Do you ever find yourself, going about your business, interacting with your peers when someone goes out of their way to remind you that you are a “lady engineer”? Mind you, I didn’t say “engineer”, I said “lady engineer”. Every so often I get a subtle or sometimes not so subtle reminder that I am not a full member of the club, that I am not like most.
This past weekend the Super Bowl featured two commercials that brought this issue front and center. The first was an ad for Volkswagen. Volkswagen came under fire for not including women as engineers. [WARNING: DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS IN THIS VIDEO!] I read a lot of the discussion around this video and my favorite defense for the lack of women’s representation is that it accurately reflects the lack of women engineers in real life. This one is my favorite because their argument for a lack of representation of women in a video where engineers magically sprout wings is that it is being realistic. So women are a minority in engineering. Did anyone not know that?
The other commercial that brought this issue into the spotlight was a commercial for GoldieBlox. [WARNING: DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS IN THIS VIDEO, ALSO YOU MAY CRY WHEN ALL THE LITTLE GIRLS SALUTE] GoldieBlox is an engineering toy marketed towards girls. The company and founder are unapologetically critical of the toy industries gender ghettos. Part of the drama surrounding this particular commercial is that a previous Goldie Blox commercial that went viral included a parody of the misogynistic Beastie Boys. The Beastie Boys do not want their music used or parodied in commercials which caused a conflict. However, this commercial brought a refreshing change to some of the previous Super Bowl commercials that gain popularity through objectification of women.
Two commercials, one takeaway: there aren’t many women in engineering. Maybe Volkswagen hadn’t intended to make a point but their own bias showed the sad truth (not angel transmogrification). GoldieBlox depicted a community of little girls demanding change, and possibly launching a rocket made of pink toys into space. They are both a reality, women in engineering are a minority and, often, lack visibility but they also have communities that are striving for change.
I have one more link and then I will quite. A young man in Toronto is contesting his failing grade in a class that he only attended once. His reason is that the class was all women and he is shy. Now I do not mean to be insensitive of people who social anxiety, it is difficult and those who suffer from it deserve help and consideration. However, when it isn’t people or strangers that make a person nervous, it is only women, that isn’t social anxiety that is sexism. It is based on the belief that women aren’t people. Raj on the Big Bang Theory has a similar problem. He can’t talk to women because women are a special subset of being. There are people and then there are women.
This may sound strange coming from someone who is actively involved in the Society of Women Engineers but I promise that I don’t do it because I love setting myself apart from my male peers, I do it because the engineering community hasn’t gotten to the part where they will stop separating me out. Someday we won’t need GoldieBlox or SWE because Lego and every other engineering organization will be enough but right now they are not.
Also, SWE has pashminas as volunteer gifts at their national conference, I will stay for those.