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getting crafty girls into engineering

This past year Etsy has been putting more effort into reaching out to potential women engineers in an effort to increase the diversity of their technical staff. I blogged about it before, pointing out the fact that it's a very smart thing for Etsy to do, business-wise, considering how many of their customers are women. So this week someone started a thread about more ways to increase the number of female engineers, namely reaching out to other girls, and it got an oddly high number of responses.

Of course it took less than a page for someone to bring up the tired old argument about how women's brains are just wired for "softer" jobs that involve people's feelings or whatever, it's a typical response that I hear a lot, "God has made us what we are, the world is what it is, why try to change it, why are you feminists always in denial about the fact that women are biologically different from men" etc etc etc. And then people like me bring up the same facts about how every woman you see today has been raised in our biased society, or how it's not fair to say ALL women are wired *this way*, or the countless studies that confirm that our brains really aren't that different, or the fact that it's really a cop-out response to say "the world is what it is, let's always look back in time for how we should be living" because history has shown this not to be true.

Then Pam from Just Dwell brought up a point worth blogging on... isn't it interesting that even on Etsy, a site dominated by WOMEN WHO MAKE THINGS, we're debating whether women have the brains to make things?

Word. The whole debate happening over there just highlights how biased we are against what an engineer IS. I stumbled into engineering partly by accident, on a vague hunch that I could do it. It wasn't until a few tests came back and group labs revealed that the guys sitting around talking about car stereos were not WAY ahead of me like I thought they were. It's just that we're all trained to associate men's hobbies with the technical world, making women less likely to jump in and try things, making them feel like the learning curve for all of it is a mountain. So 18 year old boys who don't know what to do with their lives shrug and say "Eh, guess I'll be an engineer, that doesn't look like too big a deal." And 18 year old girls shrug and say "Eh, guess I'll major is psychology."

I'm not saying that's not a worthwhile career, or that traditionally "female" jobs like teaching, nursing, etc deserve to be as undervalued as they are in some parts of the country. I'm just saying I was shocked in high school by the strikingly different "default" choices by kids who just weren't pulled too hard in any one direction, it's like if a girl wanted to go into engineering she had to really explain and justify that she KNEW she'd was born to do it, where as a guy could just choose it because it looked like it had promising hiring potential.

I became an engineer, kept sewing in my free time, but hid it because I didn't think my hobby was "geeky" enough. And it wasn't until almost a decade in that it struck me that what I was doing for fun WAS technical, or maybe it was my friend mrs_dragon pointing out how much math it takes to make a quilt... I've been making stuff since I can remember. Why was I ever afraid that my brain wasn't naturally wired to do problem solving, like I'd really have to prove myself?

I've seen toddler girls pushing buttons on a remote control and heard people say "Oh she likes shiny things!", where an hour later a boy will do it and "Oh he's going to be an engineer!". I've seen people give their daughters all makeup kits for Christmas while their sons get remote control cars, everything is coded and separated and really obvious. That's the world we live in.

But it's not a giant leap from the hands-on creative arts to the hands-on troubleshooting an airplane, and that's the word we need to try and get out. It's time to stop equating crafts with a lack of engineering skills, just because of the way the genders have traditionally chosen careers... that will really help with the confidence barriers keeping girls from joining the technology world.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 15th, 2013 01:47 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I've never bought anything from Etsy, but if I did, I think I might search the discussions to see if a shop owner wrote something bone-headed (like some of the people in that thread). Yeesh!

(I had to laugh at the person who said that teachers made more than engineers...even with 3months off, many teachers still make laughable wages. Perhaps if you're talking about tenured college profs with lots of research grants, then I *might* believe you.)
Feb. 15th, 2013 02:36 pm (UTC)
Thank for you calling out this connection between engineering and "girly" crafting - as a software engineer and a knitter it really rings true for me, but I'd never thought about it in this way before.
Feb. 15th, 2013 04:41 pm (UTC)
I am totally cut from a similar cloth as you- have chemE degree, majorly into handwork (knitting, sewing, embroidery, quilting) but for a variety of reasons don't work.
Feb. 15th, 2013 04:42 pm (UTC)
Sewing is totally an exercise in topology!

[on the girl/boy dichotomy in this society, a boy told my girl that "blue is for boys" the other day. I mentioned this to her teacher, who addressed the issue in class. And this morning AM was singing "Blue is for girls and boys too, I'm wearing blue! Cinderella wears blue, and girls like blue!" Or something like that, her random stream of consciousness singing is hard to reproduce accurately. ;)]

Also this: http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/genders-not-so-different-130214.htm (which I posted on spacefem)
Feb. 15th, 2013 08:49 pm (UTC)
I know a lot of techie women who do crafty stuff, too - my knitting group is full of us.

What I find amusing is people like my mother who insist they can't handle machinery at the same time they take apart and oil a sewing machine.

I also find engineering to be a very creative field, though I'm now at the point in my career where I basically go to meetings and write email about those meetings instead of doing real work.

