I spent this past week in the basement of Friend, in a windowless computer cluster, working on a lab report for Chemical Engineering. Pizza came in and Excel spreadsheets came out-a perfect mass and momentum balance. I happened to notice that I was one of only two girls in the computer cluster filled with about twelve guys. Why so few girls over there in Equad/Friend? Is it because we can’t do the walk in heels? Is it because cute, trendy shoulder bags just can’t stand the weight of engineering textbooks? Or is it because we can’t do the math?
Apparently President Tilghman is attempting to recruit talented women to the engineering school. Her goals of hiring more female professors and deans, and encouraging the new dean of admissions to focus on bringing in female engineers are helping. An article in the Princeton Weekly Bulletin, 2/14/05 asked, “How can we encourage more women with exceptional abilities to pursue careers in these fields?” I think the problem may be that Equad is missing the femininity factor in its equation.
Walking around in a skirt last May, I found my professor completely flabbergasted by the show of legs, and unable to speak in coherent sentences. On another occasion, a male assistant instructor couldn’t look me in the eyes. I have actually been teased by professors for color-coordinating outfits and wearing heels and have been accused of such gender stereotypes, as “You’re just afraid to get dirty”. Don’t get me wrong. The attitude in Equad is not misogynistic. It seems more like there is just a general feeling of discomfort. “Girls? What do we do with them? *blush* *stutter*” Not only that, but I find it difficult to understand why many women in various fields attempt to counter this discomfort by looking like men themselves.
I think that it is crucial for women to realize that they can still be feminine while achieving a well-mixed regime of gender interaction, according to theoretical models. If we want to bring more young women to engineering we need to show, not that women are necessarily equal to the absolute value of men, but that women are in fact, the inverse, in a way that brings new perspective to difficult problems. We can contribute to and learn from the male approach to engineering, just as the manly men can put down their videogames and pocket protectors and can contribute to and learn from the feminine approach. To give an example, I once used nail polish (Flamingo Pink in case you were wondering) to prevent side reactions from occurring on the metal screws in a phosphoric acid gel electrolyte fuel cell – a clear example of the benefits femininity can bring to engineering.
Instead of focusing simply on hiring and recruiting females, why not make all of Equad more princess-friendly? Introduce pink and purple as a color scheme and have Prada design a backpack that’s heavy-duty enough to carry Welty, Wicks, Wilson, and Rorrer’s “Fundamentals of Momentum, Heat, and Mass Transfer”. In all seriousness, we need to introduce, not just females, but feminine pride to Equad (ShE-Quad?). And we need men who support She-Power. When I told my lab partner I needed to go buy pantyhose to wear with my suit for my lab presentation, he assured me I would do well “with or without the pantyhose.” What a guy.
I don’t mean to demean women by implying that all we care about is fashion, the perfect manicure, and the color pink. Instead, I am simply implying that there is no need to recruit women who lack femininity (think Janet Reno). There is a very real need to recruit women who are powerhouses of femininity (think Condoleeza Rice in her stiletto heeled black leather boots traveling through Europe… yowza!). To quote a letter from David A. Ganon ’84 to the Princeton Alumni Weekly, “While any two people may be equally ‘good’ scientists, the point is that a woman may approach a problem differently, and that difference may be responsible for a breakthrough.” In my opinion, it is only truly feminine females who will bring this unique perspective to Equad, infinity, and beyond.