I got a new monitor at work today.
I now have two 24 inch monitors. You might think that's ridiculous. You might think that one 24 inch monitor is all a person needs, but if you think that you are probably not an engineer. An engineer can never have too many monitors.
For the longest time I was the lowest of the low; I only had one monitor. Every other person where I worked had two monitors. And they all had two 24 inch monitors. My measly one monitor was merely 17 inches. Then I got a new computer and low and behold with the new computer came a 24 inch monitor. Instead of getting rid of my smaller monitor, I hooked the two together for dual usage. It was beautiful, but it wasn't two 24 inch monitors. Not to mention both monitors had slightly different resolutions and coloring schemes that would not match no matter how much I played with them.
But I survived and dealt with it until today. Today my lead came by my desk and said "I have a new monitor for you." Now my monitors are nearly as long as my desk. It's beautiful.
My old monitor was given to our administrative assistant. My cast-off became her upgrade. It makes me happy, for my old monitor served me well. Now it can serve her well.
But this story isn't really about my new monitor. It's about being a woman in engineering.
I'll admit I'm not exactly a terrifying figure. My stature doesn't exactly cry out strength. I'm 5'1". Very few people are afraid of me, until they get to know my true ferocity that is.
Anyhow, my lead came to my desk and was like "I have your new 24 inch monitor. You should ask someone to come help you carry it."
Help me carry it? I glanced at my current 24 inch monitor. 24 inches really isn't that big. The measurement is diagonal anyway. And I've carried this monitor before when I had to take apart and put together my computer. Did I really need help to carry it?
"I don't need help," I insisted, because I didn't. I got up from my desk to retrieve my new monitor and my lead looked at me askance - seeing me at my full height clearly did not help him believe my claim. "I would help you," he said, "but my back isn't what it used to be. We'll go get Josh."
"No, I can carry it," I responded. I slipped past him and to his office where my monitor was being stored. I saw the box and was a little taken back by the size. Maybe I did need help? I wouldn't let myself believe it. Just because it looked big didn't mean it was heavy.
"It's too big," my lead insisted.
"Do you need help?" Another engineer from my branch stuck his head out of his cube. "I'll help you."
"Maybe you can help me pick it up," I said, pulling it awkwardly out of the cube. "But I can carry it."
"Use the handholds," the other engineer said. "You grab that one and I'll grab this one." Handholds. I felt like such an idiot. This would be so easy with handholds. I grabbed the one nearest to me and then moved around to grab the other one. I lifted. Were they kidding me? This was light! I didn't need help, and I certainly did not need help from the middle aged men in my branch.
Both my lead and the engineer were looking at me as if I might collapse at any moment, delicate flower that I am. "Trust me," I assured them. "This is light. My family has moved 16 times. I'm a college student who moves in and out of dorms like they're going out of style. I can carry this box that is mainly Styrofoam."
However, they still did not believe me. My lead followed me all the way back to my cube in case I might collapse in exhaustion on the floor, being overcome by the weight of this ridiculously light box.
Maybe I should have let them help me. Maybe it was heavier than OSHA regulates a single person should carry. I don't know. I didn't weigh the box before I carried it. But I do know I've carried much heavier boxes much farther distances. I may not be winning any sports competitions or weight lifting events any time soon but I could certainly carry a box with handholds.
I'm positive that if I had been a male co-op they would have let me carry the box no problem, but because I'm a girl they were unsure if I could handle the weight. And I, being stubborn, insisted I could.
To rest your mind, I am not a feminist out burning my undergarments and trying to break free from my bonds. I chain myself down to no movement. And I'm more than willing to ask for help when I need it. As stated above, I'm pretty short. When I see something that's too high for me to reach, if there is a tall person standing near me I'm going to ask them to help me before I try to pull a chair over and balance myself precariously. If something is too heavy, I will take advantage of the person nearest who looks like they can lift weights no problem. I'm not stupid. I try to use the resources around me. However, this case was different.
I'm 22 years old. I may not be "in shape" per say but I'm not exactly out of shape. I'm in fairly good physical condition, and I don't have to worry about throwing my back. All of the guys in my branch are definitely over thirty and most probably over forty. I don't want to worry about them throwing their back carrying a box for me, a box I'm perfectly capable of carrying.
Maybe this isn't even about being a girl, maybe its just about being deceptively small. Maybe my lead wasn't sizing me up and saying "She's a girl; she can't handle it." Maybe he was sizing me up and saying, "She's 5'1" and spends her day in a cube not working out. She can't handle it." Either way it doesn't matter. If I say I can handle something, I usually can. Let me handle it. Let me make my own mistakes. Let me try.
I may look small. I may look weak. I may look like just another girl, but I want to try. Give me a chance to size up the load for myself and see if I can handle it. Give me a chance to succeed or fail. Don't try to take care of me. Even if I am a delicate flower, I'm not your delicate flower. I'm my own. And this flower wants to bear the load.