Sexist men assume that female engineers are feminists.

Twenty years ago, a Canadian man, who believed that he was fighting “feminism”, massacred fourteen women at an engineering school.

Some men think that all female engineers are “feminists”, because they find female engineers threatening, not because of any professed political beliefs of the female engineers. Female engineers are engineers who happen to be women; they are probably not doing it as a political statement, but because they enjoy engineering.

Ironically, if the 1989 killer wanted to find feminists, the feminists would most likely be in the social sciences, not engineering. (I find that most engineering students (including female engineering students) know nothing about feminism,* and think that social science degrees are useless.)

Yet even people who are not feminists and not majoring in Women and Gender Studies are affected by sexism and misogyny. In the real world, feminist issues affect engineers, and engineering issues affect feminists. The real world is not divided into separate domains of knowledge.

December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

* It is also interesting to note that a female engineer and survivor of the massacre had yelled, “We are not feminists!” in desperation during the attack. At the time, she thought that feminists were militant. (via feministing)

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Update: Aboriginal women are five times more likely to die of violence than women of any other race in Canada. Jessica Yee remembers violence against women who are much less likely to be remembered.

In addition, trans women are particularly at risk for hate crimes, and murdered trans women are also much less likely to be remembered than murdered cisgender women.

11 Responses to “Sexist men assume that female engineers are feminists.”

  1. Natalia Says:

    Some men think that all female engineers are “feminists”, because they find female engineers threatening, not because of any professed political beliefs of the female engineers.

    It’s not about professed beliefs. To be a woman engineer under patriarchy is political, whether or not you want it to be.

  2. Restructure! Says:

    Still, most female engineers engineering students do not self-identify as feminists, and most seem to want to distance themselves from feminists.

  3. melinda Says:

    I don’t feel that way and I was surprised to read it in this article! But I am a female engineer and a feminist, so maybe I don’t hear about it because I live up to the stereotype.

    Just to complicate matters, I know a lot of female engineers who say they aren’t feminists because they don’t want to take crap for it from their colleagues or they think it’ll hurt their careers. Discussing politics like that is more often a pain in the ass than not, and if someone corners me and starts asking me about feminism, I’m definitely cagey if I don’t know why they’re asking.

    FYI, I work in the US in the software industry. Maybe it’s just different in other branches of engineering and other countries.

  4. Restructure! Says:


    Sorry, I should have said that most engineering students are not feminists, but I didn’t do engineering, so you would know more engineering students than me. At my alma mater, the engineering program was segregated from the rest of the courses at the university, so most of the engineering students’ social views hadn’t evolved since high school. I’m not saying all engineers are like that, but I know that engineering is extremely competitive, and it’s understandable that engineering students don’t have time to learn anything else but engineering.

  5. Restructure! Says:

    Lessons of the Montreal Massacre:

    “We are not feminists.”

    A young, incredulous Nathalie Provost said those words to Marc Lépine 20 years ago Sunday. It was a bid to save her and her fellow students’ lives – the women Lépine had isolated in a university classroom before opening fire on them with a semi-automatic hunting rifle.

    Provost was one of the lucky four who survived. “At the time, I thought to be a feminist meant you had to be militant,” says Provost, who today is overworked and feeling skittish as the anniversary approaches. She was the young woman who, from her hospital bed a couple days later, urged Canadian girls to not be frightened by the event and to pursue engineering careers.

  6. rachel Says:

    Well, I suppose he thought that if they WEREN’T feminists, they would stay in their places and leave the men’s work for the men, like good women who know their place do, and by committing a terrorist act, he thought he might scare some women into not taking advantages of the effects of feminism. So yeah, he was “fighting feminism.”

  7. rachel Says:

    I love the picture, by the way…

  8. melinda Says:

    Ah, engineering STUDENTS are a whole ‘nother ballgame, and I definitely agree with you there.

    I was active in a feminist organization when I was a student, but I felt like I didn’t fit in very well… because I was an engineer! A lot of the students in that organization seemed to think that you have to study feminism academically in order to BE a feminist, which short-changes almost everyone who can benefit from feminism. It made me want to say “hey, uh, what about me? I’m not even IN a degree program that’s mostly women, unlike YOU! Some days I’m the only woman in the room! What do you think about THAT!? You think that’s not political?”

    Being the only person of your kind in the room makes you have less energy for Doing Activism in the traditional sense.

    I think that my point about not wanting to discuss politics with colleagues still definitely holds for students and is probably worse in that situation because in university, your whole social life revolves so much around the program you’re in.

  9. Kimberly Says:

    What data do you have to show that most female engineers do not self-identify as feminists? All the female engineers I know are passionate feminists. Some didn’t identify as feminists as young women, but once in the field, they quickly understood what feminism was really about – equality.

  10. Restructure! Says:

    I had meant that most female engineering students don’t self-identify as feminists. Most women are not feminists, so I thought that the percentage of feminists should not be higher in female engineering students.

  11. urbia Says:

    Thank you for adding the Update.

    I was part of a Multiculturalism-themed organization at my very white college and when I brought up the general apathy about missing Native women in Canadian society on the date people were remembering this event of the massacre, one of the white male college administrators took me aside and said it was unnecessary – basically an attempt to silence me and derail the conversation.

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