Saturday, 4 December 2010

Why Do Women Have Small Feet?

Q: Why do women have small feet?
A: So they can stand close to the kitchen sink!

In one of my morning stints at the school I help out at we were talking about careers. This was a mixed class of ten fourteen-year-olds, Muslim children, four boys and six girls. We had read a chapter about a girl who wanted to become a Textile Engineer but her parents hadn't been keen.

I asked my students what they thought of the girl's choice and was staggered to hear that not one of them thought it was sensible! Why? Engineering is not a suitable job for women. Why do you think that? The work is too heavy, only men are up to the job! I explained that engineers are professionals, work with computers, drawing-boards and at desks, go to meetings, research and design. Rarely do they get their hands dirty and by no means was it heavy labour. They still didn't accept it. The boys said that women wouldn't concentrate enough, that they'd always be thinking of their children or about cooking or shopping, and the girls agreed! When I asked what a suitable job for a woman would be, the answer was unanimously teaching or health care. Why these were better for scatty-brained women I've no idea! And this was from a class where the girls were far more academically able than the boys, certainly in English, and probably in other subjects too.

I did my best to convince them that women were easily the equal of men in engineering. They asked if there were many women engineers in the UK and I had to concede that, no, there weren't, but it wasn't because women weren't capable, it was because other jobs interested them more. I said that if engineering interested a girl then there was no reason why she shouldn't do it. I told them that I knew a few female software engineers and electrical engineers, and that they were just as good as men. The kids were surprised! If a girl wants to do engineering, is it fair that other people's opinions should prevent her? In the end I think I won a few girls around but the boys couldn't be persuaded.

I suppose that none of this should be surprising. Wind the clocks back fifty or sixty years and it would have been the same in the UK. There's modernisation all around yet culture and society are still quite traditional.

It was a great topic to debate because everyone got involved - even the shy ones were talking amongst themselves and were straining to hear my heretical views. Their views fascinated me too!

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