Friday, October 21, 2011

Eldest wants to be an engineer.

Recently, I confronted sexism, gender bias, or whatever you want to call it, at least in some small way.  I was at open house at Gates Chili High School, where Eldest and Middlest are students.  The plan for the evening was to follow the girls’ schedules, spending ten minutes in each class. Beloved followed Middlest’s schedule and I followed Eldest’s. Eldest is a senior and is taking seven Advanced Placement classes this semester. I do not mean to brag. Actually, I do mean to brag. She, like her mother, is beautiful, intelligent, and driven. She does not even have time in her schedule for lunch. Which I do not understand at all, since lunch was my best subject in school.

Perhaps, those of you who are parents have experienced the babbling of an infant that in a moment sounds like intelligent speech. I am not referring to the approximations of saying words that sound like mom or dad. I am talking that surprising moment in which it sounds as if an infant has spoken a complete sentence. For Eldest that first sentence came as she was laying next to her car seat, pushing it back and forth, looking under it as if it were an automobile on a lift. At that moment she said, “How’s it work?”

The intervening years have been filled with pens torn apart, unused 35mm cameras dismantled, even rewiring a bathroom. The most wonderful thing for me?  Sometimes she even lets me help.

At this open house, I followed Eldest’s schedule diligently. Going to all of her Advanced Placement (AP) classes, until I arrived at the one class she is taking that is not AP, “Principles of Engineering.” The teacher began to talk and I eagerly listened, until he said, “This is an excellent class, if your sons want to become engineers.”

I was dumbfounded, stupefied, flabbergasted, and so angry I had to consult a thesaurus to find words to describe my emotional state.  My daughter is many things, but a son is not one of them. She is taking seven AP classes, not even taking lunch. She has her college application process started and wants to do three years at Roberts Wesleyan College and two more at Rochester Institute of Technology. She wants to be an engineer. And she is not male; she is a beautiful young woman.

If the high school teacher not acknowledging that my daughter, who is most definitely not a male, could want to, and actually become, an engineer was not bad enough, a few days later she received a letter in the mail from the BSA. I tried to think where I had seen those initial before. Was it “Beautiful and Stunning Americans”? No, BSA is the Boy Scouts of America, and apparently, the local Boy Scouts of America are holding a series of meetings to explore what it means to be an engineer. The only connection with BSA that my daughter has is her scouting for a boy. I do not wish her to find one too soon however, so she will not be attending these meetings.

I did not realize becoming an engineer was so complicated and had such gender bias. I hope that when Eldest finally becomes an engineer she will give me a ride. I really like trains.

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