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Women in Tech

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Rarely do I feel compelled to blog immediately from something I read online, but I just read a fascinating article by Jolie O’Dell entitled: Why We Don’t Need More Women In Tech… Yet. In addition to that article, @simonjadis linked me another interesting article entitled Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Telling People How They Should Feel About It. Really thought-provoking pieces about the challenges the industry faces in diversifying.  The most interesting part of these articles for me lies in the ideas about childhood and how our dearth of women in tech might stem in part from how girls and boys are treated early on, even starting out with the types of toys available to them.

You will immediately notice the drastic segregation — the gendered version of the Jim Crow-era South. There are entire aisles of pink, and other aisles devoted to dark blues and greens. Imagine that you are only “allowed” in the pink and purple areas of the store, and examine the toys you find there.

The vast majority of playthings for little girls encourage them to think about nurturing others and caring for themselves — including, to a large extent, their appearances. These aren’t inherently negative lessons to learn, except for the fact that these lessons exclude others that deal with problem-solving, strategy, physics… you know, the kinds of things you learn from playing with Lego, K’nex, Stratego and other male gender-coded games and toys.

This struck a BIG chord with me.  I’m pretty militant when it comes to how we encourage little girls (AND WOMEN) to be princesses and wear ruffles and buy name designer bags (Reality TV stars anyone?).  I loathe it with all my being, because that is soooo the opposite of me and my upbringing and how I think girls should be treated in order to reach their full potential.  It made me think back to myself as a kid.  I had very techno-savvy parents and grandparents, which I think contributed HUGELY to who I am today. Achievement in the sciences was EXPECTED.  Of course as a 5 year old I wanted the tricked out plastic kitchen from Toy’s R Us, I’m not gonna lie, but I also competed with my brother in building lego sculptures, played text adventures when I was 6 on the computer, and learned as much math as I could just to impress my physicist Grandpa every time we’d visit.  When I was 14 I even subscribed to 2600, the hacker magazine, because, for some reason, I got the idea that there would be nothing cooler in the world than to be a REAL hacker myself (didn’t have the follow-through to get good at it though, haha).

I think a LOT of this is because I was home-schooled and didn’t hang out with other girls, because honestly, I think I would have shifted my interests greatly if I had attended regular school.  I never had the peer pressure to concentrate on being gorgeous, or have the latest jeans, or attract the cutest boy in class.  I also never felt like an outcast for liking the stuff that was “nerdy” or “weird”, it was just…what I did.  Yes, I lived in a bit of a bubble, and consequently created my own parameters of what was cool and where areas to achieve in, but I also was raised blind to calling my interests out as “special” just because of my gender.  It’s almost as if calling ATTENTION to a girl who is drawn to science can be as destructive as ignoring her, you know?  Ideally we’re striving for a blind system of people attracted to their inner muses, but that can’t seem to happen as easily when you look at our education system and the way our culture grooms girls to conform to this IDEA of a GIRL that, to me, is terribly limiting.

I don’t have any answers here, and I’m not saying that little girls are all indoctrinated from birth to love Barbies and that ruins their lives (I mean, I loved them too IN ADDITION to my science fiction books. I also alphabetized my stuffed animal collection.  Er…moving on.)  Boys and girls are genetically different, clearly, but we have stereotyped them into a shortcut for what the SHOULD be before giving them a change to find out who they are themselves.   I guess the REAL work needs to be working with children early on, having the right mentors in their life so they are raised less with perceptions of HOW they should be as a girl, and instead WHAT they love as a human being.

  • Thomas Im

    The influence goes both ways. Males feel just as much pressure as women do to act a certain way, and that’s a tragedy. Best we can do is be as tolerant as possible and hope that our behavior can help others realize that gender profiling isn’t the best thing.

  • Dani

    Very interesting articles and your post is also great.

    Personally, I wasn’t raised as a techno-savvy person, and even though today I consider myself a geek, and the geek stuff I like are in a way what most defines me, I’ve only started to get into those things about 10 years ago (when I was 14). But I was raised as a non-stereotyped girl. My parents have science related professions, and my Mom was a math teacher before getting into Medicine, so I got the “science is cool” thing from her. Plus, growing up in a farm and having a Mom that did as much (if not more) psychical farm work as my Father, made me go away from barbies and pink and more into climbing trees, getting dirty and playing soccer… So anyway, I just wrote a lot about my life to say that I completely agree when you say that you loathe “how we encourage little girls to be princesses and wear ruffles and buy name designer bags”. For me, this comes a lot from the fact that I was in regular school and because I was different from the other girls I felt like the outcast, but I was always like “I’m not wrong… the rest of them are!!, haha, which is probably very arrogant of me, but hey… So anyway, yeah, I agree. I think there’s nothing wrong in being girly and wearing pinks and liking barbies… the problem is when parents and the society teaches kids that if you’re a girl and you’re not like that, there’s something wrong with you (or if you are a boy and don’t act like most of the boys).

    Uhm… I wrote too much and kinda lost my train of thought. But great articles!

  • http://worldofhiglet.com worldofhiglet

    :) I reposted your share on FF when the tweet showed up and we’ve been debating it since http://friendfeed.com/worldofhiglet/578b4fda/why-we-dont-need-more-women-in-tech-yet

    …so thanks for the share. I’ll connect it up to here, too, since there are no comments allowed on the article itself.

