Friday, June 18, 2010

Awesome or Apalling?

Have you ever read, heard, or saw something and your first thought was that’s awesome and then you’re second thought was – wait, should I be insulted? (This can also happen in the reverse order. You can be initially insulted and then think it’s awesome).

This happened to me this week when I received an email from another female engineer about “Nerd Girls”. Apparently, someone is casting for a reality television show that centers on female engineers being awesome female engineers and solving real world problems for the community or companies. My first thought was “This seems awesome! What a way to support females in engineering!” So I went to the website and checked it out.

I watched their little video and the awesome feeling inside me began to dwindle away into being appalled. I won’t say I was insulted – because it wasn’t exactly insulting.

It seemed initially that the premise of the show was to give young girls great, awesome role models like female engineers. We’re a rare breed, and everyone wants to encourage girls to continue in math and science. (Because math and science are awesome and - short of an apocalypse* - are the way of the future). However, as they stressed that they wanted girls between 18 & 23, and that engineer girls can where stiletto’s too, a feeling of horror began to fill me.

Let’s be honest. Unless she’s a genius (which is admittedly possible), an eighteen-year-old girl is not an engineer. She’ll be lucky if she’s had Calc III and Physics II. She’ll be lucky if she knows a computer language. So the only reason they could be looking for girls in that age group is if they’re looking for “hot” girls.

And I can’t remember the last time one of my female friends wore high stilettos. Maybe a semi-formal? But then the shoes came off for the actual dancing, so they were only worn for dinner. You can’t walk in those kinds of shoes, and they’re bad for your feet.

I’m all about changing the stereotype. I hate that the recommendation given to girls before career fairs is “don’t dress too girly”, as if it’s bad to remind employers we’re female. But if we’re going to do this, let’s use real engineers. Some of us will be die-hard nerds, like myself. Some of us will be cheerleaders, like the Project Systems Engineer for my grad school project. Some of us will be romance novel junkies. Some of us will love rugby. Few of us will wear make-up regularly while in college. (Let’s just face it. When I’m about to take a three hour exam – looking good is the furthest thing from my mind).

So if you’re going to do this – go all the way and be true to female engineers. Cast a WoW player. Cast a sorority girl. Cast a die-hard Trekkie. Cast the girl who writes novels in her spare time. But please don’t fill it with only one type of girl (hot girls who like to dress up). Because that’s a lie.

The point of breaking stereotypes is not to create new ones.

And if you’re going to have a show about female engineers, at least make sure they have degrees. Redefine the age to 22 to 26 or something like that. Or better yet – open it to grad students. Seriously, grad students will do almost anything for funding. You can easily fill a show by promising funding for a year if you spend your summer being part of a reality show. Or better way – let the winner of the show get a full ride for their entire PhD.

That would be a real female engineering show.

*Be prepared for a coming article on why most engineers will be useless in a post-apocalyptic world.


  1. Too bad about the way they're doing the show. But I'm not surprised. Reality TV is anything but real. :/

    Loved reading this: "The point of breaking stereotypes is not to create new ones." You are so right! That's exactly what people do, though, isn't it?

  2. You're right. Reality television is far from real. I think there is more truth about life and humanity in the most fantastical science fiction show than in the most "realistic" reality show.

    Thanks for following and commenting, Amanda! It's nice to know someone's reading!