I grew up knowing there were two categories of jobs- blue jobs and pink jobs. And you were good at one or the other. Rebel that I am, I somehow ended up lilac…somewhere in between. There are these stereotypes that accompany anyone who dares to spend any time thinking about anything. I find myself debunking some, ignoring others and (ooops!) confirming others.
I’ll start with the pink job/ blue job divide. It’s assumed one is good at either one or the other. You can’t be an engineer, a mathematician, a female rugby player, et cetera, and still know how to cook, knit, crochet, sing lullabies, and such “pink” activities. It is assumed that in getting into science, you might get out of the kitchen and never go back.
Others with a narrower viewpoint boil it down even thicker. I’m sure you’ve heard of the unfortunate man whose relatives have concluded must starve or rely on take-out because “educated women can’t cook… can’t clean… can’t keep a house”. I’m not saying it’s a woman’s job (i.e. a pink job) to cook, clean and keep house. I have brothers who are masters in the kitchen, one is a salad expert, another a baking expert, both better at their fields of expertise than I am. What I am saying is that it shouldn’t be assumed that the lack of a Y chromosome automatically makes one an expert in “pink jobs”…or that the possession of a scientifically inclined brain means one can’t at the same time enjoy working within the box.
So what is so wrong with assuming someone fits into a particular box? Well, there is a lot to lose. Case in point: I was once on attachment at this company (name withheld) where I was on rotation under different supervisors each week. One of my supervisors firmly believed I was too weak (ha!) to do more than hand him spanners…which I faithfully did. Boy, wasn’t he shocked to find me using said spanners the next week while checking on some compressors taller and much, much heavier than me. Assuming that my brothers should be on “blue job” duty, would be detrimental to the taste buds of those of us who salivate at the thought of the forthcoming pastries when they take up their place in the kitchen.
The broader picture? There’s no fixed set of characteristics possessed by a female in science, tech, engineering and mathematics. We may be in blue jobs but we also enjoy and excel at pink jobs (some more than others). We are not all ‘tomboys’. Some of us played marbles (bano), chobo-ngoto, police and robbers, others played cha-mama, kati, blada, circular…others, all the above. So whether you are blue, pink, lilac or whichever colour, my take is, have fun and be good at it.
Author: Lina Owino is a mother, daughter, wife, sister and Chairman of the Department of Mechatronic Engineering at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Engineering, Kenya.