engineering

The Towne Building, home to many of Penn's engineering classes. DP file photo.

To the Editor:

The publication of the article “Many Penn women not discouraged by gender disparities across fields” is uncritical and misogynistic. We first take issue with the title’s misleading nature: “Many” refers to merely four women interviewed, and fails to satisfactorily represent the viewpoints of Penn women in fields plagued with gender disparities. The author neglects to cite a single concrete statistic, and instead relies on the opinions of far too few students.

Demographic statistics explicitly challenge the article’s message. Merely 30.57 percent of Computer and Information Science majors at Penn are women. According to the School of Engineering and Applied Science website, “U.S. Under­-represented Minorities” comprise only 16 percent of SEAS students in the class of 2017. We wonder: What does transgender and non­-binary representation look like? The author fails to account for diverse experiences in various fields at Penn, and seemingly ignores the fact that these experiences are contingent on one’s identity.

Additionally, the language of the interviewees is sexist and demeaning. The term “girls” is used five times to refer to college­-aged women. In contrast, “guys” is used three times to refer to male Penn students, while “boys” is never used. Referring to college-aged women as “girls” prevents women from being taken seriously within academia and larger contexts.

Furthermore, the implications of the interviewees’ statements are disturbing. Shritama Ray's comment that "If [women] are not risk takers or very independent and willing to do whatever it takes … it might be a little discouraging — you have to be a certain type of person,” establishes a binary between women — those who have what it takes to ignore sexism versus those who don't, which is a sexist project in and of itself. Jennifer Knesbach’s assertion that “I think the jobs are going to go to who deserves it, and who's the most qualified for it," implicitly ignores a history and culture of racism, sexism and a privileging mentality of "the boys' club," where knowing someone gets you further than being qualified. The article ignores the fact that, on average, a white woman will earn 78 percent of what men earn for doing the same job, and a woman of color will be paid even less than that. Isabel Kim observes, “The reasons for these gender disparities are unclear.” However, the reasons are appallingly clear: young girls are discouraged from entering STEM fields; women have a harder time finding mentors; workplaces are often hostile environments for women — we can go on.

Feeling confident in the face of gender disparity, racial oppression and difference in socioeconomic status is something we applaud, but ignorance of these realities is unacceptable.

Full response letter, including signatures, can be found here.

SARAH ZANDI and AMELIA GOODMAN are both College juniors from Mt. Kisco and Huntington, N.Y. respectively. Sarah is studying English, Amelia is studying computer science and gender, sexuality & women's studies. Their emails are szandi@sas.upenn.edu and ameliago@sas.upenn.edu.

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