys have taken me in. I don’t recall an instance where I was told I wasn’t welcome because I was a girl. Sure, there was some trash talk along the way, when I excelled (“you got beaten by a girl”), but I don’t recall anybody ever turning me away.
You know what hasn’t been great? The reaction from outside! “Why do you want to try out for karate? A girl doesn’t fight!”, “I’m having trouble accepting the fact that you are not hanging out with girls of your age (14-15) and are spending your afternoons with 10-11 year old boys”. There is a whole lot more skepsis from outside, mostly born out of ignorance, sometimes out of cultural biases. Or maybe they think men and women can never be friends. Or what do I know, it’s from the outside, not the people dealing with the substance, but the people just looking in.
And here is where the astrophysics relation comes in. Over the course of my time studying and working in physics it has been quite similar. Never once did any fellow student or colleague think any less of me because of my gender. And yep, there are mostly boys around me at work, too (though maybe not that pronounced as I have witnessed with other interests in my life). But from outside: “Why do you feel the need to lie to strangers by telling them you are getting your degree in astrophysics?” (yes, this really happened). More examples came when I became a mother, but I’m not sure if that had anything to do with the profession or the fact that I was going to work at all, so they probably don’t apply here.
I guess readers will counter all the numerous studies about how women thrive in STEM fields exactly *when* they are separated and amongst themselves. Since they do, there must be some inherent discrimination in the group itself, otherwise the good ones will always succeed. Well, I have no counter for that, I just want to say that either a) I’m very blind/deaf to that discrimination or b) I did not experience it. Ah, this now sounds all wrong. My main point is that I just want people to thrive at what they have fun and don’t just do something, because it is social convention to do it! If it means crochet, then you should pursue that, no matter what the others say. May the people outside think what they want, the people in the crochet club will welcome you with open arms, I’m sure!
So to all my boys I’ve spent so many countless hours with, sharing a similar interests, competing, discussing “pointy elbows” or some sports opinion (Trout over Cabrera, imo), I say: “Thank you! And see you at the tables, soon!”