I think the hardest part about being an engineering student, other than the assigned homework sets meant to drive you insane, was being one of the six girls in the major. This meant that there were 44 other students in the class if I needed help, but they were all guys. So if I wanted to approach them, I could choose to be the girl that got the answers by flirting or the girl that was respected by asking only a few questions (while still holding my ground). I’ll admit that there were times when I played both roles, and not just with my peers. But the worst feeling was that I knew that it wasn’t really my choice. Men already had a preconceived notion of a girl in science-either you’re a nerdy geek and not interesting, or if you were mildly attractive, then you probably didn’t know much. Therefore, during my years in college, I spent a lot of my time carefully weaving my behaviors so that no matter what I did or said, the person at the receiving part of my actions and words would take me seriously and understand that I was just as smart as them.
Unfortunately, if you are a woman studying science, you have to do the same. You are held to a higher standard, because if you do poorly on an exam, it might be expected of you. Men tend to score better in math and science than girls nationwide. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t women physicists, astronauts, engineers, and doctors, so you need to constantly be motivated enough to set your goals just as high as anyone else-regardless of their sex. For example, if there is a group of smart guys that usually get As on homework sets and exams, but it is a difficult class, do not be satisfied with just a B+. Aim for that A, and be confident in yourself to know that you can do it.
The thing that girls don’t realize is that they attract attention to themselves in the wrong way by trying to play up the fact that they are girls. Some want to be treated special and stand out, so they go around making friends with all the guys and trying to be just as cool and friendlier than friendly. There was a girl in my graduating class that was brilliant, but I didn’t particularly like her, because she always tried to make it known that she was dating one of the guys; or hooking up with one of the guys in the bathroom during class; or best friends with the football players just because she was a soccer player; or tight with the fraternity crowd because she was a sorority girl. It was annoying to watch and I was embarrassed for her. Maybe this was her natural personality. But to me, it was like she was waving a giant red flag that said, “Look at me, I’m a girl, and I’m hot, and I’m awesome, and you all should love me!” Even some of the guys would gossip about her in private, complaining that if she could just shut up once that they would be happy.
I won’t say that I never slept with anyone in my graduating class or that I never sweet talked one of the smart guys to get help with a project, but it was always low key. Being a girl has its advantages, and there’s no harm in using them to your benefit, but what I’m saying is don’t flaunt them all to the point where people are wondering if you have the intellect to pass your classes or just the intellect to know who to blow. And honestly, if a professor confesses that you make him feel uncomfortable because you came to his office hours in yoga pants and a top without a bra underneath, then you’re doing something wrong and making other girls in the science field (who are actually doing their best to earn good reputations) look extremely bad!
You can be unique and still be just as valuable, even if your colleagues all have armpit hair and an Adam’s apple.