In which my genitals mean I don’t learn math or science

Alright, you have my attention. Anyone who can wield a soldering iron like that is worth some attention. […]

youtube commenter (comment since removed by author – creepy part, also removed…by me)

I was denied physics because I was born female. I had been taught all my life leading up to that point that girls don’t use power tools, that girls don’t build, that girls can’t understand higher math, that girls can’t hammer straight, that girls can’t and don’t understand science or engineering, and that all of those things are for boys.

So when we moved and joined science olympiad and I was partnered with people who needed partners, and one of them was a dude and our project was to make an egg-car thing and get the egg to go so far and hit a tiny wall without breaking, I was unable to assert myself. I was told to sit on the sidelines because this was boy stuff, all the boys – my dad, brother, grandpa, and my partner, took over the project while I was a mere bystander.

Anytime I did try to help, I was laughed at and ridiculed because I couldn’t hammer a nail straight – because I was never allowed to build – my entire life, I was never allowed to build – I could hammer a nail into a wall to hang something, but not into two pieces of wood, that was boy stuff. They took my inability as an excuse to continue to take over the project and leave me out of it.

My job, in my science project was to put the rubber bands on the plexiglass wheels that the boys decided were best, and load the weights into the pulley that held the car-holder door shut and released the car/opened the door when it dropped (because weight). The only enjoyment I had was to call them tiny footballs because they were fishing weights and looked like footballs and everyone ridiculed me for that. I was so devastated about the entire project that I was just like, THIS IS THE ONE JOY I HAVE OKAY, LET ME CALL THEM THAT.

It was horrible. The entire time no one bothered to give me anything but cursory detail about what they were doing or how it worked. No one bothered to teach me physics, because I was a girl and wouldn’t need to know anyway, I was just there so my partner could enter. No one taught me the math or told me about the calculations or why they decided on plexiglass wheels and a twist system besides “this would work best because you (not me, my partner) can calculate how many turns you need for the distance”.

My entire life I have been afraid of power tools and under the impression that I would never be able to use them effectively because of my genitalia (like a vagina is power tool kryptonite). I was convinced that somehow something world ending would happen were I to try – or maybe not world ending, but it at least would break and not work. I was never allowed to touch anything, only told to stay away, barely allowed to watch, never taught.

I am angry that because I was born in this body I was not allowed to learn how to build, to learn about physics, but instead I was only told I was bad at it and ridiculed every time I made the slightest attempt to understand.

I would never need to know these things to be a wife and mother, so why bother wasting the energy, right?

Sexism and gender roles ruined my math and science education – they denied me either, and instead lied to me, tying my mental ability to my genitalia, and my life’s purpose to bodily functions. 

This is why building ikea furniture, and houses in minecraft, and learning how to solder, and making little electronics work is so huge to me.

This is me standing up against my parents – who were my teachers – and learning SCIENCE because I CAN, because it is WORTH LEARNING, because I am SMART and I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED SCIENCE and was never allowed to try, never given the math skills or the time of day to learn it because I was told my entire life it was pointless for ME to learn it. I was relegated to the sidelines when I was supposed to be being educated, but I’m not anymore.

I am building things and I am soldering and I am damn good at it. 

I hate it when I’m made out to be magical because I both have boobs and enough dexterity to solder. It’s not magic, I am not a unicorn, and thinking that it’s somehow remarkable for a person with female genitalia to hold a soldering iron is sexist. It’s the same kind of sexism that kept me from learning math and science in high school, and it is not okay.

Go ahead and be impressed that I can do things, but be impressed because I’m fighting against my past, because I’m carving my way out of the cage my parents tried to place me in, not because I have boobs and dexterity.

Fuck the Patriarchy.

9 Replies to “In which my genitals mean I don’t learn math or science”

  1. Hi Kierstyn,

    I am so happy that you are now getting to explore things that you were unable to in the past – like soldering. ( I’m not very good at it, but I was pretty proud of myself when I learned how to weld/ use power tools in an art class). I think there is great value in teaching both girls and boys various skills – boys can sew, girls can build stuff, and everyone would benefit from knowing how to cook. You never know what you’ll need to know how to do and even if there isn’t a “need”, why not learn just for fun or because you’re interested?

    While I am in no way attempting to contradict your own experience ( which was different than my own in several ways based on what you’ve shared), I do think that embracing traditional gender roles doesn’t automatically mean limiting education along those perceived lines. I know that many others who take a more conservative position on gender, marriage and family also embrace a classical/liberal arts approach to education. Consequently, math/science/debate/logic (areas that are often dominated by men for one reason or another) as beneficial pursuits in and of themselves in order to develop the mind and cultivate a wider appreciation for the world. Unfortunately, those taking a more traditional view of gender, don’t always embrace the aforementioned philosophy of education – I wish this weren’t true.

    I just wanted to add these thoughts to the conversation in hopes of furthering it with a different perspective. What do you think? – Amy

    1. I know a lot of people – women- who came from patriarchal families where their gender didn’t get in the way of their education – they learned the maths and sciences necessary for college and were encouraged to go and are successful people with degrees today.

      In sharing it’s effect on my education I’m not denying their experiences, merely asserting my own – gender roles did play a large part in my educational neglect, and it hurts now the same way it hurt then – nearly a decade ago.

  2. BTW, the secret to soldering is flux. Flux works by burning. As it burns, it literally steals the oxygen from the metal surfaces and leaves them nice and clean and solderable. But it only works for a couple of seconds, so the less experienced and quick you are, the more you need. Flux-core solder has barely enough if you’re very proficient, but even experts need to add some more if they need to go back and fix something.

    There are four major kinds of flux used for soldering:

    1. Acid. Used only for plumbing; this is extremely aggressive and will eat thin copper PCB traces. I mention it only to tell you not to use it!
    2. (Activated) rosin. This smells the nicest and works best of all the electronic solders. The only downside is that it leaves a conduxtive residue (that will short out sensitive circuits) that must be cleaned off with solvents (99% isopropyl is the usual choice).
    3. Organic acid, “OA”. This is almost as good as rosin, but can be cleaned off with water (and a small brush). A good choice for hand soldering.
    4. No-clean. This is the least effective as flux, but leaves a non-conductive residue that does not need to be cleaned off. Another possible choice, if you don’t mind the appearance of the whitish residue.

    I often see beginners trying to solder without extra flux and I just want to facepalm. As I said, the slower, you are the more flux you need. Get some and try it; you’ll be amazed. I have more personal experience with liquid flux, but there are also gel formulations that stay in place until heated.

    The other place it helps a lot is with solder wick. The stuff appears not to work to beginners, because it needs to be fluxed to work. Wet the wick with flux, then put in on the excess solder and heat it… magic! It suddenly starts behaving like a kitchen sponge.

  3. I recently have become aware of fundamentalist homeschooling and have been reading your blog. I’m oldish,over 50. I remember this being a pretty common way of thinking. I am appalled that it still exists. If you are ever in my area,Atlanta, I’d love to buy you.dinner or coffee and more than happy to show anyone who wants how to use any tools. Never,never buy that shit that you can’t do something because you are a girl. My parents did not want me to go yo college either. Did that on my own, graduated with 3 other women in the first class of EE robotics majors. I am the second woman in the state to hold my electrical contractor’s license. I have not spent years fighting for women who come after me to see young women still having to.fight this battle when I’ve been thinking things are so much better than the 30 years ago when I started down this path. Kudos to you for doing it for yourself! Sorry for the rambling.

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