Thursday, May 7, 2009

Me and the boys

It’s not at all unusual for me to have very vivid dreams that I remember very clearly.  The dream I had this morning set me to thinking.  In my dream, I was celebrating my 50th birthday, although I looked like I do now.  I was celebrating by going around some sort of outdoor market or festival type thing with a bunch of guys I knew from high school.  That’s the part that got me started thinking.  (The weird part was that I was filling my pockets with honey, there were some amazing sesame meatballs and I was renting a chainsaw for some nefarious purpose.)

Anyway, I was thinking about the fact that here were 6 or 8 smart guys that were good friends of mine and none of my girlfriends.  That’s a little weird, right?  So I got to thinking about which of my girlfriends I would have expected to be included in that particular group.  The conclusion I came to was none of them. 

I almost feel bad for even saying this, but there just weren’t any girls that I went to high school with that were very smart and ambitious.  There were a few that were bright, but me and the boys, we were on a different plane all together. 

Once I got to thinking about it though, I realized that it really always was me and the boys.  On our quiz bowl team in elementary school, it was me and 4 or 5 of the boys from my dream.  In middle school it was me and a couple of those same boys fighting to win the spelling bee or the geography bowl or whatever.  In middle school and high school it was me and a couple of those guys on the math team. 

At the time, I never really thought that much about it.  Those guys were my friends.  Heck, I dated several of them along the way and ultimately married one of them.  Now I think a bit more about gender issues and disparity since it’s such a part of where my life has gone. 

Now I’m trying to decide if growing up like that has helped or hurt me, as far as my ability to handle gender issues in science.  I almost always feel reasonably comfortable being the only woman in a professional gathering.  But I wonder if that level of comfort causes me to overlook some things. 

I also wonder if those experiences have conditioned me to expect less from other women because that’s really all I’ve ever known.  Growing up I never really questioned it.  It just was.  I had female role models that were strong and amazing women, but never anyone that was truly bright and ambitious.  I know there are plenty of brilliant women out there.  That’s one of the biggest reasons I initially fell in love with the blogosphere.  Sometimes I just wish there were a few more brilliant women scientists in my real life.  

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