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UWaterloo Drama and Women’s Bodies

June 17, 2011

There is so much policing of women’s bodies. That’s why there is a need for events like Slutwalk to reject it. That’s why female engineers worry so much about what they wear. I mean seriously, even bodies that only imply femaleness need policing.

And I think that sucks.

I recently heard about the drama at University of Waterloo where a female engineering student posed in a bikini next to a Formula SAE car that she helped design and build. The school administration found the photos on the internet and suspended the entire Formula SAE team, preventing them from attending that year’s competition.

I have a lot of feelings about this.

First, I was involved in designing, building and racing a human-powered vehicle for an engineering design competition during my 4 years in school. I would have been absolutely devastated if anything prevented us from getting to competition. All the extra work, complicated logistics, late nights were worth it because competition was so much fun. We got to push ourselves as both athletes and engineers as hard as possible and we loved it. I can’t imagine how horrible it must be to have been denied that opportunity as an engineering design team member.

Second, I’m not sure how I feel about the photographer. After all the backlash, he is only concerned about getting credit. I assume he got permission to post the picture on the internet but still, I would feel bad about what ultimately came to pass. I feel like his response post is weird.

Mostly, I think this whole thing is ridiculous. I don’t really have anything to say about how they may or may not have broken rules etc. etc. What I think is most interesting is that the Dean claimed that the photo shoot was inappropriate and denigrating to women.

I’m not sure if I agree with that. Or rather, I’m torn. We live in a patriarchy. That is why the Miss Universe/UniGirl/Whatever Competition required a bikini shot in the first place. In the context of knowing who this woman is and why she is posing with this car, I think this photo shoot is awesome. Yeah! Be sexy and smart! But … it was probably a bad idea to put it on the internet (maybe I’m only saying that in retrospect?).

In any case, there is clearly a lot of policing of women’s bodies going on! We could sit around and argue that it would have been different if it was a male student. But that’s missing the dude-we-live-in-a-patriarchy point – do you really think it’s even likely that a male engineering student would even be in a sexy swimsuit photo shoot? I’m not implying that male engineers don’t have sexy bodies. I’m just saying that I don’t think there are many competitions that require men to produce sexy swimsuit shots. Feel free to counterpoint with examples.

I feel uncomfortable with the implication that her actions made all women engineers look bad and/or made University of Waterloo look less lady-friendly. I think that’s an exaggeration and puts too much pressure on individual women engineers to be perfect. “You better behave! You’re representing all of women in engineering!” Too many minorities feel this way and it creates unnecessary pressure (*cough* stereotype threat *cough*).

I feel icky about this whole thing.

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