{Physics} Electricity and Magnetism and Skirts

In first and second year, if I could avoid it, I’d never tell someone I was studying Physics. “Science,” I’d say vaguely, and hope they’d assume I was in Biochem or something similar. Something equally suitable for a girl. It didn’t always work. “I hate physics,” and “wow, you must be so smart!!” were inevitably the follow-ups. (Unfortunately for them, I do not hate physics, nor am I smart. Pity.)

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, I’m sitting at Second Cup with my EM textbook and assignment sprawled out in front of me. The girl next to me is studying for an ACTSCI midterm. There’s plenty of students here. Plenty of students to give me strange, second looks. As if “you? what are you doing????”

It must have been in third year – sometime after I’d replaced my daily wardrobe with a collection of slouchy sweaters and skirts. “What program are you in?” the guy asked.

I’d given up hiding it at this point – I was too geeky to. “Physics,” I said casually. (I must’ve asked what program he was in too at some point, but I forget now. Probably Econ or Accounting or Engineering or CS.)

“Wait, really!? You don’t look like you’re in physics,” he said.

I frowned. “What do you mean?” What does someone in physics look like? (White, male. Probably.)

He frowned too. “Less…It’s a compliment! You’re cute and girly – I didn’t think physics people would be all, you know, and you’re wearing a skirt.”

What? Do my interests and area of study condemn me to a wardrobe of bland t-shirts and jeans? Does it mean I can’t wear lace and ruffles and frills and pink? At the time, I laughed and shrugged it off and I don’t think I really saw that guy much after that. At the time, I was feeling unsure if I was in the right place.

But as long as my clothes doesn’t get in the way of what I do, what does it matter? If I’m working in the lab for the entire day, I’m going to be in jeans and a t-shirt that – just in case – I won’t horribly mind spilling solvent over. If I’m fiddling with data on a computer, I’m going to wear a short skirt and frilly top all I please, thanks very much.

So: dear people who seem to think physics is restricted to either guys, or girls who aren’t “cute” or “girly” – no. Just, no.

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