Last night's spree was a desperate rebellion against my own rules of conduct. Since 1994, I've coped with being in a male-dominated field by disguising my femininity. Since coming to GradShitTowneVille, I've been more extreme in my covert acts. I say the f-word four times a day. I talk about changing my break pads. I talk like a big dog. I wear pants, never shorts; skirts are reserved for 101 degrees F.
Just last week, I was marvelling at how much ass I kick. Wearing an old pair of my dad's overalls, sweating in 90 degree heat, I was fighting the grass with my vintage push reel mower. After two hours of pulling and panting, battling the weed eater, and admiring my developing biceps (thank you weight-lifting), I had a front yard that could be a decent backdrop for a live local news broadcast.
Broadcaster: I'm standing in a North GradShitTownVille neighborhood where we are getting reports of a young graduate student who is holding her advisor hostage in her attic. Sir, can you tell us about the events taking place this explosive Friday afternoon?
Yeah. Like that.
But that's not the frustrating thing. That's not what I'm rebelling against. I'm fantastic at being masculine. I'm great at doing "guy" things. I'm horrible at giving myself permission to be a woman.
Ideally, I'd live in a world where there aren't "girl things" and "guy things." I would live where there are just "people things," and people do what they like. None of these other graduate students who tell me I should have a baby or ask me how my boyfriend's research is going. None of these predatorial professors who waaaaay overstep boundaries. Just me. Just "cs grad student" instead of "female cs grad student."
But after so many years of pants, what used to be a tiny inkling of femininity has lately turned into the rioting oppressed. She is demanding to be unleashed.
I don't know how this will resolve itself. Other women I know have different ways of being in this place:
"Emma's" voice drops a half-octave whenever there are men in the room, including her husband. I'm not sure if she knows that she does this.
"Jenna" takes charge of the room. She says she's more apt to be her bossy self with men present. She wears a t-shirt and jeans most days.
"Tina" replies to most comments or explanations with an uninterested "sure." She paints her fingernails and wears heels to class.
"Claudia" just acts like herself. She's cutesy and fun in her skirts and Keenes, proclaiming her love of graph theory in front of a class of 28 guys.
Lots of approaches, but I'm still not sure what's right for me. How do I assume my role as a woman in science, rather than a woman-in-disguise in science? I don't know. For now, I'll keep wearing pants, but with topaz mascara.