Friday, February 29, 2008

Gender roles and I

Talking about my business requires a decent amount of specific technical knowledge. Few of the people who ever talk to me on the phone are women. If I get a man, I have about a 50/50 chance they'll understand what I'm talking about, so I usually give it a shot. Of those women I do talk to, I've gotten the phone equivalent of a blank stare so frequently I just got out of the habit of trying to explain our problem to them: I ask to talk to somebody else. If it turns out a woman actually is the person who can knowledgeably discuss an issue with me, I'm shocked (in the three years I've been making these phone calls, I've been shocked for this reason three times). I believe the feeling itself is OK, but there really is no appropriate way to express it: so I hide my reaction.

I'm sure others feel the same surprise upon interacting with me, but in general I feel I'm treated with respect, and any lack of friendliness is attributable to what my company did to their parts and not to my gender. But a few of them don't hide it. I've gotten from people such as truck drivers, from customers, most recently from my doctor, "What made a woman go into engineering?", "Good for you for doing something in science!", etc. As understandable as these questions are (since encountering women in my work surprises me also), they really bother me. How am I supposed to respond to something like that? I'm an engineer for the same reasons men are, but I don't think that's the answer they're looking for.

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