Tuesday, 18 December 2018

STEMinist – The Female Engineer Syndrome

A few months into joining my current company, I got pranked by my work friends with a USB stick that controlled my cursor, making me accidentally archive/delete emails, type words within words, and discard drafts. This prank had been making the rounds since before my time, and everyone had had a different reaction to it; some called IT immediately, while others smelt a rat and found the culprit. My choice of reaction was to spend two whole days updating mouse firmware, rebooting, reinstalling Outlook – basically to try to find what I believed was a genuine problem in my computer on my own – until I finally gave in and called IT. The colleague who pranked me (a friend of mine) christened it the Female Engineer Syndrome.

Image 1 by Sara Alfageeh @TheFoofinator / http://sara-alfa.com/

The Female Engineer Syndrome is, at times, a by-product of the Imposter Syndrome (self-doubt of abilities in one’s own field of expertise), and at other times it is a reaction to others showing doubt in your abilities. At all times it’s a form of defense. 
Female Engineer Syndrome: A constant need to prove yourself to either yourself or others that you are a capable engineer, often leading to overcompensating by trying to do everything yourself in a bid to be aggressively independent. 

I’m certain this applies to female professionals in many other fields of work as well, particularly in industries that are male-dominated. In situations where an “I don’t know” would be perfectly acceptable, women suffering from this syndrome will spend personal time to research the ins and outs to know so that they never have to be caught not knowing again.
This tendency is not to be confused by the general need to know everything. There are plenty of people who strive to learn new things in their industry and like to stay on top of things. This inclination stems from having faced bias for being part of a minority in an industry. It traces its roots back to being treated unfavorably by professors and classmates, not getting picked for class projects, being mansplained to at every opportunity, and being judged by one’s looks and physical attributes rather than talent. Coming out of a college education full of partialities, women typically either lose confidence in themselves and develop the Imposter Syndrome or become fiercely competitive and unwilling to be caught off-guard by peers (male or female). The consequence of both directions, however, is the same: a propensity to overcompensate.

I suspect that there is a there is a broader category of women in such situations – women who defend their engineering skills to feel validated by the male population as a capable colleague. While it is hard to even talk about, many women have grown up being taught that male endorsement is a sign of success. It makes perfect sense if you think about the fact that most industry leaders are male. In fields that are male-dominated, one may want her father’s approval much more than her mother’s. The male scientists are celebrated, the male innovators are awarded –many aspiring girls grew before the days of Googling illustrious female physicists to have a more relatable figure to look up to. I spent years shopping for smart suits for professional settings rather than the skirts and dresses I was attracted to because I wanted to be taken seriously. The result is more than evident in the masculine, tough-looking female bosses who have been alone in male-dominated fields since the 80s.

The easiest way to slowly get rid of this is to have better female representation in male-dominated fields, and to expose our girls to the same world full of opportunities that we give to boys. As an Indian, I’m so proud to see such a massive number of girls from my country contributing to the rising number of women in STEM around the world. I wish nothing more than to see more of that everywhere.

There is nothing wrong with trying to be the best at what you do. But speaking from experience, it’s a lot of pressure that maybe I don’t always need to feel. Being the only girl in my class and most work teams hasn’t been a smooth ride. I find it naturally easier to befriend men a lot easier than women, most often because of my interests and hobbies, but because of that, everything was always a scramble for me to be considered a part of the competition by my peers. While I enjoy the ability to push myself to do better, I now realize that I often forget to calm down and accept my shortcomings, and everybody has those.

So, to all the women who are either pushing their limits or feeling short, my personal advice is to treat yourself as you would like others to treat you – equally. Accept your inadequacies, embrace your flaws and introspect on your strengths. No one human being can be everything – it is not expected of men, so do not expect it of yourself or the women around you. Be comfortable in the niche you bring to your industry. But most importantly, be unapologetically proud of who you are and your contribution to society as a whole.

