I like math. I often get asked why, mostly by other women. "Why take these courses, why spend my free time with books of problems?" My answer is always the same: "Because it's fun." The overwhelming response is confusion.
I was lucky enough to attend a high school with a focus on science. I took physics and astronomy, and because these were required classes they were full of other girls. But when I got to UC Berkeley, things changed. In the few math classes that I've taken there, I'm among a small minority of women. So I've made math a hobby, buying myself textbooks and graph paper, cuddling up with my mechanical pencils at night and on weekends.
Today, more women graduate from college than men. But we're not graduating in physics, or becoming astronomers or mathematicians. My degree is in English, even though my favorite Christmas present last year was the text "A First Course in Real Analysis." Overwhelmingly, women graduate with degrees in liberal arts, and if we do venture into the sciences, it's to become nurses or doctors. Theoretical physics, pure mathematics? No way. Women of my mother's generation fought long and hard to make it illegal to deny women access to these programs. So why aren't we in them?
In high school, I was taught that women could be leaders like Queen Elizabeth, or pilots and astronauts like Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride. My models of true genius, though, the top of the intellectual pack, are still men. Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Isaac Newton. It seems only men achieve truly great feats of mind or make world changing scientific discoveries. Women earn higher GPAs than their male counterparts, but after years of being told that 'brilliant' and 'genius' describe only men, it makes sense that women still shy away from professions that demand above-average intelligence.
Girls get the message early. Through hard work and determination, we're still just 'keeping up.' It's time for us to stop believing this and start understanding that we're brilliant, too.