The Reproduction of Sexism

For a long time now, I have not been what you would call a believer in progress. That is, I do not think things are bound to improve in the gender equity arena. I think we are in the middle of a backlash (more on that later); women's enrollment in undergraduate engineering has stalled or declined; it isn't just a matter of waiting for the old fogies to die off and be replaced with young men who won't be sexist asshats. Since sexism is structural and institutionalized, it is perfectly capable of replicating itself unless it is actively fought and dismantled.

And if you don't believe me, read this post from Female Science Professor. (Hat tip to PhysioProf.)

My colleague sighed and said that now some of the younger generation do the same thing. He sits in hiring committees and hears young male faculty question whether female applicants are capable of having their own ideas and working independently, but these issues are not raised for male applicants. He has been fighting this attitude for so long, he was discouraged that it wasn't something that went away as younger faculty were hired.

We can't afford to just sit around and hope that someday all the sexists will be dead. They're busy reproducing themselves. When they prefer hiring "people just like me", it's not just because they're white and male. It's because they share - or will tolerate - egregious sexism.

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Or, of couse, it could be that since men and women are different, they may not have an equal interest in pursuing engineering as a career. Thus, to expect an equality between the number of men and women pursuing engineering as a career is a fool's errand.

When women are interested in pursuing a field as a career, women seem to have no problem bursting through such resistence. (Witness, for example, the skyrocketing of female enrollment in law schools.)

This is not to say that sexism doesn't exist or that it is justified, but merely to note that preserving the freedom of one woman to choose engineering presupposes preserving the freedom of the vast majority to NOT choose engineering.

By Pat O'Hurley (not verified) on 30 Apr 2008 #permalink

Yeah, that's the ticket! Teh bitchez don't want to do hard stuff like science and engineering! They really like stuff like cooking and cleaning and looking all pretty!

This is not to say that sexism doesn't exist or that it is justified, but merely to note that preserving the freedom of one woman to choose engineering presupposes preserving the freedom of the vast majority to NOT choose engineering.

Unfotunately, sexism is such an overriding factor that to discount it is pretty much laughable. Why is engineering unique or different compared to any other field that has traditionally been claimed as a "Man's Job" in the past?

In my own field, Animation, sexism is prevalent, but thankfully getting better. I too, heard the old argument that the creative spark for animation is primarily a male phoenomena: If women want to create, they have children.

Culturally though, the prevalence of sexism is much more obvious. The roots of the industry started before WW2, when most jobs were considered the domain of men. Most of the cartoons we consider as the "Golden Age" of animation (MGM, Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon shorts) reflected and perpetuated the prevailing stereotypes of the 40's and 50's: both sexist and racist. So not only was the industry male-dominated, but the animation that inspired new recruits into the industry appealed more to males that were insulated from the stereotypes they contained.

It's not until my generation that there have been inspirational cartoons that have appealed to increasing numbers of women; and encouraged their entrance into the field. The industry is still male-dominated, especially at the executive stage that controls the money to new projects. But even in the 10 years since I graduated, I've seen many more women entering the industry. Many of them are simply incredible; all of them every bit the equal to men. Yet, when it comes to the top-level creative jobs, it's still a struggle to break through.

"Unfotunately, sexism is such an overriding factor that to discount it is pretty much laughable."

I'm not discounting sexism, especially in advancement once in the field. I'm simply saying that it is fooling to expect female engineering enrollment to be equal to men's enrollment, if engineering is a field which is, statistically speaking, more attractive to men than to women. It would be foolish to simply ignore the probability that a large part in that difference has nothing to do with sexism, but has to do with statistically average preferences.

"Why is engineering unique or different compared to any other field that has traditionally been claimed as a 'Man's Job' in the past?"

I don't know. I know, however, that in other areas that were traditionally seen in the past as "men's jobs", such as lawyering and doctoring, where that enrollment disparity simply doesn't exist.

By Pat O'Hurley (not verified) on 30 Apr 2008 #permalink

Pat O' Hurley is totally right. Lots of women don't want to be engineers. But, why?

