How many times have you told someone your major? As an ice-breaker, or your grandparents, or maybe a stranger who sees your Pitt sweatshirt and strikes up a conversation with you. For some reason, whenever I say that I am an engineer, the response is “oos” and “ahhs.” This is not abnormal for engineers, regardless of gender, because engineering is a really hard major. Not that other majors are not hard, I know each field has its own challenges, but engineering is tough. I appreciate that people understand that. What I do not appreciate is when I am congratulated for being a woman engineer. I do not think of myself as a heroine. I just like math and science and problem solving. I know I am a minority in my field, but I do not feel oppressed. I can do everything my male peers can. Is it beneficial to point out that I am one of eight girls in my class? I would rather be compared to my peers as a student, as a fellow engineer working through countless hours of work, rather than praised for doing something “courageous.”
The most frustrating part is when someone tells me I am going to get a job because everyone is looking to hire female engineers. I do not want to be a statistic on some company’s HR page. Hire me because of my GPA. Hire me because I am organized. Hire me because I am a good engineer. Hire me because I am impressive. Sometimes I will not be the best engineer for the job. Sometimes it will be someone with more experience, or sometimes it will be someone with more schooling. Perhaps he or she has really impressive technical skills. And yes, sometimes a boy will get hired instead of me. Congratulations, you earned it. You beat me, and now I am going to go back into the sea of applications and try again.
My two engineering jobs have showed me a different point of view. As a young woman, I sometimes feel that I am not taken seriously. At 5’3” I do not exactly command attention. I smile a lot. I have a loud laugh. I like wearing dresses. But no thank you, sir, do not call me “honey” as I instruct you on how to use SolidWorks. I would prefer if you did not refer to me and my coworker as “the beautiful ladies” as we give a presentation. And no, I do not thank you for your advice and telling me to “follow my dreams” and to “keep pushing no matter what” because I know you do not say that to the male intern sitting next to me. I know how to work hard; how do you think I got here? And I say this to men and women alike! Just yesterday a woman passed me in the hallway and told me I was the cutest thing she has ever seen. Awesome. Because “cute” gets things done. Because “cute” speaks with confidence and poise. Because “cute” will get me a job over my six-foot-tall, muscular peer.
Just because I smile does not mean I am naive, and just because I like wearing dresses does not mean I will not go down to the shop and dig through shelves to find missing inventory. Have you ever tried to buy jeans for a young, fit, woman that are not skin tight? They are a hard to come by. Have you ever tried to buy steel-toed boots for women? We have 5 options while men have 30. Have you ever noticed how women’s professional clothes are strangely low-cut and thin and flimsy? I just want to look professional.
So yeah, there is a gap, and I am proud of being a female engineer. But I am mostly proud of just being an engineer. I like learning about how math and science fit together. I like problem solving to better a process at work, or implement a water filter in a remote community. I like engineering.
While I appreciate the encouragement, no thanks. Don’t tell me I can do it, don’t tell me I am a model for girls. I know I will do it. And I hope to be a model for everyone.
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