Dear Women: Work Wherever You Want

I feel like this blog is developing a bit of a ranty tone and for that I apologize. Here I am, raising another ruckus. This post is endorsed by Britta, because even though she is a fictional character, she would agree with all of this AND say it in a ranty tone AND “Britta” is the German name for Bridget AND I am of German descent. BAM!

When I read this entry on FabulouslyBroke.com, Should Women Work in Male-Dominated Jobs?, I tried not to get too hung up on the title. However, the rest of the post didn’t really do much to redeem itself, citing getting your hands dirty and guy-talk as reasons to steer-clear of male dominated professions.

I disagree — and I wasn’t the only one. Cassie wrote about being a woman in a “dirty” STEM profession, and received a lot of comments with great discussion on the topic of women in classically-male jobs, and I’m hoping to add to that conversation here.

I was raised in a girls-can-do-anything-boys-can-do household, and every time I run into sexism, my first reaction is disbelief (followed quickly by disappointment and frustration). I take it particularly hard when a woman is perpetuating the problem by accepting it as normal, or just ignoring the issue all together.

I really feel the biggest barrier to equality between the sexes is women accepting it as “just the way it is”.

The problem isn’t men. Men see us the way we represent ourselves.

Things that concern me:

  • the cultural misunderstanding that women simply aren’t as good at math/science as men and therefore unsuited to STEM professions (False. If you’re a woman and want to earn a science/tech degree, then go for it.)
  • women not receiving promotions as often as men, resulting in women being less represented in corporate leadership.
  • women earning less than a man in an identical role.
  • justifying women earning less on average because they take extended time off of work to raise children or care for relatives (while this is true, all it really shows is a lack of cultural and employer for support for child-rearing and family obligations. We’re not just working robots, people! Family is an OK thing to take time off for — man or woman!)

But, back to the topic at hand!

Should women work in male-dominated professions?

Of course they should. Women should work in whatever professions they want to.

 

I feel it necessary to state the obvious that it wasn’t that long ago that ALL professions were male-dominated. Women really didn’t enter the workforce into the middle of the last century because they simply weren’t allowed. Many careers were closed to the point that women weren’t even permitted to study the requisite subjects in university. Imagine being told you couldn’t study law or medicine because you were a girl? That was the reality less than 100 years ago. Even in the 1960’s women were believed to be incapable of handling anything more taxing than simple secretarial work.

I think  that because we are young (that’s speaking for my female millenial peers and readers), we often forget or perhaps simply may not know just how newly obtained our rights really are.  Some fun facts showing just how recent fundamental women’s rights are in Canada:

In 1974, the RCMP hired its first woman member, one hundred years after an 1874 magazine stated, “Woman’s first and only place is in her home.”

In 1978 female flight attendants won the right to continue working after marriage and past the age of 32. In the same year, the law changed so that women could no longer be fired for pregnancy in federally-regulated industries.

In 1983, the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibited sexual harassment in workplaces under federal jurisdiction. Before this women in these workplaces had no legal recourse if their employers demanded sexual favours.

Scary, right? The list goes on.

Now, I also feel it necessary to mention that if more women went into male-dominated professions, they would cease to be male-dominated professions. Part of the reason that there’s a lack of female engineers and pipe-fitters is because we steer girls away from those professions as early as middle school (maybe even elementary school?) by failing to present these options as viable career choices. I don’t think we do this intentionally, I think there are tremendous societal norms that we adhere to subconsciously, but it does women a disservice. Before I’m misunderstood, I want to say that I understand that

there are physical, emotional, and mental differences between the sexes.

But I also want to mention that I tend to view these differences in both gender and sexuality as a gradient rather than the fixed compartmentalized definitions we traditionally subscribe to. Masculinity to femininity comprise a spectrum with many erroneously defined edges and a blurry middle, and individuals fall all over the place — often regardless of what sex they were “born” or raised as. Furthermore, while I find this all tremendously interesting, I also operate under the belief that where or how or when you identify as a man or woman (or not) is completely irrelevant to your ability to do a job. Your sex is a part of you, but it doesn’t define you, and it absolutely should not pose any barrier to your success in classical ballet or the oil industry. I only care that, whatever you do, you do it well (and if possible, that you enjoy it very much and glean a great personal sense of fulfillment from it).

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do or be something because of your gender.

But most important of all, don’t tell yourself this.

If you have 15 minutes to spare, this is one of my favorite TED talks of all time from Facebook’s COO Sheryl Strandberg on women in the workforce:

I have a STEM degree. Part of my full-time offline job is to encourage young women to pursue careers in a very male dominated industry. I don’t deserve to be paid less than a man for my work, and under no circumstances should I be kept from advancing in my career because of my gender. More than anything,

I want to live in a world where no profession is considered difficult or inaccessible, where no success is considered unlikely or impossible, and where no one assumes I am less competent or committed because I am a woman.

