It’s finally that time of year, the snow is melting and the days are longer, the smell of finals season lingers in the air as we slowly make our way through the final stretch of the winter semester. For some, this time of year brings a sense of hope and finals-induced anxiety as the school year comes to an end. But for others, finals season jitters are accompanied by misogynistic standards, pressures, sexist stereotypes and more. So let’s dig a little deeper as to why finals season has a much larger list of expectations, due to gender-bias, cultural aspects, and societal norms that perpetuate sexism in academia.

“Others” in this context are women, those who identify as women, alongside other gender identifications that differ from heterosexual, cisgender males.

To all my ladies and those who identify, how often has a man told you *insert male dominated field* isn’t “for you”? Or how about one of these for fun:

  • Women aren’t smart enough to be ______”
  • “They must’ve lowered admission criteria if you got in”
  • Shouldn’t you be in the kitchen
  • “Even if you make it through you’ll never get a job after
  • “Do you want me to dumb it down for you?”
  • “Oh, you wanna be an ______? Name every single thing about it then”
  • *mansplaining EVERYTHING*
  • “What’re you trying to prove, go be a girl
  • “You’ll probably drop out, they always do
  • “You’ll only pass if you f**k the professor”
  • “I thought you’d be a psych major, that’s all girls ever do

Just a little light-hearted banter right? Usually, these comments are generally dismissable despite how much they can hurt and stick with us, but the problem spreads further once these ideologies are not only agreed upon by classmates, but also professors. How often has your professor been a middle-aged/older, white, heterosexual male, who constantly makes sexist/misogynistic comments with the excuse of “I’m old, can’t teach an old dog new tricks” *proceeds to look down your shirt probably*. As one can assume, this dynamic creates an extremely uncomfortable, unwelcoming setting that adds to the never-ending pile of academic-related stress and anxiety. In addition, most male counterparts will not engage in correcting or challenging said hypothetical professors behaviour, as his sexism benefits them alongside the fact that:

  • Many male counterparts agree with these ideologies 
  • A large portion of men would rather stay silent than publicly defend a woman in fear of being ridiculed or labelled by their fellow peers/professor 
  • The usual bystander effect

This then leads to the build-up of disconnect with peers, professors, TAs, board members, deans, etc, which often leads to women in male-dominated fields having to work twice as hard with little to no help, guidance or support. Despite these setbacks, we are still expected to perform at the same level, if not higher, in order to prove our worth and intelligence.

DISCLAIMER: In no way am I implying that men, or those who identify as men, do not deal with academic stress in various forms. I am implying sexism disproportionately impacts women, to which male counterparts often do not experience and also benefit from

So take all of those fun facts, add finals to the mix and there you have it! The perfect anxiety-infused, shaken AND stirred, sexist plethora of complications the average male student rarely has to think about, if ever. Take a sip, it’s refreshing once you blackout from the constant fear of rejection and failure which causes burnout, fatigue, mental health issues…ANYWAYS. Unfortunately, these concepts are no stranger to women in almost any setting, which includes the new and improved COVID-19 edition of being stuck at home where sexist societal norms meet subtle chauvinistic mindsets of our male family members plus the internalized sexism of our female family members ESPECIALLY in cultural homes…nice!

The reality for women in cultural homes is often flooded with male-dominated standards, unfair expectations to live up to, sexist remarks to specific gender-influenced stereotypes, etc. For many, daily “obligations” and mundane tasks stereotypically associated with female roles come before educational tasks, yet education is the most important concept in the entire universe, but “quality time together is important aka arguing constantly”, yet “we spend too much time on phones and laptops” despite classes being fully online and…see where I’m going here? If it’s not being asked to clean, cook, babysit, run errands, help out, or something of the sort with no exceptions of incompletion, it’s being ridiculed for “placing anything and everything above education” yet if we don’t complete said tasks we’re useless and ungrateful, but if we don’t succeed in school we bring shame to our families and “no man will ever marry us”, and this cycle continues all while your brother (if you have one, if not, imagine one) who plays video games and maybe helps out 0.001% of the time is considered an extension of God.

DISCLAIMER: not ALL brothers, but enough for this to be valid 

“But what does this have to do with stress during finals season?” well, consider it this way. We all know how finals season makes us feel, right? The constant stress, the cramming, the late-night study sesh vibes, improper eating, messy rooms, mental blocks, Back Pain™, headaches, mood swings, YOU NAME IT. Now take that, and add the stress of no peer or professor help on top, meaning no proper judgement of whether you know the material, whether you’re studying properly according to “male standards”, whether you’ll be marked differently, whether your “twice as hard” will be good enough for their standard, etc. Now take that, add the constant pressure and up-keep of cultural/societal expectations and norms, no matter how mentally or physically debilitating it may be, and even when it is mentally debilitating you can’t say anything because:

  1. if you whine, you’ll be labelled weak, unintelligent, or a “little girl”
  2. parental/familial pressure to push until burnout/breakdowns = no option to give up
  3. self-worth and confidence deeply linked to academic success + familial approval ESPECIALLY in traditional dynamics = education > anything
  4. slowing down or taking “me time” might as well be dropping out
  5. Common argumentative statements such as “this is why women shouldn’t go to school, they can’t handle it”

As a woman, education is a major part of gaining access to a multitude of opportunities and freedoms that would otherwise be out of the question. When weighing the pros and cons of education, especially in male-dominated fields, the cons more often than not outweigh the pros. This uneven playing field may come across as a disadvantage, but despite the inner and outer turmoil through the highs and lows of “standing out”, you’ll come to understand that we were born to stand out, to take up space unapologetically, to change norms, break toxic cultural norms, because that’s what women do. Beating the odds is better than letting the odds beat you, and if that’s girly then I guess it’ll have to do.

Thank you for taking the time to read my word vomit that hopefully (but unfortunately) resonates somehow. I’ve linked some resources below including statistics, resources, women sharing their experiences, alongside tips on how to excel in male-dominated environments.

https://www.coe.int/en/web/human-rights-channel/stop-sexism

https://www.aauw.org/resources/research/the-stem-gap/

https://hbr.org/2019/02/research-based-advice-for-women-working-in-male-dominated-fields

https://www.catalyst.org/research/women-in-male-dominated-industries-and-occupations/

https://www.spokanejournal.com/local-news/workplace-sexism-can-be-harmful-to-womens-health/

https://www.su.ualberta.ca/media/uploads/861/1.6.2015–ProjectFU_Survey_Analysis.pdf

http://www.bcnuej.org/2019/02/14/whats-it-like-to-be-women-in-science-and-academia/