Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Aftermath & Recovery

In case you missed it, I added a note to yesterday's post. If the relevance of my experience is not readily apparent to those who wish to promote gender diversity in STEM, AAUW has a report, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School, which discusses statistics and similar experiences for 21st-Century adolescents.

I've expressed some of my discomfort with conventional White Feminism in previous posts. Some of that discomfort had to do with my originally-conservative religious leanings. Some of it had more to do with the economic and authoritarian / partriarchal background that I come from.

For my two years at Mercy, school was a relief, a break from the family situation. They were working on building up my confidence, finding my voice, helping me to be my best self.

At Mercy, away from the pressure to impress boys, I learned that girls & women come in all types. Athletes, performers, artists, scholars, readers, just to name a few. We came in every combination of the above. Unlike the "dumb jock" stereotype seen in movies, most of the women athletes were in honors classes with me.

Many of the girls I met in high school, grew up in environments where they were supported, where they were taught that they could be anything they wanted to be. Some were treated just like sons, encouraged to be athletic and scholarly, and their confidence showed.

I have seen online this attitude that women should "refuse to be the victim." Often coming from white women, often with attitudes like Lean In. I get the impression that these women have never felt powerless.

Leaving a dysfunctional family system can be a dangerous time.

When I took a course in Marriage & Family Relations, as an undergrad, I was taught that families are systems. When one person attempts to change, they perturb the system, and often the other members will attempt to pull that person back into equilibrium, acting as dampers to the system.

Leaving the way that I did, by graduating and going off to college... Ultimately, my change stuck.

As the women of color on Twitter have reminded me, on Twitter today, confidence can be dangerous. Confidence can be deadly.

For me, refusing to "be the victim" has meant using the 6 counselling sessions / semester that Purdue offered undergraduate students. I'll note that I waited until my last year at Purdue to make use of these. Let me also link to this valuable Geek Feminism Resources for therapists page.

Refusing to "be the victim" meant a year of attending Group Therapy at Bay Area Turning Point.

Refusing to "be the victim" meant facing my fears, sparring and spending years training in Martial Arts classes-- an expensive hobby, another "woman tax," but oh, so important to both my physical and mental health.

Let me remind you, again, about inspiration porn. I don't tell my story to be "an inspiration to the world," nor to get back at anybody. I tell my story to echo the words of Leelah Alcorn: "Fix society. Please." (No, I do not feel the need to cry for help the way she did. I've found my tribe, of people who care about me, for being who I am. And I care about them.)

I've written about big-name schools. I would hear from fellow engineering students, women "like me," who talked about how their father or sometimes grandfather were engineers. I instantly knew that they had generational wealth and support that I didn't have.

Often, when I have sought out mentors, the white women I've found... I didn't relate to. Or perhaps they couldn't relate to my background. Sometimes they've given me "Lean In" advice. Sometimes they simply came from a place of privilege... and I didn't trust them to relate to my experience. Some of my best mentors have turned out to be women of color.

I watch videos like this:

and sometimes feel like I don't fit in.

When I left home for my cooperative education, I knew that I could not go back. In many ways, I got here despite my parents.

And I still graduated high school with a GPA above 4.0. Had we stayed in the small town, I would have been Valedictorian. As it was, I was in the top 10% of my class. Because I poured everything I had into school, my chance to escape.

In the middle of it, I couldn't find the words to describe the situation. I preferred to say nothing over trying to explain such things on, say, my MIT application. It's complicated, it takes too long to explain, and most people don't understand. I don't even know if it would have made a difference. When I told the MIT Alum interviewer that I wanted to be the first person on Mars - I don't think he took me seriously. I didn't get in, and went to Purdue instead.

I did what I had to do, I got through everything, I took out student loans to earn my engineering degree, and I worked to earn my spending money. I worked too hard, slept too little, made myself sick at the end of several semesters, trying to learn everything that I could, while I could. Eventually I learned how to take care of myself, keep myself healthy. The Student Creed helped me to establish boundaries.

Dreams can come true. Despite everything.

But I still get told that I'm not good enough, that I'm not leaning in enough. I get tired too. I get tired of constantly being asked to "prove it," and "prove it again."

Because I do not only get asked to prove my competency.

When I speak up about anti-racism and anti-oppression, the first response is "prove it."

When I speak up about sexism, the first assumption is that I'm incompetent.

Let's change that.

I know for a fact that there are people in this world who have it worse than me. There are burdens I did not have to carry, and there are privileges which have helped me get to this place.

Imagine a world where these invisible burdens, these additional battles, were won. Imagine a world where we all had the support we needed to be our best selves.

Last month, I linked to Tim Chevalier's article. When I went back to look at it again later, he had added a link to this beautiful YouTube video: