The Question: So. What made you want to become a mechanic?
- Because I like being Distractingly Sexy
- Because I like fixing things (this response is also known as “here’s the Cliff Notes version of my life after leaving journalism”).
I’m getting pretty adept at answering The Question politely and with more enthusiasm than snark.
The first possible response though comes from this whole fracas started by Nobel Prize laureate Tim Hunt about women in STEM being distracting in the lab and prone to crying when criticized.
It’s funny because he chose to make that statement at the World Conference For Science Journalists — because that’s a group of people you can trust to really get to the meat of a speech in a hurry.
Call Twitter’s reaction and the #distractinglysexy a mockery of his career-ending poor choice of words. In reality though, it just highlights what it’s like for women in male-oriented fields.
For starters, you get asked really personal questions that no one ever asks your male counterparts.
Oh hey Sally Ride. Will 100 tampons be enough for a 7-day mission in space?
Then there’s also the unspoken undercurrent of doubt coming from the person grilling you about how you’re doing your job.
Are you sure you want to get your hands dirty?
This week I was asked and answered The Question when one of our drivers visited the garage for an oil top-off. He got the Cliff Notes version. As a public employee, it’s the best response.
What’s always funny is the moment that leads up to The Question.
Tuesday it was after I scooted under the 14-passenger shorty bus and checked to see why it was a quart low on oil. Newer vehicle. No staining. No major leaks around the oil pan. Oil filter was snug and no drips at the drain plug. Therefore, it probably didn’t get its full 6 qts. at the last oil change. Or the filter is a hungry little sponge. Or there’s something else going on.
Duly noted. Something I’ll monitor and we’re moving along now.
Next comes the small talk and The Question because I did an unladylike thing.
It was raining and I didn’t bother to grab my creeper first. Just laid down on the ground and inched over to the oil pan. My creeper is easily 60 ft. away from where he parked. I’m lazy and crossing the garage takes effort and time away from my buses.
Cue The Question.
I know. Being a mechanic does not make me a lady scientist.
I fix things. I only sometimes conduct experiments … and even then it’s just data collection and analysis. So I’m not really a scientist. And I’m not exactly a member of the STEM community. Details.
What it does make me though is a woman, like Patrice Banks, who was also tired of feeling discriminated against because of her sex. Banks started Girls Auto Clinic in Philadelphia to empower other women to have the vocabulary and knowledge to know what’s going on under the hood. However, she mentioned in her B-section article in the Washington Post that a technical high school class full of teenage boys admitted that women are too much of a distraction to work with men.
So maybe the problem isn’t ladies in the lab or in the garage …
Even if Hunt meant no harm with his statement, it’s 20-bloody-15. We shouldn’t be fussing over the undercarriage of who’s in the lab. We should be working on designing viable alternative energy solutions and cures for cancer.
If you’re going to advocate for segregation of the sexes in the lab, why stop there?
Better keep those clerks from working together at the grocery store. Can’t let those wily accountants sit too close together. They might be playing footsie. Better still. Let’s eliminate the possibility of anyone finding a co-worker attractive and learning how to deal with separating their personal life from their professional responsibilities.
Isolation bubble-suits for everyone.
I’m sure a lady scientist could figure out how to invent one once she’s able to see through her tears.