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Monday, September 9, 2013

What's more dangerous than the "Old Boys Club?" The "Good Girls Club!"

I've always worked in a male dominated industry and I don't mind it one bit. I love my job and I enjoy my coworkers. There are certain professions where women and men may have equal pay and benefits but will never have an equal amount of each sex working together.
For example, nursing. Nursing draws a certain number of men each year, but you are never going to have a nursing work force that has 50% women and men. Women will always outnumber men in nursing. Construction is another. A certain number of women will be drawn to the trades, but you are never going to have an equal number of men and women on a construction site.

That's life.
I was shocked tonight to see a story on CBC about Memorial's student engineering society allowing beer mugs bearing a sexually suggestive message at a recent student engineering party.  CBC quotes, Myfanwy Price, president of Memorial's student engineering society, as saying the mug was meant to be a joke.

A Joke? I didn't find it funny.
I have spent 25 years and two careers in a male dominated workforce. What I have discovered in the past ten years is the "Old Boys Club" is losing its steam. That's happening for a number of reasons; because those card carrying members are retiring, their daughters are following in the footsteps of their fathers and labour laws are now very strict. Having said that, the "Old Boys Club" still exists and has power.

What it is being replaced with is the "Good Girls Club." That's the women who have made it to the boardroom table, middle management or are still climbing the ladder who support the "Old Boys" and be "Good Girls." They are the girls that go along with bad sexist ideas like this mug, profess they never see anything wrong, and swear that everything is fine. They also attack the ones that stand up and say "Wait, This is wrong." They are the first to say, "She's always making trouble, pick me, I'll keep my mouth shut."
Ms. Price was quoted as saying "This year's design was selected by our executive which consists of six females and eight males, so it's important to note that, too," said Price. "At the time we just thought, you know, it fits in pop culture and it's a laugh."

The mug they gave out featured a picture of a scantily-clad woman with the words, "If she's thirsty, give her the D (day)." The expression 'Give Her the D' comes from an infamous internet meme expression 'Give Her the Dick.' (According to the CBC website).
So, Ms. Price, let me tell why it's so wrong for you and the five other women on your engineering society to have voted for this.

Let's go back to 1989, probably before you were born. Fourteen women were studying engineering at  École Polytechnique in Montreal. On December 6th, 1989 they became famous, but not for breaking through the glass ceiling that existed for all women back then, or for voting to put a scantily-clad women on a mug so the guys would think they were one of them, but because they became victims of the Montreal Massacre.
On that day, twenty-five-year-old Marc Lepine armed with a legally obtained rifle and a hunting knife,  shot twenty-eight people before killing himself. He began his attack by entering a classroom at the university, where he separated the male and female students. After claiming that he was "fighting feminism", he shot all nine women in the room, killing six. He then moved through corridors, the cafeteria, and another classroom, specifically targeting women to shoot. Overall, he killed fourteen women, injured ten other women and four men in just under twenty minutes before turning the gun on himself.  His suicide note claimed political motives and blamed feminists for ruining his life. The note included a list of nineteen Quebec women whom Lépine considered to be feminists and apparently wished to kill.

Ms. Price, you and our five female collogues let these  women down this week but you also let yourself down. How do you think it would look when you're on a work term and you show up at coffee break with a mug that says "If she's thirsty, give her the Dick?" Engineering is still and will always be a male dominated field. These men would think one of two things; 1. She's an idiot and not mature enough to be in this profession or 2. She's going to be great fun at the Christmas party.  Either way, you won't be asked back.
Sexism is not a joke. Women who speak out about it know what they are talking about. You have no idea what it feels like to work hard and have your power taken away, be belittled and demeaned just because you are a women.

I will soon be fifty years old. My daughter is thirteen. I would be so proud if she announced that she was president of the student engineering society. I would be devastated to find out she thought this mug was a good idea.
I can tell you from years of experience that people never remember your mistakes, they only remember how you recovered from them. If you were remorseful, if you were sincere in your apology and if you learned a lesson.  

You are very young. You made a mistake. Hopefully you will learn from it and become a powerful, important leader in engineering someday.
You and your entire student engineering society have to sit down now and get real. First of all Google the Montreal Massacre. Look at the pictures of those young girls. Look at the faces of their mothers and fathers that go to the campus every Christmas to mark the brutal murder of their daughters.

Remember, those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it.
To the dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Memorial University who has condemned the use of the beer mugs, that's not enough. You have the biggest responsibility here. You have announced that these students will be punished. Please do not do something stupid like kick them out of school or make them give up their positions in their society.

If MUN really wants to make a difference here they have to get real. Send these six women to Montreal for the annual ceremony that marks the Montreal Massacre. Have them stand shoulder to shoulder with the families of the fourteen women who died and the survivors. Let them see the tears and hear the sobs of grieving family and friends. Only then will they realize what they have done. Only then will they understand "When she's thirsty... give her knowledge, give her direction, empower her. Don't give her the dick."
Only then will they no longer want to be "Good Girls."