After you watched the Title IX 40th anniversary fireworks dim in the summer night sky and you brushed the Title IX 40th anniversary barbecue off of your teeth, you probably settled into bed and reflected on all the opportunities Title IX has offered female students. Still, even 40 years after Richard Nixon helped ensure that "no person shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from any education program or activity," a gender gap remains wedged firmly in technical high school electives like shop, which in turn help prepare or encourage students to take up engineering or careers in other high-paying technology trades. In sort of the same way the disappearance of Home Ec is helping new generations of young adults fuck up their finances, the persistent stigma about girls taking shop classes goes a long way towards discouraging girls from entering technical fields that have been culturally designated as "male" professions.
NPR ran a Title IX anniversary story featuring Zoe Shipley, a 15-year-old student at Eastern Technical School, a magnet school in Essex, Md. Zoe's the only girl in her automotive technology course, which is fine with her because she really likes to work on cars, but not so cool with her grandmother, who's all like, "In my day, young ladies didn't tinker under the hood of an automobile — they went to cotillions and danced the foxtrot with gentlemen callers." Even though Eastern opens its technical courses to all of its students, Zoe still gets a lot of shit from her male classmates, mostly because 15-year-olds are generally awful to one another, but also because the sight of a girl rifling through a car's greasy entrails does not culturally compute. If girls like pink stuff and crocheting and puppies with oversized bow-ties looped around their fuzzy little necks, then why does this girl like timing belts and RPMs and [some other car thing]? Up is down and down is up!
Though Zoe's family can see her "owning her own [auto] shop as a businesswoman," the idea that she'd actually be the auto mechanic who milks clueless car owners for more money by making up car ailments fries their circuits. Elayne Digman, Zoe's grandmother, admitted that it's so difficult for her to see Zoe sliding under a car because she comes from an era when body shops were exclusively the realms of men with monosyllabic names printed on their overalls.
I had, I don't know, just odd feelings about her going into [automotive technology] because back in my day, you didn't do stuff like that, going into trades that were basically boys' trades.
Zoe, for her part, thinks it's a shame that her grandmother was culturally conditioned to think that only men should be allowed to fix cars, saying that being relegated to sewing and cooking classes "deprived" her grandmother, "because it's discrimination."
That it most certainly is. Stigmatizing girls who have those tinkering brains we need to help build our bridges and spaceships is also keeping technical fields predominantly male. While men get on educational tracks that lead to well-compensated careers in engineering or technical trades like plumbing, women are largely encouraged to get on tracks that lead to lower-wage jobs in child care or cosmetology (an overwhelming 90 percent of students in those two fields are female). There isn't anything inherently wrong with either of those professions, by the way, but neither is there anything inherently feminine about them. Enforcing Title IX in the years ahead doesn't simply mean making sure that women can have the same access to athletic scholarships that men do — it means encouraging women to enter technical fields that, by virtue of a real economic need, are very well compensated. Maintaining an attitude that technical professions are for dudes only makes it more difficult for women to overcome the stigma of working against the cultural grain, when it really does not matter what chromosomes you have when you're telling someone that they're stupid for not checking their oil until the oil light goes on.
Image via Greg Epperson/Shutterstock.