On little boys and science
One of the commenters took offense by misreading an earlier comment, and said that women in science might be like "stupid little boys".
I think what started this confusion was when Dr. Girlfriend said
I feel like my inner 11 yr old boy is being forced to wear a dress again.
That comment actually really resonated with me. She didn't say anything about little boys being stupid.
Far from it- I think many scientists wanted to do this for a living because in theory you get to be a little boy forever. You get to be curious; you get to make things and make messes; you get to play. And get paid! What could be better?
I think for some girls it is really difficult being socialized into our expected (and dare I say, outdated?) roles - we don't want it, we resist, and maybe we just say FUCK NO.
Dear men of all ages, please try, if you can be so brave, to put yourself in our place. Try to imagine this crazy scenario: through the sex chromosome lottery, the 50-50 flip of a sperm coin, you had the opposite luck.
Try to imagine that you woke up one day and realized you were a girl.
For me, it started when I was about 4 years old.
There were huge fights about what I was supposed to be wearing.
At that age, maybe some kids have a very clear sense of what gender roles mean, maybe some boys like trucks and some girls like dolls already, but I wasn't one of them. I liked both; I liked neither. Toys of all kinds were equally fun or boring; I didn't care. I played with whatever was around me.
So here's an example. I remember one fight before a special event and I was supposed to wear a dress. The conversation with my mother went something like this.
YFS: What do you mean I can't just wear what I usually wear?
Mom: Because you're a little girl. This is what little girls wear.
YFS: Why? I don't want to! It's not comfortable! The lace is itchy!
Mom: I know sweetie, but it's what people do. Besides, you look so cute.
YFS: But I don't want to! I don't care if I'm cute! I hate being itchy!
And so on and so forth.
But the shit really hits the fan when you're about 11 years old. All of a sudden, you're bleeding, you're supposed to wear a bra, and for some of us, it's like
What is this shit? What did I do to deserve this? This is NOT FUN! I didn't sign up for this! Nobody warned me this was happening! Oh god my life will never be the same! This is so not fair!
It's not that we want to be boys, necessarily, it's just that it all seems so... extraneous. Bodies seem overly complicated; bodily functions just seem messy and pointless and it all seems to be so disproportionate and unfair.
Boys do seem to have it easier.
But up until about age 11, we could be more or less just like the boys, so far as we can tell. We could wear jeans every day, or we put shorts on under our skirts and climbed trees.
Now we have to worry, at least some days, about what we're wearing. About making sure we have supplies. It's messy, and it's distracting, and it's immediately apparent that we don't really have control over our bodies, much less our lives. What else have our parents been hiding? Is everything just a big lie?
Age 11 is also when, for many of us, the gender roles about careers start to become insistent. We start hearing:
Girls don't do that. It becomes a catchphrase, from our teachers, our classmates, and our relatives of all ages. And it applies to everything, from wanting to grow up to be President of our country to whether you're allowed to have your elbows on the table at dinner. Or the reminder that when you're wearing a dress, that you have to make sure to cross your legs.
My sister, for example, embraced all of what girls were supposed to do, and was forever trying to force me to "behave".
Little did I know, some aspects of my life would always be this way. That even if women like my sister would never be my first choice for friends, they would be my peers, my colleagues, and my supervisors. They would enforce conformity in all things, starting with all the outward feminine appearances.
And sure, it's easy to learn how to look like you care. You can wear a skirt, and cross your legs, and keep your head down. But it doesn't mean it makes any more sense than it ever did. It's still not fair.
So yeah, some of us pine for the 11-year-old boy days. We didn't understand that having to grow up and wear a dress meant people would be constantly ogling our breasts. That we would be assumed to not only want children, but that we would be accused of making our careers secondary, as if that were a weakness (!), and therefore falling behind in our careers, if we did.
And we had no idea how much information we wouldn't be getting. That not just little boys, but also old boys have a club. And that we wouldn't be allowed in it. Just because we got the girl card in the sex chromosome lottery game. I mean, seriously. What???
I guess my point in having this blog, and in criticizing the post by Greenspun from 2006, is that it's fine and good to talk about how fucked up science is, but for women it's especially heinous.
It's as much about our misguided expectations being even farther off the mark than for other careers.
The chasm between "inner little boy" playing with science for a living and the reality of being sexually harassed and discriminated against makes it that much harder to take.
I really did think that scientists, of both genders, would be more aware, more educated, more observant, more rational, more willing to embrace new ideas and change, than most other people in other careers.
But my inner little boy could be really naive like that.
He says hi, by the way.