February 2nd, 2010

planet

Father Knows Best takes on women in engineering

I finally checked out a part of women engineering folklore that'd been on my list a while... the famous "Betty, Girl Engineer" episode from Father Knows Best! It's a favorite subject among the SWE crowd because it's just so damn ridiculous. Obviously life for women engineers in the 50s wasn't great but this episode just documents everyone's disturbing attitudes so well we can't help but stare like at a train wreck. I'd seen clips and quotes but never the whole episode... I was missing out!

The story: darling Betty signs up for a vocational program at her high school. Lots of girls are signing up for their chosen careers, and the councelor helps each of them write down "secretary". But Betty writes down "engineer" because she's good at math and did well on aptitude tests... and that's where the chaos begins!

She's assigned to work with a surveying crew for a week. Her family panics and tries to speak some sense into her. Her brother asks if she'll need chewing tobacco, her mother worries that she won't know whether to hang up "his" or "hers" towels in the bathroom, her father worries that he's losing his daughter.

At Betty's worksite her boss, Doyle Hobbs, is an intolerant jerk. Doyle is a young upstart engineer who can't stop asking her what she's running from, or whether she's doing this to get back at her boyfriend. She challenges him, explaining that times change, women can vote now! And he says voting is just fine as long as you're home in time to cook supper, or something like that, and continues belittling her until she gives up and walks home.

To smooth things over, Doyle comes to Betty's house later with a box of chocolates. He explains to her father that Betty seems like a nice girl, but boys want to be engineers so they can work hard and come home to girls that remind them of their mothers, and if girls start becoming engineers than what's the point? Betty overhears this, runs upstairs, puts on a dress, and comes down to visit Doyle and agree to go on a date with him. And the whole family has a good laugh about how silly it'd be for Betty to be an engineer.

AWESOME!

Well, it'd be funnier if there weren't actually women engineers in 1956, already doing their thing, dealing with blatant sexism, shaking their heads at what was on TV. We can look back and think "that was then" but there were plenty of women in 1956 really wishing it was already history.

But aside from that it's awesome because it's just so bad and tragic and I LIKE to think that a similar script would have been laughed out of the writer's room by the year I was born. We've come a long way! Thanks, ladies who put up with the BS so the rest of us could live normal happy geeky lives.

If you want to enjoy the abusurd, you can netflix season 2 disk 5. Have some girlfriends over, make some popcorn, blog about it! I think it'll be okay if dinner's late.