Many moons ago, in a land far, far away, called St. Cloud, Minnesota, a younger version of the author was attending Apollo High School as an 8th-grader, technically in the “junior” part of the junior-senior high. (We didn’t have middle schools back in the day; middle school is for chumps.)
Spring rolled around, and with it arrived the annual tradition of registration for classes for the next year. There were a lot of required courses, but I would agonize over my electives. One was already shot for Orchestra, leaving me basically one elective a semester, and tough choices to make to fill that slot.
Being inherently practical, despite my penchant for flights of fancy, I determined to take a basic auto maintenance course, already dreaming of the not-too-far-off day when I would be a driver myself, and would it not be the grooviest if I were knowledgeable about car stuff so I needn’t spend the rest of my life bending over and grabbing my ankles as garage after garage misused me?
When I brought my registration form to my mom to sign, she was surprised that I wanted to take auto maintenance. I told her I did. She told me I might want to rethink that, as I’d be the only girl in the class. Being 14 years old, that did give me some pause, and ultimately I passed on the class, resulting in my spending the rest of my life bending over and grabbing my ankles as garage after garage misused me.
What did I take instead? Why, I signed myself up for a course in electronics for second semester. Yeah, yeah, I know.
Second semester rolled around, and I went looking for my class. It was being held in a wing of the building that heretofore I did not know existed, which is often the way of industrial arts wings of schools. Twisting and turning down a maze of hallways, I stood in front of the door I suspected was the correct one, looked down at the schedule in my hand to confirm, took a deep breath, and walked in the door. 5 minutes late.
Which pretty much guaranteed that all eyes were on me when I walked in, including the teacher’s, who wondered what the hell I was doing there.
“Is this Electronics I?” I asked.
He allowed that it was, and I scanned the room for an empty space as a low murmur rippled through the group of 20 or so boys that were my new classmates. No one was particularly welcoming, including the teacher. Being short exactly one Y-chromosome, I did not belong there.
The teacher went back to his first-day spiel, gave the homework, and that was the day. When it came time to do our first lab, the boys paired off lightning-fast, and one poor sap was stuck with me, the loser in this game of musical chairs. He was glum, his classmates smug and smirky.
We accomplished our lab without incident, and in a short time, my competence and my test scores were in the wind, and I was no longer considered the albatross I was assumed to be at the start. I got asked for help on homework, and it seems to me that when we had to change partners, my partner was sad to see me go. Even the teacher was surprised, and came over to tell me that if I wanted to go into electronics for a living, there were a lot of opportunities for women. A budding feminist, and typical adolescent egotist, I was offended that I would only have opportunities because I was a woman, but I held my tongue. In hindsight, I should’ve listened to him.
I had a bit of a crush on my second lab partner, Alan, I think his name was, and we worked well together. Had I been smoother, I might have worked the demographic in the room to my advantage, and had a date to at least one school dance, but who is smooth at 15? You don’t realize until later that wishin’, and hopin’, and dreamin’, and prayin’ won’t do you a damn bit of good. Things are different nowadays, and girls are far more forward, but when I was 15, the general M.O. was to smile a lot while in the general vicinity of your crush and hope he noticed you, and plan ways to hurl yourself in front of a train if he continued to ignore your obvious (at least to you) advances. It was a messed-up system, very rarely resulting in anything approaching romantic overtures, though I suppose my Aqua-Netted 1986 perm could’ve had something to do with it, too.
It took some 20 years, but I finally met a man who was impressed by my erstwhile electronics savvy. I shared with Antiguo that I’d once made my own radio. It was the final project for that class. And then he told me that he had taken 2, maybe 3 years of electronics in school and loved it. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who took electronics. Clearly, it was kismet.
I hadn’t intended to be a revolutionary at the time, a bold pioneer for gender integration in a public school. It didn’t occur to me that it was a biggish deal until I was an adult, because at the time, being a teenager, I was totally focused on how weird and out of place I felt. And yet I persevered, and didn’t drop the class. It was, however, the last industrial arts class I took; I buckled. A pity. I wish I’d taken more, so that now when I look through woodworking and tool catalogs, it would be with less ignorance. I really did not take full advantage of my opportunities, and have not lived up to my industrial arts potential. But even so, I still personally own more tools than anyone else I know, male or female. And I’m not afraid to use them. So there.