By Monica Chen (CE ’18)
Being a woman doesn’t guarantee you any privileges. As a woman in engineering, I’ve heard all the stereotypes spoken about me or my female peers: “you got into Cooper Union because you’re a girl”; “you have an easier time getting help because your male peers are more willing to help you out”; “jobs are easier to attain for you”; and my personal favorite: “girls simply aren’t as good at math as boys are in general- nothing personal, it’s just the way everyone’s brains are wired.”
Although I do consider myself lucky to have a supportive family and friends to encourage my endeavors, I’ve also experienced what some may consider “unintentional” sexism from these same family members and friends. I’ve repeatedly heard comments such as “I don’t think engineering is a field that’s right for someone like you” or “Men are more inclined to be better at logical subjects like science and math and women are better at decision-making and common sense. It’s a natural and fundamental difference between men and women.” I consider these “unintentional” simply because the speaker is unaware of the sexist nature of their comment; however, these “innocent” opinions reflect more than simply being uninformed—it shows that on some subtle level, all women in engineering are still doubted and do not receive the respect they absolutely deserve. Trust me, I am not here to be bitter about any of the comments above but am just pointing out that as girls, we hear a fair share of shit about being in a challenging, male-dominated field.
But where does this leave us now? Do we deserve to place ourselves on a pedestal and use these difficulties we face to excuse ourselves from our responsibilities and complain about the work that every student has to suffer through and endure? Absolutely not.
In my own experience, I have noticed two qualities that group most women: those who allow the mental blocks to overshadow their potential and those who turn these difficulties into a factor of motivation. Of course, these separations are not in black and white; more common than not, it’s usually a combination of these two qualities. Don’t get me wrong, though—I respect and admire everyone at Cooper.
“I don’t want a ‘stepping stool,’ nor do I feel that I deserve special treatment”
However, I will be the first to admit that it’s often a struggle to ignore these belittling comments. I have observed that women with a proclivity for giving in to their mental blocks will definitely try to compete on-par with their male peers at first; however, when a difficulty or failure presents itself, these women appear more pessimistic than the rest, blaming their failures on the unjust nature of a male-dominated field. Each setback only adds to a growing pile of insecurities and doubts about their sense of belonging. Eventually, they will come to believe they require a “stepping stool” in order to compete on an equal level with their male peers.
On the other hand, I can easily relate to those who use others’ doubts or simply put, ignorance, as a source of motivation. Perhaps it’s a fear of being underestimated or perceived as fragile and weak, but I have always aimed to dismantle these preset notions of female inferiority, and take on any challenge in that matter. Engineering isn’t meant to be solely suited for males just as fashion isn’t meant to be solely suited for females. Yes, there may be a greater number of males in engineering, but this number is not indicative of a “lack of logic” in women in general.
Sure, the fear of failing and proving right those who say women can’t excel in engineering is always imminent, but it is also what pushes me past the limits that these comments have previously imposed on me. I don’t want a “stepping stool,” nor do I feel that I deserve special treatment or any advantages over my peers. I want to feel empowered not because I am a minority but because I am respected for my persistent hard work and effort. Throw away the stepping stool and treat me like an engineer, not a woman in engineering.