Equality in Engineering

Right down to the chants

People are under the impression that engineering must have been hard for me, being one of few women.

The chants, for example, are notoriously “inappropriate” – the most famous and widely shared being a song about Lady Godiva. (See a fuller, albeit tailored version, by MIT)

But we women were given equal opportunity to be just as rude as the men. We wrote our own chants and they were just as inappropriate and just as funny… for everyone… regardless of gender… and no one celebrated rape.

The UBC Sauder School of Business is reeling from recent revelations about Frosh being taught chants celebrating underaged rape.

Naturally, the university has separated itself from the student chants and suggesting the business school teaches rape is absurd. BUT, before dismissing this as an isolated incident, the school needs to consider the possibility of an underlying divide between “suits” and “skirts”.

The culture of engineering is often assumed to suffer gender division. I made that mistake when I first went to work. I fell into the trap of dressing like my male colleagues, thinking being “one of the guys” was the only way for me to fit in.

I imposed that gender division on myself.

In the end, I finally realised there is no outfit that a rugged pair of coveralls can’t neutralize! I could wear a skirt if I wanted to and still visit sites, climb ladders, and harness myself to scaffolding. I was just like any man who wanted to protect his  3-piece suit, while out in the field.

Reforming the way we view and treat gender does not need to sterilize our differences. I like wearing skirts. I know how to do my work regardless of my attire, just like Swedish train drivers.

They donned skirts to beat the summer heat in protest to their employer’s ban of shorts.

They can do their work better when they are comfortable, and that was worth fighting for. (We have quite a way to go in accepting gender as a continuum rather than binary categories-the shorts ban was quickly lifted.)

In Engineering at McMaster University, I was treated as an engineering student. Nothing else. When I went to work, I had to relearn that. My colleagues didn’t parse me out as a female engineer. They let me decide how to define myself, and they accepted me for my work, not for my anatomy.

I’m not much of a “rah-rah engineering” graduate, but…

Gimme an “E”! Gimme an “N”! …


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About ahemmayispeak

Environmentalist Egalitarian Engineer Writer There, I finally said it. View all posts by ahemmayispeak

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