Pillay's bosses pin SAICE's misogynist colours to the mast
By giving its CEO a pass, the SA Institution of Civil Engineering proves boys’ clubs will be boys’ clubs
Manglin Pillay, the CEO of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering, likes women. He even told them as much, when he wrote, in his now-infamous editorial: “To the women in STEM [science, technology, engineering, maths] – you know I am your friend.”
Granted, that is literally the same line the Mars Attack’s aliens used as they were evaporating screaming humans, but Manglin really means it. Women are his friends. They might not be his colleagues or his equals, but they’re definitely his friends.
Pillay’s editorial has been pilloried as a defence of indefensible patriarchy and a misogynist manifesto. It is both these things, but mostly it is a cry for help; a whimper by a frightened child peering out into darkness stalked by terrifying mysteries like women and equality and modernity.
Of course, like all Nice Guys, he framed it as a love letter. “I ... gave you poetry and even sang you songs, so you know I am on your side,” writes Pillay. Because what women really want is Hallmark rhymes and off-key karaoke, not careers or respect.The rest of it is pretty standard Victorian moustache twirling. Men, Pillay reckons, occupy most executive positions because they have an “appetite for work and extreme performance requirements”. Replace “men” with “white British chaps” and “women” with “dusky natives” and you understand exactly the level on which Pillay operates.
Inevitably for a man who seems to think that Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy was a documentary, Pillay cites statistics in an attempt to prove that girlies don’t really want to be civil engineers: while 31% of SAICE’s student members and 21% of its graduate members are women, he writes, only 5% of its professional civil engineers are women.
Weird, right? I mean, why on Earth would women want to leave a profession that is clearly so supportive?
(Incidentally, it might interest you to know that women get paid less than men because they are innately “agreeable” – a trait that comes in useful for “managing babies” – and “it is this agreeableness that prevents them from negotiating higher pay”. See, ladies? It’s your ovaries’ fault you aren’t paid the same as men! And he’s not victim-blaming: he’s giving you a compliment!)
Now, in a country that didn’t actively hate women, a major organisation like the SAICE might have told Pillay that his views were repulsive and destructive, and that his services were no longer required. And indeed, when the story emerged this week, the SAICE did make some disparaging noises.But boys’ clubs will be boys’ clubs. After an “emergency meeting”, presumably in its mom’s basement, the SAICE decided that Pillay should stay on as CEO.“While the publication of Pillay’s article was unfortunate,” its statement read, “we cannot ignore his invaluable contribution to SAICE and to the broader engineering community over the past eight years.”
So that’s all good then. The problem with the editorial wasn’t that it was written but that it was published. (Because locker-room banter, am I right, bros?) Also, the SAICE cannot ignore Pillay’s “contribution” but apparently can and will ignore its CEO’s public disdain of women. Which makes me wonder what, exactly, that “contribution” is. Has Pillay helped build better communities, or has he just been particularly heroic in the battle to keep women out of civil engineering?Such uncertainty is a fair response, given the SAICE’s decision to embrace misogyny so publicly. It is rare for entire industries to declare, officially and in plain language, that they regard women as second-class citizens who need to stay home and have babies to avoid the frustration of being too agreeable in salary negotiations.
Still, the future must be looking pretty bright for the SAICE, now that it has pinned its colours to the mast. I mean, if you’re a civil engineer firmly rooted in the mid-19th century, imagine all the technological breakthroughs you’re still going to discover! The internal combustion engine! Zeppelins! Computers that can fit inside a house! Unisex bathrooms that – what? You’re feeling a bit dizzy? And nauseous? You didn’t know that women also go to the toilet? Here, sit down. There there, you poor little boys. You poor, poor, little boys ...