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the insidious harm of genderblind thinking

The thing about having your own blog is that when your letter to the editor doesn’t get printed in your school’s paper (when the paper’s Opinions Editor unfollows you on Twitter the day you send your piece in) you can just brush away the shards of your ego and post your Letter to the Editor to your very own blog!

I hope you enjoy it.  Here’s the letter:

A freshman engineering student recently wrote an opinions piece sparked by his incredulity at seeing a sign advertising a well-known campus organization for female engineering students.  “It sparked a thought in my mind,” writes the author, “The student organization itself shows the stereotype in our society that engineering is for men, and that seeing women in such a field is out of the ordinary.”  Why can’t we just move beyond these labels that divide and separate, he wonders, and “abolish stereotypes” by getting rid of these pesky women-centered fellowships?  Why can’t we have #OneCampus for all of us, regardless of gender!

gender

On some level, his point makes intuitive sense – men and women at our school are technically free to major in whatever field they want.  It doesn’t seem right to go about singling out one particular gender.  However, the author’s vision is ultimately myopic in that it utterly fails to transcend individual anecdotes and take into account greater societal systems of oppression against women.  The presented philosophy foolishly mimics the erasing, unhelpful, “I don’t see color” rhetoric that so frequently crops up in public discourse about race.

I’m not an engineer, but I think I can tease out the logic here: if we really believe that women are naturally intellectually equal to men, we necessarily have to acknowledge that there must be another reason for the relatively few women (and especially women of color) we see in many engineering fields.  The author blames this gap on the very existence of groups like the Society of Women Engineers.  Others of us wonder if, in a world where women are taught from the moment of birth that they are demure, harmless, simple, more suited for less technically-minded professions, this might lead to the massive “gender line” we currently see in STEM fields.

Here’s a challenge to the author: follow around a couple of my female engineering friends for a few days – experience the smallest taste of the marginalization, misogyny, and male condescension they face from their colleagues on a regular basis, and then let’s hear you talk about the intrinsic harm created by minority engineering groups.

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