Thursday, May 31, 2012

Engineering, Sexism & Me

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about what I'm up to creatively. I write, and I write, and I read and I probably come across as a fairly right brained person.

You might be surprised to find out that this fall I'll be starting an engineering program at university, and this summer I'll be interning at a trade association for consulting engineering companies.

Because while I love writing and my creative work, that's not a practical degree. Engineering is practical, and stems from my other loves: of physics, math, computer science and even chemistry now that I have a great teacher.

I'm excited to be a future engineering student. I am. But something is bothering me. When I tell people I'm going to study engineering, they're often surprised, especially when I tell them I'm interested in software & computer engineering. No one is surprised when my guy friends say the same thing. Everyone treats me as special for having 'the balls' to pursue such a 'male' career path. I hate it.

I read a report about the barriers women today face in engineering. They're not explicit barriers, not anymore. Now it's pervasive "glass ceiling" type barriers, pay equity barriers and other issues that are often hard to spot on an individual basis - but the stats don't lie. I cried reading that report, cried at the unfairness of it all and cried because I'm going to face it and there's nothing I can do to fix it. I cried because I know being a woman and an engineer is going to be hard, and I'm choosing to do it anyways.

My dad is convinced that being a woman will help me in the job market, since companies are looking to even out their gender imbalances. Okay, so that's great I can get hired, but if I'm not respected and promoted when I deserve to be, does simply getting hired really do me any good?
There's a tendency now, that I've noticed most obviously in English class, to couch discussions of sexism in terms of "in those days."
Typical classmate: "In those days, when there was a double standard surrounding sex, women - but not men - were expected to be chaste."
Well wake up and smell the roses people, that double standard is alive and well. It doesn't have the same control it used to, and the consequences for breaking it might not be as horrific (at least in the Western world), but there are still consequences. Slut-shaming being the most obvious.

It's not just in the bedroom that sexism still exists. Sexism is everywhere, and if you don't notice it then likely you're a man who isn't really affected by it, or you've been conditioned to think these things are normal.
I could rant for hours and give a million examples, but I think just one will suffice. How many of you have heard someone say "Women can do anything men can do," as a statement in support of women's rights and/or equality? I bet most of you have - if not the exact words, then something very similar.

The problem with this statement is that, like too much else in our society, it implies that maleness and male achievements are the norm and the standard against which we must measure everything. I would prefer something along the lines of "Women and men are equally capable." But I don't see the switch happening anytime soon.


  1. You go girl! I took decided to work in a very male dominated field, though an unexpected one. Film and Television.

    I lost my first job in my field because I was a woman, though that would be difficult to prove. On paper, I lost the job because my contract was cancel because "they were moving in a different direction." The real reason was because one of the board memebers really believed that I couldn't think about working with film because I was a woman. Even though I had the better ideas than the man they hired with me, executed them more efficently, at the end of the day, MY contract was terminated.

    I'm still finding barriers as I apply to new positions, but I refuse to let that stop me. Because anything a man can do, I can do better. And in heels.

    I wish you the best of luck.

    1. Thanks for the support! I hope you succeed in Film & TV - for yourself, and because we need more women in the industry so that there are more (& less stereotypically portrayed) women onscreen.

      I actually have a rant about that that I'm going to post tomorrow/later today :)

      P.S. You know your comments make my day, right?