Saturday, April 08, 2006

Guide to Emily Hahn: Autobiography and Women Pioneers


Hahn, Emily. “B.Sc.,” No Hurry to Get Home. 56-69.

In this autobiographical chapter, Hahn describes what it was like to be the first woman to be a mining engineering student at the University of Wisconsin. Hahn, who was annoyed at her family’s insistence that she go to college rather than study art, explains that, in retrospect, she should have enrolled in Letters and Science, but chose mining engineering instead. It was an unusual choice in 1924. She claims it was an accident, but after reading her work, the reader wonders if that was the case. Hahn certainly loves a challenge.

Not only was Hahn an outsider in the classroom because of her gender, she was also barred from field trips, visits to mining operations, and professional societies. Hahn, who describes in detail and with great sensitivity, the feelings she had upon being ostracized, outgrouped, and subjected to stereotyping and gender slurs, prevailed. She graduated in 1928, having been voted, in a final triumph, into the engineering club.

“B.Sc.” illustrates quite well the issue of the “reluctant outsider” because it deals directly with the behaviors of the in-group with respect to an out-grouped person. More vitally, it explores the pain, defiance, resolve, and eventual self-overcoming required to succeed in such an environment. Short of hazing (which assumes that the person being hazed is a part of the in-group to start with, they just have to undergo a rite of passage), the actions of the in-group toward Hahn seem to be cruel, even sadistic. Fear of change, of self-examination are clearly a part of this equation. Hahn’s narrative allows the reader to see not only her feelings, but also the nervous attempts at territory-protection.

Hahn continued to “accidentally” be drawn to situations and places where she would automatically be outgrouped because of her gender, race, or nationality. Traveling alone to China and other areas of Asia and Africa, Hahn is a careful observer of the way she reacts to people and situations, and how people react to her.

As a person who is immediately outgrouped because her difference from the dominant group is immediately apparent, Hahn learns how to cope and even exploit the fact that she is overly visible, and her very presence creates spectacle. Her narrative shows the reader how it is possible to transform potential or even ongoing humiliation into triumph.

“B.Sc.” is part of a series of autobiographical essays collected in No Hurry to Get Home. In addition to writing narratives, Hahn wrote for The New Yorker.

Emily Hahn.

opium smokers:

Guiding Questions

How was the author a “reluctant outsider?”

Why was Emily shunned by her fellow classmates and advisor?

How did the author accomplish the transformation from humiliation to triumph?

Why did the author feel determined to get her BS in Mining Engineering?

What were the consequences that Reginald experienced as a result of working with Emily, a member of an outgroup?

By choosing to work with Emily, Reginald was thrust into a stereotype. Explain.

Explain how the discrimination that Emily encountered was generalized into other areas and experiences.

Explain how any success of Emily’s was discredited by her classmates.

The women’s movement has been very helpful to many women in regards to the opening up of job opportunities. However, at times it has worked against women because by being seen as an equal, men often display less chivalry. Explain Emily’s experiences with this.
How was indifference “priceless?”