On Being Female in a Male World

Today I was afraid of a 10 year old boy.

I work in the school lunchroom. Each semester we have student helpers. Today was the shift change. I was doing my job when they came in. I turned to assign them tasks and he was right behind me, way too close. He was also an inch taller than I am and certainly big enough to be on the high school football team. I had a full second of omgthreatpanic, before my brain caught up with my gut.

I’m not a jumpy person, and I certainly didn’t give this poor kid any sign, but it threw me for a moment. I’m just not used to people being taller than me, much less a 10 year old. He’s a very nice kid, cheerful and eager to help. I also noticed how easily he got the kids to listen to him on his first day. (Took me weeks to establish myself!)

It’s not fair to that little kid that I had that moment of fear, but it’s more unfair to me that I have to have that reflex. Because the odds are pretty good that one of these times, it will be someone who wishes harm, and I can’t tell the difference.

The other thing I wanted to mention was math. All evidence to the contrary, I’m bone deep convinced that I’m not good at math. I’m deeply insecure and almost never volunteer an answer in class, even though I’ve never gotten one wrong.

My math professor posted a practice exam that we could do and return for extra credit. I went through the problems and there were two that I could not figure out. So I went into his office hours and apologized for taking up his time, before diffidently asking if he could help with these problems. Turns out, he had made a mistake on both of them.

Then he added another problem to the end of that same assignment. Again I couldn’t work through it, so this time I emailed him my question (I’m better at not apologizing all over myself with the written world), somehow still convinced that I’m really stupid at this math problem. Turns out he had made another mistake.

At this point, I breathed a sigh of relief that I wasn’t screwing up really badly, and immediately after that, began to feel guilty. “He’s going to hate me”, “I must be the student from hell”, etc. I felt like I should apologize and bring him cookies or something.

I’m fairly certain that the men in my class would never have felt this way, I imagine them feeling smug and pleased that they’d caught someone so smart three whole times. (At least, that’s how Mr. Alice said that he’d react.) This urge to feel bad when I’m doing well is something I’ve got to overcome if I’m going to make it in the cutthroat men’s world I’m headed into.

I’m certain this is due to the socialization I grew up with, “girls should be pleasant not contrarian”, “should be gracious at all time”, you know the deal. I just don’t know how to overcome it.

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One Response to “On Being Female in a Male World”

  1. I’d have definitely been thinking ‘Oh gawd, this man’s going to think I’m trying to show him up’.

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