Earlier this week ESA put a lander on an asteroid. Something that is truly phenomenal and amazing and a step forward for space engineering. Maybe it wasn’t quite the moon landing in terms of coverage, but it certainly seemed like a lot of people were tuned into this event.
An ESA engineer giving an interview wore an unfortunate shirt that offended and alienated many women. The engineer has thus apologized, and I believe him. I believe him that he didn’t think when he put on that shirt in the morning. Odin knows as an engineer I’ve seen my colleagues–male and female and myself included–make some questionable fashion choices.
People have asked my opinion of this occurrence, which is only natural I suppose considering I’m a female engineer in the space industry. Satellites are my business.
But asking me to talk about a shirt is short sighted. This isn’t about one poor fashion choice. No, this is about being a female in a male dominated world. This is about the system and how it works. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Hi, my name is Mandy, and I’m an aerospace engineer.
I wanted to be an engineer my entire life, but not just any engineer. I wanted to be Geordi La Forge. I wanted his job. I wanted to be the chief engineer of the Enterprise. Everyone else’s jobs…they were alright, but he was the guy who made the Enterprise sail through the stars! He was the one who made the magic happen. Without him, none of the adventures would be able to happen. And I wanted that to be me.
And because my parents raised me to believe I could be whoever I wanted to be no matter what, I didn’t think it was odd that my greatest hero in life was a blind black man. There was no one else in the universe I would have rather been.
My other hero when I was a kid was my brother. He was four years older than me, and I wanted to do everything he did. I played the sports he did, the extra curricular activities he liked, and I would’ve joined boy scouts if they would’ve let me.
Odin-help-me, I wanted to be him so bad.
Looking back on life, it’s very clear to me that I just wanted to be a boy. It’s hard to explain this without getting into weird gray areas. I am not trans. I have never been trans. I identify as female even if I don’t identify as feminine. But there are so many times in my life where I think, “God, my life would be so much easier if I was just a guy.”
But why did–do–I often feel that I would like to be a guy? That my life would be easier or somehow more normal if I was a guy? That I would be more successful or better if I was a guy?
And there it is.
To be a guy is to be better.
To be a guy is to make history. To be a guy is to be on the forefront of science. To be a guy is to affect change in the world. To be a guy is to go on adventures.
I wanted to be Geordi. I wanted to be von Braun. I wanted to be Feynman. I wanted to BE SOMEBODY.
This probably explains why when I discovered Marie Curie in the fifth grade, I read the biography written by her daughter five times that year.
I wanted, needed to believe that there was a place for me in science. That I could be her. That I could be the hero of my own story.
And it’s not like my parents ever told me girls couldn’t do things. My parents constantly told me I could be just as good as the boys. That I could excel at science and math. But while my parents told me one thing society told me another.
Society told me MEN saved the world. Not women.
I wanted to be Peter Pevensie. I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. I wanted to be Ender Wiggin. I wanted to be Harry Potter. I wanted to be Rand al'Thor. I wanted to be the person who saved the universe.
And I had every quality the hero of an adventure had except the most important.
I wasn’t male.
And worse, since I wasn’t particularly feminine, I couldn’t even aspire to be the love interest who got to go on adventures with the male lead.
I was nothing.
At some point in my life I decided that I didn’t care that I wasn’t a guy. I was going on the adventure and I was going to make my career and life choices as if I was a guy, even though I wasn’t.
And nothing was going to dissuade me from that. Not my math teacher telling me I would never make it in a career that required math. Not other college-aged engineers ragging on female engineers for having “TBS” (Tech Bitch Syndrome). Not the horrible male-to-female ratios at school (9-1) or work (20-1 and 50-7 at my two jobs). Not the insensitive middle aged prick who ragged on me for an entire summer because I was female and Polish and unmarried and any number of things he could harass me for. Not the inappropriate jokes about women, the insinuations that I was incompetent, or less of an engineer, or less of a girl, or just less.
I’m an engineer. I have two degrees. I have worked for NASA and now work in a job in satellites that I love. There are six satellites currently in space that I have worked on. I am awesome.
Would one silly insensitive stupid ESA shirt have deterred me from my path as a kid? No. But the thing is, it’s not just one shirt.
It’s one of the many many things girls are inundated with that tells us we are not welcome in STEM. We are decorations for a shirt. Not scientists.
Because we are less.
And no girl should have to feel that she is less. That she is somehow lacking because of the sex she was born with and the gender she has chosen.
If you are reading this, you are not less. I don’t care who you are. Female or male, cis or trans, bi gay or straight, poor or rich, I don’t care.