It was either last year or the year before where I blew up in a spitting rage about this columnist in the local paper who had said the reason why there aren’t many women in the industry is because most women are subconsciously bearing a mindset where it traps them “in the kitchen.” It would figure those are the three words I remember explicitly. This year, I’m mad that I didn’t keep that article. It’s one of those articles written by someone who writes many articles reporting on women in the industry that never stop being blatantly sexist that you end up blinded from fury for a short period of time. I had to throw it out. It would have been one of those things that you dug out periodically for the sole purpose of being infuriated. Now that I need it, I sound like a paranoid loon that manifested this 50’s era article for the purpose of soap-boxing.
To suggest women do not become engineers because their own psyche things they are much better off in an apron and hovering over a roast is inexplicably ignorant. To assume girls of the 90’s at the beginning of the Geek Chic movement or even of the late 70’s and early 80’s did not have the resources to excel in Math and Science is baffling. It was harder to come by, surely, but not impossible.
However, an obvious minority does exist. When I started college at a state university with a tech-boom powered Computer Science department, a third of the class were girls. Granted, it wasn’t half, but it was not insignificant. The surprising part was that after each term, that seemed to halve. Even by my junior year, I would have been one out of two or three girls in a full class. In the last class I took, I was the only one. This can look very suspicious from the outside, but in those halls it had not surprised me at all. In order to see the trend, you have to see what the last years of High School would have been like for these students. Guys who are that good at Math and Science are not told to be good at Math and Science. It is even said outright that boys at that age will handle such analytical thinking better than girls. Look at an average High School Math Club. Those are the ones who decide early to be programmers. As one of the few girls in that Math Club, I can tell you it was intimidating.It wasn’t just because I was a girl. I was a girl who did not make friends easily in a room with others who either couldn’t make friends at all or were one of those social overachievers with already too many friends.
This does not change when you go to college. Instead of being a girl with few friends, I became a girl with no friends in an extremely competitive major. It was overwhelming. The guys went from having no friends, to becoming psychotically competitive and traded having no friends for making new alliances. I may not be that competitive, but I become very aggressive when challenged.Its a compensation that’s always helped me in life. I didn’t give a damn about what anyone thought about me, not if I can trounce them between the brackets. My father said they were probably intimidated by me, since I was an overly confident girl. I would reply without sympathy, “That’s really their problem, not mine.” That’s the culture that gets bred.Going back to those overachievers, with the exception of a very few, math simply wasn’t their passion. To go into such a competitive and feral atmosphere when a girl with those kinds of credentials are getting recruited on the side to join Life Sciences like Biology or Pre-Med. Women have established themselves in these careers long before Engineering. They are respected there. And they certainly don’t have to deal with guys who are still a bit Cootie Sensitive. Why wouldn’t you leave the snarkiness of Engineering to something a little more balanced? A lot of my female classmates left after the first and second year to go to Biology, Chemistry, and even Digital Art. They said I should too. Unfortunately, I was just socially inept enough to enjoy the Math Department, especially with its combative nature. That also means that by the time it comes to finally enter the industry, that thirty percent you went to school with are now in sectors gone by and you go into your first job fully expecting to be outnumbered.
When I first started, I was one of two engineers in a Start-up of about thirty people. Right now, there are about the same number in my office, but I am now the only female engineer. I can dispel one faulty assumption right now. I never felt underappreciated because of my gender by the guys I interacted with day-to-day. Also, I work my ass off. They recognize that. So when I hear that the reason there is a smaller concentration of women than men in this particular industry, which would mean they’re being held back at the entry- and university-level, is because they feel oppressed and would rather go back “to the Kitchen,” maybe they just found a field they liked better. Believe me, you can’t push around a strong woman and not all of us even like the kitchen.