In 1992, the Mattel toy company released a Teen Talk Barbie that said, “Math class is tough!” This phrase (later removed from Barbie’s repertoire) from a popular culture icon reflected the math anxiety that many students have.
As a teenager, I experienced math anxiety after my initial exposure to algebra. While I was able to overcome this in my college years, it had a lasting impact because it determined what I would major in.
I was very interested in the earth sciences as my father was a meteorologist, and I did well in my earth sciences courses, however, I decided not to risk such majors as I feared the math course work that would be required. Instead, I eventually earned degrees in computer science and computer information systems, leading to a long career in database administration.
In conversations with other women working in information technology, I have found a similar background of math anxiety and interest in the sciences.
Although my evidence is anecdotal, I believe it is logical that someone with an interest in science, but who avoided the formal study of science due to math anxiety, may have found their own unorthodox way to working analytically through computers, technology, and business as a science substitute.
I also believe that this math anxiety feeds into a larger inferiority complex that, as one matures and finds some measure of success may become less emotionally charged, less outwardly manifested as anxiety, but instead is insidiously accepted as an unconscious internalized complex, and a projection identification.
Once this projection of being inferior is accepted as one’s natural self, others also come to see you as holding this inferior position, and treat you as such, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As women are a minority within the IT field; an inferior or marginal position is built into the system. If we then add this to our own inferiority complexes of various origins, such as math anxiety, the effect is compounded.
As a minority group and culture, this inferior position becomes a system projection, which the group holds, and identifies with, making it a cultural complex.
An additional emotional wounding comes from living an unauthentic life, such as being subjected to command and control management practices, when women may typically work from a more pluralistic, collaborate model.
This trauma shows up when women (or men) are belittled or ignored if they are introverted, quiet, a feeling type, and relationship oriented. This may also occur if they are more family centered than career oriented, and if they have more needs to take time off for family responsibilities.
Also, in general, women may get less important, or responsible project and work assignments, which in turn may limit their experience, advancement, leadership roles, and salaries.
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With the women’s movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s, women have been in various postures of offense and defense. Trauma and wounds may vary from woman to woman, and is dependent on whether she is in a posture of offense or defense.
For example, to be on the offensive, a woman may delay relationships and having children, in favor of school or career. Depending on her culture and other social factors, this may cause the trauma of feeling isolated, and perhaps the object of gossip or concern, for why she is not yet married, or a mother.
If she is on the defensive, a woman may feel some measure of an inferiority complex that she is forever being measured against her male peers, and comes up lacking, either in their eyes, her own, or both.
Finally, what I have heard from other women (and men) in IT, and is also true in my case, is that most women go into the IT field as a fairly sure way of making a good living. This usually means giving up the hopes and dreams of a more authentic vocation and is perhaps the deepest wound. However, it also is the one that, with time, success, and life changes, becomes the most unconscious, and the most difficult to heal or reverse.
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I may never be able to replace my IT income with my vocation as a writer, but I will battle to the end in the attempt.