It's Not Rocket Science

Cecilia Alexander
Letter for Letter Theatre
theSpace @ Symposium Hall

It's Not Rocket Science

Cecilia Alexander’s play dramatises the life over many years of the imagined female aerospace engineer Eve based on interviews with 20 women. It is engaging, thoughtful and occasionally amusing as it illustrates in eight chapters some of the obstacles women face in finding a place in the industry.

Eve (Alice Connolly) is a playful, enthusiastic young child who straps rockets to her Barbie doll and loves Star Trek. Although her parents can’t always keep up with her, they are positive and encouraging. Although later there are lots of girls in her school class studying physics, her teacher (Stef White) reminds her that her university course will probably have just 20 girls in a class of 100.

One of the things he didn't warn her about is the sexist language of some of those lads on the university course. In a lecture, one of them leans forward to tell her he had “a rocket she could ride into space on.”

When Eve gets an opportunity to ask a visiting woman speaker (Helen Knudsen) some questions about engineering, she finds the woman's response is interrupted by the male chair of the gathering answering instead. Her frustration at that behaviour is compounded when she later chats with the speaker who disapprovingly labels her a feminist before advising her to ignore things “you don't like... don't be too pretty, speak as low as possible.”

If a woman role model like that didn’t have her running from the room then the workplace-arranged meeting she has with a well-respected male aerospace engineer would have stretched anyone’s patience. Initially, he assumes she is someone who makes the coffee and then, when he realises she is an engineer, adopts other ridiculous stereotypes before heading off to find a male engineer.

Dodging stereotypes and sexism at work discourages Eve from dating her colleagues but she does find someone outside work she is interested in. Of course, starting a family might give the industry the opportunity for other stereotypes to hinder her life.

We hear that in Britain, only 14% of those employed in the industry are female and that interview panels are almost always entirely male. Despite all this, Eve does succeed in finding work as an aerospace engineer, but as this entertaining upbeat show illustrates, it is not an easy road to travel.

It encouraged me to look up the report of a leading educational engineering body on gender inequality in the engineering industry. They summarised the causes of the differences between males and females in this way: “girls are not only less knowledgeable about engineering and how to become an engineer, but also less likely to seek careers advice from others.”

The summary doesn't mention the structural bias or any of the sexist nonsense of those who run the industry. Maybe they should see this important play before they write their next report.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna