I go to an engineering academy in suburban New Jersey, where there are fewer than 200 students in the school. Besides the standard English, history and science, we take courses in electrical and civil engineering. But it seems like the real lesson they want us to learn here is that girls are unwanted in STEM.
I’ve seen all the news stories about women in technology fields and how colleges are trying to attract females to computer science majors, but it wasn’t until I started this school that it hit me personally. The ratio of guys to girls in my school is 3:1. I’m okay being in the minority. After all, I was used to being one of the few girls who loved math and science in middle school. Still, I was shocked when during the first few months of the school a male student in my grade said something along the lines of: “Get back in the kitchen, you don’t belong in engineering.”
When I first heard out about this school, I was so happy to find a place where I didn’t have to hide my passion for computer science. But it didn’t take long before male classmates were hurling insults to me in the hallway. “Housewife” and “bitch” were standard greetings.
The worst part was the rest of the girls seemed unfazed by the comments and the teachers feigned ignorance. I tried ignoring the comments but the “jokes” got worse and more painful. I’d be tormented to the point where I’d cringe to take off my headphones.
One day I snapped and unloaded everything onto my guidance counselor. She suggested I speak directly to my class, instead of going to the principal. So, the next day, I set up a class meeting during homeroom. I talked to my class about the rude and vile comments that had been made over the past few months, why none of the girls deserved anything that was being said. With both my counselor and our class advisor present, my goal was to simply make the school aware of the crisis. The boys seemed extremely uncomfortable and looked scared stiff that they’d get in trouble. But my goal wasn’t punishment. I wanted to help all the girls in the school.
Sadly, not much changed. I still get called a bitch every now and then at school but, and this is a really important lesson, I did realize that I do have a voice, and the boys who made fun of me recognized that, too. Of course, they continue to taunt me, they’ve admitted the fact that I’ll speak my mind when I need to, especially when it means standing up for others and myself.
And although the jokes may have not stopped, and even though I’m still reminded of the time I threatened the class to shut up, it felt really good, and really okay to speak my mind.