I love power tools, let’s just get that out of the way now. I love any tool I can get my hands on. I love the way a drill sounds and feels in my hands. I love how saws give me the ability to cut through a piece of wood as though it were butter. I love power tools so much that my favorite part of any project is the part where we build things.
As an engineer, this makes sense. But, as a woman this is a rare oddity. Over the past couple years, I have had opportunities to create useful things. Before college, I rarely had the opportunity to build. For this reason, I was incredibly nervous to be expected to build something on my own.
My first experience building at Tech was somewhere I least expected to be doing so: research on flying fish. I walked in expecting to be filming and analyzing, but ended up spending my semester making apparatuses, and it was amazing. My freshman self quickly learned the joys of wandering into the Invention Studio and walking out with a partially finished product and a better understanding of the process.
This first experience, however, was also marked with the same look I have gotten in the years since from the men I work with. It is a look of condescension, which is quickly followed by a look filled with disbelief and a little concern. My partner, a third year student, seemed to think himself more capable at building than I, possibly because I was a freshman and not a mechanical engineer like him or maybe it was because I wasn’t a man. Ironically, I had more building experience than him, and he was the one breaking parts of our project. The look he gave me when he realized I was much more capable than he had given me credit for was one of these morphing expressions.
Over the years, I have been on the receiving end of this look several times. I have to admit, the condescending attitudes tend to get old. That second expression, however, is one of my favorite expressions to see. For some reason, at this heavily engineering based school, people are still surprised when a woman is interested in — or good at — heavy lifting, building or pretty much anything that doesn’t involve sitting behind a computer screen or some other safe non-laborious task.
I am not a “girly girl” in the traditional sense of the word. I am brutally honest, curse like a sailor and like to play with drills. Why, then, does it surprise people when I lift the 40 lb bag myself without asking for help? Why is it surprising that I enjoy using power tools, or even know how to use one correctly? I doubt it has to do with my personality.
In this day and age, we, women are not sitting back and letting others take care of things for us. This change can be seen in the growing number of women engineers. It would be great if men caught up with the times, and stopped being so surprised that we are capable of doing traditionally masculine tasks too.