Photo: Lindsay Boeckl

The anomalies

In Features /

The female engineer

By Rhiannon Russell

Atoms, particles, Einstein, wavelengths, radiation theory.

In this physics class in the AMC theatre, there are about 80 students, and only eight or nine are female. Welcome to engineering — a notoriously male-dominated area of study at Ryerson.

Maria Gonzalez, 21, sits in the third row. She’s petite, with loose brown curls, big brown eyes and square-rimmed glasses. On her desk tray there’s a pad of lined paper and a black steel waterbottle.

Gonzalez commutes from Vaughan, and even though she wakes up before the crack of dawn to get to her 8 a.m. classes, she’s attentive. She looks at the professor as he talks, looks at the screen as it’s gradually filled with his scribbles, and looks back down at her notes, written neatly in blue ink.

Her brow furrows slightly as she stares at the formulae on the screen.

“It’s fun when you understand what’s going on,” she says. However, “when he’s writing stuff down, sometimes it’s like ‘What’s he talking about?’” She laughs.

Gonzalez likes physics and studied math at Ryerson before transferring into industrial engineering.

“When I applied, I knew there would be a lot of guys,” she says. It hasn’t bothered her in the slightest. “You don’t think of the people in the class, just the class itself,” she says.

According to Engineers Canada, the number of women in Ontario engineering programs dropped down to 17 per cent in 2009 from 21 per cent in 2001. And in the professional world, the statistics haven’t improved much. Only 10 per cent of licensed engineers in Canada in 2009 were female, up from 7 per cent in 2000.

“I think it’s mostly the reputation” that doesn’t attract females, says Gonzalez. Engineering is stereotyped as a profession of manual labour and hard hats, but that’s not always accurate.

Certain engineering branches are more get-your-hands-dirty than others, she says. Industrial engineers, for example, often work in an office setting and do systematic procedures like supply chain analysis. They will strategically plan, for instance, where a new chain store should be built or work through the step-by-step process of creating a product. It’s about “how [a product] can help and affect the human being. You develop procedures to make it more effective,” Gonzalez says.

Women in Engineering at Ryerson is trying to correct the misconceptions. It hosts several events for female students to gather, meet, and network. Female engineers come to some of these events to give the students an idea of what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace.

Ryerson engineering professor Frankie Stewart was the first female mechanical engineer hired at Ontario Hydro in the 1980s. “That’s just the way it was. Was it easier or harder because of that? No, it was just your job … All of the men were great to work with.” Now, she’s one of two female faculty members in the mechanical engineering department.

Clearly, not much has changed. “I do not know why, I think it’s a fun discipline. Maybe we don’t do a great job of letting people know all the things that we can do,” Stewart says, seeming to puzzle over it.

She says the programs at Ryerson are usually less than a quarter female, and many are concentrated in chemical and biomedical engineering.

“We don’t self-promote. I know PEO [Professional Engineers Ontario] once referred to it as the ‘silent profession.,’” she says.

It’s not all about construction, and she says perhaps students don’t realize Ryerson offers eight very diverse engineering programs.

Stewart displays Computer Engineer Barbie like a trophy on her office shelf. Barbie wears thick pink glasses and sits at a computer. Every year, online voters decide what the doll’s next occupation should be.

“This just came out this year,” she says, a hint of pride in her voice

The male nurse

By Imran Khan

Admit it.

You laughed hysterically every time Robert De Niro ridiculed Ben Stiller for being a “male nurse” in Meet the Parents. His delivery and stone cold facial expression made it hard to resist a chuckle.

Despite reinforcing the stigma of nursing being a gender exclusive career, there is reason why De Niro’s character and others feel this way.

Historically, the term “nurse” has its roots in the Latin noun nutrix, meaning “nursing mother.” The term often referred to a wet nurse (women who breast fed the babies of other females). It wasn’t until the 20th century that the term nurse became inclusive to males, despite the psyche surrounding the profession still favouring women as “born nurses” due to seeing females as having natural maternal instinct.

Today, in spite of the plethora of sexy female nurse outfits during Halloween, males are breaking ground and entering the field. Third-year nursing student Ali Jaffery says the program makes him feel well rounded and prepared for placement.

Even with contentment in pursuing a career in nursing, Jaffery has found himself promoting social and gender norms within the feild. “I used to introduce myself as a male nursing student. I realized by doing that I was emphasizing it is a female dominated practice. Now I just say I am a nursing student to try not to further the stereotype and stigma surrounding the field.”

According to Jaffery, a portion of males in the nursing program are immigrants and are not familiar with the North American stigma associated with nursing. “They really just want to help people and know that nursing is a great career choice.”

Canadian numbers have remained stagnant over the years. In 2009 out of the total number of registered nurses (284,690), which includes nurse practitioners, males only represented 6.2 per cent (16,475). The province of Quebec had the largest volume of registered male nurses (38.7 per cent) with Ontario following in second (27.6 per cent).

It also doesn’t help that the media is guilty of perpetuating misconceptions like male nurses being passive, effeminate or soft. It causes many males to overlook the career due to not fitting the mould. Despite a strong recruitment for male nurses in Canada, the after-effects of the previous generation’s mentality of the field is still being perpetuated.

Jaffery has been congratulated by both his peers and professors for studying the field. “I entered nursing because there is a lot of room to grow,” say Jaffery. “I feel the patient population should reflect the care being offered in Canada.”

Males currently practicing in the field are slowly noticing changes in terms of patient responses to more males in nursing. “I feel a bit special, a lot of patients are sometimes surprised, but they actually welcome me usually without any hesitation,” says Tegar Roessaptono, a nurse at Sunnybrook Hospital.

Roessaptono, who graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in nursing in 2010, has been practicing in the field since February. Roessaptono feels nursing is a career that is always evolving and constantly keeps him on his toes. Nurses aren’t only responsible for bathing and clothing patients, they monitor the effects of medicine, look at precautions for certain blood types and are shifted into different situations, he says.

“If you could shadow my work for one day, you would see we [nurses] go way beyond the stereotypical view of what a nurse really is.”


Leave a Comment