A friend recently sent me an article about a former NASA intern who shut down a guy on dating app Hinge after he insulted her intelligence. In response to her prompt that the dorkiest thing about her was that she worked at NASA, he followed with “So what are you, the receptionist? Jk, you look reasonably smart.” She proceeded to serve him some wisdom:
Initially this infuriated me because this sort of response is something that is not foreign to me. As a female navigating a field dominated by men, I’ve encountered my fair share of stereotypes and biases. On my first internship during my undergraduate studies, I remember the receptionist telling me I was too bubbly to be an engineer. Although I’m sure it wasn’t her intention to insult me and I certainly didn’t take particular offense to the comment, it really made me think about what the all male staff in the office thought about my abilities as an engineer.
In my final year of undergrad, I interviewed several engineering students for a research paper focused retention of engineering students, particularly women. One of my close friends revealed to me for the first time that on several of her internships she often dressed in baggy, masculine clothing so as not to stand out. When she told me this, my heart broke a little bit. For all the times that I’d felt out of place in the classroom because I was too girly, or too loud, too bubbly, I suddenly recognized that I wasn’t the only one. Sadly, however, this isn’t a product of engineering, or of being a woman, it is a product of our society deciding for us what we ought to look like, sound like, who we should be if we choose a particular field of work. Our career and our job title are just that-titles. They do not define who we are, but what we do for 40 hours every week. The hashtag #ILookLikeanEngineer is a reminder that we can dress, talk, look, and sound how we want and we all deserve to be respected in the fields in which we work. We all look like engineers.