I attended a STEM high school. When I was a sophomore, I was a straight A student, except for advanced math, in which I had a glaring D. I was distraught. My math teacher explained that I was not good in math, because, you see, I was a girl. He went so far as to show me the top of his head to indicate which part of the brain was lacking in girls, causing my poor performance in math. What I actually felt at my math teacher’s words was relief: I wasn’t good at math because I was a girl, biologically destined to struggle in math and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. So I didn’t need to try. The fact that my mother excelled in math, or that the Valedictorian of my HS graduating class was a girl, who majored in math, was lost on me. No one proposed that perhaps I would do better in a course with a slower pace. My performance was a foregone conclusion. I maintained my D until junior year when I was done with math in HS since I completed the math requirements early.
In college, I was determined to do well. Then fear struck—I had to take math again. I studied, hard. My professor didn’t make assumptions about my ability. Neither did I. In college math, my average was 120/100, an A+. And I was still a girl.