Exposure Therapy: Nicki

Nicki Kunz, Guest Writer

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People are regularly surprised when I tell them my intended career path. My teachers and peers alike often tell me, “you’re so bubbly and outgoing, why would you ever want to work with computers?” As if my floral print shirt patterns and life aspirations are mutually exclusive.

         I need to prove my intelligence whenever I walk into any high-level STEM class. The first group quiz of the term always goes the same way: the guy I’m paired with ignores my suggestions until he gets stuck. I then explain to him how to do the problem while correcting any errors he made. Then, and only then, will he start to take me seriously.

         I once spent two hours trying to convince a group of friends that I’m a nerd. I described the little jolt of excitement I get when I finish a math problem, runs to Barnes and Noble immediately after finishing a book so I can read the next in the series, and my overflowing board game closet organized by level of strategic difficulty. I work at a place called Code Ninjas for goodness sakes; being a nerd is basically a job requirement! No matter what I would say, my friends forcefully argued back. Maybe I had a few nerdy hobbies, but I was far too girly, sweet, and personable to be a true nerd. The worst part was my friends seemed to think that they were doing me a favor. Telling me my personality couldn’t possibly align with my interests isn’t a real confidence booster.

         The world has come a long way since the times when all women were designated as housewives. After I explain my passion for math and coding, most people support my life goals. By the end of the term, I barely remember the first quiz. In the grand scheme of things, I can live with my friends thinking that I’m not nerdy. Nonetheless, the gender disparity of careers in STEM still persists for a reason. I have been taught through assumptions and “harmless” comments to associate STEM careers with “boy careers.” While I have always chosen to ignore the nagging feeling in my gut telling me I don’t quite belong in my classes, others won’t and don’t. I shouldn’t feel like I have to choose between my femininity and my intended career.

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