Girls, Being Engineers, Emma Watson And Us


This is a “Thoughtful Thursday” post which got a bit delayed, by 11 hours exactly, because I was adding things to my website all day yesterday. All good stuff, I promise. Now, to the topic.

Just about a month ago actress-turned-activist Emma Watson was in the spotlight for cheering on a young fan to be an engineer even though the girl’s father didn’t want her to be one. Since then I have been wanting to write a post on the matter.

Emma Watson is an amazing woman, and I only wish more women in a similar position to influence did what Ms. Watson does so often and so effortlessly. She is, as you probably are aware, the UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, and a champion of the UN led HeForShe campaign. Read more on the initiative here. Hats off to the inspiring and talented lady.

No matter how wonderful this particular story may be, I was really sad thinking of the countless other girls out there who don’t anyone to cheer them on. While one fan’s aspirations were so wonderfully lifted by her hero, there are millions of others that give up their dreams simply because society deems a profession to belong to a certain sex.

There is gender inequality everywhere and constant abuse and violence against girls and women all over the world, but today’s topic is not about those barbaric pits of humanity. Today’s topic is not much less worrisome though, because the girl Emma Watson was speaking to is clearly from a section of society where the basic necessities like food and shelter are well met with, of course education also, but she still is denied access to her dreams.

Above is the famous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs–the basis of what drives a human being. For a person, being higher up on this pyramid means a more successful, complete and happy human being. And if we think of the human race, the more of us leaving the bottom layers and reaching those layers of green and puprle bliss, means our civilization is going places. Right now though, the majority of humans on this planet crowd those reds and the oranges.

But let’s now look at the families who are lucky enough to get past the basic “Physiological” and “Safety” barriers and into the “Love/Belonging” layers. Most of us are here, right? What about the girl who is told to not become an engineer? Obviously she is here with us also, trying to figure out if she can get to “Esteem” and “Self-actualization.” What happens when her dream is denied because she is made a certain way? She never reaches the top layers of this pyramid, and the human civilization slips back a certain percentile.

The thing is though, for a parent with kids reaching for the Esteem zone, it shouldn’t be hard as it seems to allow their kids, specifically daughters to reach for the stars . . . be anything that they want to be. Yet, unfortunately, it is.

The other day I went to a birthday party for one of my toddler’s friends. A little girl who, as expected of little girls at the moment, is into “Frozen.” Goodie bags were handed out and they were lovely bags also. The sad part came when my daughter opened up her bag–it was made for a “girl.” There were trinkets and sparkly stuff, cutesy pink objects and sweet little what-nots, but my daughter wanted none of those. All she wanted was one of those puzzles she is crazy about that showed up in the “boys” boxes, that half of the boys were not even interested in. She asked me why would “they” get the puzzles and she be denied? It was a tough question and I don’t think I could answer it right. But I made sure she got a 100 piece puzzle on her way back home that she spent the rest of her evening with. I didn’t want her to think that things will not be given to her because she is a girl, not at this age.

But it happens all the time. Toys are labeled “for girls,” toys are colored pink and purple and when the grow up, professions are labeled “for boys only.” How unfair is that? How unfair is that when those labels are put on by your own parents?

I consider myself very lucky. My mother and father always taught me that I could do anything a boy can do, and I was never denied my dreams. I grew up to be an engineer, I went on to get my business degree–I know I can be anything I want to be. But not everyone is that lucky. And its just not about girls, although it is more expected with girls than with boys.

I had once watched a fabulous movie – Billy Elliot. It was a beautiful tale of a boy from a coal-mining town of Northern Ireland who loves to dance–a passion that is labeled “for girls only.” Although the movie comes to an uplifting end, I wonder how many boys find themselves in situations like that.

When I started writing, I wanted to write about strong characters, especially girls. My Dani is an Engineer but she is also the most caring person. Why? Because a girl can be both caring and whatever she wants to be professionally. She doesn’t need to be herded in one direction simply because we think she will be happier that way. Let it, instead, be her choice. Let the 2000’s be the century of freedom to choose.

Our civilization will one day be judged, by the humans of the future. Let’s try to move upward that pyramid, one person at a time, one kid at a time. The higher up we go, the better off we are to pull someone up from those bottom-most layers. That way, everyone wins.

S.G. Basu is an aspiring potentate of a galaxy or two. She plots and plans with wondrous machines, cybernetic robots, time travelers and telekinetic adventurers, some of whom escape into the pages of her books. Once upon a previous life on planet Earth, S.G. Basu trained to be an engineer, and her interest in science and her love of engineering shows up time and again in her books.

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