Every girl has heard about the struggles of being in a male-dominated field. There are always barriers that we have to push through and challenges to overcome. Even with those warnings, I chose to study Chemistry, which is still a male-dominated field. I haven’t had any issues or barriers to overcome. That is, until my physics class.
I walked into my calculus-based physics class on the first day of school and there was an immediate distinction between me and everyone else in my class. I was the only Chemistry major in the class. Everyone else was an engineering major. But that’s not the thing that I realized first. The biggest difference is that I am the only girl in my section of the class.
Until now, most of my classes had been split pretty evenly based on the number of girls and number of boys in the class, so this was never really an issue. But as someone who has anxiety, I never realized how stressful walking into a class could be until it felt like all eyes were on me.
This anxiety about going to class wasn’t just based on the fact that I am clearly very different from everyone else. A lot of pressure comes with being the only girl in an incredibly technical, and historically very hard class. It feels like every single time I walk into class there is a target on my back and everyone else is just waiting for me to make a mistake. There is an insane amount of pressure to be perfect so I don’t give them a reason to think of me as less. I feel like being perfect is the only way to gain their respect. Maybe part of that pressure is from me because I’m a perfectionist, and maybe this is all just in my head.
But while I would like to say that the pressure to be perfect has decreased since that first day of class, it really hasn’t. I double and triple check my answers before offering the solution to a problem, making sure there are no mistakes. But when I inevitably did make a mistake, one of the boys in the class got the correct answer and emphasized the part of the question that I did wrong. There has also been a time when my teacher ignored that I had the answer and instead waited for someone else to give the solution.
It is incredibly stressful, but the pressure and struggles make the rewards so much greater. There was a time when I was the only person in the class to get a problem correct. After feeling like I needed to gain their respect, that felt amazing because it was like a step in the right direction.
While I wish that women didn’t have to fight for respect in male-dominated fields, unfortunately, that is something that we still have to deal with. But what I’m learning is that it makes you stronger, and more resilient, and the success feels so much better after what you had to go through to get to where you are.