Girls who love(d) science: What or who turned you away?

women-scientists-diagram

Not long ago, I typed out an impromptu status message on Facebook about what turned me, a geeky, outer space loving, chemistry-set-having science nerd away from a subject and, ultimately, a career-field that I had an innate love for:  A shitty, lecherous teacher.

My Facebook post, which was initially more focused on rape culture/apologists, read as follows:

“Random thought that pops into my head and makes me angry sometimes:

When I refer to a science teacher from high school that used to leer at girls’ breasts and put his hands on us, sometimes I still get, “Oh, no….I loved Mr. Brendan though.”

…as if I’m the asshole for speaking about unwanted sexual attention from a teacher that at least a half-dozen classmates I’ve personally spoken to about this (how many that I haven’t?) over the years personally actually experienced (“Oh god, you, too? He made me so uncomfortable).

For a lot of us, it turned us off completely to taking classes beyond the *absolute minimum* in science out of fear that this guy might actually be our teacher. Again.

People wonder why women or even young girls wait so long to report sexual assault. Or why they won’t report it at all.

But when you even mention it and, in response, get sad or embarrassed faces and “Oh, I wish you wouldn’t say that…at least don’t mention him by name,” from people when you’re “only” (?!?!) talking about having an authority figure leer and paw at your 14, 15, 16 year old body…

I mean it’s not rocket science why, historically, we have shut the fuck up. Is it?”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I was not prepared for the number of responses from people who had dealt with the same thing.

Some who I went to school with:

“I had forgotten his name…but I have spoke of him often. He was icky. And he even had a way of pitting girls against each other…in my class, I remember him acknowledging the smart girl table and the pretty girl table and what they may (just innuendo) have to do to get an A. I remember feeling sick for all of us. It was a very eye opening experience for me as a woman- and I never say which table I was at when the story was told- because it was so wrong for both tables…”

“He had been having sex with his students from the beginning of his teaching career there. I’ve spoken to a few of them. He is a disgusting human being.”

“He looked down my shirt once. I called him out in front of the class and he made my life a living hell the rest of the year.”

“I have thought about this too over the years… I thought I was the only one who noticed…”

“Thank you, for writing this! I distinctly remember all of this. One time, I remember a girl in his class, telling him she deserves a better grade. He told her to pull her skirt up a little higher… She did.. Totally disgusting.. I hated his class and him…”

And some from people who I didn’t go to school with and who had similar experience in their own school settings:

“The ninth grade science teacher…would have all the girls come pick stuff off the floor for him or her on the chair and pull the weather maps/ table of element down. Each time, he chose a girl with big tits to pick shit up or a girl in a skirt to get on the chair. Nobody ever said shit. Later found out that as a high school teacher twenty two years earlier, he almost raped a friend of mines mom. Used to actually touch girls back then. Hate assholes like this.”

“I had a science teacher like that. He married one of his students three months after she graduated. She was pregnant. He taught astronomy. In the school’s planetarium. In the dark. He was creepy and gross.”

“Ugh, I had a couple pervy teachers growing up. One of them was eventually convicted of pedophilia.”

“My high school biology teacher, Mr. McMillan, got caught when a girl figured out there was a hidden video camera under her desk.”

I had several more that were sent directly to my inbox from girls who couldn’t believe they were not alone in this experience.

There is a lot of talk these days about the gender disparity in different industries; not only in regards to pay, but in regards to different fields of study or career paths and why women are not well represented despite what seems to be an early interest among young girls historically as well as today.

Is it societal pressure? Are girls not encouraged to go into these fields?  Are they actively discouraged from doing so?  Is it intentional?

Are there a significant number of science teachers that behave like lust-filled predators toward the girls in their classrooms that I wasn’t aware of until after sharing my experience?

I’m not saying that the experiences detailed above are the main reason there aren’t more women in science, but the more I speak to other women, women who were, as little girls, dreaming of being astronauts, marine biologists, chemists, and so on…I have to wonder what happened to so many of our dreams.

At one point, after reading comment after comment on that Facebook post, I asked, “WTF…why are the science teachers broken? I legitimately think this is a huge reason more girls run the other direction from science careers.”

I am an adult woman now and I have lived a lot of life.  As a much younger woman, after feeling like science wasn’t a place I was well-received, I focused my attention elsewhere, and I have done just fine.

I am also going back to college to obtain a degree in my first love: Science.

I’m not sure if this will change my career path at this point in my life, we shall see where this leads me. Part of me thinks it’s late in my game to start out in a field that I might not have decades to grow in, and part of me feels like that’s pessimism and self-doubt and, even now, I can still do anything I put my mind to.

But I’m finally going to explore and go down the path I should have felt encouraged to when I was just starting out, and I’m nothing short of giddy about it.

 

WOMEN:  Do you have a similar story to tell?  I would love to hear from you.

If you’d like to share, please email your story to:  sciencewaffle@gmail.com

One thought on “Girls who love(d) science: What or who turned you away?

  1. To start, I’ll say that there was one point in my education where I had a male science teacher that was notorious for being a pervert. I never felt threatened by the man, and he was a really good biology teacher. However everyone was hypersensitive about anything he said or did, because of his reputation. I sometimes wonder if the stories I heard were exaggerated, or if he knew of them and tried to change his behavior. None of the claims I heard were anywhere near as extreme as some mentioned above.
    I’d like there to be some considerations made when answering the question, why do science teachers happen to be the ones that are sexual offenders? 1) what percentage of teachers are males? 2) what percentage of those male teachers teach science?

    Now, my reason for not continuing my education in science. I actually did pursue science, I have a bachelors in Biology from the University of Washington. Right now I work as a clinical research coordinator, however that wasn’t my goal to begin with. I was pre-med, I wanted to be a doctor. However the biology department at UW is the most competitive, everyone is graded on a bell curve to separate the BEST students from the rest. I was not able to graduate with the grades that I wanted, I was able to get into Bastyr for their naturopathic medicine program… this is where I was discouraged even more. In order to advance and make decent money in a scientific field, you need a doctorate. I became aware of the amount of debt I was about to dive into, along with years of little sleep, no personal life, pushing my brain and putting my health at risk to pull this off. Then, afterwards those loans need to be paid off, and I knew that the next 20+ years of my life I’d be working long hours and budgeting just to pay this off. Scientists in other fields rely on research grants for their income, and don’t usually end up making the best money either. I think together, competitiveness and payoff, are reasons why I was discouraged by my initial goals. After making the decision to not continue on with my education, I worked a while in clinics doing office work and eventually found my way to where I am now. I think I ended up in the right place, still working with a subject that I love, making decent money, and without any debt. I also have lots of time for my friends, my partner, my dog, and most importantly- myself.

    Liked by 1 person

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