By: Shreyasi Mukerji

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Gender Reveal Parties: Prescriptive gender identity through public ritual and display

Gender reveal parties are the latest celebration for expecting parents,  increasingly visible on all forms of social media.  If you type ‘gender reveal party’ into Youtube, you will be inundated with videos of expecting parents announcing the sex of their unborn child to the world. Parents-to-be announce the gender of their child, based on the sex of the child provided by a medical assessment by doctors between the 16th and 20th week of gestation. Similar to their well known analogue the baby shower, these events routinely employ stereotypical representations of gender to indicate the child’s sex. Typical symbols include pink, princess themes for girls and blue, cowboy decorations for boys. Gender reveal parties often employ dramatic techniques to reveal the unborn child’s sex, such as fireworks or the release of confetti or balloons. The once private moment for expecting parents has transformed into a public display, with these parties inextricably linked to social media. Critics state gender reveal parties ascribe gender to an unborn child based merely on their anatomy and place an unhealthy  focus  on gender norms and stereotypical representations of femininity and masculinity. Social rituals, such as gender reveal parties, emphasise the commodification of reproduction and the pressure on women to fulfill social expectations of motherhood. 
The distinction between sex and gender has become confused with the ritual of gender reveal parties. Gender refers to social roles and personal identity, whereas sex is based on an individual’s biology and anatomy. Expecting parents are actually revealing the medically assigned sex of their unborn child, based on sexual characteristics assessed by medical professionals. In respect to both sex and gender, gender reveal parties enforce a binary of male or female and masculine or feminine. In this way, this social ritual excludes individuals who do not neatly fit into these categories, including 4% of births that result in intersex children. An exclusive focus on binary gender categories also prescribes gender roles to children on the basis of an assumed biological characteristics. Prescriptive gender roles and stereotyping has been linked to poor health outcomes in children, but the long term effects of gender reveal parties on pediatric health are still unknown.

The commodification of identity and gender is nothing new, but gender reveal parties provide a new opportunity for the market to exploit consumers.  The combination of social media influence and the power of social ritual, places increasing pressure on expecting parents to conform and participate in the trend of gender reveal parties. Parents-to-be are increasingly searching for new and innovative ways to reveal their child’s sex to others, and this leads to dramatic and sometimes dangerous displays. In November 2018, the US Forestry commission released video of a gender reveal party that went too far. An explosion was used to indicate the child’s sex with blue smoke, but almost immediately the explosion blew sparks into grasslands, sparking wildfires in Arizona, USA (see: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/us/2018/11/27/arizona-gender-reveal-wildfire-orig-video.cnn). Closer to home, an Adelaide couple is facing backlash after their burnout gender reveal caused their car to light on fire (see: https://au.news.yahoo. com/burnout-gender-reveal-fail-car-goes-flames-110407938.html)
Gender reveal parties further entrench social norms around reproduction, and place value on women based on their reproductive status. Feminist literature has highlighted the historical tendency of women to be socially valued on the basis of their reproductive ability or status, and women are often exalted during pregnancy and motherhood. These social norms are intertwined with female gender roles that are associated with the home and motherhood, and historically restricted women’s status to caregivers. Despite the female revolution into the workplace, many women are still plagued by social expectations of reproduction and the provision of care. Gender reveal parties promote fertility and pregnancy, and reinforce these as rites of passage for women through social ritual. The use of social media reinforces gender reveal parties as a social norm by encouraging parents to participate, further entrenching gender roles socially.
The increasing popularity of gender reveal parties highlight the centrality of gender and its cultural role as the foundation for understanding individual identity. To feminists, however, gender reveal parties present many challenges and may leave many of us feeling uncomfortable. We may cringe at the pink and blue stereotypes and question the gender roles parents assign to their unborn child. They are however an important reminder of how far we have yet to progress, and how prescriptive gender norms and stereotypes influence children long before they are born. Pediatricians have raised concerns about the long term effects of gender stereotypes on children, yet gender reveal parties are encouraging parents to publicly gender their children as early as the 16th week of pregnancy. Many expecting parents are merely excited about the arrival of their child and may be looking for an interesting way to share this experience with family and friends. It is important to consider, though, the cultural ideas, norms and values we promote, particularly those we impose on our children. 

By: Irene Squires

Butler, J (1990) ‘Gender trouble’, Routledge
Giesler, C (1997), ‘Gender reveal parties: performing community identity in pink and blue’, Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 26 (6), April 2018, pp. 661-667
Gomez, M (2018), ‘Border patrol agents gender reveal party sparked Arizona wildfire, lawyer says’, The New York Times, October 2, 2018
Miller, C (2018), ‘Gender reveal parties place great expectation on a person who isn’t event born yet’, UWIRE, May 2018
Nahata, L. (2017), ‘The gender eeveal: Implications of a cultural tradition for pediatric health’, Pediatrics.
Pasche-Guignard, F (2015), ‘A gendered bun in the oven: the gender reveal party as new ritualization during pregnancy’, Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses, Vol. 44 (4), pp. 479-500

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Book Review: The Feminine Revolution

Now more than ever, the need to discuss traits traditionally considered feminine, is paramount. Luckily for us, Amy Stanton and Catherine Connors have opened up the dialogue in a strong and welcoming way. ‘The Feminine Revolution’, serves as a great introductory text for anybody looking to learn more about gender theory and how these archetypal feminine traits came to be.

