You would think Canadian universities would be particularly sensitive on the issue of discrimination against women scientists and engineers—it is, after all, where the École Polytechnique murders occurred in 1989 (major trigger warning! That is the coroners report, containing a detailed, dispassionate description of a man hunting down and butchering women), one of the most horrendous crimes against women in recent history, in which a gunman singled out women engineering students for execution, killing 14.
During this time, Lépine moved a little closer to the group of 9 girls who were standing together at the back of the classroom, with no possible exit. He said to them: “Do you know why you are there.” One of the girls answered “No”. He replied: “I am fighting feminism.” The student who had spoken added: “We are not feminists, I have never fought against men.” He immediately started firing on the group, from left to right.
Now it’s clear that most men are not murderous, woman-hating lunatics like Lépine; the very remote possibility that a deranged maniac might murder them for the act of being intelligent is not going to discourage most women, since it is such an unlikely event. But what is going to hurt is the constant, grinding obtuseness of non-murderous male engineering students and a culture that belittles feminist concerns. That is the mind-killer; we can lock up all the guns and issue all the bullet-proof vests we want, but that isn’t going to correct the blithe, gutless privilege of some individuals.
The University of Waterloo is an excellent university with a prestigious reputation, but lately there have been a few chilling incidents. Someone has been anonymously plastering posters on campus.
It’s ahistorical nonsense, of course. Marie Curie was not the inventor of the atom bomb, men are not blameless for the creation and use of it, and Curie was not the one great mind in all of womankind. But it has to be frightening and oppressive to be aware of another kook working himself up to a woman-hating fury on the campus. The administration and police are working hard to track this fellow down, although I also get the impression that what spurred the university to take action was more that the guy impersonated the university president in email than that he’s creating a bad atmosphere for women.
But let’s set that aside, too. Let’s pretend that these relatively rare anti-feminist fringe monsters aren’t a major contributor to the discouragement of women in science. Even if these creatures disappeared from our culture, never to appear again, there is something even more insidious: the belittling attitude of their peers.
Here’s how one engineering student at the university reacted to the concerns of a woman student.
Really Sherlock? UW is a male dominated campus, I wonder why… oh, let’s see, UW is in the top for Engineering, Math, and CS, given that most girls doesn’t want to give the effort and sacrifice needed to go through the Engineering or Math program at UW, you are going to bitch and cry that the university is male dominated? Really? So if you want a female dominated campus, try “Bryn Mawr College”.
You have no right to bitch that the campus is too male dominated, when there are literally no girls in the Engineer or Math faculty, even though there are scholarships and extra benefits given to females that are in the Math faculty.
Very, very few women have been shot by a male gunman, but virtually every single one of them has regularly encountered men like the privileged scumbag who made that comment. If you want to know why an engineering school can be a “male dominated campus,” look to the people who feel that women don’t work as hard, aren’t as capable, don’t belong in a science and engineering world, and that male privilege is an earned status. And let’s also not forget that it requires this kind of culture to allow misogynist extremists to flourish.
Tear the posters down and find the culprit, but don’t forget that those are only symptoms of a miasma of seriously screwed up attitudes.