The women I know in engineering are strong, and pride themselves on being logical and levelheaded. In fact, I find it’s a common issue for female engineers to try and detach themselves from emotions. We chastise ourselves for feeling sad or upset. I’ve heard women tell me emotions are useless and annoying on many occasions.
Why is that?
There is a stereotype that women are more emotional and thus weaker because of their emotions. Even though this is ridiculous, and men have the same emotions, women are judged for it. Studies show that women presenting emotion are more likely to be seen as emotional, whereas men displaying the same emotion are thought to have a reason for it. This reminds me of one of my favorite comics that points out if a woman does a math problem the wrong way then girls suck at math, and if a male does it then it’s just him that sucks at math. If a female shows emotion, people jump to the stereotype. As I mentioned in a previous post, stereotypes can affect people and their interactions with others. The emotional stereotype is just one more stereotype that women in engineering are trying to overcome.
In addition to the stereotype, women are more often trained to think that showing emotion will get them called crazy. The Good Men Project has an excellent article on gaslighting called “Why Women Aren’t Crazy,” which discusses the conditioning of women to think they are crazy. In the field of engineering, there is an even larger bias against emotions due to the analytical aspect of engineering, so this acts as a double negative to women who show emotions on top of the already existing emotional woman stereotype.
To call a female engineer crazy is a strong insult and can devastate her career and the perception of her within the field. This insult essentially devalues women, their integrity, and their ability to think logically in a field dominated by logical problem solving. No one will want to work with you or associate with you if you are thought to be “crazy.” Sadly, it seems that emotions and the term crazy are associated together if you are a woman. So, if you show emotion, you are at risk of being labeled an emotional or crazy woman.
This “emotional woman” stereotype extends its tenacious tendrils into the depths of engineering beyond just an individual to devalue the work that women do as a whole. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard male students tell me, “women go into the offices of professors all the time and cry to increase their grades, it’s soooo unfair.” It’s funny, because I don’t ever recall hearing about any of my female peers crying for a better grade. The irritating part of this assumption about women is that it comes and bites us even when we are not showing any emotions at all.
Don’t Cry About Your Grade Little Girl
I got to experience the stereotype when I went to ask for a grade in a class during office hours. Generally, I am a very quiet and serious person. In fact, I have an excellent poker face, and during the years while I was taking classes I preferred to put this on during all of my office hours with male professors. I never wanted to be perceived as flirty or emotional, just serious.
The professor told me my grade, which was a harsher grade than I had expected. He seemed to be aware of the harshness of the grade, and before I had a chance to open my mouth to respond or ask why I was graded that way, he added in an uncaring and slightly demeaning voice, “Are you okay? You look like you are about to cry.”
My grade was just a grade. I was not going to jump for joy about it, but I was also not terribly upset. In fact, I really didn’t have much of an emotional response aside from wondering what I was graded down on. However, when I left the office I was speechless. His comment was so unexpected and out of the blue that I couldn’t even think of a response. Now, with more experience under my belt, I can think of plenty of comebacks to a rude comment like that. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same awareness then as I do now.
Is there a way to stop the perception that women are more emotional than men? It seems this is something deeply ingrained in our culture. Completely shutting it off overnight is not an option, but talking about it might start the ball rolling for the future.