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Constantly out of my comfort zone

November 18, 2009

Erik has said to me before that he tends to assume that women he meets in graduate school have anxiety issues. It’s a useful stereotype because, in his experience, women in graduate school have anxiety issues. Some are big piles of anxiety, some are more subtly so, but for the most part, women seem to be more anxious than men.

I realized today at least part of what that is.

Growing up, girls and boys are socialized differently. Girls are taught to be quiet as their brothers run about shouting. Girls are taught to be peace makers while fights between boys are brushed off with "boys will be boys". Meanwhile, the meme "men have pride" means that boys are taught to have pride. I was actually encouraged to build up my younger brother at my own expense, because of that meme. Boys are encouraged to have pride in their work, while girls are encouraged to have modesty.

Fast forward a decade or two, so that these kids are in graduate school/academia. This is a very different world than the playground we were raised on. We need to have confidence in our abilities even though they are constantly questioned. We need to stand up for our ideas, even if it causes a fight, if we believe that they are right. We need to be outspoken to be heard, and forceful too get what we want. Grants come to those who get attention. Attention only comes if you actually manage to get heard.

Can you see how this leaves me a giant puddle of anxiety some days? And I was raised pretty damn loud and confident. I hate telling Ara he’s wrong. It makes me want to disappear. I hate having to talk over Ned to get him to realize why I’m right. I hate feeling like I’ve upset someone, and I very much hate being wrong. Unfortunately these are things I need to do pretty much daily. That’s academia. You have to be loud and confident, or strong enough to fake it. No wonder women aren’t flocking to professorships. It sounds like an exhausting job to me.

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