I have many goals in life. I want to significantly contribute to the regeneration of the environment, offer supportive and accessible renting options for teenagers in trouble, and I want to open up a restaurant fed from my own farm. I want to find a way to help those of us in polarizing groups communicate better, and I want to synthesize rationality, creativity, emotional intelligence and scientific knowledge into culture in a realistic and enjoyable way. And of course, I plan to write books, and design machines.
But the telling flap of my sleeves as I fly toward my goals reminds me of the fundamentals that I must still work to establish. As I see my way forward, I cannot help but work to remove the fog of sexism that would block me.
I understand that it is difficult to understand each other’s hardships.
Perhaps some can never imagine the gross, haunting memory of a groping (which never seems to fade). And maybe it is impossible to squint your eyes to see the pages of a textbook in the shadow of that ceiling (which I would certainly say is made of a tougher material than glass), unless you have had someone look at you with the “knowledge” that you can never be as intelligent as them.
My goals are affected by the state of the world, and its politics to a higher degree than some people. My rights must remain intact, and my body and mind must be respected enough to be safe.
This has become one of my fights.
Though I have always considered myself to be a feminist, and had been a member of the Women in Engineering association since the first day of University, it wasn’t until I was chosen to be a student delegate that I truly understood the importance of my cause. I was sent to the national women in engineering conference in Saskatchewan as the Mechanical Engineering Executive for that year, and I was blown away by the impact the experience had on me!
Where we usually stood as lone trees in the field, braving the wind and exposure, we now felt the overwhelming comfort of a forest, allowing our roots to spread out with strength.
We glimpsed a beautiful future, and knowing that those incredible women are out there in this field has strengthened my own sense of belonging and purpose. I want to share this feeling with others. I want everyone (regardless of gender) to feel that they can undertake a challenge, and that when they pass it, they will belong without question.
Because I can glimpse the significance of what I am learning.
In a morning I study quantum mechanics, and in the afternoon I record a performance test on a jet engine. The blue flames dancing magic just in front of my clipboard. I stare up at the tall ceilings of my lecture hall and marvel at the sciences at play. I imagine that I can see the world of invisible wavelengths filling the room like jello, and twirl my pen in the air to understand the reverberations every small act has in this universe. As a student of science, I am daily enthralled with potential.
And then there are times when I see my reflection in the eyes of my peers, and I am reminded that there is no place for me here. I am a woman in mechanical engineering, and I stand in one of the last dark corners of progress, where the ideals about femininity are as set as the steel that we machine. At best I am offered polite brotherhood, where I am respected as a gender-neutral member of the “boys club”. And at worst I have professors refuse to answer my questions. I meet eyes that deny me a glance out of disgust for my audacity. And as the gas compresses when a piston pushes down its chamber, so too do I become smaller under the pressure of a culture that is certain of the intellectual poverty of women.
But material science shows that when we are overlapping in our differences we prevent the spread of a crack that would otherwise divide us. And when a current of electricity changes its direction it pushes the particles around it in a new direction as well.
So I am determined to challenge old fashioned views and strive to redefine the faces of intelligence so that we may peacefully make room for women. When we aim to include not replace, we can release our fear of changing dynamics and further strengthen the caliber of professionals in STEM fields. We can double the range of human perspective and progress.
As we listen to the murmuring of humanity, we may hear the ache for a female accent in the languages of science and engineering. And may we realize the vast reverberations in social, economic, environmental and intellectual arenas when we encourage more women to wonder at the stars.
The end section of this article was part of my submission to the RBC Student’s Leading Change Scholarship, which I was awarded. This blog is not a representation of their views and is not in any way connected to them or the scholarship. It is simply me, posting some of my essay, in celebration of International Day of the Girl.