[See link below for how Isis Wenger chose to positively combat the unexpected backlash received when she agreed to take part in a recruiting ad for her company. Notice she is dressed in the same black t-shirt as the other two guys; however, because she is attractive people questioned the validity of her occupation. After I saw this, I immediately thought of something I had written two years ago.]
I had titled it: You Don’t Look Like An Engineer…
What does that even mean? I can’t help but think people are expecting me to take off my ‘normal person’ disguise and admit I’m actually Amy Farrah Fowler from Big Bang Theory and they were part of an elaborate prank. The concept that intelligence is somehow linked to outward appearance is illogical. There’s a perception in our society to be smart and successful in a technical job you have to be antisocial, unattractive, dress only in oversized sweaters and glasses, and perform science experiments at home by yourself in your free time. Who does that? No one, no one does that. Media propagates this nerdy, awkward image of intelligent woman by creating characters with no social skills like Amy Farrah Fowler. This is especially true when they are placed in harsh contrast to the ditzy, cute blonde girl next door. Penny’s sole role in the show is to not understand anything the guys say and provide comic relief. The media abuses this acceptable form of putting women down through humor. It’s no wonder people are baffled when they find out my job.
When I meet someone for the first time, I’m secretly dreading and hoping they don’t ask what I do for a living. It’s hard to miss the surprise in their voice as if it were an impossibly difficult code I cracked instead of deciding on engineering from the standard list of majors everyone can choose from. Right off the bat, we stump people. It usually goes something like this:
“What do you do for a living?” –Random Acquaintance
(Crap) “I’m an engineer.” –Me
“Really?! You don’t look like an engineer.” –R.A.
“I mean, how did you even get interested in engineering?” –R.A.
“Well I always liked math and science…” -Me
“So did you like take apart and rebuild computers when you were little?” –R.A.
“Is your dad an engineer? Did he get you into it?” –R.A.
First of all, why do people assume a criteria to study engineering is rebuilding computers by age 8? I did not grow up taking apart computers and putting them back together. In fact, we didn’t even have Legos. I had a sister so it was all about the Barbie dolls and polly pockets for us. I didn’t know Legos were an option. My parents didn’t know I probably would have loved Legos. To answer Random Acquaintance’s question, I gravitated towards math and science naturally in school. I loved that it was objective, black and white-a right answer or a wrong one. Unlike writing where one person absolutely loves it and the person sitting next to them thinks you are terrible. Why am I an engineer? Simple. I was good at math and science, and I had an amazing mother who believed I could do anything. She challenged me to be an engineer before it even entered my mind as a possibility.
“Seriously, you should consider it, I think you’d be really good at it.”
The world needs more moms like mine.
What’s almost worse than assuming all smart women must somehow have NERD stamped on their foreheads is the idea that if you are attractive or pretty-you can’t possibly be smart. The truth is I’ve met several female engineers in school and the workplace the majority of which are extremely social, good looking, funny, entertaining, athletic, you name it. Like me, they are not running experiments or crunching numbers on the weekends. Instead you can find them hiking, beer tasting with friends, training for their next race, camping, and catching up on favorite TV shows like everyone else.
Giant sweaters don’t give us magical powers. Think about it, these women survived how many years of school with mostly male classmates? I can tell you from experience, if they didn’t love solving problems, they wouldn’t have put up with all the crap to get where they are now. These women are determined, fighters, and very bright. Can we all just admit being a girl in a technical field is kind of badass? Science and math are pretty cool. I’d love to see more characters in the media reflect the women I know to be real. People who are good at solving problems can come in any form. We need to start realizing the lovable nerds on television are really exceptions.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not think Big Bang Theory show writers are sexist assholes and we should all stop watching the show. All I’m saying is, throw in the occasional normal or even attractive female scientist. Women are continually portrayed as the dumb blonde roles even in 2013. I believe a better mix of intelligent female characters would begin to integrate the idea in our heads. I believe this would actually significantly move progress in the right direction.