Tough as Fe(male)

Discuss any obstacles and/or hardships you have encountered and how you dealt with them.

If you were asked to name five famous living female scientists or engineers off the top of your head, could you do it? The majority of people would probably not be able to name more than one, if that.

There are thirty-five members on my FIRST Robotics Competition team and only four of us are girls. Only two of these four girls are on the mechanical and electrical team, and I am one of those two. While I have always been one of the few girls in the male-dominated fields that I am interested in, joining the robotics team and making a spot for myself has been one of the most challenging experiences in my high school career.

On the surface, the girls on the team are treated the same way as the boys. However, there are indicators of different attitudes that are held by some men in regard to women and their role in science and engineering. While there is no open discrimination, it has definitely been harder to fit in and allow my ideas to be heard. These hidden prejudices have been apparent in questions and statements that the male mentors and teammates have made towards me. For example, “Elisa, would you mind organizing those shelves for us?” while I was working on a lifting mechanism for our robot; when I was starting my designs for the aforementioned lifting mechanism, my head coach said, “Elisa, do you want one of the mentors to help you with that?” while all of the boys were working alone; and when I told a male friend that I was on a robotics team, he chuckled and asked me if I did “publicity or something” since “most girls don’t know the difference between a wrench and a screwdriver”.

While the majority of questions and comments like these have come from innocent observers, there is a prejudiced mindset that has been ingrained into the men and women of our society, one that is just now starting to change. Women can be good at science, technology, engineering, and math, but it has taken an extremely long time to realize this. To overcome this deficiency on my own team, I have had to work harder than most of the boys to prove myself as a mechanical team member and an equal contributor in strategy and design discussions. As well as overcoming this discrepancy within my own team, I have made it my mission as a member to mentor the younger girls on the team and the girls we impact through outreach initiatives, such as summer camps. Hopefully, one day, through the advocacy of girls like me, one of us can be the first name you think of when you are asked to name a famous female scientist or engineer.

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