Ask any little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, and the vast majority will respond with a princess, ballerina, a mommy, or something along those lines. I think it’s safe to say that answers such as a police officer or astronaut (my and my sister’s responses, respectively) fall pretty far from the norm.
I grew up in an environment where gender stereotypes, specifically relating to intelligence and education, simply didn’t exist. If they did exist, I wasn’t aware of them.
Before I dive into this, I should probably clarify that there’s nothing wrong with girls wanting to pursue traditionally feminine occupations, I’m just relaying my experiences as a child and my opinion on how that affected my choice of undergraduate major and subsequent career path.
We’ve all heard the generalization that girls are bad at math, right? Well I hadn’t, at least not until I went to public high school. When I was homeschooled, I absolutely hated doing school and I spent the majority of my childhood fighting with my mom about doing my work. My lack of self-motivation could be an entire blog post in itself, but I’ll ignore that for now. I don’t know if I’m naturally good or bad at math, but that didn’t matter because I had to learn it anyway. When I struggled with math or science, I didn’t get pity, I didn’t get coddled, and never once did I get even the slightest hint that my lack of understanding was in any way related to my gender. I just had to work harder and figure out whatever wasn’t making sense. When a girl (or anybody, I’m just continuing with this example) is told that she’s inherently bad at math, she loses motivation in that subject. Why would she invest time or effort in a subject in which she would never be able to excel? If I had been exposed to this idea when I was younger, I probably would have given up when it came to fractions.
I graduated with a degree in physics and a minor in math. Is that because I’m smart? No. Is that because I’m naturally good at math? No. It’s because when I encountered a problem in math, I had to figure it out; there was always a solution, it was just a matter of being able to find it. People are often intimidated by calculus when there’s actually nothing inherently difficult about calculus (at least not until you get to calc 2,) you just need the right mathematical background. If you get stuck at polynomials, and give up there, you’re never going to understand anything that builds on that concept, so of course calculus is going to seem like some sort of black magic.
I can’t even begin to express how thankful I am that my parents made me struggle through eight years of doing my own work and solving my own (academic) problems without exposing me to this sort of limitation. Now I just have to figure out what the heck I’m doing with my life.
If you’ve read this far, thanks for putting up with my somewhat rusty writing skills. I’m trying to get back into this whole blogging thing, but it’s been a while.
Feedback is always appreciated. 🙂