Full disclosure: I am not a woman engineer, nor do I aspire to be one.
But I have a hell of a lot of respect for the female Spartans who do. And I think those Spartans deserve to be treated with better respect by their university.
As editor-in-chief of a newspaper that covers MSU, I read MSU’s news website, MSU Today, religiously. Recently I came across an interesting story with a troubling headline.
It was about female engineering students working to improve their machine-shop skills. For people like me who couldn’t tell you what that means, apparently it involves learning the logistics of operating a drill press and a ban saw. In other words, very important tasks for students going into the engineering field.
The article was careful and quick to point out that women are capable of operating these machines just as well as men, but that women tend to not have the same level of experience or confidence in doing so. I took no issue with either statement, or even a quote from an engineering professor who said that some women can be intimidated by the equipment.
What did offend me was the headline: “Women engineering students going ‘shopping.’”
I don’t know anything about machine shop, but I do know a few things about headlines. I even know a few things about clever headlines. Puns and plays on words are natural and effective tricks to draw a reader in to a story, and it’s certainly not wrong to employ that kind of strategy.
But this attempt to be witty didn’t sit well with me. For one, it perpetuates an age-old stereotype that all women are shopaholics, which I can testify is not true. It also implies a complex, technical skill has to be dumbed down for women so they can keep up with their male peers in the same program.
I can already see the comments on this story that will criticize me for being too sensitive. After all, it’s just a few words, an attempt to be funny. But I surround myself every day by smart, wonderful women who spend hours a day writing headlines at The State News, and they all felt similarly put off. Even the male editors cringed when they saw it.
Because isn’t MSU always encouraging more women to go into STEM fields? And if women at MSU can’t expect their own university to write about them in a respectful way, who will?
Again, I’m not a female engineer. But I’m guessing if you put in the work for all of these notoriously difficult engineering classes and projects, you want MSU to acknowledge you’re good for a hell of a lot more than swiping your credit card at H&M.
Celeste Bott is the editor-in-chief of The State News.