I’m going to preface this by saying these 2 stories are not the worst cases of discrimination ever to have been reported. They are easily not even top 10. I’ve been lucky enough to have never experienced discrimination in the form of being told that the field of engineering wasn’t for girls. These 2 stories are short stories about sexism in an academic setting. One could argue, however, that sexism is its own unique form of discrimination. The most defining quality of any kind of discrimination is singling out a group of people for their differences. “You are group X and group X does Y; therefore, you do Y.” Yeah…don’t say that.
The setting? The classroom. The culprit? The…professor. The class was comprised of about 15 people, 3 of which we females, including myself. The 3 of us sat together, front and center. The entire semester was going to be comprised of group work, and the first task was to assign ourselves into groups of 3. The 3 girls quickly became a group, to which the professor stated, “Oh no! All the girls can’t be in the same group!” This irked me immediately…why couldn’t we be in the same group? My female classmates consoled me by saying that it must have been a compliment because we would be the best group. That’s probably true…and we were the best group.
A few weeks later, we were discussing cars for some reason, and the professor took it upon himself to let us women know that we are known for not taking as good of care of our cars as men. Every time he would make a blanket statement like that, he would follow it up with something that would diminish any potential offense by saying he wasn’t being offensive. Note: not apologizing, not apologizing if he was being offensive, not (God forbid) just not saying anything offensive. Clearly, he’s been accused in the past.
A few weeks after that, we were discussing a class topic that had an environmental engineering component to the lesson. This caused the professor to go off on a tangent about how women feel about environmental engineering. “How about you ladies, don’t you like environmental engineering?” “No, two of us are in transportation and the other is in structures.” “That’s surprising because there’s a lot of chemistry in environmental engineering. Just like there’s a lot of chemistry in cooking, and women like cooking, right?” What? Women like cook…what? I’ll just hop right into the kitchen and make you a sandwich you misogynistic piece of….anyways. The 3 of us got A’s.
My other go-to story whenever someone asks me about what it’s like to be a female in the field of engineering is my favorite mansplaining story. The class was airport planning and design, and part of our first assignment was to identify a list of airplanes by the photo only. One of my friends was in the class with me, and he asked me the ever persistent, “Do you wanna do the homework together?” I hate that question. No, I don’t want to do the homework “together.” 9.9/10 that question was being asked because my fellow classmates didn’t know how to do the homework and wanted me to teach them. The idea of learning something new in front of other people, i.e. being vulnerable in front of other people, makes me so uncomfortable. I’d rather be in my bubble, learn on my own, and emerge with the knowledge.
However, the person that wanted to work on the airport planning and design homework was my friend and was not one of the classmates that I felt was just looking to have me help them. As a compromise, I told him I would work on the homework “together” but, unbeknownst to him, I was planning on at least getting started on the majority and then meeting up to finish it. I finished the part of the assignment that required us to identify the airplanes by the time we met up.
When we finally got together to work on the assignment, he worked on the plane identifying part, and I moved on to the rest. Every now and then he would cross reference what he came up with and what I had. He would point out the number of windows, the layout of the doors, whatever it was that made him come to his conclusion (again…I had already finished). He came across a particular aircraft that he disagreed with me on. We went back and forth for about 10 minutes. I didn’t get into detail about why I chose the aircraft I did, but just told him the name. He mulled it over a little while and finally came around. After he changed his answer, he said, “You know what, it actually is that plane…do you want me to tell you why you’re right?” What? Do I want you…to tell me…why I’M right? Nah brah. I’m good. I know why I’m right. Thanks, though.