As I noted in last week's newsletter (subscribe, and you too can be privy to exclusive content!) I'm pretty darn enthusiastic about the #ILookLikeAnEngineer Twitter extravaganza.
It struck me as a joyous coming together of outliers. A celebration of uniqueness, and a grasping for the empowerment so hard won by our grandmothers which too often we leave unclaimed. I felt...exultant seeing all the tweets come in. I felt proud to be an engineer, proud to be a femgineer.
Then, over breakfast, a friend and I got to talking. He is also an engineer, but to my surprise and chagrin he was pretty emphatically not a fan of the hashtag avalanche. Partly, his extremely literal nature had his hackles up - "But she doesn't look like an engineer, she looks more likely to be a model!" In marked contrast to my gut reaction, his instinct was to feel that women were asking for special acknowledgement and treatment. Personally, I think this speaks more to one too many sensitivity trainings and a general suspicion of advertising, rather than anything that might be termed misogyny. But I do wonder how many people out there felt the same way.
If I were being finicky over diction, I might have recommended #IAmAnEngineer instead. I think this would have significantly increased my friend's receptiveness. Myself, I would have loved it with equal fervor.
Semantics aside, I don't look like an engineer. (Actually, I don't know that I look like much of anything distinctive other than a female of the species.) When we say, "she looks like ______." we're fundamentally talking about conformance to stereotypes. Which is to say, unless you're a white male rockin' 1960s NASA Mission Control style, you probably don't "look like" an engineer.
Not that I'm dismissing the reactions to that OneLogin ad and everything that followed. Far from it. The gender gap in engineering is very real. And yes, that is probably due in large part to external social forces. But for every force there must be an equal and opposite reaction, lest we be pushed about at the whims of others. Like Isis Wegner, I imagine every female engineer has a story where they were made to feel "less than" specifically because of their gender. I've walked out of job interviews knowing my ovaries had put me out of the running, left meetings feeling like my voice meant less because I'd decided to wear a dress.
But I could have pushed back. Perhaps I should have pushed back. After all, it is a truism that no one can make you feel powerful without your consent.
Let's hold on to some of the power and pride we felt on August 3rd, 2015.
Sadly, the half-life of Twitter is astonishingly short, and I fear #ILookLikeAnEngineer is already a dwindling blip on the social media radar. But I'm hoping against hope that it will be the pebble dropped in a pond, the butterfly flapping her wings in a BART station, stirring waves and winds of change.
Postscript: I had a tough time finding the right words for this one, and I didn't 100% capture my tangle of thoughts on the present/future of women in engineering. So feel free to keep the conversation going in the comments!