What was behind this, I wondered. At first I thought it might be generational --- a consequence of age. But there were women who felt free to pursue their passions even in the early 70s, while young women in school today (!) encountered gender hurdles.
As I read, I thought back on my own upbringing --- my childhood and school years. I can honestly say that it never occurred to me that I couldn't do something simply because of my gender. In fact, academically I never knew I was a girl. My limitations were purely the ones that I put in place for myself.
My mother was a teacher and my father was an engineer. They had the same expectations for me, my brother and my sister --- there is always room for improvement and you should strive for that. I took advanced classes and generally did very well in primary school. I was smart. Period.
I think my father was pretty disappointed when I chose to major in journalism in college. He was convinced that I had much greater potential and journalism was a waste of it. Period. Me, I was good at writing and liked the romantic idealism that I associated with newspapers. I also thought that math, science and engineering were too hard to bother with.
When I chose to go back to school to pursue a chemistry degree, my dad didn't try to conceal his delight. And he always knew I could do it. There were times --- struggling with Fourier transforms and Wheatstone bridges at the kitchen table --- when I really thought that I couldn't. But I believed that was because of some inherent flaw in me as an individual, some quirk of genetics. It never occurred to me that my gender could theoretically enter into the equation.
My dad was right of course. I was able to do it and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in chemistry. My sister is an electrical engineer and my brother graduated with a degree in computer science. We each chose our paths because of our interests, not because of gender.
Looking back, I can now see what should have been awkward moments in the lab when I was the only girl in class --- when conversation turned to how hot 7 of 9 was (that's a Star Trek reference, if you don't know). I never noticed. If I thought about it at all, I suppose I chalked it up to different people liking to talk about different things. I didn't care about the looks of a sci-fi character but I was all over Cam Neely's performance on the ice the night before, scoring a hat trick.