Recently, the male students from an engineering class at Guangzhou University made news for gifting their only female classmate a set of expensive MAC lipsticks for women’s day.
While many netizens applauded this move a kind and considerate gesture, others accused the men of sexism, claiming the gift was misogynistic.
“If she’s the only female in class they could have spent all that money in something related to her career to encourage her as a woman in a male-dominated field instead of buying her….lipstick. she’s an engineer, not a makeup artist. sexist afffff,” said one commenter.
“They could have taken her out to dinner, bought tickets for her to see her favorite lecturer, a concert performance, ect ect ect. But no they spent an exorbitant amount of $ on a superficial product with allot of baggage attached,” chimed in another.
Truthfully… I hear you. I get it. We women have to work a bit harder to prove that we can know something just as intimately, do something just as skillfully, and love something just as intensely as a man can, especially when it’s a male-dominated field or topic. So while this gift comes off as sweet (because it is), it’s easy for us to get a little defensive, as many of us have felt a need to reject the feminine in our quest for respect in our “masculine” field…
…which is why I love people like Naomi Wu.
When Wu first started attending university, she had no idea that she’d go from studying English to technology and coding. Deciding to pursue her interests further, she made her own DIY YouTube channel, chronicling her projects in the maker community. Netizens fell in love with her, and she quickly amassed millions of views. But it wasn’t just her brains that they fell in love with — it was also her beauty, even though it was just as reviled as it was revered.
“They don’t like my appearance, want to know why I look this way and want to explain why it bothers them. Fair enough, I look pretty weird,” Wu said of male Reddit users in an interview with Forbes. “For people actually in the maker and tech community, it’s a tough bit of ground to make a stand on. Yup, I look like a sex worker to you. So what? Are sex workers not welcome in the community?”
This sentiment is not unique to the maker/tech community, as any woman in a field that is male-dominated will recognize this opinion — women who are perceived as attractive and women who are perceived as respected and capable almost appear to be in two distinct, never-overlapping categories. If a woman is somehow both, there are those who will try to discredit her in one way or another, either by tearing down her looks or her achievements.
— Dale Dougherty (@dalepd) November 7, 2017
For these people, the space in which they occupy has been male-dominated for so long, they’re hesitant to believe anything feminine can even remotely exist in their world. While more and more fields are opening their doors to women and it’s steadily becoming the norm, it doesn’t mean it’s been a smooth transition, as evidenced by DIY magazine Maker’s CEO, Dale Dougherty, straight-up refusing to believe Wu was even a real person because of the way she looks.
So while it’s certainly sexist to believe that women can’t inhabit spaces perceived as masculine, it’s just as sexist to believe that any woman who tries to insert herself into a male-dominated space must also adopt masculine qualities and shun her femininity.
In truth, not all women like dressing up in revealing clothing, just as much as not all women enjoy tech or Sciences. One shouldn’t automatically assume that any woman will enjoy traditionally-feminine gifts or hobbies, but that doesn’t mean she has to utterly reject them to “fit in with the guys”. Women can like both — and by respecting the many sides of the complexity of human nature, real conversation can begin and equality can be achieved.
With this in mind, we come back to the sole female engineering student: who is the most sexist?
The male students giving their female classmate a feminine gift?
Or those that think the gift is misogynistic because she’s in the tech industry and couldn’t possibly like anything feminine?