The Sex of the Scientist

Despite emerging from them under the vague impression that everything had gone well, I am currently awaiting my exam results with a degree of aprehension, multiplied by a summer of post-exam discussion and dissection. However, sitting these papers confirmed something to me which I have long suspected. Whenever I exited the exam hall, I would be greeted by my contempoaries standing in huddles and, broadly speaking, the conversations would sound a bit like this. I'll set the scene.

(Tuesday Afternoon, Outside School, Post Chemistry exam, Rain) Boy 1- How do you think that went? Boy 2- I aced it. Seriously. Probably did the best out of all of everyone who has ever sat the exam ever. It went brilliantly. It was so easy. Not going to lie, I was fantastic. What about you? Girl 1- I thought it was awful! It was so difficult! I've done so badly!

It is interesting to note that judging from my past experiences, it is Girl 1 who will immerge with the better marks. Please don't misunderstand me and think that I am about to pull up Boy 2 for his confidence or Girl 1 for her fear that things may not have gone well. But I find that this is a pattern which repeats itself. Boys (and again, I speak in broad terms) cannot admit to finding exams (especially science exams) difficult and girls cannot admit to finding them anything less than a stretch.

We have set the idea in motion that science subjects are masculine. Boys are good at them, and girls are good at girly or neuter subjects, the Arts or Humanities. This means that boys who are struggling with science find it difficult to seek help and girls go into science class expecting to be perplexed. A self-fulfilling prophecy is soon established. girls feel the need to hide natural talents at science under a bushel. And if they are doing it at this level then you can bet your last conical flask that they will consistently and persistentently undersell themselves at every level. How does this translate, then, to the world of university places and jobs? If boys are taught from a very young age to exaggerate their talents and girls are taught to downplay them, incase they appear “pushy”?

Girls everywhere need to realise that no one gains from their lack of self-belief. By downplaying skills and talents, we waste them. Girls who are persistently pressured into belittling their talents will start to believe themselves inferior. Girls are told to make themselves smaller and smaller (and thinner and thinner) and less and less noticeable. But what is needed is a radical rethink. Girls should explode their talents as achievement and self-belief so often go hand in hand. It is totally okay to need help and assistance with science subjects, or to abandon them completely, as I have done. But at least give yourself the chance to be brilliant at them. Who knows, you could be the one to cure cancer or AIDS or create an oil substitute. But you certainly won't do any of these things if you subscribe to society's fear of female success.

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Jill L
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