And I really want other women to believe this too.

 

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Comments

  1. Bravo! Well written, well articulated, and completely correct. Honestly, I’m kind of happy that post was written, it’s inspired so many great responses! One comment though, you mentioned that children started to be steered into different professions as early as middle school, I would argue it starts way before that, before the kid even gets to school. All you have to do is take a stroll through Toys R Us (as I have done while trying to find birthday presents for my nieces and nephews) and you’ll get a clear picture of what girls and boys are “supposed to do”. Girls get pink play sets that are kitchens, shopping carts, and purses. Boys get blue tool belts, fire fighter costumes and trucks.

  2. It’s sad that articles like Shawanda’s still exist today. Don’t want a ‘dirty’ job? Fine, don’t apply for one regardless of your gender!

    • Agreed! It really bothered me when she said “I can’t convince myself that we’ll be successful in all male-dominated professions”. Don’t say “we”! “We” are not on the same page here!

  3. Great post. I didn’t like this FB article, and was raised like you, in an egalitarian family. I even had a stay at home uncle while my aunt went to work. Women can do anything, but mainly they can raise the next generation of men into realizing that they are just as gifted and capable as they are.

  4. I agree. And rant away! Women can also BLOG about whatever they want, too. Things like this make me so angry. I was on the blog of this man telling women what careers they should get into to make money. It came off as very patronizing. Anytime someone says “this is what women should do,” whether the speaker is a woman or a man, I just tune it out as crap. I was raised in a sexist household–my mom was a domestic violence victim who thought very little of herself–so this stuff really gets to me.

  5. Haha, Britta… gotta watch more of that show. It appears Canadian society has come a long way since the 70s and 80s, but we’re not quite there yet. Women are still making less than men in the same fields and positions :( Which is why it’s good to have discussions like these, because that’s how we can promote change in society.

  6. Some of the scary statistics show that we (women) do this to ourselves. Pre-pubescent girls have no performance difference in science/math, but when puberty hits, all the sudden it’s not “feminine” to be good at numbers. Screw that. Winnie Cooper (or rather the actress that played Winnie Cooper back in the day) proves that you can be beautiful and feminine (as well as an adolescent sex symbol to millions of teenage boys) and kick ass at math at the same time.

  7. Onward Bridget and Ritta! Women can do whatever the hell they want!!! I would not be where I’m at today if I had succumbed to cultural trends! Believe me I’m HIspanic….a lot of my family believe the best thing for a woman is to stay at home and be a homemaker. I’m not!!! I’m going to work until I drop dead :) And

  8. By the way, I didn’t negotiate my first salary. I am part of the 7%. :( Sucks, sometimes I feel like I wish i had known this 6 mos. ago. But nobody encouraged me to negotiate, instead they told me to be satisfied.

  9. You go girl!!! Very well put.

  10. Yay! I also work in a very male dominated industry, but it has changed so much in the few years that I have been familiar with it! There’s even multiple female co-op students now, which is heartening to see. They say their classes are about 1/4 female and that it’s not very many, but that’s better than when I was in school four years ago.

    • That’s reassuring — but the transition is expectedly slow. I mean look up there, women airline attendants could get fired for being pregnant only 30-something years ago =\ We have a long way to go.

  11. Thanks so much for writing this post, Bridget! Though I had already unsubscribed to the new writer at Fabulously Broke, I was still appalled that the blog which inspired me to take control of my money and my career, is writing articles that take me back to views I thought belonged in the 1950’s.

    I, too, graduated from the STEM field, and got my undergrad in Engineering where 25% of the class was female (and that was on the higher side). I work with a lot of older men, and there is definitely a long way to go for equality in the work place. I completely agree that we, as women, need to start taking equality more seriously before we can expect any one else to. Petty excuses such as “not wanting to ruin nails” or “not wanting to touch dirty things” just sound whiny and dumb don’t help anyone.

    My parents are wonderful people, but they were also traditional, and thought that I should go into nursing/teaching/ a more traditional role for women. I told them that I wanted to be an engineer, and I would find a way to pay for my education, and the rest is history.

    I think I need to write a post of my own! ;)

    • Good for you! Engineering is slick. I really think it’s one of the best career fields out there.

