Sorry for the long hiatus, folks, but between my job and planning my wedding (oh, and I’ve been seeing another blog – gasp!) I’ve been swamped. Still, in the midst of my schoolwork and wedding plans, I’ve come across a topic that I think warrants some discussion, and I think this is a better forum for it than my new blog.
Recently, several co-workers and family members made me aware that during National Engineer Week there was a day specifically named “Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day.” The whole purpose was, you guessed it, to introduce more girls to engineering subjects and jobs (and to try to figure out why more girls and women aren’t entering the engineering fields).
A recent article in Fortune stated that despite efforts taken by STEM events, multiple engineering firms and corporations, nonprofits, and events such as National Engineer Week, the percentage of women in engineering fields is still quite small. I’m used to that on the Army side, but then I’m also used to being in a population where women make up a very small minority – at West Point, there are only 10-15% of us at a given time, and I’ve been in battalion-size units (between 800-1000 people) where I’ve been one of only six women. Working in that kind of environment partly inspired this blog – it’s a place where I can get back in touch with my feminine side!
Just as a side note, there are a lot of efforts working to change that and integrate more women into the “combat” side of things (which boils down to getting us legal ability and recognition for doing the stuff we’ve been doing for the last…I would say ten years, but my mom’s Aunt Jeanne was a combat nurse and she was hardly behind the “safe lines” so I’ll say for the last sixty years). Will this change our numbers though? Even if all gender rules were abolished from the military, you’d still have to find women who’d want to slog through the mud carrying heavy gear, kick down doors, blow things up, throw punches when needed, and so forth. There are quite a few nuts like me out there – I’ve worked with quite a few women who have no qualms about getting done what needs to get done, never-mind the load, and I’ve seen them just as often lugging around police riot gear or firefighting equipment, but I also know plenty of women who balk at the idea. I also know, after having discussions with my wonderfully chivalrous future hubs, that there are plenty of men out there who balk at the idea of their women going charging into the fray like Amazons. They know we can kick ass, but there’s that chivalrous streak in them that wants to protect. I suppose it’s no different than the trepidation an Army wife feels at sending her husband off to war – they know their husbands are capable, but no one likes to see a loved one go into danger.
Okay, that’s the Army side of things, and some might argue that it’s very different thinking that would keep women out of combat ranks than that which keeps women out of science, math, and engineering jobs. From what I’ve seen, it’s not so different. I mean, how many times have you heard the arguments that “women can’t lift heavy objects” and “women can’t pass the physical requirements” used to justify military gender restrictions? It’s no different from telling our young girls in grade school that it’s okay if they don’t do well in math classes because “girls are bad at math.”
We all start with a certain level of capability - if a 5’7″ and some change female former power lifter comes along (like moi, for example), she’s going to have an easier time with an engineer combat load than the 5’1″ girl who might do great in the 3200-meter race. That same female power lifter is going to have to work her butt off to get the max score on the 2-mile event on her fitness test, but she can do it if she practices, just like the 5’1″ girl (or the 5’1″ guy that the Army kept sending my company, for that matter) is going to have to go to the dining facility, bloody well eat something, and hit the gym before taking part in a mission. Otherwise, sorry, Charlie, you’re staying in the truck. Why? Because the standard engineer pack weighs more than you do.
What does this have to do with the price of beans? Well, my attitude towards my gender and job is pretty similar to my attitude toward math and engineering. Everyone has a starting point, but math, like the physical fitness test, is something that requires practice. Just like you don’t take your physical fitness test without doing some kind of train-up, you can’t expect to take the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam without practicing! The people who just assume that it’s okay to say they’re bad at math don’t understand that they’re bad because they haven’t undergone the right practice. I don’t know how people are even allowed to say that. We don’t all go around saying we’re bad at reading and writing, because there would be a great stigma attached to it – why don’t we feel the same way about people saying they’re bad at math?
And why the hell don’t we think about that before we tell our girls that it’s okay to be bad at math?
Bottom line, if we want to change girls’ attitudes about math and engineering professions, we have to change our attitude about math and our attitude toward our girls. Math isn’t a gift from the gods above – it’s something you have to earn, just like physical fitness, just like anything else that requires hard work, and if we let our girls (or our boys, for that matter) hide behind the excuse that they’re naturally not good at math, we’re never going to see them improve.
If I ever end up having a daughter, she’s going to know that her mom is an engineer and teaches math, and by golly, after dinner and before TV, she’s going to do her chores, practice her piano, and practice her math.