I remember the push for women in STEM fields popping up around the time I started middle school. The ambiguous “They” called out to us girls, “We need more women in the sciences! In technology! In engineering! In mathematics!” They enticed us with modernized posters of Rosie the Riveter and stories of women Just Like Us making a difference in the world. They baited us with daydreams of curing cancer and landing on Mars, and I took the bait. Despite the fear, despite my gender, I fell in love with knowledge and robots and never looked back. When twelve-year-old me discovered there’s more to life than teaching and children and secretary work, my heart hesitated to soar. Who did I think I was? I looked at myself, at age twelve, the way I knew a man would, and I almost let that trump my desire to do what I wanted. I still see the surprise on people’s faces when I tell them I’m an engineering major. And I will continue to see that surprised look once I’m out of school, and until the day I die. They don’t expect that of a pretty face, of a cheerleader, of a woman, and they don’t know what to do with themselves.
But despite all this, I hopped on the bandwagon. I rode the STEM train through high school and into college. And now here I am, ready to study robotics and take on the world. But what did I find once I left the station?
I found an engineering college whose faculty is 90% male. I found six female mechanical engineering majors in the freshman class, including me. I found male classmates that were revered for their subpar work, while the hours I funneled into my work were hardly enough to garner a second glance. And I found that I’m not the only girl that feels this sort of frustration. Those other five female mechanical engineering majors? They’re some of the smartest, dedicated, most committed people I have ever met, and they deserve a million times more recognition than they’re currently getting. We do not want our abilities questioned. We do not want our work invalidated by our gender. We want to walk down the halls of the engineering building without questioning looks shot our way by people who think first that we’re lost, and second that we might actually belong here.
I am choosing to go after what I want. I am choosing to be extraordinary at as many facets of engineering as possible, because I have high standards for myself. But having such high standards for myself and choosing to be extraordinary should not be my only choice if I want my efforts to pop up on someone’s radar. Being extraordinary should not be my only shot at being seen as valid. Not when there are others who are validated more for doing less. I should not have to earn the right to be seen as equal to the men around me. No one should.
Ambiguous “They”, you asked for all these women in your STEM fields. You begged, borrowed, and stole for us to get over here in the land of STEM. You have all these women in your hands now, women that are more than capable and ready to work on big, world-altering projects, and there are more on the way. I just have one question for you:
What are you going to do with us?