Monday, January 6, 2014

Girl Talk: Say It Loud!

Today is the first day back to school after the winter break.  It seems the right day to send out a reminder to all the girls I know, and my friends who are now parents of girls.

When I was in high school, I noticed something odd in geometry class:
  • When girls gave an answer out loud, they did it in this tone rising, often phrased like a question more than an answer way, sometimes whispered: "Is it 7?"   
  • When boys answered, they answered quickly, confidently, loudly, "7!"
I thought at first, maybe the boys were more confident because they knew the right answer.  Nope.  The confident loud boys were just as likely to be wrong, and the whispery, anxious-sounding girls were just as likely to be right.

Maybe I noticed because we had a woman teacher.  I loved her, and I loved geometry.  I was a bright student, diligent, straight A's, and of course, I almost always knew the right answer.  And because I had noticed this subtle thing about how kids answered questions in math class, I answered strong and loud, with full breath support.

Sounding uncertain of your answer didn't make it any less embarrassing to be wrong.  And when the boys got it wrong, it wasn't any big deal, even if they had answered confidently.  The teacher didn't pick on them, no one laughed at their hubris.  They just offered what they thought was the right answer, got corrected, and we all learned.

And I learned to project myself, which has served me well throughout my life.

I owe inspiration for this post to Bad Mom, Good Mom, the blogger I most want to be.  I came across her post about Admiral Grace Hopper, an interesting woman STEM pioneer.  What really caught my attention, though, was the part about Professor Jenny Harrison (halfway through the post), and her battles in academia as a woman teaching mathematics.

I used to love math as a girl.  I was one of the top math students in my high school, and if not for some poor choices my senior year, I would have expected a career in physics or mathematics.  I could well have been a genius computer programmer, or financial whiz.  Fast forward three decades, and I have come full circle, back in software and accounting but from a different side of things.

I'm not really sorry for the route I've taken.  Reading postings from Geisha School Dropout, I have a feeling I wouldn't have been that happy if I had stayed on that course.  In the road I did take, the times I was in male-dominated fields (sales, consulting, e.g.) were the times I was least happy.  Not because I was harassed--I wasn't.  Not because I wasn't successful (I was sometimes).  Mostly it was the culture.  Very competitive, hardly nurturing.  I'm happy to have lived the life I have, but still I wonder, what if...?

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely agreed re: the difference a confident tone makes! As for the what're not the only one curious about other possibilities. I still wonder how our lives would have changed if I had made a career of teaching.


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