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How we destroy girls’ ambition

One of the reasons that women on average make less than men, besides the fact that we are more likely to give up jobs and careers for the privilege of raising children, is that we are more likely to choose soft sciences, caring professions and relatively lower paid work. Some think this is biological so nothing can be done. As for myself, I don’t think anything is so cut and dried. It’s notoriously difficult to figure out whether a person’s traits are innate or learned.

As I put it in my post about a gender studies documentary,  “I once listened to a radio program about a geneticist who had found that reading ability is about 70% heritable. The interviewer went on to ask if that means we should relax all the programs intended to help kids from all sorts of backgrounds learn to read, as most of the potential is in the genes anyway. The scientist said ‘No! Quite the contrary, it means the other 30% is that much more important.’ ”

Even if there are small differences at birth, environment plays a huge part in our personalities, self concept, identity, dreams and expectations. The fact that the brain has no folds and few synapses at birth should be a testament to that.

While I was writing my post about the wage gap, yet unpublished, I asked some women about their experiences and why they chose the professions they chose. The answers were… enlightening. And in some cases, a bit horrifying. Women weren’t taken seriously, subjects weren’t available and expectations were staggeringly low in some cases. Of course, this wasn’t universal, some women had more encouraging parents and some were unable to pin point what happened. At least one woman was offended that I even asked, thinking that I was personally undervaluing traditionally female roles. It’s not her fault she hadn’t read my blog and didn’t know me.

Anyway, here is the curated list of my favorites. Lets try to do better for our own daughters ok?


I was interested in becoming an astronomer, but school would not let me take the right O and A levels… I moved secondary schools three times, and they obviously didn’t think I was up to taking the relevant subjects. When I had to choose my A levels before I took my O levels, they wouldn’t let me choose Maths, they said I would not even pass the O level. I got a B, without even trying (I had given up by that point). They made me do English, French and Biology (the first two because I was good at them, even though I had no interest, the third was a sop to my scientific aspirations “you’re a girl, we’ll let you do one girly science”). I left halfway through the 6th form.”

“Yes My childhood ambition was to become an astronomer, but the physics teacher sat the girls at the back and the boys at the front because he didn’t want to teach us. That was in the third year: I dropped all 3 sciences after that year because I didn’t feel I was being taken seriously as a potential scientist, despite coming top of the class in all 3.”

When I was at school there wasn’t much in the way of career advice. It felt like we were factory fodder. If you were good at English & were female you were destined to become a secretary. If you weren’t academic you were guided towards shop or factory work. If you were compassionate you were guided to nursing. I became a medical secretary because I was good at English & compassionate!! Science, woodwork & metalwork were definitely taught as male subjects. I think it was equally difficult for male students who excelled at the perceived female subjects too though.”

pixabay woman sunlight

went to a secondary modern school in the 70s. We’re actively encouraged to do typing home economics needlework as opposed to technical drawing metal/woodwork. science usually biology to be a nurse. Ended up as a history/ English lecturer after being a mature student. Forced out of that profession due to family problems. Now going for min wage jobs. It was never expected girls would go farther than factory/retail.”

I wanted to be diplomat when I was a teenager, I even knew which university did the course and how I was going to attempt it. When I told my Dad I was going to college to do my A levels he said “Do you need A levels now to be a secretary?” This was 1995! Needless to say I dropped out of studying before getting to University, went a bit off the rails then ended up becoming someone’s secretary. I hated it, now I am a school caretaker, it’s better than being someone’s lackey, propping up their promotional potential with my undervalued skills.”

I wanted to work in the forestry commission when I was at school but was told by careers they didn’t take girls in the field I should join the civil service or work in a bank . .so Sid them I went to art school . .since my mid twenties I have worked in not for profits as a residential social worker where I was paid a third less than the men I found out . . then community work with women and girls then i managed 2 women’s refuges then off for 15 years managing a charity supporting parents now I work in almshouses as a general manager . . almost my entire career I have worked only with women, so few men in these roles … I’ve done the work I have because of my sense of social justice and loony leftness I could not put my skills to work.for a money making org as I’m disgusted by profit from pain. I’ve been allowed by and large to spend my career doing work that mattered to me and work that made a difference to the community . I have nothing but gratitude for it . .but I could have a earned a lot more money doing something else this year was the first time ever asked for a payrise because I felt I was undervalued . . I’ve been undervalued before but never had the courage . . And Id have still liked to work in the woods . .I still make work and I perform and curate poetry.”

pixabay woman guitar

My Dad was a graduate mechanical engineer. First. Technical director then lecturer. Specialised in design. He did not think girls had the intuition and experience for engineering. Something to do with them not hanging around with their Dads fixing things? { I would not like my late father to be misunderstood. I think his opinion was based on years’ experience of teaching mechanical engineering design at university level. He thought women more suited to civil engineering. I was encouraged into science. I was an A student. Liked Geography but had little respect for it cos I thought it was easy. I worked in telecoms to begin with. Was the only woman in 40 men. Heart wasn’t in it. Changed to public sector humanities. } “

When I was 10 I wanted to be a motor mechanic. Folk told my parents I’d grow out of it. 30 years later I became a Systems Analyst (age 40). When I was 10 it was the 1950s and normal to tell girls they couldn’t do any job they wanted. It’s better now, but not as good as it should be. I still get odd looks when buying power tools and the look on faces when I got a really nice chain saw had to be seen to be believed. More so when told it was for me.”

When I was in primary school, the school got it’s first computer in 1989. Only boys were allowed to use it, and even within that group, only those from privileged backgrounds were deemed suitable to touch it. I should add that girls learned how to knit and sew and the boys learned how to clean (that included polishing shoes). The best knitter was a boy whose mum knitted all of the school jumpers.”

Have to say at my single sex catholic school in wimbledon the boys eq. did rugby & football, triple sciences GCSEs, whereas we did hockey, netball and only got choice of a double science GCSE. That was 95-2000″