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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I look like an engineer

The #ilooklikeanengineer movement is taking off on social media to challenge stereotypes of what female engineers look like.  It occurred after Isis Ancholee Wenger , an actual software engineer, was featured in her company's recruitment campaign- literally, a picture of her in a black t-shirt, smirking confidently--caused people to accuse the company of putting a too-sexy-to-be-an-engineer-model in the ad.  Basically, society was able to sexualize just a picture of a woman in a black tshirt from the waist-up (ie no bikini, no airbrushing...just Isis in a t-shirt and glasses!). 

So, if you don't already know, I happen to be an engineer.  Specifically, I'm an aerospsce engineer, and I work on aerospace composites when I'm not working on weightlifting shoes and weightlifting studies.  I can even legit call myself a rocket scientist as I have worked on research projects on missiles and even a project for NASA on system safety.  And , just in case that doesn't convince you, I even have 2 degrees in engineering: a BS in aerospace engineering from Georgia Tech and an SM in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT (MIT uses the abbreviation "SM" not "MS").

Definitely, in the last few years of my career , I've thought less and less about geneder stereotypes. Mostly,  the more experienced and credentialed you get, the less people tend to spew sexist putdowns at you.  Additionally,  I'm also the type of person who refuses to be a victim, and, rather, I choose to own my own emotions and power. So, I thought I was past that phase in my life , of being the new engineer female who gets borderline sexist questions posed at her.

Nope, think again...

Coincidentally, around the exact sametime Isis Wenger was getting heckled for not being dowty enough,  I got a zing of sexism that I hadn't felt in years. Let's just say, someone indirectly called me a cheerleader, effectively denigrating work I had done.  In effect, I'm fully behind redefining what women in engineering look like.

In Isis's article on medium, she talks about men asking her to be "friends with benefits" at work or throwing dollar bills at her ,also, while at work.   Well, for the sake of comparison, here are some of the worst  sexist things I have experienced as a female engineer at work, paraphrased:

 " you know, MIT is really hard, and you have a child. why don't you just go somewhere like [other Boston are university] that will take less time away from your home life" 
 
" No one has ever completed [ special corporate technical talent program] while being married with kids. It takes a really exceptional person" Well, guess I'm pretty damn exceptional, because I did it.
 
" Are you picking up your kid from day care,  again ", this was actually from a fellow female engineer
 
" are you promiscuous? please say you are. You can tell I don't get any at home", from a technician.
 
"What are your plans for having another child?"
 
Although I never had dollar bills thrown at me like Isis, once while working a summer job in between college semesters, a salesman threw pennies at my glutes(to see if they would bounce??). It took a month for the car dealership we worked at to force him out ( a whole month!)

So, the #ilooklikeanengineer global social movement, could not have been more well-timed for me.  And, thanks to my dear MIT alma matter, I received the pleasant surprise of fininding MIT had displayed my image on social media as an example of an engineer that defies stereotypes.



Certainly, getting a shout-out from the MIT mothership helps make me feel like a full fledged nerd.

What this has to do with a weightlifting blog:
As I have written before, women tend to be sexualized for just about anything!  When I lift at big competitions, I invite spectators to focus on my athletic performance- the speed, the flexibility, the athleticism. You can pick apart my technique the way sportscasters "Monday morning quarterback" Tom Brady.  But, don't make your entire evaluation of my lifting based on my outfit, my hair, or my sexiness while thrusting a bar overhead.

At large competitions that are livestreamed, I do see a lot of female lifters putting bows in their hair, doing actual hair and make-up.  It is as if they are trying to prove their femininity while doing a stereotypically masculine sport.  To me, it seems like a silly distraction form making weight and warming-up. For myself, I,on occasion, wear eyeliner because it amps me up like badass, punk rock war paint. I might even straighten my hair so it stays in one place or go with wild curly hair, just depends on how I feel. For me, I could careless if I don't meet people's standards of "feminine" or sexiness when I lift, just as I don't care if I fit people's standards of what a female engineer should look like.

Ronda Rousey effect

I think Ronda Rousey is an awesome role model for movements about breaking stereotypes based on sexualizing women. If you watch her compete, she looks to be all about utility, speed, and technique. She's so dominant that most sports casters actually just talk about how she fights and not her hair an make-up-- what a refreshing scenario.

 She also talks about how she is not a "do nothin' bitch"-- a woman whose whole existence revolves around sexualizing themselves to men.  She explains that she developed every muscle in her body for a purpose, and not to meet society's standards of sexy or feminine.  Therefore, she sees herself as "femininely badass as fuck".  

Similar to the #ilooklikeanengineer, this #dnb hashtag is challenging what society views as feminine or what a female athlete looks like. Unfortunately, some just take this as a cue for society to focus its sexual desires on athletic women versus women who look more like super models.

In short, consider women for what they do, first, not just what they look like. And what someone looks like may not be a good indicator of what they do. 


References:
https://youtu.be/5UV9-AL2JtQ

https://medium.com/the-coffeelicious/you-may-have-seen-my-face-on-bart-8b9561003e0f

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