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Nerd Girls redux August 25, 2010

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, engineering, feminism, science, societal commentary.
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I promise not to turn this into a weekly installment of “reactions to what Chris and Dave said”…unless, of course, they keep saying things I feel require a response.

In the fifth Amp Hour, they discussed the Nerd Girls upcoming reality show. I’ve discussed them a couple times before, and at best, my feelings are ambivalent. Rather than responding to the concept of Nerd Girls, I think it’s better to respond to the things the Chris and Dave said because there were some items that stuck out as misconceptions.

First, I agree entirely that the best way to encourage young women to get into engineering is by introducing them to engineering as a fun activity. (I became interested in programming when I was 9 and have felt that was what piqued my interest in science and engineering. Funny how I ended up doing simulation work.) On the other hand, that’s only half the problem. There really is a strong social disapproval of women who want to go into engineering. I think, for example, of my niece. Her aunt and and uncle are both engineers. She did very well in calculus. When she said she hadn’t determined a major when she entered college, I suggested engineering. The look I got from everyone in her family was pretty much, “Are you crazy?!”

Dave mentioned that the point of the show was that “you can be a traditionally girly-type girl and still be an engineer” but then wondered if that was really needed.

My answer is: definitely. Physics could use it, too. Shows like this are probably not going to appeal to men, and I suspect some of that is a rejection of wanting to deal with the things that strike them as too feminine. Both Chris and Dave said that those types of things shouldn’t be important or at least not as prominent to girls in engineering…but they can be, and I don’t think a lot of men can deal with that. And for younger girls, they have few role models of women who are able to accomplish a healthy balance.

“Fitting in” as a woman in engineering can be harder than you imagine: it really does require taking on a very masculine persona. For a lot of women who go into engineering (and stay), I suspect that some of that isn’t a huge issue. On the other hand, I have noticed that there are marked differences in personality and work between myself and my male coworkers (i.e. everyone else in my group). It is easy to stick out. If you happen to be a woman who likes to dress up daily and wear high heels, you can imagine that the responses of the people around you in that environment will be either derision or the assumption that this means you’re looking for a husband. Chris said, “I don’t want to see them go shopping,” but some women might. In particular, I’m curious how these women can manage being “feminine” engineers without the backlash that such behavior usually brings.

My ambivalence about the whole thing is exactly what Dave said, “And you know they’re going to choose the hot-looking ones.” Indeed, they’re looking for very young women, which would preclude a lot of quite accomplished and talented engineers. Although it’s meant to dispel the myth that “women engineers are ugly,” there’s the counter to that where many men think women are only kept around because they’re eye-candy and not because they’re good engineers.

Ideally, no one should give a damn how a woman looks: they’ll pay more attention to their accomplishments. I think most people strive for this ideal. There are a lot who don’t, however. Fluxor has a great example on his blog, but then Dave even made the comment along the same vein that Kari from Mythbusters was “a bit better to look at” than the other Mythbusters cast. I know it seems like an innocent comment, but it’s the type of thing that makes me cringe all the time. It’s very hard to get away from that, and I don’t think this program is going to do much to help it, at least from the male perspective.

My way to approach this is simply to assume that there is an audience of young women for whom this video will be somewhat inspirational. There are girls who are going to want to see how these women spend their personal time as much as their professional time. I’m just going to hold my breath and hope that they focus more on their intellect than their looks, as unlikely as it seems. I hope the guys will withhold judgement because the intended audience may find the “girly” aspect of the show just as compelling as the engineering side.

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Comments»

1. Chris Gammell - August 25, 2010

I would find it less ridiculous of a show idea if it weren’t so over the top.
They’re highlighting the dichotomy of “girly” with “nerdy” by showing only the stereotypes of both. Why not the middle? (again, probably because of Hollywood….they don’t show the mundane nature of CSI work, do they?).

I think I understand what you’re saying and if I could boil it down to one word it would be “identity”; women engineers, like any other group of people, crave it along with acceptance of said identity. You’re right, women want to feel like they can be themselves in a male-dominated environment, and rightly so. But I really didn’t like how the promo presented itself and the message that was put across to me, “dude-engineer”. Maybe the show will be better but I’m not holding my breath.

And BTW, I like when you respond to our stuff! One of these times we’ll just have to have you on to debate stuff live.

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2. mareserinitatis - August 25, 2010

I think it seems over the top because of the juxtaposition of engineering with “girly” things. It doesn’t seem so strange when you watch Rachel Ray or The View or any number of other shows that are very female focused…but then you throw in the engineering bit and it seems out of place. I think it says a lot more about engineering than the show. 🙂

I think it’s also important to keep in mind is that neither of us is the target audience, so the show would probably not appeal to us at all the way it’s being set up. That doesn’t mean, however, that it lacks appeal…just maybe to those of us who are already in engineering.

I think I’d spend all my time arguing with Dave if you had me on. 😀

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3. Fluxor - August 25, 2010

I think I’d spend all my time arguing with Dave if you had me on.

Even more reason to invite Cherish on to the show.

The Amp Hour — Smack Down Edition

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DaveJ - August 25, 2010

Oh boy, I do like a good argument!

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4. Fluxor - August 25, 2010

I think it seems over the top because of the juxtaposition of engineering with “girly” things.

I think it seems over the top because if you apply the intro to another field with a much larger proportion of female representation (teaching, medical field), it’d still be over the top.

Imagine a bunch of young aspiring women doing a sexy photoshoot beside a 10-foot tall stethoscope as a way to sell the merits of being a doctor. Or a young woman being photographed squating by a column with a four foot chalk over her shoulder to sell teaching.

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mareserinitatis - August 25, 2010
mareserinitatis - August 25, 2010

I guess have seen the things you’re referring to, which is why I don’t think it’s over the top…

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Fluxor - August 25, 2010

Gosh, I’m glad I wasn’t eating at the time.

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mareserinitatis - August 26, 2010

I thought it gave new meaning to “I can see right through you”. Apparently you can see Ms. April’s breast implants, if you look closely enough.

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5. FrauTech - August 25, 2010

On the looks thing, that’s funny. All the female engineers I have worked with have been very smart and very well qualified. In some cases they’ve had to work twice as hard to get anywhere. But they’ve all been pretty. I’d say about 85% of the women hired into my department are VERY attractive. I’m one of the exceptions (maybe I was prettier when I was hired?) but I still have youth, and there really aren’t a whole lot of older women around here. I’m not sure if that’s because they get fed up and go into something else or if they’re crowded out as soon as they lose either youth or beauty. I hate it. These pretty women are every bit as intelligent (and usually more so) than anyone else, but apparently that’s all the guys in charge can seem to hire around here. So hollywood executives and private corporation executives not so very different.

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mareserinitatis - August 26, 2010

When they were going through a bunch of faculty interviews, I remember how the students were filling out some forms talking about impressions. We started talking, and the guys started talking about how the only female candidate was nice, but then began commenting on her looks. Never heard anything like that about the male candidates, and it really torqued me off. That should never have been part of the discussion.

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6. DaveJ - August 25, 2010

LOL @ the “How to pick up Girls” ad link above!

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mareserinitatis - August 26, 2010

WordPress Fail. 🙂

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7. I might be *gasp* a role model « FCIWYPSC - March 15, 2012

[…] talked about efforts like Nerd Girls in the past, and I have to admit I felt it was stupid to try to ‘girlify’ engineering […]

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