Commentary | Spock would have sung “Chicago”

Sexism hurts engineering, and, worse, is illogical

It was said in a recent Hyde Park that Engineering Frosh is sexist, based on the author’s reading of the (imprecisely quoted) “Chicago” song.

Engineering is a male-majority faculty, no doubt. Individual departments range from metals and materials (if you’ve met two girls from MetMat, you’ve met every girl in MetMat) to chemical (Fem. Eng, any one?). It is pointless to deny a fact, but I must protest that being a minority does not necessarily imply facing discrimination.

I recognize that a lot of shoddy anti-engineering career advice is given to girls in middle and high schools, and engineers resent this more than non-engineers possibly can. Some may not ascribe sensitivity or morality to us (because we are, after all, mostly straight men, which in contemporary culture makes us cavemen until proven innocent), but it’s undeniable that we have a maddening passion for impassionate reason. Engineering is by definition applied science as a profession, and prejudice is neither scientific nor professional. It requires the constant improvement of our state of knowledge to keep up with the demands of increasingly more complex technological challenges, and our discipline is gravely disadvantaged by being denied access to half the talent pool.

If you think you’re angry because girls are being shooed away from coding and welding, you should consider how much more frustrating it is for us to see the progress of mankind impeded by illogicalities. Our patron saint Spock is definitely a feminist, which does not keep him from being a hero to us straight male engineers. (Scoring Uhura? With that haircut? While framing sentences like “I foresee a complication?” There is hope for the rest of us.)

In Frosh, though, we do go out of our Vulcan minds for a week or so, then repeat the performance at Blues Pub every Friday in the McConnell basement (plug, plug). We diss universities we’d feel proud to go to, and we insult the very faculties we consider for grad school. It’s all in good fun, and if even Management and the Bumblebees can figure that out, we don’t see how it’s so hard for you. Now comes the meat of this article – the main thrust, if you will.

Yes, it is sexist.

Like Russell Peters is racist and Ricky Gervais is an egotist. It’s sexist in that ye ancient song that ye referred to is hilarious when you’re drunk and a bit fuzzy in the company of loud and happy folk, and it’s sexist in that we take it lying down from the girls just as we dish it out. With all due respect to “Chicago,” “Godiva” is more the anthem for us, and if you read it in its glorious fullness you will find literary leering, alcoholism, infidelity, regionalism, and bestiality with anti-Arts, anti-Queens, and anti-U of T verses. You will also find that many of the verses poke fun at engineers, and it ends with a sexist, ageist, and ableist verse sung by women engineers claiming higher levels of alcoholic prowess than men. We can and do separate the frivolous part of life from the thoughtful one. Can’t you?

Straight male engineers know we can’t go at it alone if we are to keep this Eternal September world from falling apart. We have the utmost respect for the brilliance of our female colleagues in class and in the office; we are deeply appreciative of the parents who encourage their daughters to take up math and science, and the teachers and advisers who enforce that with progressive inspiration.

We do not, however, apologize for our silly moments and bawdy humour, just as I do not apologize for using the word “mankind” earlier in this article or for our obsession with painstaking wordplay and sci-fi references.

It’s easy to yell “sexist” (or “racist,” or “classist,” or “homophobic”), and there’s really no concrete way of disproving it. To paraphrase Wolfgang Pauli, that’s not right, and it’s not even wrong. All we can say is that engineers who revere Grace Hopper and Alan Turing and are fans of Ina Fried’s column don’t really care very much that anyone is female, gay, or transgendered. A contributor is a contributor is a contributor.

Manosij Majumdar is a U3 Chemical Engineering student, a previous Engineering Frosh leader, a former EUS Representative to SSMU, and a former EUS Senator to SSMU. Write him at manosij.majumdar@mail.mcgill.ca.


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