"What's your product?"

According to Mary Klages, this is common question asked of the Social Sciences department of any university. She says, "this question left me speechless. ... [T]he engineering department makes engineers, who make stuff - bridges, electronic circuitry, space capsules. But the English department? What do we make, what do we produce?" (2006, p.8)

When I first read that, I was an English Extension student focused on the arts. I didn't think the divide was so significant that the departments would bicker constantly. Now I'm an engineering student I see it often.

Exhibit A: Understanding Engineers.

The graduate with a science degree asks, "Why does it work?"
The graduate with an engineering degree asks, "How does it work?"
The graduate with an accounting degree asks, "How much will it cost?"
The graduate with an arts degree asks, "Do you want fries with that?"

I sat in a Sociology lecture today, and, frankly, they make engineering lectures look boring. Sure, I enjoy learning about hyperboles, de Broglie waves and watching our Materials lecturer smash coffee cups, but lectures are far less interactive. In Tiff's Socy lecture, there was intelligent discussion about gender representations and the implications of hegemonic discourses. My own lecturers are hilarious, but there are only so many jokes you can make about Fu-vectors and drunken first year engineering students. There's no conversation unless it's to say the lecturer's got the page down too low or that a plus should be a minus somewhere.

I love the sciences, but I don't go to bed each night thinking about Equilibrium Constants or the significance of limits (yet).

The thing is, I like literature and breaking down world views. I like to have Feminist and Marxist theories broken down to me. I like Deconstruction and reading up on Post-Colonialism. Let's face it -- where else can you have intellectual discussion on phallic symbolism without sounding seedy?

Today's lecture unravelled sexual politics and curious societal archetypes. There was a talk about Adrienne Rich's text, "Compulsory Heterosexuality" and a discussion about the novel "He's just not that into you." Basically, it was about expectations of marriage and family life, and that men -- in general, according to the dominant stereotypes (masculinity is complex) -- aren't as dependent on females as females are on males.

Here, the lecturer brought in her 24 year old daughter Sandy as an example.

Her whole life she'd told Sandy she was gorgeous, she was beautiful, intelligent and smart -- to no avail.

"It took a drunken, sloppy mechanic for her to believe it.

"What. The. Fuck."

(I laughed; I'll also admit that she stereotyped and was possibly being sexist, but it was an interesting point)

Obviously, this can't always apply and there are infinite ways of "doing gender", of being male, female, or somewhere in between.

An interesting point she raised about us as an audience was that in general we seem to have difficulty with ambiguous gender displays.

"Have you ever walked down the street and weren't quite sure what someone 'was'? Did you do a double-take and check the chest area and scan the pelvic region for tell-tale bumps?"

We live in a world where, for the most part, this is 'true'. I was in the city a few weeks ago with a few friends of mine, and we came across a character with long hair dressed in long, billowing black (a dress or really baggy pants, I couldn't tell) with a really low cut top revealing skin -- and none of the expected bulges at the top. Long story short, our reaction was exactly as the lecturer described. (We're sad, aren't we?)

Her friend, fairly androgynous, attended a family gathering a few weeks ago. Adults are generally good at restraining themselves (societal norms), but kids are another issue.

I must say, their honesty is appealing.

"Excuse me," a four-year-old started.

"Are you a boy, or are you a girl?"

The lecture ended with no definite assertions, but with students inspired to think.

"Go, Children, and Be Yourselves!"

For the record, Mary Klages' defence of the Arts was that her department created knowledge -- to "foster the intangibles, the immeasurable values of life, the beliefs and forms of art without which life would be lifeless equations and bare facts" (2006, p.8) I don't at all mean to imply that Engineering is without 'art', and we do have to take into account social norms, politics, economics, etc, etc -- but it's not as explicitly explored. All I'm saying is that I love Tiff's lectures.

List of References:

  1. Klages, M 2006, Literary Theory: A Guide for the Perplexed, Continuum, London.

Yes, I need more books to read lol.


Maree said...

haha. English Extension dirty-fied our minds. In fact I saw phallic symbolism in something someone did today and it was ...lol. I don't think I'd have thought about it if it weren't for mrs penrose and her opinion about the shape of men's deodorant. Remind me to tell you about it.

Tiff said...


I adore Sue, she's awesome xD

jarielle said...

LOL. This is me, reminding you to tell me about it. I'm sure it would make a good party story... (hint, hint).

She never mentioned men's deodorant! (or did she? =O!)

There was talk of buildings and bridges and the interesting exception of domes (and fish -- lol!), ... but not deodorant cans...

Queen Anne said...

What was said about fish? I remember the fishing *rods* ... I miss Penrose.

jarielle said...

Ha ha ha. Fish.

Yes, there was rods, too.



I LOVED our class's interpretation of Hemingway. We are not freaks at all.

Tiff said...

can we go visit OLC one day?


jarielle said...


No, seriously, I think it would be interesting.

What would be WEIRD, though, would be what my sister suggested. That I go to the SEMI with her.


Even her friend asked me over MSN to come, I was like, SINCE WHEN WERE YOU EVEN ALLOWED TO TAKE GIRLS!??

I guess I should be flattered by the consideration... o.O.

Tiff, you and I must get together and write Mrs M an EMAIL! I think I still have the draft saved somewhere :P.