If I watch one more token woman on Robot Wars delegated to “snacks”, “morale” or “aesthetics”, I am going to cry. I know I’m probably preaching to the congregation in here, but there are so many reasons this needs to be said:
- Setting an Example
Nobody is accustomed to women in STEM spaces. Even before we dive into the world of pay gaps and office sexism, people simply aren’t certain of a woman’s position in that room, and whilst we can vaguely apportion blame to society instead of any tangible human threat, it doesn’t make it less true. We are not used to seeing women occupying STEM roles without it being viewed as an exception, inspiration, or token. In short; we’re not used to seeing female scientists as normal. So when I open up iPlayer to scope out which cluster of metal will reign supreme over the plebiscite robot community, it frustrates me to see that cliché being played out in a world where even personified spinning knives can be powerful.
- Reinforces the idea that engineering isn’t normal for women
I’m not arguing that there’s a lack of women on Robot Wars. The representation isn’t an even keel yet, but there are definitely women on the show. My frustration lies in their positions. Multiple father-son duos are accompanied by “Mum, who does the snacks“, “Mum, who got the t-shirts”, or more than one “Mum, who boosts morale”, as well other named women (lucky them) occupying similarly described roles like ‘aesthetics’. What better way to show that the women who are privileged enough to be allowed into the boy’s club of engineering classes, aren’t there to engineer.
- Belittles the roles these women occupy
Nobody even stops to acknowledge the value of these roles; it’s a joke that we’re all in on, because everyone is meant to know that ‘snacks’ or ‘aesthetic’ is just an excuse to have a girl on your team- a girl who’s lucky to be there.
Have you ever looked after people? I spent one evening responsible for my sisters (15, 8) and their two friends, which included walking to the high street for dinner I didn’t even make, and they honestly need to move to a different continent before I get enough space to recover from my irritation. Catering for a full family, day on day is hard. Catering for a family which includes a father-son duo, building a fighting robot and tagging you on as “Mum who does the snacks” must be infuriating.
Cookery is just something women are expected to know; until a man tries it, it’s easy. Same thing goes for house work, team work, and patience.
I’ve always felt a pang of pseudo-feminist guilt when I couldn’t get through all Robot Wars, or Top Gear, or anything else lacking well represented women, without falling asleep. However recently I met a girl at an event for girls in computer science where I was mentoring, who told me she aspired to become Felicity from Green Arrow. I was ever so slightly crushed by the fact that in the whole world – a world which has developed an entire society – this girl had only one supporting character that represented her dreams. Thinking about it, I know only two: Willow, from Buffy; and Kaylee from Firefly. It is so hard for women to break into engineering, and when female STEM role models aren’t even represented in fictional worlds, a message is sent that female engineers aren’t something we can even imagine to exist.
So, I’ve stopped watching Robot Wars. I can’t stomach another episode of waiting to see a woman on a team, only to have her diminished by a job description nobody recognised as a challenge in the first place.
Article by Suzie Murray