the feminine urge to cry in the engineering bathrooms

written by stargirl

“I don’t know, you just give off surfer girl energy. Like, the kinda girl that guys want to be friends with. Ya know, like they wouldn’t want to date you.” He said it as if it was a complement. As if it was everything a girl wants to hear. Oh thank god, I was worried someone in these crazy college years might see me as more than a “bro,” a girl they can hang out with and completely disregard her femininity. He said it as the three of us studied for one of our engineering midterms–me, him (a friend of two years), and my ex boyfriend. They both laughed. I shrugged it off, only to excuse myself to the restroom to wipe away tears.

In the fight for women in stem, the usual conversations generalize women with the men. Just as smart, just as capable. “There’s no difference!” The truth is, we ARE just as capable. We ARE just as smart. But the problem with these arguments is that there is no room for failure. A man walks into a classroom, bombs a final and has to retake a class. No one really blames him, engineering classes are hard and most students have topics they struggle in. I do the same thing, and I’m left wondering why I thought I could take on a major like engineering in the first place. Everytime I find myself in a place of failure I think I made the wrong decision. Women are held to this double standard of “well if you want to be in stem you better be damn good at it.” And no, no one has actually said this to me. But it’s felt nonetheless. OMG you’re in engineering?? What a girlboss! You must be sooo smart! Like yeah sure I’m smart but I’ve been working my ass off my entire life for this, please don’t put me on a pedestal. The accomplishment should be my work ethic, not my career path. 

So we’ve established the double standard. Now let’s talk about the general attitude in class. I might be a bit of a special case with the whole ex-in-my-major thing, but the vibe still stands: the women’s bathrooms in engineering are for crying not peeing. I don’t know how many times the emotions have come to a boil in my favorite stalls. And it’s not always instances like the story I shared–sometimes little things just build up. It all started when I was a freshman and immediately became really close with the dudes in my major. They were my best friends. Lab rooms and lecture halls were always filled with loud laughter and high-spirited debates–I didn’t even care that I was the butt of the joke most of the time, the “feminist” of the group. Over an online sophomore year and a bit of a dramatic breakup, school work turned to an intense competition of grade comparing and late night screaming into my notes. I knew that with every test, those guys would be texting immediately to know how everyone did, to show off their impressive grades. My anxiety had never been worse, so I stopped responding to them. I found myself not feeling comfortable sitting next to them all when junior year rolled around; I had pushed them all away. I found the silence that followed so painful I couldn’t bear it.

One thing that always made me nervous was knowing I didn’t want to fuck up. I HAD to be smart. I HAD to do well in class. They needed to see me succeed. I heard what they said about other girls who answered things wrong, who asked dumb questions. I heard the silence when a guy would do the same. Nothing thrilled me more than finishing an in-class example before them, getting validation from a professor in front of them. Through it all, it started to feel like we were buddies again all for the sheer competition of it all. But there was something off, something that wasn’t quite clicking into place and letting us go back to our old antics. I tried so hard to fix it, as if I was the only person who could reignite the friendships. I was the girl after all–of course I thought it was my fault. And after everything, every bad competition, every shitty comment made to me, I was still crying in the engineering bathrooms, mourning the friendships I had with a bunch of people who would just never get it.

Women in stem, you do not have to prove yourself to anyone. You deserve to be in these spaces, to be opinionated and self-expressive, to have room for failure. You can fail over and over again and still deserve to be here. And most importantly, you do not have to suffer fools. Like me, you might feel this weight on your chest of needing to be the glue, of needing to heal everything around you, of needing to be this huge force of love and light for the people around you.  But please believe me when I say that some people don’t deserve that piece of you, even if at one point they did. You can be a friendly person without giving out your love–give that to yourself first.

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