Thoughts from a female Engineering student

I’ve never considered myself to be particularly tom boyish. I never liked climbing trees, I hate wearing trousers and have always preferred skirts/dresses and I was definitely a Barbie fan as a young child. When my Barbies got too boring, I designed and constructed my own doll house, made out of squared maths paper that I then blu-tacked to my bed room wall. I was so intricate in my creation that I even fashioned multiple outfits for my dolls and ‘laminated’ them using sello-tape. Designing and creating always came naturally to me I guess. I never needed to think too much about what to make, I would just make it.

Yet that’s my downfall, I don’t think before I do things. I just act impulsively in a rather brash manner. It means that I often say things out of turn and ultimately end up looking like a fool. So when I am asked the question: “Why am I a feminist?” I end up dancing around the question as I am frightened that I’ll say something wrong or insulting. I’m scared that people will think less of me depending of what I say from that point onwards. I feel as if the entirety of the feminist movement is dependent on what I say to that person, which of course, is utterly ridiculous. Then again, I have been called a drama queen once (or twice.)

The first thoughts that come to mind when people ask me that question include: I believe in equality and I think its unfair that women earn less than men even when they are doing exactly the same job. I’m too adamant to say this though because then that person will demand statistics, which I don’t have. Yet, these statistics exist online and can be found easily with a short Google search. Will that even make a difference to this person? The truth is, people will believe what they want to believe.

As a female Engineering student, I’m part of a rather niche group. Approximately 10-20% of my year are female. At first I felt quite self conscious about this as I came from an all girls school. Honestly, I still sometimes feel that people will automatically think less of me because I’m a female. Some people are puzzled as to why Engineering still isn’t viewed as a viable career choice for young girls. Coming from seven years experience of a girls grammar school, I believe that I understand why.

Once in Year 12 during form time, there was a time where everyone was asking each other about our UCAS applications and what courses we were applying to and where. I remember being faced with the question: “What is an Engineer? Isn’t that, like, a car mechanic? Do you just get under cars?” Even when I explained to her that engineers are inherently problem solvers and that they are involved in many disciplines including the food industry, oil and gas, mobile phone technology…she still seemed adamant that all Engineers did were fix cars.

Ever since year 7, we were constantly conditioned to try for a career in Medicine. It seemed that the only careers that people talked about were Medicine, Law and Dentistry.  Engineering was never heavily promoted. There were no talks in assembly, no representatives from companies that came in to talk to us, and no mention of it during class. The entire Engineering career path was just vacant from all discussions and when I found myself having to choose a degree in sixth form I barely knew any options apart from Medicine and Law. Both of which I was certain were not suitable for myself. Luckily, my dad had studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Surrey and so introduced me to it and encouraged me to study it. I decided to take a plunge and sign up for a Computing and Microelectronics course at the University of Southampton which I enjoyed a lot. However, as expected, there was no promotion of such courses in my High School and I found myself researching and asking science teachers about them. The effort was insignificant, yet could have been avoided if my school had actually promoted career options other than Medicine.

People think that it’s not a suitable career for girls, but that’s because they either know nothing about Engineering or they underestimate a woman’s ability. It shouldn’t be a question of gender, it should just be a measure of how good someone’s problem solving and analytical skills are. There shouldn’t be this stigma in girls only schools that Engineering is a guy’s career choice. So when I think back to my younger self who design and built that Dollhouse, using the only materials available, I remember that I actually enjoyed building the Dollhouse more than actually playing with it. ¬†I constantly renovated it and added countless extensions. When I doubt my choice of career due to the difficulty or the fact that there is an unpleasant stereotype around what female Engineers look and act like, I try to remember how much I actually enjoy it. There’s no reason why a female would be worse at Engineering than a male, so for goodness sake, it should be promoted more and encouraged as a career choice.