When it comes to women in science and engineering, there is a shortage. Little girls are just as curious about the world around them as little boys, but somewhere between examining snails on the sidewalk and taking AP Calculus, they don’t seem to show up in representative numbers. Educators and researchers continue to try to pinpoint the source.
Many of you may have already seen the video link below that went viral several years ago. In the ad, three girls are bored watching princesses in pink on TV. So they grab a tool kit, goggles and hard hats and set to work building a machine that sends pink teacups and baby dolls flying through the house, using umbrellas, ladders and, of course, GoldieBlox toys. I often tell my engineer husband that more young women would go into engineering if the hard hats were another color than white and that everyone didn’t have to drive a truck and more importantly that their teachers were challenging them with engineering problems that appeal more to their interests.
Preparation for engineering professions is more than the single message many girls hear – take more math and science classes.Women want to be creative and collaborative. They want to design systems that make people healthier and safer and preserve the environment and make the world a better place. What they don’t hear is that scientists and engineers do all of these things. Engineers design everything – absolutely everything – in our built environment. Engineers are much more than a single story. So encourage a girl to be curious today and every day. Boys too.
Less Doll, More Awl
Being the youngest child, surrounded by boys growing up, naturally had an impact. I idolized them and was always desperately seeking admittance into the brother fold. From sitting in my elder brothers’ rooms playing with their tinker toys and erector sets for hours on end to volunteering to play catcher in sandlot baseball games, through to jumping out of tree houses and hurling myself into creeks and ponds (near-death was a daily occurrence), I embraced a masculine edge. There was no room to be a girly-girl if I wanted to fit in. Undoubtedly these early experiences have influenced my life.
I wanted to be treated like one of the boys. I remember that as the youngest sister to three brothers my mother wanted to feminize me; she tried her best with ballet, home-made dresses and piano lessons, but all I wanted to do was go outside barefoot and play football with the other kids on the block. But there were many times that I took refuge in my bedroom. It is common for only sisters to spend time alone. According to internationally- known psychologist Kevin Leman, girls in boys’ households need solace and a respite. “She’s surrounded by boys all the time. She needs her own space where she can find peace and entertain herself.” My parents were so smart to provide a bedroom across the hall from their room and away from the boy floor, so I could navigate through (and lick my wounds) in the male-dominated home environment of the Hauck family. I would take the Sear’s “wishbook” and cut out pictures of clothes that I coveted and mid-century modern furniture to decorate my grown up, fantasy home in the secret of my room. And I loved to lose myself in a good book – still do!
Even though there may be periods when they do not feel close, only sisters to brothers have special allies. “Only girls growing up with boys understand men much better than girls with lots of sisters,” explains Dr. Leman, who is the father of four girls and one boy. “They are comfortable around boys and men.” “These girls are taking a crash course in understanding men since they live with a variety of them. It takes the mystery away.” To understand women, only daughters look to their mothers. “And how mom handles her sons teaches girls how to handle boys,” confirms Dr. Leman.
My mom understood my needs very well. When my dad grumbled about the expense of a cheerleader outfit that I desired in 8th grade, she reminded him that he had no concerns about dropping $50 on a new pair of basketball shoes each season. My dad, said, “why would you want to cheer someone on when you can be in the game!” Not bad advice but when you are a female variety tween, you irrationally want to wear a cheerleader outfit at least once in your life. After cheerleading for one year, I hung that idea up and followed my dad’s advice and focused on developing my leadership skills in sports and on clubs.
Having brothers taught me some very important lessons. Never open a gym bag that a brother brings home from school. Just let it be or you will have seared eyeballs and nose lining from the stench of the contents. Never stay in an enclosed basement when the bb guns start firing. They will shoot your eye out. Never agree to ride with their girlfriends to get an ice cream cone. They always break up with your brother eventually and then they want to come ask you “what went wrong!” “I don’t know, he is just a jerk” Never go into a bathroom immediately after a brother has been in the space. You will need a gas mask and you will end up picking up all of the wet towels that he litters all over the floor. Never agree to pull his finger. Never. Never agree to arm, leg or sumo wrestling matches (these games hurt too much even for a toughie). Never play cards together (brothers cheat). Never agree to help do dishes together (brothers vanish in a flash and leave lots of dishes to soak).
Boys stink. But if you live to tell about it, they make everyday growing up an adventure.