Once upon a time I was one of a handful of woman taking higher math from the male dominated math department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The students were mostly guys but it went beyond that. The professors were entirely male. Ditto on the TA’s. Some classes were worse than others. My Calc III class had exactly two females, myself and a silent, local-Japanese tomboy with a skateboard, a severe ponytail, and acne.

I was….different. It wasn’t just that I was a woman. That was rare, sure. However, it was not unheard of. It was the type of woman I was that seemed to draw attention. A womanly woman, with hips and breasts and thighs. She of the glossy pink lip gloss and ink-black mascara. I was going through a skirt phase at the time and had dozens of soft and sweeping, vivid, ankle-length skirts. Picture a 250 pound gypsy sashaying through the dim gray halls.

Beyond my appearance, my personality was never quite right for the math department. My laughter shook those quiet little math classes. My voice broke the silence again and again. My jokes puzzled my classmates. Let me go out on a limb here and conjecture that I was probably the only math student who spent more time in class doodling and writing poetry in her notebooks than mathematical formulas. 

I often joked that I felt like an exotic butterfly among all those male engineers and mathematicians. Nobody got it.

 

Today, I had a little déjà vu experience at work.

Our department needed personal information cleared from a couple of tablets, so I volunteered to deliver them to IT. The second I walked in the door, a dozen chairs swiveled in my direction, and a dozen male occupants blinked and stared at me without saying a word. There was awe in their eyes. There was hope. There was....fear?

It was way beyond butterfly. I was an exotic creature who, in addition to be mesmerizing, was quite possibly deadly. I'm not sure what those poor awkward tech guys imagined had just strolled into their office. A vividly colored poison dart frog? A shimmering box jellyfish? A black widow spider? Possibly a viper.

I don't think the IT department gets a lot of female visitors.