About Me

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London, United Kingdom
I am an engineering academic at University College London where I work on the sustainability of urban water systems. I am interested in the role of engineers and technology in sustainable cities.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Feet on the ground

It is graduation season at UCL. I like graduation. For one thing, it appeals to my Catholic sensibilities - men and women in funny hats and gowns, the procession, sitting still for long periods, speeches about the meaning of life, music to open and close. My suggestions for singing and incense have not yet been taken up, but I go every year and enjoy it nonetheless. Of course the best thing about graduation is seeing my former students, remembering their trials and triumphs as they cross stage, meeting their families and lovers, and celebrating with them as they step out into the world on their own terms.

Anyone who has ever attended a university graduation knows that it takes a long time. There is a long list of names to be read out, and a long line of people waiting for their moment. We all find ways of occupying our minds. Members of the platform party face the slight pressure of being on view the whole time, knowing that folks in the stalls may well be occupying their minds by scrutinising our every scratch or twitch. We should look dignified, interested, happy and awake at all times.

I occupy myself with shoes. As the graduand walks to the stage I look at their face and smile, then as they walk in front of my I take note of their only other distinguishing feature, their shoes. Over the last few years I have noted with horror the rise and rise of the heels on women's shoes. As a woman who came to consciousness in an age where stilettos were thought of as modern man's answer to foot binding, shoe fashion of the last five years baffles me. You simply cannot participate in society on equal terms with people in flat shoes if you are struggling to walk. What if one of the people in the flat shoes decides to attack you? How will you run away? I like high heels and wear them occasionally, but the trend towards higher and higher shoes is bewildering and dangerous. With models tumbling off runways, surely this craziness has to end? This year as I walked to the venue I wondered if I would see an end to the madness, following what I hope is the fashion trend against super stilettos and mega platforms, and back to wearable shoes.

First up were Biochemical and Chemical Engineering. The horror. The heels. Higher and more structurally implausible than ever. Smart, elegant women, wobbling dangerously across the stage on the path to becoming an engineer. Then the inevitable happened. The shoes claimed a victim. A woman tripped and fell as she left the stage. She picked herself up, the Dean checked that she was OK, and the ceremony continued.

Next were Civil and Environmental Engineering, my class. Much to my relief our women were on the whole wearing flattering, flatter shoes. Some wore heels, but very few were in the spine deforming, ankle twisting, nose bleeding range. This could indicate that our students have met their health and safety learning outcomes to a higher standard than their colleagues in the other departments, but I like to think it is because they are more hip. Our women are in the vanguard of foot fashion, and are marching on their way to becoming professional engineers with both feet on the ground.

The women of the Engineering Class of 2012 are smart, beautiful and ready to take on the world. I have no doubt that they will succeed. I can only hope that more of them will choose footwear that will leave them no excuses for not keeping up with those in flat shoes.

1 comment:

  1. I had to endure an Adjunct Professorial ceremony in Lulea, Sweden to be done. The PhDs are on the same event. They get top hats. For each one of us there was a live music drum roll each time. Temperature was - 10 but there were plenty of high heels in evidence. Ceremony lasted hours. Then the dinner went on so long we got dessert around midnight. Quite an event though.

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