Breaking glass ceilings

I read a Guardian article recently which explained why Hillary Clinton lost the election. It described a number of reasons, including the fact white women en masse did not vote for her. She did not, in other words, secure the female vote. One reason for this was that women tended to vote for Donald Trump, not because they thought he was the best man for the job but because they thought he could ensure their husbands’ jobs were safe, for example, in the coal industry. I’ve written before about how voting and life in general is not just about yourself but about thinking of others. I’m not going to slate or abuse those who voted for Trump; what’s past is past. I don’t think, if I was in the same situation, I would have done the same thing, but that’s me.

However, I was chatting with an RDFZ student this week and I was reminded of this. This student was the one who organised the volleyball competition and who established the RDFZ volleyball club, which now has nearly 100 members. She has written her personal statement for university and had asked me about it. I had suggested she write about volleyball, which she did. It was a nice read, from the heart, explaining how she established the club from basically nothing. But she also told me that the school had been somewhat reticent about supporting the club, in part, because of her gender. She said this was never explicitly declared, but it was implied. Eventually the school capitulated and the competition was held. I knew none of this at the time, which is testament to her; it is also not surprising but equally depressing.

It’s a typical attitude I heard from some of my British colleagues last year. I think it’s great what she has achieved, and she, and her classmate and friend, who was also the president of the Students’ Union last year, are both breaking glass ceilings and both acting as inspiration to the younger students, to girls who are not confident to speak or take part in activities. Also, this student is unlike other Chinese students; she is not obsessed with grades. She wants to study in the US, but most Chinese parents (from what I’ve seen) focus solely or almost exclusively on grades. Yes, grades are important but here students are upset if they get a low A (an A is not just an A; it depends on how high an A it is). They don’t have a lot of time for extra-curricular things. That extends to views about university, wanting to go to the best school. I can understand this, totally, but equally I tell people what is the best school in one subject is not necessarily good for something else. This student has applied to schools with good volleyball teams mostly, which I think is a good idea, focusing on what she enjoys.

She also wants to do STEM subjects, which is further breaking the glass ceiling. She loves engineering, but is applying for maths at some schools, and then she will switch majors. Her physics is not as good as her maths. We then discussed all these great female pioneers in science and how much they achieved, as well as how much abuse or opposition to their work they faced – Marie Curie, Rachel Carson (of course), Dorothy Hodgkin and so one. It’s wonderful that she is studying this, and so keen on maths and science. She doesn’t really think she is doing anything noble or exciting, only doing what she enjoys, but it’s great that she is able to do this and follow her interests and passions. It is also a kick in the teeth to all those who think she can’t do it, or doubted a volleyball tournament would be a success.

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