In October 2015, mechanical engineering student Jared Mauldin sent a letter to the editor of his university’s student newspaper, addressed to the women in his engineering classes. Starting by saying that while he seeks to treat the women in his classes as peers, they are not in fact equal, not because of their ability or skills, but because of the systemic and institutionalized obstacles they face as women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. The letter is written from first person perspective, and illuminates the discrimination women face by describing it in terms of the often-unacknowledged privileges that men have in these same areas. For example, he explains the inequities by saying, “I did not, for example, grow up in a world that discouraged me from focusing on hard science. Nor did I live in a society that told me not to get dirty, or said I was bossy for exhibiting leadership skills…I was not bombarded by images and slogans telling me that my true worth was in how I look, and that I should abstain from certain activities because I might be thought too masculine….I have had no difficulty whatsoever with a boys club mentality, and I will not face added scrutiny or remarks of my being the ‘diversity hire.’ When I experience success the assumption of others will be that I earned it.” He closes by stating, “So, you and I cannot be equal. You have already conquered far more to be in this field than I will ever face.”
Read each statement he makes about the differences in expectations and treatment of girls and women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). How do expectations affect behavior and experience both for girls who may be interested in these areas, and also the people around them that either support or discourage them from pursuing these subjects and fields?
The unequal treatment described in the letter comes in many forms and from many places, ranging from interpersonal interactions to institutional or representational systems. Do you think the bias in expectations and treatment is intentional? Does that matter? How can these inequalities be addressed, and whose responsibility is it to make changes?
What is the effect of this being in a letter format? How does the author use first person voice to talk about these issues from the perspective of often-unacknowledged male privilege?
Do you think this letter is more effective and can reach more people because it is written by a man and from a male’s perspective? Would people respond to it the same way if a woman wrote it? Why or why not?