Finally, I remember as a child asking for a chemsitry set and my aunt giving me a "make your own perfume kit" as what she thought was a suitable feminine equivalent. My parents did, however, get me the "build your own electric motor" kit I wanted. (The chemistry set was beyond their financial means, alas.)
Feb. 17th, 2013 04:41 am (UTC)
I am so excited about this post. I feel like the squirrel from Ice Age chasing ALL THE NUTS!

So...in an attempt at coherence, bullets!

-In regards to the "women are just wired differently" argument. Once I get my automatic gag response out of the way, I think of this:


and, to a lesser extent, this:


And then I want to box them about the ears. But, you know, I'm too busy playing with tea sets or something.

-In regards to crafting=making=engineering, you may find this post interesting:


For years, I felt, if not judged for not having male-coded hobbies, than at least inferior. SURELY those guys were learning something IMPORTANT by working on engines in their spare time or tinkering around the house or turning a lathe. But it boiled down to a few key points:

1. I do not need to work 24/7 to be good at my job. Yes being woodworker (like two of my coworkers) who builds a house entirely by myself (something a professor of mine did, no lie), repairs farm equipment (also two-three coworkers) and generally grunts like Tim the Tool Man Taylor over cars and engines and grease probably wouldn't HURT my understanding of fabrication, assembly, tools, etc. But so what? I have distinguished myself from my coworkers not by being their carbon copies but by having skills they don't--people skills, an interest in the business side of things, an ability to manage projects, an ability to write, and most of all, keen analytic thinking. In fact, turning my work into my hobby would make me a (very bored) one trick pony). And forcing myself to be something I'm not only makes me miserable. Not a good trade.

2. ALL that said, I still don't talk much about my hobbies. I don't broadcast "I AM QUILTER", because I see the vacant stares and glazed over looks as soon as I utter the word "quilt". Given that I will listen to monologues on planes, weapons, hunting, and sports, I find this rather irksome. Then I remind myself that being a good listener is part of what gives me an edge. And I smile.

3. My hobbies allow me to make things in a creative manner, my work allows me to make things in a more structured manner. They are good for each other. I actually created a sewn prototype for work last month. The customer loved it and I saved the day. No one else could have done that. On a less obvious level, dealing with things at work, where I can't just walk away has taught me patience. I've gained confidence with power tools, glues, exactos, plastic. I've got a new stick-to-it-tiveness coming of both practice and age. My work benefits from the soul feeding my hobbies give me. They allow me to stretch my wings, room to fail, room to reinvent, and license to create things simply because they are beautiful, and listen to no one but myself.

4. My quilting groups are always lousy with engineers, scientists, mathematicians, and logical people. My current quilting guild could double as a Dr Who fan club. (Though I am not yet on that bandwagon...)

5. I still battle against the feeling that I have to prove myself. That I'm mathy enough, geeky enough, tough enough....MALE enough. I remember feeling that way since I was about 5 or so. I'm making progress though. I'm embraced my love of high heels and my dislike of getting dirty, which I never would own up to before.

And...I've now rambled on and on and on and you see why I feel like I'm chasing ALL THE NUTS! ; )
Feb. 17th, 2013 05:01 am (UTC)
Also? Brandy from MirabilisThreads just won my heart with this comment:

"Hmm. I guess life could be worse than being stuck with some strange unladylike sort of logical genetic disorder that pays a whole lot of money."

Bwahahaha! : )
Feb. 17th, 2013 05:02 am (UTC)
Also, also? It is so encouraging to see that this is being discussed on ETSY and not just in feminist groups or SWE meetings.
Feb. 19th, 2013 03:27 pm (UTC)
This post reminds me of this passage from one of Feynman's books...


"When I was at Cornell, I was rather fascinated by the student body, which seems to me was a dilute mixture of some sensible people in a big mass of dumb people studying home economics, etc. including lots of girls. I used to sit in the cafeteria with the students and eat and try to overhear their conversations and see if there was one intelligent word coming out. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered a tremendous thing, it seemed to me.

I listened to a conversation between two girls, and one was explaining that if you want to make a straight line, you see, you go over a certain number to the right for each row you go up--that is, if you go over each time the same amount when you go up a row, you make a straight line--a deep principle of analytic geometry! It went on. I was rather amazed. I didn't realize the female mind was capable of understanding analytic geometry.

She went on and said, "Suppose you have another line coming in from the other side, and you want to figure out where they are going to intersect. Suppose on one line you go over two to the right for every one you go up, and the other line goes over three to the right for every one that it goes up, and they start twenty steps apart," etc.--I was flabbergasted. She figured out where the intersection was. It turned out that one girl was explaining to the other how to knit argyle socks. I, therefore, did learn a lesson: The female mind is capable of understanding analytic geometry. Those people who have for years been insisting (in the face of all obvious evidence to the contrary) that the male and female are equally capable of rational thought may have something. The difficulty may just be that we have never yet discovered a way to communicate with the female mind. If it is done in the right way, you may be able to get something out of it."

Edited at 2013-02-19 03:28 pm (UTC)
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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