Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Making Sense of Childhood Memories


There are things that happen that are so emotionally powerful we can’t digest it all at the moment they happen, like a death of a close friend or a birth of a child. Some emotions are also complex, so much so that they are hard to grasp even intellectually.

As I get older and learn to articulate my beliefs and develop ideas, I start to remember things that I couldn’t comprehend at the time, and was too young to realize that they were something that could be understood given time.

Being in Silicon Valley, being an advisor for, an organization that advocates for women entrepreneurs, and reading the troubling trends in lack of gender diversity in tech companies, I recalled a day in elementary school.

I attended an international school but being in Japan, they also tried to accommodate Japanese practices, such as having a graduation ceremony. Usually, two top students are given the opportunity to address the teachers and the families, and then fellow classmates. In my year, a Danish girl was the valedictorian, and I was the salutatorian. But our teacher announced that there should be a male student speaking also, so a special title was created for the top achieving male student. He was given the title class representative.

Even as a child, it didn’t sit well with me. I remember going home and relaying the information to my mom as a point of information. I think their response was something like, “Oh, the Pakistani boy”.  I don’t think I knew that I was upset about it because why would I be upset? I just felt funny. Not funny like “ha, ha” but funny like “it’s strange, isn’t it?” but no one else thought it was strange. To this day, when I remember the elementary school graduation, I think more about the day when the teacher made the announcement for a class representative and not the actual graduation day.

It was much later when the memory was accompanied by a followup question, “would the teacher have created the class representative position if the top two slots were occupied by male students?” Then I would venture a guess, which was “probably not” and then I would try to recall the graduation ceremonies I remembered from a year before and after mine.

After leaving Japan, I wondered how much of the decision was influenced by the Japanese social norms (i.e., if the school were not in Japan, or if the teacher were not of Japanese nationality, or if there were no Japanese parents the teacher had to deal with).

When I started teaching high school, I read research that showed that teachers asked factual yes/no questions of female students and reserved the more challenging and exploratory questions of male students, regardless of the gender of the teacher. My memory was then accompanied with another follow up question: “if the teacher were female, would it have been any different?” It’s a hypothetical question I can’t verify.

As I read through “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, who advocates that women who have achieved power to exercise that power to challenge and improve the existing institutional frameworks, I sure hope that if I were the teacher, I would think long and hard about what I would do, and if creating a class representative position would be helpful and if the decision would be the same whether the two top students were male or female.

Photo: Flower on Route 66 (Arizona, I think).


2 comments on “On Making Sense of Childhood Memories

  1. swathimanda
    January 20, 2016

    This made me recall my first days as an engineer in the industry right after graduation. My team & office was predominantly male and there were only but a couple of women engineers well into their senior years. At a common meeting, I was internally shocked when I realized that those ladies were at par with the male experts in the room discussing hard core mechanical topics. I was shocked at myself for being surprised that they were expert mechanical engineers while I was not surprised at males in the room. It shouldn’t have been any different. Despite my coming from a well educated background, despite having spent years looking up to female professors, I was still surprised when I came across women as the experts in the industry. I perhaps did not take them seriously before I heard them speak, or thought they were perhaps doing the non-technical work or even if it was technical, perhaps it was not as complicated work. I was ashamed of myself that day when I realized the biased valued I imbibed from my environment.

    Your point on “regardless the gender of the teacher” and my experience make me wonder when females themselves have biased expectations, how difficult it would for the paradigm shift to occur in the males.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. lavayoda
    January 20, 2016

    Thanks for sharing. Women aren’t immune to the bias because we all grew up with similar societal expectations. The research I read was in conjunction with the benefits of single sex education because the teachers (male or female) will be forced to ask different types and levels of questions to the entire class, and the class will have to elect a leader that’s female, and girls will be exposed to following a female leader. As a female executive, winning over the female staff could be more challenging than the male staff!

    Liked by 2 people

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This entry was posted on January 19, 2016 by in Education, Gender, Identity, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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