In which my genitals mean I don’t learn math or science

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on February 9, 2014.

Alright, you have my attention. Anyone who can wield a soldering iron like that is worth some attention. […]

– youtube commenter (comment since removed by author – creepy part, also removed…by me)

I was denied physics because I was born female. I had been taught all my life leading up to that point that girls don’t use power tools, that girls don’t build, that girls can’t understand higher math, that girls can’t hammer straight, that girls can’t and don’t understand science or engineering, and that all of those things are for boys.

So when we moved and joined science olympiad and I was partnered with people who needed partners, and one of them was a dude and our project was to make an egg-car thing and get the egg to go so far and hit a tiny wall without breaking, I was unable to assert myself. I was told to sit on the sidelines because this was boy stuff, all the boys – my dad, brother, grandpa, and my partner, took over the project while I was a mere bystander.

Anytime I did try to help, I was laughed at and ridiculed because I couldn’t hammer a nail straight – because I was never allowed to build – my entire life, I was never allowed to build – I could hammer a nail into a wall to hang something, but not into two pieces of wood, that was boy stuff. They took my inability as an excuse to continue to take over the project and leave me out of it.

My job, in my science project was to put the rubber bands on the plexiglass wheels that the boys decided were best, and load the weights into the pulley that held the car-holder door shut and released the car/opened the door when it dropped (because weight). The only enjoyment I had was to call them tiny footballs because they were fishing weights and looked like footballs and everyone ridiculed me for that. I was so devastated about the entire project that I was just like, THIS IS THE ONE JOY I HAVE OKAY, LET ME CALL THEM THAT.

It was horrible. The entire time no one bothered to give me anything but cursory detail about what they were doing or how it worked. No one bothered to teach me physics, because I was a girl and wouldn’t need to know anyway, I was just there so my partner could enter. No one taught me the math or told me about the calculations or why they decided on plexiglass wheels and a twist system besides “this would work best because you (not me, my partner) can calculate how many turns you need for the distance”.

My entire life I have been afraid of power tools and under the impression that I would never be able to use them effectively because of my genitalia (like a vagina is power tool kryptonite). I was convinced that somehow something world ending would happen were I to try – or maybe not world ending, but it at least would break and not work. I was never allowed to touch anything, only told to stay away, barely allowed to watch, never taught.

I am angry that because I was born in this body I was not allowed to learn how to build, to learn about physics, but instead I was only told I was bad at it and ridiculed every time I made the slightest attempt to understand.

I would never need to know these things to be a wife and mother, so why bother wasting the energy, right?

Sexism and gender roles ruined my math and science education – they denied me either, and instead lied to me, tying my mental ability to my genitalia, and my life’s purpose to bodily functions.

This is why building ikea furniture, and houses in minecraft, and learning how to solder, and making little electronics work is so huge to me.

This is me standing up against my parents – who were my teachers – and learning SCIENCE because I CAN, because it is WORTH LEARNING, because I am SMART and I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED SCIENCE and was never allowed to try, never given the math skills or the time of day to learn it because I was told my entire life it was pointless for ME to learn it. I was relegated to the sidelines when I was supposed to be being educated, but I’m not anymore.

I am building things and I am soldering and I am damn good at it. 

I hate it when I’m made out to be magical because I both have boobs and enough dexterity to solder. It’s not magic, I am not a unicorn, and thinking that it’s somehow remarkable for a person with female genitalia to hold a soldering iron is sexist. It’s the same kind of sexism that kept me from learning math and science in high school, and it is not okay.

Go ahead and be impressed that I can do things, but be impressed because I’m fighting against my past, because I’m carving my way out of the cage my parents tried to place me in, not because I have boobs and dexterity.

Fuck the Patriarchy.

6 comments

  • That cross-stitch image is awesome.

  • That is just…not awesome. I was supposed to get married and have babies and be a stay-at-home mom and homeschool if I wanted to do what was best for my kids. My parents didn’t really push me to get a money-making degree, but I was expected to go to college and free to study whatever I wanted. This total patriarchy stuff is some seriously archaic thinking…I thought humanity was past this (at least in the USA). SO SORRY.

  • The whole being so impressed I do a lot of “male” things gets so old. I ride a sports bike type motorcycle, and it gets old fast. No, I don’t need your extra help on the track. No, don’t assume I can’t keep up on rides because I’m a girl. Or that I’m your perfect girlfriend to be just because I ride. I DID have to fight way harder to get into this sport, because everyone told me I was crazy and couldn’t do it. Compliment me for that. Not because I am a woman and am able to do what tons of guys can. So yeah, I completely feel you.

  • Hurray, and good for you! I too longed to hammer and build things. I ended up not only making things, but having a career, which was another no-no. Now I’m respected in my field and today a MAN called me from Canada to ask MY advice. Every time something like that happens it makes me smile.

  • Let me share my story as a 71-year-old woman who grew up in Indiana’s bible belt: In high school, we had a WOMAN math teacher. She was a pleasant, confident person who loved math and wanted us all to love it too. But we were confused…weren’t females supposed to be bad at math and hate it? Then a Catholic friend of mine explained: “Yes, females are horrible at math, but when one of them happens to be good at it, she’s GREAT at it!” In other words, we (my friends and I) are all bad at it ‘cuz we aren’t great at it. So shut up and go back to the kitchen.

  • I was also denied physics. I was awful at math (still am) and then one year, took a sudden interest in physics from hearing about it from my older, public schooled friend (now partner). This could have been the TURNING point for me; suddenly I was interested in something that in order to understand, I needed to get through some really hard math things–not just the basic ‘practical math’ course I had been following before. When I get interested in something I bust myself trying to get it right; I’m very competitive but never had the opportunity to direct that into anything but self improvement. So since I wanted to do physics, I probably would have been great at it with some time and hard work.

    They told me “no, you will never go into a career that needs any advanced math and you’ll just frustrate yourself.”

    Fortunately I wasn’t denied other ‘boy things’. My dad even offered to teach me to weld. So I can solder and hammer and build my ikea furniture.

    My mom was great at math but because I never had any reason to be interested I skimmed through at the lowest levels I could. And then when I did finally take an interest… they said no. Funny, when I then wanted to pursue a nursing degree (which I haven’t), it turned out I needed higher sciences than I had. So I didn’t become a nurse. And that was totally a woman-appropriate career. Turns out I needed those advanced math and science things after all.

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