my gender isn’t nearly as relevant as my history as a physics nerd

It’s interesting that I’ve reached a point where I find the sexism in my classroom annoying but nothing worth addressing in any kind of serious way. It’s a study in comparative bigotry: The struggle to be respected as a queer has worn me down enough that I just don’t have energy for taking on the sexist crap.


It’s quite tedious.

When I was in high school, I took part in an applied physics program. The courses were taught by a teacher named Vorvis, who was a stickler for details. Among other demands, he insisted that all assignments be accompanied by a neat drawing of the relevant apparatus, with labels written in perfect capital letters. If this was not done to his satisfaction, then the entire assignment was considered incomplete. Needless to say, this was an effective training tool that very quickly had me making all of my handwriting an imitation of Vorvis’.

Fast forward 14 years or so, and guess what? I still tend to write in all capital letters, evenly and neatly. BECAUSE I WAS TRAINED TO DO SO.

And yet! Almost every single fucking day, some idiot classmate looks at my schoolwork and makes some comment about my girl handwriting.

Sometimes they listen as I explain that actually, my gender isn’t nearly as relevant as my history as a physics nerd.

Usually, they don’t listen at all, and just go along their merry little thoughtless way.


I realize such comments can sometimes be intended as compliments. Really though, if you want to compliment me, you should stick to my actual achievements: I worked damn hard in that physics program, whereas my gender is a more conflicted sort of ongoing negotiation that I don’t consider to be particularly praiseworthy. Otherwise, it’s just another one of the many ways in my intelligence and skills are undermined and negated, as a woman in this male-dominated trade.

Having said that, today has been a pretty good day, and I know that I’m here because it’s where I ought to be.


6 responses to “my gender isn’t nearly as relevant as my history as a physics nerd

  1. I’ve read many of your posts on this subject…and follow the blogs of several women in typically male-dominated fields…and if I was honest, I would say I’m absolutely gobsmacked that so many women get this crap in the workplace/classroom. Honestly, I’ve been wracking my brains and in 7 years of post-secondary education and nearly 5 in the workforce, I can maybe think of two incidents where I felt that sexist/homophobic comments were being made. Once by two male classmates I hung out with (who never said another “that’s so gay/you’re such a fag) in my presence after I called them on it. And I had one very old-school male prof who would make the most ridiculously sexist comments in class…but he was also the type of guy who insisted on being called “Doctor” and liked to remind everyone that his degrees were from Haaarvaard. *rolls eyes* I truly have never felt threatened, demeaned, passed over or looked down upon for either my gender expression (which can vary wildly) or my sexual orientation, neither of which has ever been particularly inconspicuous. Am I in a minority here? Am I just lucky? Am I blind/naive? I find this fascinating and alarming at the same time.

    • i’ve re-read your comment several times, and i’m still not sure how to respond. all i can say is that i don’t know you, so i don’t feel like i can really make a statement as to you being blind or naive or lucky, because i don’t know how limited your experience with the world has been.

      i think it’s great that you’ve never felt oppressed by how people react to your gender/sexuality.

      i guess i’d also have to say that you’re in the minority, because just about everyone i know can think of a time when they were told to deny who they are because it didn’t fit neatly into the boxes that they’d been assigned:

      m was told not to cry because he’s a boy,

      b was made to wear a dress to her sister’s wedding because it would cause a fuss if she wore her suit,

      s wasn’t given an apartment because the landlord thought her “ethnic cooking” would result in spice stains on the walls,

      j wasn’t allowed to tell her students that she’s queer because it could damage her teaching career,

      d wasn’t hired as a house painter because she’s a girl,

      t saw would-be clients take their broken bikes elsewhere for repair when they found out that she was the mechanic at her shop,

      i’m frequently asked if i have a boyfriend but no one ever asks if i have a girlfriend, and the list goes on.

      personally, i encounter homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, and sexism, not to mention racism and eurocentrism, in every piece of pop culture i consume, in every aspect of media, and in a million and one other aspects of our society. including, of course, interactions with my classmates, coworkers, and just about anyone else i meet: it’s there, whether i experience it directly or not, affecting what opportunities i am offered and what attention i am paid by which people.

      • I suppose I came across as flippant or dismissive, which wasn’t my intention. I was reflecting primarily on my experiences with homo-/trans-phobia and hetero-/sexism, specifically in school and the workplace.

        Do I routinely find myself unrepresented in pop culture/media? Undeniably. Is my own family opressive? Exhaustingly, all the friggin’ time. Out in the world at large? Often, but not nearly as often as I expect it, especially living in a very small, very rural, very religious, very conservative region – in fact I’ve had fewer negative incidents out here than I ever did while living in Ottawa or any other city for that matter. Please understand I’m not saying I’m unaffected or unaware; I have lived through, and been hurt by, most of the scenarios you presented.

        But in school(and here I’m refering soley to post-secondary, which was the subject of the original post) and in the workplace, almost never.

        Rather, these were the first environments in which I felt SAFE, and felt that I was being judged only on relevant merits: academic/professional acheivements etc…not on whether I showed up with my chest bound that day, or the photograph of my girlfriend/wife on my desk, or the fact that I was the only female in the room. Before arriving at university, I felt simultaneously invisible and overwhelmingly burdened by gender-sterotyped expectations. But now, I feel empowered, fully visible and quite free to be my own version of “me”, without judgement. I also feel safe to speak up if I see myself or someone else being opressed, without fear of repercussion…I think a big part of it is that I choose to a) speak and present myself honestly and b) no longer permit others to make me afraid.

        So I do find myself asking, “why are some people’s experiences so different”? Luck? Choices made? I honestly don’t know.

  2. A back-handed compliment, perhaps. But I find it odd that people do not understand that by including a qualifier like ‘girl’, it is at the very least supporting a stereotype. Since girl-anything is so often used as a put down that it has become ubiquitous enough that people can’t even recognize it, that it may not be a nice thing at all – throw like a girl, run like a girl, scream like a girl, cry like a girl. Why not just ‘nice handwriting’? But what do I know with my boy hands and my messy boy writing… oh wait!

  3. my father did the all-caps thing in his writing.
    to my knowledge nobody ever told him he writes like a girl.

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