On Sexism: Bursting the Bubble

Disclaimer: I refer to Olin students in the typical gender binary as “men” and “women”. This is not to exclude anyone in the transgender community. While I believe that gender cannot be split into the male-female categories, the binary is still how many people are perceived. “Men” and “women”, in this case, are useful labels to describe our social reality on the population level, even if they cannot capture the vast diversity of gender expression. If you have questions, please contact the editor.

One of my favorite games growing up was Skylanders. I collected every single Skylander in the first game and spent most of my time playing on my Xbox – I distinctly remember my favorite being Hex (my goth queen). So when McDonald’s came out with the Skylanders: Trap Team toy when I was ten, I was excited. I begged my mom to take me to McDonald’s to get a Trap Team toy; as usual, my mom fed my autism and drove me to McDonald’s after my dance practice.

We walked into the restaurant and asked the cashier for a boy’s Happy Meal. That cashier took one look at me in my leotard and pink skirt and said that they couldn’t give that to me. My mom asked why and they said (verbatim), “She’s a girl, so she gets the girl McDonald’s toy”. My mom asked, once again, for the boy’s Happy Meal toy, and they took our order. I got my Happy Meal and excitedly opened it to see… a Littlest Pet Shop toy. Not my boy Wallop or my dude Pain Yatta. A Littlest Pet Shop character. I didn’t even like The Littlest Pet Shop, not nearly as much as Skylanders. We couldn’t return it because we knew they would give us a hard time. So I went with my dad to a different McDonald’s the next day and actually got a Skylanders toy, probably because they didn’t care as much or maybe because they thought it was for my dad. Either way, still too much of a hassle for a plastic toy.

Looking back, I now realize how much McDonald’s – a place I went to often – completely influenced how I perceive gender, and it probably influenced a lot of other McDonald’s regulars too. I recognize a little bit too much how I have to be very careful about what I tell people what my interests are because no matter what I say, people will not expect it and react too strongly – either negatively or positively. Very recently, I had to explain to people how I enjoy watching sports – not necessarily to watch cute guys get sweaty but because I love the strategy and especially how excited everyone around me gets for a tiny ball being thrown around a field. Notice how I just explained my love for sports? I’ve done this more times than I can count. If a guy said the same thing he wouldn’t have to explain or defend himself – he would just say “I like watching sports” and everyone would think, “Yeah, that makes sense”. They wouldn’t question anything and he wouldn’t have to validate his statements.

Here at Olin, it’s a bit better than what I’m used to at home. I’ve met so many people who break the gender barrier in so many ways that I’ve felt like my authentic self for the first time in a long time. However, I have still faced a lot of experiences where I had to defend myself on things I love. In fact, many of my negative experiences at Olin have been because of my gender. Very often, I and other women at this school have been in situations where our opinion was not valued, immediately shut down by the “biggest man in the room”, and then experienced another man saying the same exact thing and being listened to without second thought. When we voice this, there’s a pretty good chance they will say something along the lines of, “No way, that’s not possible, not here at Olin.” At Olin where there is a severe lack of women in project teams because there is an excess amount of this sexist and discriminatory behavior. At Olin where Pi Day is taken more seriously than International Women’s Day. At Olin where if a girl shows some sort of femininity she’s taken for a Wellesley student because there’s no way an engineering student can hold any sort of “womanhood” about them but a liberal arts student can. It frustrates me when people who are aware of this say:

“This happens a lot in the industry. You just have to get used to it.”

But why do we have to sit here and listen to a man talk and talk and talk all he wants while we have to fight for our voice? Why can’t we, as an “innovative” campus with the motto “engineering for everyone”, teach people how to respect everyone in the room? Especially when it comes to teaming: no matter how many group projects you put Olin students in, teaming alone won’t teach people to not be misogynistic. They expect us to be the ones to tell the perpetrators that what they’re doing is wrong, but after doing it a thousand times to no avail it gets tiring. Not only that, but us speaking out poses a real threat that women face every single day. If we claim that the person across from us is acting misogynistic, we are deemed insane, crazy, or dramatic, so we stay silent and discretely warn other women who to watch out for in a teaming situation.

This is not to say that every single man at Olin acts in this way, but this is to say that there’s behavior at Olin just like this that goes unchecked. Olin imagines itself to be too progressive, too evolved, too sophisticated a place for sexism to persist and as a result becomes blind to the subtle flavors that still exist. We cannot act as if sexism died with the feminist movement, because then the small things that happen now can grow into larger issues later on for gender minorities everywhere. Maybe if we finally stopped ignoring what’s going on, we might actually see some progress in our community and actually make it for everyone.

+ posts

Leave a Reply