Framed around 21 core traits that any female should embrace, ‘The Feminine Revolution’ celebrates female modes of being which include, but are not limited to: crying openly, being a dreamer and unleashing your wild woman. This piece of literature can be commended for a multitude of reasons but ‘The Feminine Revolution’ should primarily be celebrated for its unapologetic stance for acknowledging a wide range of ways to express feminine power.

Stanton’s and Connor’s book is a great example of a passion project gone right. By making the point to ensure that the concepts discussed within this book are coupled with actionable steps, via How-To Guides, and personal anecdotes, ‘The Feminine Revolution’ makes the point to ensure that their message is universally accessible. It’s ability to provide all who are willing to listen with a seat at the table is a great trait and it is one that should be congratulated.

However, this collaborative effort is not without some faults. While this piece of literature is great at connecting with individuals who are not well-versed in gender theories or gender studies, ‘The Feminine Revolution’ does run the risk of coming off as a tad too basic for those who commonly engage with these schools of  thought. So, for those of who tend to engage with texts regarding gender studies and feminist works more often, you may feel yourself feeling little unchallenged.

But that’s okay! This work ultimately comes off as a book that was written to be a positive affirmation which urges humanity to embrace the feminine traits that society has pigeon-holed for far too long. It is because of this ‘The Feminine Revolution’s’ accessible nature is an overall positive. Knowing that this book includes an extensive list of recommended further readings such as ‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay and ‘Gender Trouble’ by Judith Butler, it can be fair to imply that this book is intended as a springboard for any new or prospective feminists.

When deep-diving into the content written within the book, the chapter that tended to leave the most lasting impression was the chapter titled ‘Cry Openly’. In a time where this reviewer needed it most, that chapter in particular resonated with me and helped me find acceptance within myself. Being known as a crier myself, it was quite liberating to read that other women felt equally as challenged by the rhetoric surrounding the suppression of tears within a professional environment.

Through anecdotal stories and tidbits of philosophical thought from varying influential figures, the notion of crying being tethered to a lack of comprehension or weakness is rightfully obliterated. When these nuggets of wisdom, stemming from professionals including Ad Vingerhoets and Dr William Frey, are coupled with an unapologetic and actionable How-To guide to openly embrace your emotions, this chapter joyfully plays with the utopian vision of a society where expressions can roam free. In a world where society equates tears to weakness and ultimately sees tears as a stranglehold on success, the chapter openly celebrating womanly sensitivities and emotions as a Godsend.

Another chapter that left a long-lasting resonance was the one that dealt with the notion of ‘Embracing the Supporting Role’. While I feel like this chapter may come off as somewhat problematic at first glance, once engaging with it fully those preconceived notions quickly subsided. Upon closer analysis, this section within Stanton and Connors works really and illustrates just how much thought and affection went into the crafting of this novel. By carefully deconstructing the notion that the only place for power is atop the pyramid and by illustrating that true power can be wielded at any point in the hierarchy, this novel aims to provide power through acceptance, peace and gentle ambition. By blending conversational language with graspable examples such as The Prince and his counsel (to demonstrate where true power lies), ‘The Feminine Revolution’ provides a positive starting ground for anybody wanting to embrace their feminine side.

Ultimately, ‘The Feminine Revolution’, serves as a great starting point for any readers out there with a curiosity to learn more about what traditionally qualifies as a feminine trait. It also lays the groundwork for anybody wishing to break out of the boundaries of what is traditionally considered male or female. By openly encouraging feminine traits such as intuition and sensitivity, Stanton and Connors take great strides in reclaiming these attributes and, rightfully, renaming them as a positive. This work by Stanton and Connors is one that I can see young women picking up after a tough day in high-school when in need of guidance. It is the kind of novel that I can see becoming a source of wisdom for those of us who occasionally fail to appreciate our feminine traits. If personified, I see this book like an old friend who is always willing to grab a cup of coffee with you and celebrate your greatness.

By: Liliana Occhiuto

"The Feminine Revolution: 21 Ways to Ignite the Power of Your Femininity for a Brighter Life and a Better World" was published in November 2018 and is available to buy online.

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