Friday, November 10, 2006

In Search of Equality

Listening to: 'By Your Side' by Sade [Lovers Rock]

In a previous post, I mentioned my new-found obsession with Jorge Cham's genius comic strip - PhD Comics - Piled Higher and Deeper. I also included the strip Engineering Ratio as a sample. Now I added it 'cos as a female engineer, I find it very funny, and totally true. Recently though, I've been thinking about what the comic actually portrays.

The indisputable fact is that she's a female engineer, and therefore part of the minority. My question what? Does the fact that she's the only female in the class mean that she's a freak? Does it make her a model woman who has achieved equality in a "man's world"? Personally, I think the low number of females in Engineering is more due to women not wanting to become engineers rather than them not being able to. As for her position as a role model to other it more important to celebrate the fact that she's able to work in a traditionally 'male' field, or that she's able to do what she wants to? I think the latter.

The same applies with the male-female ratio of university entrants. So there are more guys than what? Apart from the fact that the guys are gonna have less girls to hit on, I don't see a problem. If the success rate of applicants was greater for guys than girls...then that would be something to look into. However, I'm too lazy to check if such an analysis exists online. Cambridge has a habit of investigating why there's supposedly a lesser percentage of girls getting 1sts compared to the guys - I'll tell you why...'cos we choose to waste our time crying rivers over stupid jerks who've treated us badly instead of studying, that's why! It's got nothing to do with our intellectual capacity as females.

Let's leave education aside for the time being. These days there's a lot of discussion about Niqabs, Hijabs, Burqas and 'freedom' (in a 'Western civilisation' context) for Muslim women. Now I won't pretend to be clueful on the religious requirements, but as I understand, it's largely a personal choice. So ideally, 'freedom' for Muslim women would be the freedom to choose which item of clothing they'd rather wear, and not be judged by society (regardless of location) because of that choice. Contrary to popular perception, not every woman wants to wear spaghetti straps and mini skirts ;-).

...Which brings me (almost cleverly, but not quite) to the point I'm trying to make. All these years, women have been 'fighting' for what we refer to as equal rights - the right to vote, the right to work, the right to be paid...the right to do whatever a man does. On the first point, we've done well. With regards to careers...apparently women are still paid less than men for the same work. I don't know how that result was obtained, but it's one that's used often. We're still in a society where a female engineer is labelled a 'freak'...and heaven help her if she's a computer scientist...(g)eeeeeeeek!!! In my opinion, while legislature may have changed, the mindset hasn't.

As it stands, the search for equality is more a yearning for everything that is masculine than a desire to be free to do what one chooses (if you're interested, try Ariel Levy's "Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture" - good read). The way I see it, it's far more important to ensure that every girl who wants to study (for example) Engineering and is smart enough has the same opportunity to do so as a guy in identical circumstances. It doesn't matter if there are only 5 girls who want to study Engineering...they shouldn't be denied the chance based on their gender. Gender shouldn't come into the equation at all. That, to me, would be equality. Not "I'm a woman but I can do anything a man can" but "I can do anything I want regardless of my gender".

Unfortunately, equality (like peace) is one of those lofty ideals that we dream about, but never genuinely work towards.

1 comment:

  1. I know it's going to sound paradoxical, but the moment female equality stops being such a big deal - I think it'll happen all the faster.

    Right now, a female in CompSci (or ChemEng in your case) is unusual enough to be commented upon. When people move beyond the "ooh, it's a gender thing" to "ooh, it's an individual thing - some people just don't like to do CompSci/ChemEng/Biology/whatever" then I think that makes it well adjusted and "normal".

    Also, consider the awkwardness of a male attempting to do the very popular Women's Studies course in my university ;) [No, I don't know of any who've applied but think about it - it's a two way street]


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