Is female engineering passion held in check?
Or ‘The mysteries of the British education system’.
I went to Lego’s facebook page the other day to protest their support for the Sun as part of the No More Page 3 campaign, and while thinking of what to write, remembered my early career as an engineer…
Designing railway tracks that could deal with height and terrain; devising and constructing buildings for rescue vehicles, attendant staff, checking the route, adjusting where needed.
Early flat-pack stuff too, as each night the plans and the reality had to be stored away in a fit state for continuation the next day.
Early environmental training too, as flora and fauna had to be taken into consideration.
Not for fear of espionage or banditry, but so that my father didn’t break his neck on returning home from work.
Nor for fear of pollution and extinction, but so our dog, who always joined in, didn’t hurt himself on or with anything.
Sandpits and sandy beaches and friend’s ditches expanded my horizons to experiments and design for water flow, drainage, seepage, and then there were the wonderful results of dam-building.
Age: Up until seven.
Then it all went underground.
My engineering and design skills I mean, not the water.
I am fascinated by this ‘shortage of women in engineering’ in the UK, and have been thinking about the point from which I was stopped, or discouraged, or both, from ‘going in for it’.
We are told repeatedly that women can’t cope with the science and design side, as if there is no mathematics, ‘eye’, flair and need for functional diagnostics in dressmaking, and a gallant attempt was made to teach me to do that.
And women are pushed to work with people, with caring. As if there is no caring in engineering.
You’d have thought if they could teach us dressmaking at school they could work out that engineering is the same thing – given the rate at which we got through sewing machines, we also had to learn how to fix them. And you work out how they really should be designed, how high the work surface really should be, all that stuff…
But then I changed schools and that was that as far as that path went.
We had had clockwork trains at home and Meccano and Lego and the only limits there were the time elements of packing it all away in the evening before bed and how much Lego or Meccano there actually was to hand.
It was obvious from using that how angles and weight and balance and suchlike affected your construction or design, so the mathematics side of it should have been logical. Except I was never taught the maths needed for the exams to get you to univeristy.
Not taught it.
Once I left the primary school I was at till I was six I don’t recall being actually ‘taught’ maths. Repetitive abstract exercises were put in front of me, and I got yelled at for not seeing a pattern, or thrown out of class for asking why, and I blundered through CSE maths to get an O-level equivalent.
Nor was I taught Chemistry so that it made any sense; likewise Physics – until I was re-sitting O-level Physics alongside my A’s, so deemed too late to follow up.
A whole range of career choices blocked.
Now I am chief ditch-digger, water diverter, designer of things made of paper, objects d’art, routes for exercising rabbits, and Heath Robinson devices for whatever may be needed on the home front.
Fun, but not a career.
I go and look at steam trains, ship’s engines, major and not so major engineering projects on rivers and canals, and I pick up gems of information – ‘sacrificial anodes’ being my current favourite – and try very, very, hard not to be wistful.
But I see no reason why British women shouldn’t be engineers.
I cannot forget the Syrian woman I spent some hours talking to at Hanover railway station; covered from head to toe, ‘modestly dressed’ as befitted her religious beliefs.
And while I am on the subject: anyone with girls the right age prepared to try this out?
According to The Guardian, Debbie Sterling, a US engineer who became increasingly frustrated by the 89 per cent-male makeup of the profession and set about tackling the problem at its roots, has come up with GoldieBlox, a story book and construction kit series, aimed at girls between five and nine years old.
In it, the blonde heroine, Goldie, assisted by various trusty friends, meets a series of engineering challenges.
“The scary truth is that only 11 per cent of engineers are women and girls start losing interest in science as young as age eight,” Debbie Sterling says, on her Kickstarter page for the project. “This is our chance to change that statistic.”
I would suggest that girls don’t ‘start losing interest’ in engineering and science.
In the UK at least, any interest was – and probably still is – simply or purposefully ignored.