Well I did it. I made it through a term of graduate school as a mother of an infant. I didn’t do it gracefully, but I did do it successfully. My biggest worry this term was passing Structures. We’re told the structures series is the hardest two courses we will take in architecture school. I remember complaints from the architecture students when I was an undergraduate, and students failing exam after exam. Us interior architecture students smiled smugly, since we were not required to take those courses. I heard more than a few times, from female IARC (interior architecture) students that “Oh I chose interiors because I don’t want to do the math.” This sentiment is common among women.
“I don’t like math.” “I wasn’t very good at math.”
In class, I frequently asked Spirit questions, since he was the best student. But I hardly ever asked Hanna. She was a good student, and her undergraduate degree was in economics, so the math was a piece of cake for her. How annoying that this sexism was so ingrained in my subconscious that I didn’t think of her first. Or trust myself for that matter.
Because guess what? I KILLED STRUCTURES.
I didn’t just pass, I got an A. Without the curve. I achieved 100% on more than a couple of homework assignments and I got a 93% on my first exam. My second exam: 59/60. Even after numerous repeated successes, I was afraid of that last exam. When I received the graded copy, I looked to see what I had gotten incorrect, since I had received 5 bonus points. I went to the structures problem sets. Correct. All of it. The questions I was marked down for were the short answer ones from the book like “What are the four elements of a truss?” and “Explain three differences between determinate and indeterminate structural systems.” But the “hard” stuff? 100%.
Should I be so surprised that I have a knack for structural engineering? I remember as a kid, not wanting to take part in the balsa wood structure competitions in Odyssey of the Mind. That was for the super nerdy boys.
Sometimes the influences are subtle, such as parents or teachers gently encouraging one subject over another. Toys for kids and how they differ for the sexes. Sometimes it’s not so subtle, like the current princess mania or the onesie I saw at Tacoma General Hospital’s gift shop, “I’m too cute for math.” What the fuck? I saw the same phrase on a women’s pink shirt for sale at my old gym. I complained to the manager, who told me eloquently, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” After which, I complained to corporate headquarters and got his ass fired.
We need more encouragement in the form of this great line of toys for girls, Goldie Blox, marketed for the next generation of engineers and inventors. This fantastic ad spoofs the Beastie Boys song “Girls,” showing three girls bored by your typical princess toy ad, so they build a Rube Goldberg machine. There’s some pending litigation between the band and the toy maker, so I apologize if the video is no longer available. It was at the time of writing this post.
We should also encourage boys to pursue options that we don’t typically see as fit for them. During my career as an interior designer, many a male client told me “Oh I don’t do color, I leave that up to the women.” I acknowledge that generally, women may, as a whole, be slightly better at color differentiation due to x-chromosome linked color blindness, but how many men may be just as talented in color selection if they were to apply themselves? Think of the famous artists, fashion designers, and decorators who have tremendous talent with color, pattern, fabrics, and form? Most of them are men.
Also, why is one aptitude considered better than the other? More prestigious? I didn’t hear any architecture students saying, “Oh I chose architecture instead of interiors because I can’t do the color.” During my career, I heard the term “interior defecator” more than once. One is considered a man’s domain, and therefore worthy of respect.
So to all the doubters of interior designers and women, I give you this: I can do color and structural calculations.
Enjoy this video of Spirit’s and my tower project, which had the best strength to weight ratio of the Portland class, and the second best in the Eugene class. 4.4 ounces and it held 24 lbs of sand. Guess I could’ve joined the boys in the balsa wood tower category of Odyssey of the Mind after all.