June 8th, 2005

planet

women and science

Today I was asked, along with two other women, to address a group of high school girls in a summer discovery workshop about engineering. One of the questions we got was about what it was like working with all men.

I basically said that I don't mind working with all men. The guys I work with are all really nice, and since I've worked here I've never been treated unfairly by anyone (this was sort of a lie... I've had one or two bad experiences but both were with guys who are idiots anyway so I couldn't just hate them on sexism grounds. Also, everyone around knows they're idiots, so them being jerks to me is actually good for my coworker relations, if you get my drift). The other women agreed, saying that they like working with men; it becomes automatic and there's no issue fitting in.

Then I added: "I'm still really happy to see the numbers of women in science and engineering move up, though. This technical world isn't just my life, it's the world, it's what's changing it. Working with all men is a constant reminder that half the population isn't getting the opportunity to contribute to all of this, and it's sad, it makes me think the world is lacking something. Women are unique and have a lot to give, and we shouldn't let anyone keep us out because they're afraid of change."

Afterwards one of the other speakers thanked me for saying that. She'd never really thought about why women should go into engineering. She just knew that they didn't. She was alone in her department, like I am in mine, and that's the way the world works.

The thing is that what I said is far from being a revolutionary concept... I picked it up somewhere, in my readings of women and women's roles throughout history. But how many engineers have time to pick up a little light feminist literature in their spare time? About none.

We've got this informal networking group that meets for a lunch/lecture once a month... there are something like 40 of us at most meetings, and part of me is always tempted to book us a crazy feminist speaker to tell us about The Movement and how it applies to us. Engineering is so important, and there's this divide between women engineers (who should all be feminists) and the sociological, psychological world of feminism. I think we'd all benefit from knowing more about the movement that got us where we are today. I could get someone from the local NOW chapter, that'd blow 'em all away. There are a lot of strong pro-lifers though, I don't want to piss anybody off.

Everything I've read about feminism has been a jewel that I've soaked in like a sponge. It's changed who I am and how I see the world. It's inspired me, sometimes angered me, but mostly opened my eyes. I still like the guys I work with, and being a good engineer is still my biggest priority and the thing I love the most. I guess in that light it's hard to describe why I'm a better person. I am, though.