Now I must admit, at one point in my university career, I reveled in peeving off everyone around me with feminist taunts and arguments. I was taking an elective in contemporary art and visual culture (yes, an engineer did a humanities course, and loved it *the horror*), which sparked my interest in feminism, particularly 3rd wave feminism and the sexual revolution… I bought a book called Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy (which turned out to be nothing more than a frumpy prude at the back of the room making a lot of noise) and The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, (which is simply awesome and incredibly emancipating!) amongst others…Now give me a break, I was never a bra-burner, but consider it as me freeing myself from the mental slavery of the ‘norm’: the accepting world in which we live…So the long and short is that I used to be quite vocal and opinionated about my views, and I admit, I did take it a little too far, (DW, you don’t have to say “I told you so”) pointing out every time any lecturer/ classmate/ friend made a sexist slur or being overly harsh on my girlfriends who thought pole-dancing was a sexy, fun workout!

But somewhere along the way, I realised that people weren’t listening to my rantings, calling me over-sensitive when a male classmates openly treated the girls as intellectually inferior. I was confused, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t rally up any troops, no matter how much sense my arguments made to me! What was wrong with these people? Were they really so blind to the fact that there were only 5 females in our class, even fewer who would pass? Did nobody stop to ask why??? So I took a break from being a feminist, possibly for ever, and decided to have a long, hard think about things…

Global citizens, the course I did recently talked about different approaches to service: take a look and the (very bad) comic below…((forgive me, I’m no Che, but you get the point right?))

So Engineer-Chic sees these people all walking off this cliff like lemmings, and falling into an injured heap…

The question is: what do I do? 

Option 1: The Medical approach

Option 2: The Engineer’s approach

Option 3: The Sociologist’s approach…

Now, as you can see, each has their merit and each their problems. The first option sees the symptoms of the problem and tries to fix them on an individual level. While this is important since somebody needs to do something about the injured heap, the scale of this approach is very limited and you will always have more and more people to treat. This can be thought of as me ranting and raving in my neo-feminist frenzy! I made a lot of noise and perhaps got through to one or two people, but really did nothing about the actual problem.  (I’d just like to add that in no way am I hating on medical people! They are awesome and necessary and we NEED them!!)

The second option makes a lot of sense…if you assume that people are jumping because they simply want to get to the bottom of the cliff. But it doesn’t actually ask the people why they are jumping, or what their motivations are. This approach has some reach, but the reality exists that you might not be tackling the right problem..This can be likened to the ‘quota-system’ in university intake, or the fact that industry demands female engineers to meet their equity stats, so females are more likely to be given bursaries to study engineering and don’t need as high marks to get in. Yes, we get more girls in engineering, but why are they there?  Because they got a bursary?  Because they are using it as a springboard into management or business?  Are they really capable of getting through this incredibly challenging degree?  Sure, it does help many women get opportunities to chase their dreams of being engineers, but it doesn’t do much for the way women are perceived or accepted. Neither does it boost throughput or the retention of skills in the field of engineering (engineering grads staying in engineering)! This is really bad since our country  has about half the engineers it needs to develop at the rate it should to and our government spends tons of money on educating young people who flunk out/ change programs after a few years of studying, or leave the country right after getting their degree!

The third approach however, is quite tricky. Firstly, this approach doesn’t actually physically do anything to help the situation. What it does do, is get to the heart of the problem at hand, engaging with the people who are jumping, finding out their core reasons for their seemingly senseless suicide attempt, realizing that its not as senseless as it seems, investigates the institutionalized barriers to freedom and tackles them head on. This method is slow, far slower than either of the above, and its difficult for anyone to see the results at first…But slowly, things start o change, and eventually, a critical mass is reached…and when that happens, change is cant stop it, its explosive and irreversible!

This is the only way to really fix the problem…

So how can one apply this to the problems I’ve mentioned above: low intake/ throughput/ retention of female mechanical engineers? Or how can we come up with a new approach to dealing with the problem?

Do you have any ideas??? Please comment/ contact me with suggestions.