A couple of months ago (before my unintentional hiatus), I wrote a blog post about how being a woman in an all-male environment opened me up to some interesting situations. More specifically, in that post, I was talking about how I dressed, and how the guys would sometimes comment on it. I’m not taking it back. I still think that it’s interesting, and I still vaguely track what the guys are saying. It isn’t as much anymore. It’s like they’re immune to my wardrobe now, which is probably a good thing. No, something else has recently caught my attention. Everything that I wrote about referred to my job as a teaching assistant for a class of engineering students. That’s how I’m the only female surrounded by men.[i] However, that’s only my part time job. I also have a full time job as a technical writer and instructional designer. In my full time job, it’s an office full of women… with one man in our midst. Yes, that’s right. I work part time with all men and full time with (almost) all women. It’s a strange dichotomy.
There is one person who is not always so fond of the social situation at my full time job. I’m going to call my male coworker Red Tail Hawk as a shout out to my dad and to keep this story interesting. Red Tail Hawk isn’t always thrilled to be around eleven women, day in and day out. He does a good job, but there are days when it wears on him.
I’ve talked to Red Tail Hawk about this situation several times, and he has the best outlook I could imagine about it. He continually tells me that it’s fine and that it’s not a big deal. I disagree, but I usually don’t say a whole lot when I’m actually talking to him. It’s his fight, his burden—I try not to bog him down with my opinion. But I do notice things.
- People assume that he can fix everything. I’ll admit, Red Tail Hawk is pretty handy, and he also knows quite a bit about computers. So oftentimes, he can fix things. It only perpetuates the stereotype, though. I’ll also admit that, when I was new and I couldn’t figure out how to use the scanner, I did ask him first. But I think that had more to do with him volunteering to help me than it did I assumed he’d be the only one who would be able to scan something.
- Sometimes, the fact that he is a man in an office full of women gets overlooked. This seems impossible, right? How could someone’s gender get overlooked? It happens. There has been a lot of progression recently about not stereotyping genders at all, which may or may not be a part of this. But there are some things in the (unisex) restrooms that he may not want to see. And, when describing our office, it’s so easy to say “we’re a team of women” rather than “we’re a team of mostly women.”[ii]
- The gossip game in this office is strong. I am not a fan of gossip, for many reasons. It lowers morale and it turns normal, nice people into mean girls. But do you know who generally hates gossip more than me? Because who cares! Yeah, well, Red Tail Hawk has to put up with an abnormal amount of gossip as the only man in the office. Where I just listen to it and try not to spread it, he tries to block it out. I don’t blame him. If I was a stronger person, I’d try to block it out, too.
And those are just examples that I’ve heard about in the last couple of weeks.
I also want to point out that this isn’t proportional to our field. I would guess that it’s nearly split down the middle in my Master’s program between men and women. It’s not predominantly either. So how does something like this happen? And, more importantly, is Red Tail Hawk protected at work in the way that I’m protected as the only woman in a room full of engineers?
Think on that one for a second.
I don’t know that I necessarily have a point, a thesis, if you will. Just a bunch of observations that I was hoping to point to something. They don’t, really. Just that it’s not fair either way. Being the only one of your gender isn’t always fun and it isn’t always fair.
Men, respect women. Women, respect men. Everyone, respect everyone.
[i] I want to make something very clear. I support women in science and engineering. I 100% support that. It just so happens that this particular program is only a few years old, and there haven’t been any women who have joined yet. They will. Build it [the program] and they will come. Because lady engineers and scientists rock.
[ii] I hate to say it, but this actually happened. Poor Red Tail Hawk.