I’ve realized something recently, and it’s made me mad:
I don’t think I want to be an engineer. And honestly, I’m not sure that was ever what I wanted to be. (I think that picking my major after freshman year by a process of elimination should’ve probably been my tip-off there.)
I know that something like this shouldn’t make me angry, but it does a little bit. Yes, I did have the freedom to choose my own path going into college, and still have the freedom to change (something I fully plan to do), but I’m angry at what caused my decision to enter engineering in the first place.
You see, I’ve always liked math. Not graphing, not statistics, but straight-up calculus and differential equations. I would go so far as to say that I love these subjects. Math tickles a part of my brain that makes me happy. It makes sense to me, and it’s comforting in a way. No matter what I do, I’ll always love math.
My problem comes from the fact that everyone around me assumed that I would enter a field and career based purely on that. Because I’m a girl, and we need more girls in engineering. And at least for me, that meant there was a huge amount of pressure on me to enter an engineering field. And I caved.
I’m not going to get into the fact that it took me until my second year of college to figure out how to make decisions for myself and not just to please people. Just let it be said that I’ve decided that I want to do something that makes me happy, not something that frustrates me.
Don’t take that the wrong way - engineering as a field isn’t frustrating to me. I’m sure that if I wanted to, I could succeed at engineering, and probably enjoy it. What’s frustrating to me is the attitude that surrounds the field. There’s this overwhelming push to get more women into the engineering field, and while I can see where it has its roots, the movement - at least in my opinion - has overgrown its bounds, and I would dearly like to cut it back. Not down, just back.
It’s funny, actually. I actually feel devalued by the system that’s supposed to empower me. I’m working at my first job (six month co-op, thank you Northeastern), and sometimes I want to scream. The HR rep in charge of co-ops told me a month or so ago that they always have one or two women co-ops, and she likes to check to make sure they’re doing well and fitting in, and it’s been rankling ever since. It makes me feel like they hired me because of my qualifications (such as they are in my sophomore year of college) second, and my sex first. And that definitely tempered my enthusiasm about what I’m doing right now.
This isn’t the same problem that I see in earlier school systems, but they’re related. When I was going through the first 12 years of my education, especially in middle and high school, there was a huge push for girls to enter science and technology fields. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing - we need more girls in those fields. It’s just that we need more boys too. I’d argue that we just need more highly educated people in this country generally, whether it’s in engineering, psychology, or political science. But I don’t feel like that’s what we do. At least not where I grew up. I felt like as I got older and more and more girls (and people) drifted away from those fields, I was expected to stick with it because of my love for math and my ability at science (I can’t really call anything related to chemistry “love”), and that eventually led - forced, it feels like sometimes - me to choose a field of study that I’m not particularly invested in. And that’s not a good thing.
What we need isn’t more female engineers; we need more engineers. More skilled, invested individuals who love what they’re doing, who can innovate and find new solutions. I feel like the push to get more women into the technology fields is doing neither the women nor the fields any favors: it’s producing uninspired workers and unfulfilled potential. How about instead making programs to push girls like me into something they don’t have enthusiasm for, we make programs to help anyone with talent and interest, regardless of gender, find their way into science and technology fields.
As a final note, I feel I should say that I’m not planning to go off to major in English literature or cosmetology. I actually want to go into a different technology field, one where I won’t have to do chemistry and can pursue the interest I’ve had in computers since I was ten, but never got the chance to explore.