I grew up on a farm and helped my parents drive tractors and lay out pipe and all that good farm stuff that just needs bodies to do simple tasks. But, when it came time to weld or fix something or change the oil, my father asked my younger brother to help and "learn something." Later, when I abandoned biology for mechanical engineering, my dad was astonished. "But, you don't like machines!" he protested. When I asked him to teach me to weld, he said, "Why the hell do you want to learn how to weld?" When my brother wanted to buy a motorcycle, the prerequisite was that he get an old scooter running from scrap.

My father is not "sexist" and he knows and exclaims that I the smartest person he knows. He just never thought that I would be interested in greasy mechanics. He didn't think he should force mechanical knowledge on me, but he did think my little brother needed it. In the end, my little brother is studying to be a history teacher and I am building an enormous test facility at graduate school. But, other children internalize their parents' ideas more than we did.

The fact is that our society already has certain expectations of boys and girls and people of all sub-sects. They are not ALWAYS malicious; they are often just inherent misunderstandings. The answer to this problem is to start very young and expose girls and boys to non-traditional ideas before the traditionalism takes hold. So, instead of fighting with the idiot boys my age (23) who already have these stupid ideas, we need to start reaching out to the very young kids all across the nation. That is where real progress will take hold.

P.S. I am a counselor at two youth engineering camps this summer, just so you all know I practice what I preach.

P.S.S. My dad is an avid recycler now because I came home and scolded him when I learned about recycling in 2nd grade. Kids do have a real impact on their parents!

I'm bemused as why Pat thinks women might be less interested in engineering than men. But then I'm a woman and did not become an engineer. The reasons are connected to sexism in an obscure way. My relationship with the education system crashed in flames when I was about 14. After what seemed like at least 6 years of waiting to be taught something, I gave up and pretty much dropped out. In other words, I was pretty bright, self-taught in science to beyond the classroom level, and probably ideal engineer material.

The thing is, my parents let me drop out partly because they figured (and said) that as a girl my career wasn't so important, it didn't really matter what I did, etc. My brother didn't get away with it, and didn't try too hard, probably because he had been brought up knowing that his career did matter.

"Sexism is everywhere."

I'm not saying it's not. But even conceding that point, it does not mean, therefore, that the difference in the number of men and number of women who are interested in pursuing a career in engineering is caused by that sexism.

Think about it this way: if the best that you could hope for, even if you were able to eliminate sexism and every other compulsion completely, is a 70:30 enrollment ratio between men and women in engineering (I'm picking the number out of the air), then it is ridiculous to work towards a 50:50 ratio.

And since, even with this ubiquitous sexism, the fact that enrollment rates in areas such as the law or medicine do approach or exceed that 50:50 ratio, one must acknowledge (or at the very least consider) that the failure of enrollment rates in engineering to meet that goal of equal numbers may simply be due to a difference in the attraction of the work to men as compared to women.

Which is really my only point.

By Pat O'Hurley (not verified) on 30 Apr 2008 #permalink

FSM, it's like Pat didn't even read the post he was replying to.

Pat? Hello? The post contained a quote describing male academics sitting around and questioning the credentials of women in ways they never questioned the credentials of other men? And yet you start spouting ridiculous things about women not wanting to be engineers.

Way to miss the point and change the subject, sport. Now go get me a beer.

By wondering (not verified) on 11 May 2008 #permalink

Sexism is so prevalent in the making of animation that it infiltrates the films without causing comment. Why do so many animated features celebrate that closest of human bonds, between a boy and his FATHER, relegating the mother to a peripheral or conveniently dead role? ( UP was a particularly offensive use of the device, since an unrelated father-figure was portrayed as more worthy of sharing in a child's achievement than the child's own mother.)
It's no wonder that sexism persists when films show such bred-in-the-bone discrimination. As go the cartoons, so go the (women's) careers.

By animatrix (not verified) on 18 Nov 2009 #permalink