      Would love to read a post from you on the subject (I recruit female engineers so I would really appreciate your insight)

      • I completely agree (even though I’m a bit biases!), and women are such a great fit for engineering! Attention to detail and good analysis skills is a huge strength that so many women already possess. I’d love to reach out to more women and open them up to the opportunities which the engineering field has to offer. Not to mention the money. It’s not too shabby ;)

  12. Well, you know how I feel about all of this already, hahaha. Very well written Bridget :)

    Britta? Did I miss something?

  13. I didn’t understand that article at all. When someone says “male dominated profession” I immediately think of CEOs, engineers, etc. I don’t think of “dirty” jobs. In either case, women should pursue professions they’re passionate about, but the whole bent of the article was just really…well…stupid.

  14. Good post. I work in a somewhat male dominated profession with video editing. I still run into a producer or two who will call a guy they’ve worked with before to double check something I told them is technically not possible. You should see their faces when they see I’m write. It kind of pisses me off too. :)

  15. Whoa I do not read Fabulously Broke but I won’t start now! This was really well written, thanks for responding so eloquently.

  16. Agree, agree, agree. Women should work wherever they want to. I agree that dissociative sexism is a huge problem, I think that a millenia or more of the oppression of women has been exercised by men. I think it’s a major problem on both sides.

    I heard a report the other day talking about the gender gap that pointed out that even in female dominated fields like education, there is STILL A MAJOR GAP. The one in the field of education in isolate was 20 some percent, meaning that female teachers their first year out of college make only 80 some cents for every dollar a man makes.

  17. I don’t have anything to add to your blog post, but I wanted to say that I completely agree. Well-written post! I just hope that women like you are the majority and not women like Shawanda. Keep spreadin’ the good word!

  18. Thank you for this reply! I left a comment on the original post.
    I work as an engineer and spend every day on construction sites, so her comment about not wanting to smell or break a nail made me so sad! I fight this generalization whenever I go out to a new site. It’s so annoying!!!

  19. Once again, an articulate and well-written post refuting the original. Thank you! Added bonus is that it has amazing GIFs.

    It’s completely shocking that sexual harassment has only been prohibited for LESS THAN THIRTY YEARS. How insane is that? I completely agree that we can take that for granted sometimes, because I can’t even picture quitting my job after getting married and the fact that it’s such a foreign concept to women under thirty is a good thing (but it’s important we don’t forget how recently these regulations were put into place).

  20. Here’s my second comment, after watching the video. Sheryl is an inspirational, awesome, badass. When she started talking about how as women we attribute our success to luck or outside forces, it really spoke to me since I’ve been doing that the whole time I’ve been in my job. I keep telling people I was just really lucky the woman in the position before me didn’t come back from mat leave and it was good timing. Really, I worked really hard to prove myself in six months and they could’ve just hired someone else for the permanent position but they hired me because I worked my butt off to prove myself (even typing that I’m feeling all “omg is this too cocky?”). I’m bookmarking that video to keep for future feeling down on myself moments. Thank you for posting it.

    • Isn’t she fab? I definitely related to everything she said too — namely “don’t leave until you leave”. I’ve been planning my family life since I was in my teens, and then I watched this video a year or two ago and it completely changed how I saw my future. I no longer plan around a potential spouse or family (now I’m not even sure I want those things!). It made a huge difference in my career.

  21. Slam, nicely ranted. On a side note it can go the other way too…. I actually went into a Computer Science degree because I wanted to even the male/female score, and I was pretty good at programming. Unfortunately I didn’t really like it. Girls, do what you love whether you’re with the norm, or against it.

    • I agree with you. I have a Math degree and after reading this post I feel guilty not representing women in a male dominated field, but I tried Engineering out (as both my parents are engineers), and it just wasn’t for me.

      • I don’t think you should feel guilty.. I still identify as traditionally very feminine (ie. dresses and make-up and high heels) but I still advocate for the breakdown of gender stereotypes. What I think we all want is the freedom to do whatever we what without it being tied to gender. You don’t have to like engineering! But we do need engineering not to be a boys club.

  22. I think this is your best post to date – well said (and it needed to be said!).

  23. “Women should work in whatever professions they want to”. Yes. So much yes. EVERYONE should work in whatever profession they want to. I volunteer with a group that focuses on getting underrepresented minorities into science and medicine. We tell the kids every week that they can go into whatever they want, with an emphasis on science and medicine. I hope that in 10-15 years, things will have improved even more, and they won’t face much opposition, or feel that opposition from inside themselves.

    I blogged a few months ago (maybe 6 months?) about how I was surprised to hear so much anti-woman sentiment in the stories at the 25 year anniversary of our department. This stuff was happening IN MY LIFETIME. Bizarre. But unfortunately, this sentiment is not totally gone.

  24. Do you read GOMI? They’re all over the original post right now

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