Category: Resistance


A quarter. I can remember buying brightly colored LafyTafy squares for a quarter, such a small thing, but I cannot let go of the analogy. How insignificant they seemed unless there were many of them. This is how I am feeling at the moment, like a small thing, and I am not comfortable with it at all.

Why do I liken myself to a bright silly piece of candy? Because I am a women in science, and like that candy I represent about a quarter. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015) women on average make up 23.75% of STEM jobs ranging from 12% in civil engineering to 39% of chemists and material scientists. While this is something that I have always known it has only recently become my daily truth. This is because while women earn around half of the STEM degrees, at the Bachelor level and over 40% of advanced STEM degrees, we do not hold anywhere near 50% of STEM jobs (NSF: Women, Minorities, and Personswith Disabilities in Science and Engineering statistics last updated in 2016). My transition out of academics and into the biotech world has put a very fine point on this fact. I am currently the only woman in the company, granted its a four person company, but I now face that 25% every day.

What I am not saying is that I deserve a larger piece of the pie. What I am saying, however, is that until more women are in the STEM workforce we will continue to feel isolated and small. Part of these feelings are my own self-doubt, I assure you, but the facts are real. I am a quarter. I will carry this number with me as I grow in my career and in this new job. It is a number which will constantly motivate me to reach out and engage other women in STEM. This number will be my battle cry!

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I itch between my shoulder blades, the unreachable itch of watchful eyes cast my way. I don’t dare turn to look as the pointless gesture only makes me look guilty, of something… of anything worth watching. Instead I slowly roll my shoulders and stretch my back, even pull a yawn. It is better to appear bored, or better yet tired, tired people aren’t a threat. It’s hard to mobilize when you are beat down by life and lack of sleep. The gaze slips from me to the truely tired business man slumped against the hand rail beside me. He startles noticibly before faining indifference. I keep my smile small and smother the laugh threatening to bubble out, nothing attracts unwanted attention like laughter at tense moments. The urge completely abates with the soft gasp and hushed rustle of fabric that means someone is being “helped” off the train for questioning. 

A heavy silence follows those sounds; filled with dred and inactivity. I cannot blame them the fear we are all mainlining these days, compliments of our government for our own good I’m sure, is a potent drug. 

I check my watch, like I always do, stand and walk towards the back of the train, per usual, shift my bag to the center of my back, in a perfectly normal manner. I am just a commuter. I am just tired. I am “sheepole”. The thoughts drive through me like a steel rod, straightening my back and my resolve, like bolts of lightning, energizing and wild, like the truth which frees.

Impatiently, I wait for the train to stop and the doors to open. I tap my toes, check my watch, and adjust my bag. In an exaggerated motion I crane my neck looking for the conductor who will stand near the open the door waiting to help myself and the pair in front of me disboard. I mumble and “swear to god” under my breath. Everyone has backed away from the door except us three. Our mixed bag of emotions, as repellent as noxious gas, acts as a shield. No one wants to see the fear in the eyes of the man being taken for questioning or the joy in the young recruit’s. I remain impatient and agitated. I shift my bag to my side just as the train lurches to a stop. My perfectly timed fall is unavoidable and undignified. As the locked doors spring open the young recruit, I grabbed for stability, and I fall down the steps in a tangle.

The fearful man, selected for questioning, freezes for only an instant.

We lock eyes.

He nods once, then is gone.

The itchy feeling is back, but at least I no longer have to suffer the dreadful inactive silence. What comes next will have been worth it.

I am civil disobedience, and I will not be ignored.

 

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