One of the areas on Facebook is called Trust Me I’m an “Engineer.” where humorous (for sometimes interesting definitions of humorous) images are posted. I don’t follow it directly but from time to time images from it show up on my timeline from other people. Last week an image showed up that said “ENGINEERING FACT You know you’re in the wrong class when more than 3 students are female, and they’re all hot.” It annoyed me for several reasons.
First off is the idea that there are very few women in engineering classes. Other than computer science we’re seeing a lot more women in engineering classes these days. Changing the dynamics and getting more women into computer science is an important goal. We need to get to the point were there is no truth in the first part of the “joke.”
Secondly I found the second part, the suggestion that women in engineering are somehow not attractive to be most offensive. Back when I was a student there were more women in CS classes and I’m here to tell you that they were far from unattractive. I also married a woman who took computer science classes and I still find her quite attractive 35 years later. You don’t have to spend much time on the campus of a large high tech company (like a Google or a Microsoft) to see a lot of “hot” women.
Though honestly we shouldn’t be judging people, men or women, on appearance in any group. Categorizing people as hot or not is a good way to keep people out of a particular area or field of study. The idea that women in engineering are both few and ugly (or at least not hot) is the sort of image that might be discouraging to all sorts of people. Yet these sorts of stereotypes persist.
Signs like the above are more sad than funny to me. The sexism that it represents is a negative that we have to get rid of in order to make life more comfortable for women (and others) in engineering and science fields.