Why are the women so good? January 21, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, feminism, teaching.
Tags: feminism, sexism, sexist comments, students, teaching, women in engineering
I’d been thinking about writing this post last semester. However, it slipped my mind until some trollish comments showed up on EngineerBlogs today. I think that Chris, Gears and Katie gave the troll a good smackdown, but one comment bothers me:
few women are capable of handling these kind of demanding environment.
I’ve heard this before (pretty much since I started as an undergrad). However, after teaching my class last semester, I have to wonder what the hell these people are talking about.
I had 90 students last semester, 5 of whom were women. All five of those women were easily in the top 25% of the class and were more likely in the top 10% of the class. They were the students who repeatedly handed in assignments on time and seldom (if ever) had to redo any of them. I will say that none of them chose to do the programming – but that is likely because they had turned in all the optional assignments required for an A before the matlab assignments were given.
If anything, what I saw was puzzling to me. The women seemed the most prepared to meet the demands of a college class, were able to communicate well both in written and verbal form (and one of them was a non-native English speaker), and contributed well and frequently to the class. It was almost strange how they were on top of things when the majority of their male classmates were struggling.
I’ve heard it argued that the women most likely to be in engineering are generally those who are in the top of their classes. Women who may be good at math but not outright brilliant will be swayed to go into other careers. From what I could see, this was true.
If you listen to trolls on the internet, you get the impression that women are incompetent engineers, however. The women in my class were some of the most competent and motivated students, but I admit that they were more passive than the male students, which I still think leads the male students (and probably later on, male professors) to believe that the female students don’t know anything. But it’s interesting to hear this comments after witnessing the exact opposite of what everybody “knows to be true”. I can only think that people who make these comments are really overestimating their own abilities or wrongly judging what it takes to be a good engineer. Maybe both.