I know it’s been quite a few months without any activity here, I’m back at school so fitting in time for cooking and strong opinions is harder. Even this post is a month old. I wrote it in early October and was unsure of whether or not to post it for fear of making people angry. Now, I think I can trust anyone who reads this to accept this as my opinion and disagree as they see fit.
This past week I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Baltimore and had an amazing time. I met other Computer Science majors from all over the country. I learned about how to start developing for open source platforms (which will be an entry in itself one day). I got more free stuff than my room can handle. What’s more, I gave my resume to representatives from some amazing companies that I would love to work for one day as I don’t think they have many plans to become an evil empire (Oh hey potential employers. What? No. I completely forgot I had a link to this blog in my resume). Hire me! *ahem* Where was I? Oh yes. GHC.
Seriously, if you are a female and are in a computer related field, you should attend this next year. I was so lucky to be able to go.
Still, that is not to say I didn’t have some trouble with it. In case you are reading this without knowledge of me, let me make something clear. I like feminism the way a cat likes water. It is a good thing that it exists, but I have no desire to become immersed in it. I love the ability to vote, get a job, wear the clothes I like, and not have to worry about how many chickens I am worth. However, when I hear the word feminism, it isn’t something I’d like to be associated with. Partially because all too often the idea brings people like this or their less hyperbolic counterparts to light. This conference reinforced this and some of my other problems with the movement. I can only speak from the lectures I attended, but I feel like a great deal of time is spent saying: “WOMEN ARE UNDER REPRESENTED IN CERTAIN FIELDS” (and yes they are definitely speaking in caps lock), rather than brainstorming productive solutions for it.
GHC is specifically for women. This is a good thing as it gave me the chance to start creating a community of other women beyond the handful I see at school on a regular basis. I even met some other English and Computer Science majors which (male or female) are rare and wonderful finds. But after my third or fourth lecture that were essentially titled “why aren’t there more women in computer related fields?” or “what is a woman’s place in Computer Science?” Something began to irritate me.
There were a great number of people (most worryingly lecturers) that claimed to be “pro women” but seemed to have missed an important lesson along the way. Men were spoken of as dominating authority figures. Women were passive. Instead of taking notes, I started to write down what lecturers were saying.
“I see the women on my team as being much more soft…soft,” she searched for the word “…soft-spoken. Men are very strong uh…communicators”
“The men I had [on my team] were more on the quiet side. I think it’s because I’d filtered for jerks already”
[On using 3D printers to create viruses] “The guys would want to print the Bubonic plague. The girls, I think would be much nicer”.
I did my best to see the point in what these people were saying, but overall, I got the message. When women advocated for themselves they were called strong. When men did it, they’re were dominating. Because this is the way to break down stereotypes. If there existed a smiley face for that motion for when you hit your forehead with your palm and it makes a satisfying smack noise, I would put that here. As it is, imagine it yourself.
What if you swapped genders in these sentences? Or replaced them with racially toned words? The crowd would have taken them apart faster than a room full of college students can take apart an all you can eat buffet.
Women don’t make better computer scientists than men. Nor do people with a humanities background over those with a math heavy one. Nor do dog people over cat people. It is just plain bad to group people together by some quality they’re born with and say that they are better than another group of people. I don’t want to live in a world where this happens and no one finds fault in it. People are too messy to be boxed in like that. Yahoo’s slogan was “code like a girl”, but I’m more in favor of one that says: “code like a bad ass”. Hard work, having the desire to do well in a computing related field, that what puts you on the same skill level as someone else. Not your genes.
This is not the way to encourage people to change the fact that women made up only 25% of the computing workforce in 2011.
There is a pretty easy way to get more underrepresented groups into places where they are…well underrepresented. Plus, it’s not limited to women or computer science! It’s what you need to do to get people to read, play a sport, and extend themselves in any respect. If you want to encourage someone to do something, you have to do just that. ENCOURAGE THEM. Three days of lectures, panels, and guest speakers and I cannot remember this idea being voiced once. I’m worried it is being taken for granted. Parents, tell your kids how proud of them you are for trying something potentially out of their comfort zone. Professors, tell your students that they are good at doing it (te he…doing it… oh right. Time to be serious) whatever “it” may be. I would not have started this blog, become a TA, or declared a second major if people I respect hadn’t taken two seconds from their lives to say: “You should stick with this. You’re good at it”.
Beyond everything else, attending GHC was valuable because I realized I have strong feelings on what happens here. I don’t want to always have a need for women in computer science conferences. I don’t want my resume on a pedestal, a binder, or in the garbage unless something I did put it there. More than the cool toys, more than all the business cards I collected, I’m glad I attended for this reason.