hardware terminology

June 16, 2007 at 1:10 am (gender, mechanical engineering)

It seems Dr. James Holsinger Jr. who bush is about to nominate as next Surgeon-General of the US, wrote a very homophobic article for the Committee to Study Homosexuality of the United Methodist Church. in it, he used a metaphor “In fact, the logical complementarity of the human sexes has been so recognized in our culture that it has entered our vocabulary in the form of naming various pipe fittings either the male fitting or the female fitting depending upon which one interlocks within the other.” Hugh Robertson tells us this, in a blog snippet i came across, and argues well the importance of holsinger keeping his views out of his public office. of the quote, however, he says ‘Now I do not propose to argue hardware terminology…’

now i do propose to argue hardware terminology. wow, in a blog i can expect you to hear me out, before you tell me that i’m being a bit silly and trivial.

as a student of mechanical engineering, i am under a constant bombardment of gendered context. i spend my days in a class full of teenage boys, listening to male teachers make ‘harmless’ jokes at their wives’ expense, then having them accost me in the break to tell me how much they love and respect their wives, because they saw me roll my eyes. the kid who wears the ‘lesbos, where every man wants to be’ tshirt every week, didn’t really understand why i was amused the first week, and really wouldn’t understand why i get irritated now. the graffiti on the tables is of penises. i pull people up on their use of ‘gay’ as a term of abuse, but the gendered insults are too thick and fast and besides, i’m getting to know these people, and want to get along with them. i’m in conflict as to whether it’s better when we are addressed as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ or just ‘gentlemen’, as these are often the choices. am i being included or singled out? the only female staff member teaches computers and communications, a subject from which i am exempt, and which is generally considered light weight. when i get top marks in something, my gender is commented on. sometimes the teacher is expressing pleasure at having a girl in the class. that kind of sex distinction can occasionally feel like a mitigating factor, until it turns out i’m expected to do better because i must be more careful. sometimes the expression is of suprise, which simply makes me feel dirty. i’d hate to think what would happen if i did badly at much.

and fittings which are useless without their counterparts, and categorically don’t fit with their equals, are named ‘male’ and ‘female’. just because it is entrenched doesn’t mean it is benign.


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