Thursday, March 19, 2015

Do We Need an Invitation?

A few weeks back, my science fiction and fantasy literature teacher gave us a seemingly simple assignment. Create a hero. Write five paragraphs about their life, personality, physical appearance, and other basics. There was a handout without "getting to know you" type questions to guide us. Immediately after the teacher passed them around, hands flew into the air.
"Is it alright if my hero's a bear?"
"Is it alright if my hero's ninety seven years old?"
"Is it alright if my hero's schizophrenic?"
"Is it alright if my hero's a character in a story I've previously written?"
And on and on and on. The teacher said yes in every case and yet they kept coming. There were absolutely no Do Nots on the paper. But because the paper didn't say "Feel free to make your character a ninety seven year old schizophrenic bear," they thought they needed special permission.
Every year from seventh to eleventh grade, I've had my female chemistry teacher, female physics teacher, female biology teacher, female eighth grade science teacher, or my female science foundations teacher hand me pamphlets for No Boys Allowed STEM conferences. They hang posters in the counseling center and advertise them over morning announcements. From age twelve I had the idea that girls were not only allowed to pursue careers in STEM, but obligated.
Last semester I took a web design class. I never planned on going into the computer industry but I needed to plug a hole in my schedule. Besides, I'll probably have to design my own website at some point in my life, and it would teach me tidbits I could use to pretty up my blogs. When I walked in class on the first day I discovered I was one of five girls.
I purposely took a seat on the back row with two other girls. That way, I wouldn't feel stupid when I asked my neighbor a question. All my teenage life I'd been told GIRLS CAN. Stepping into the room was the first time I heard GIRL CAN'T, and even then, nobody was telling me I wasn't welcome. My friend Tianna had a similar experience. She's one of four girls taking calculus. They weren't labeled Boys' Calculus or Web Design for Guys. We can't see the gender breakdown when we sign up for class. Yet somehow, girls get the idea we aren't welcome. Perhaps we should copy the conferences and open a Girl's Calculus class.
Yes, yes, I see the problem here. What if boys think they aren't welcome either? Well, I took American Women's History last semester, and the name didn't stop three guys from enrolling. Apparently boys don't need an invitation.
It strikes me as incredibly stupid to let unspoken messages dictate your life. If you never hear them, how can you be so sure the limits exist in the first place? Look at your own life. How many classes could you take, how many stories could you write, how many lives could you change if you just stopped waiting for an invitation?

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