Does Being The Only Woman Matter?

I was the only woman in my class.

Did it matter?

I’m sure everyone would like me to say “no”.

After all, nobody threw rocks at me or pulled my pigtails. Nobody treated me any different in any way. In fact, everyone was exceptionally nice. So, why should it matter?

Let me put it this way:

Imagine being a giant, furry grizzly bear, trying to sit through preschool in one of those tiny blue, plastic chairs.

It doesn’t matter if the rest of the class has their heads down, coloring. You know you’re a grizzly bear, and you can’t stop thinking that as soon as you stand up, everyone is going to see that the tiny blue chair is stuck to your giant, furry butt.

Yes, there are days when you slide into that chair perfectly and feel right at home.

There are also days when you spend the entire class squirming into increasingly contorted positions, trying to get comfortable without dragging the chair screeching across the floor. When the bell rings, you should feel relief, but instead you realize that all the other students have finished their finger paintings and you haven’t even heard the assignment. Not to mention, the chair is still stuck to your butt.

That’s not to say that grizzly bears shouldn’t go to preschool. They should. Well…not real grizzly bears. They might eat the children.

I guess what I’m saying is that everyone has their comfort zone, and that comfort zone is largely determined by how well you fit in.

I saw this from a different perspective at the Rails Girls workshop. A thirteen-year-old girl showed up with her parents, eager to learn, but also hoping to find other girls her age. She was the only young person, and when she realized that, she looked like she wanted to squirm out of her skin.

I watched her alternate between discomfort and elation. Elation because she loved what she was doing, and was truly gifted at it. Discomfort because she was different, and just couldn’t shake that from her mind. Nothing was tailored to her needs, since she wasn’t the target audience, and she knew it.

I did my best to make her comfortable….we all did, but all of our efforts combined could not do what one, single teenage girl could have done, just by sitting down beside her.

So, if you happen to own a preschool, how can you help attract more grizzly bears?

Start by buying bigger chairs.

Here are just 2 of the many chairs that don’t fit this Mama Bear:

  • Hackathons: They sound like so much fun, but what mother can devote an entire weekend to something that doesn’t earn money and doesn’t involve the kids? Could we make it a one-day thing instead?
  • Social Structures that Revolve around Call of Duty (or some equally masculine game): If I don’t participate, I miss the opportunity to socialize. If I do, I’m the “charity case”, since I don’t even know how to work the controls. I’m not saying we have to bust out the Barbies, but there has to be something a little more gender-neutral.

And here’s why you should care:

Most of those preschoolers are going to paint the same thing: a stick figure here, a rainbow there…lots of tiny little fingerprints.

But…if you can help that grizzly bear get comfortable, give her some finger paints that fit her paws…who knows what she could paint?

It sure ain’t gonna be a blue chair.

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