The cult of engineering

When I read the opinion article in the latest Canta Issue I was surprised more than anything else. Then I was confused. We need and want more women in engineering, and I don’t want her article misleading them away.Before I break down the article, ‘The Cult of Engineering,’ I will begin by telling everyone that I also do not have a penis. There, now we can begin.

 

The article starts by stating that in engineering “conformity is the norm.” That this mindset “bleeds” into the engineering culture. First of all, as with many of our degrees, engineering is what you make of it. Yes, it is true that engineering involves becoming “mathematically literate,” but I’m not sure what that has to do with our grasp of social issues. To me, engineering is innovation. It is problem solving and out of the box thinking. We have been taught to look carefully at our decisions and question the world around us. At this point in time, the climate is in crisis and creative engineers willbe making important contributions to solving this problem.

 

She goes on to state that“students in mechanical engineering don’t really like me.” I am not sure if she is referring to specific mechanical engineering students or the whole group of us. But I have never known the people of mechanical engineering to be exclusive or unaccepting. Regardless, she has chosen to generalise and identify these people by what they study, rather than the contents of their characters.

 

Now, I would be the last person to claim that sexism doesn’t exist, and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t experienced what I would consider discrimination. But the scathing article has contributed nothing constructive to the complex and nuanced conversation surrounding discrimination. The fact there is sexism in STEM industries is hardly a realisation. Despite what was written in the article, we have had women guest lecturers. Many of the mechanical engineering staff are women. Where is the “big deal”? We can’t expect women to break into the STEM industry overnight, but I’d say we’re definitely on the right track. What help is pointing fingers at engineering as a whole because of a few allegedly insensitive students? If anything, she is harming the possibility of more women wanting to study engineering and this we do not stand for.

 

Here is my experience. I am an ‘opinionated’ girl in mechanical engineering. I have freely expressed a range of opinions to the male members of my cohort, from abortion, to the issues surrounding women trying to break into STEM industries. When a friend has said anything disagreeable, I have never hesitated to call them out for it. None of us are perfect, and we all say things that we perhaps should not. And yet, my experiences, and those of my fellow female course mates, have been completely different to the article’s narrative. I have never lost a friend in mechanical engineering for speaking my mind. In fact, I’d claim it was the opposite. We build trust and deeper connections when we share our thoughts with each other. The students of mechanical engineering have taken me further out of my shell than I have ever ventured before. They have listened when I have disagreed with them, and I have done the same in return. I value these conversations with my fellow students immensely, just as I value their friendships.

 

I want to express to any young women (or men) considering mechanical engineering, the following opinions. Mechanical engineering is not what ‘The Cult of Engineering’ says it is. Even if the experiences described are true, in terms of the collective cohort, I label them singular. A large part of our experiences trace back to what we make of them. We pick our words. We pick our friends. We pick our battles. Don’t let the possibility of a few disagreeable people prevent you from studying engineering if that’s where you want to be. You can be stronger than the people trying to shut you down. You can speak up. And if that isn’t how you like to handle situations; you always have the option of walking away.

 

To finish, here were the final words of the article: “Something needs to be done, but it’ll take a really brave person to speak out and do it.” I fully agree, many things do need to be done. The world is bent. However, I cannot agree with her solitary mindset. We can all be brave and speak out when necessary. We can all listen when others disagree with us. Positive change is not the work of a single person. It is a continuous and everlasting team effort.

By Rebecca Emanuel