  • Diane

    Hiya Felicia,
    (First off, sorry for the massively long reply which may or may not make sense) I completely COMPLETELY understand what you’re talking about. I’m currently an undergrad majoring in psych, and part of the reason I decided on psych is because I was so interested in the way social norms shape and define people so strongly. Did you know that children before the age of 3 or 4 usually think that people can change their gender by what they wear? Ignoring biological differences, girls and guys act different mainly because of cultural differences ingrained in them at a young age.
    While I wasn’t home schooled, I did end up going to an all girls school when I turned 11, thus escaping most of the pressure to ‘fit it’ and be a normal girl. In my school, the lack of guys made it hard to define what was or wasn’t ‘girly’. I’m proud to say that I was definitely one of the more tomboy kids in the class, much more interested in how to perfectly draw that new manga character I liked or harassing my math teacher than clothes or makeup. Later on, when I moved to public school at age 14, I found a fantastic group of friends who did not fit the normal ‘gender’ social norms at all. The guys in our group tended to wear pink more than the girls, and I am the only one to have gone off for a liberal arts education, them going off to the fine arts (guys) and engineering (girls). In high school I was aware of social norms for guys and gals, but mostly dismissed them as unimportant/silly.
    The biggest shock involving gender stereotypes for me was when I went to university. There, I met many people who conformed to the traditional ‘girly’ and ‘manly’ roles. While they are more oft than not fantastically brilliant people, they had ideas of what was acceptable for girls to do and for guys to do, which I had never really thought about before. In fact, I resented those ‘unwritten rules’ with a passion. I’ve never been told that I can’t hang out with the guys because it’s a “Lad’s Night” or that I shouldn’t roughhouse because I’ll get hurt due to my gender. While most of my girl friends wanted to sit around and talk about their feelings (I’m dead serious) the guys avoided anything emotional like the plague. I remember once reading a facebook note that everyone had ‘liked’ listing all the reasons girls should never be allowed to watch sports with guys. I was so shocked and offended, but no one else was. That made me over sensitive to a lot of things that weren’t actually due to gender, but I like to think I have since gotten over that.
    This kind of attitude towards gender roles means I relish opportunities to turn them on their heads. One such example is when I was a summer art counselor. A girl came in one Monday and announced to the class that she had gone to a big festival where girls dressed up as fairies and lots of guys wore real dresses. This started a debate between the kiddies on whether or not it was okay for guys to wear skirts. In the end, they asked my opinion, and after I carefully thought about what I knew their parents would want me to tell them, I said that if it was okay for girls to wear pants then guys were totally allowed to wear skirts or dresses if they so desired.
    While no boys came in the next day wearing cute Disney dresses (oh well) I did have this adorable kid named Jose tell me that he really liked our current art project, which was sowing together quilts, and that was going to ask his grandma about more fun things he could do with sowing. I don’t know if in the end he did do that, but I sincerely hoped he did.
    I kind of feel like I’m preaching here, but to me the most important thing is kind of person one is, and gender is inconsequential. I know one can use the term feminist to describe someone like this, but that calls to mind man haters and bra burners, which I am most definitely not. Maybe equalist?
    Furthermore, I don’t think the problem of telling kids how they should act and think is limited just to girls. Guys too are massively limited by social norms. What really needs to be done is to stop the focusing on the girl and boy bit, and instead look at the scientist, engineer, artist, writer, actor parts of children.
    Hope that wasn’t too long, and if you’re reading this, I’m awed. XD If you’re really interested in all that psychological kind of stuff, I recommend reading ‘Psychology Today’ which is a really interested magazine that brings up questions like this one and discusses them extensively.
    -

  • Megan

    I really don’t have any intelligent thought to add to the discussion except THANK YOU and you’re absolutely right. Though I do have a female cousin who’s around 11 and asked for a microscope last Christmas… :)

  • Soma

    succinct. ditto.

  • http://sclangham.com Sara Cate

    Shades of my childhood as well. I did go to public school and never felt particularly compelled to join in what I saw as shallow interests (boys, clothes, boys, celebrities, OMG boyz). Not being included in those cliques did not really bother me, because I found them boring.

    But where I did feel and was hurt by the gender-role pressure was among my extended family, mostly working-class people. I love them to death, but every Christmas with the “girly” gifts I didn’t want (Barbies, pink clothes, nurture-toys, etc) felt like a judgment on the sort of person I was, especially when I explicitly requested the Nerf guns, Legos, and “masculine” toys that my brother regularly received.

    Complaining about Christmas gifts feels a little silly and ungrateful, particularly considering the pressure girls in other countries are under, but these cultural cues are incredibly pervasive and undeniably formative. It would be a step backward in American development not to notice and make an effort to encourage both sexes to pursue actual identity rather than diminish to fit in.

  • Justin

    Awesome post, great points. I think something to keep in mind though – right now, since so few women are in tech, we HAVE to point them out and celebrate them. That’s the only way girls in this culture generally (the ones that do go to public school and are faced with all sorts of pressure to dumb themselves down and focus only on looks) have role models that can show them that being interested in nerdy things can also be cool. Ideally we move past that and just treat everyone equally, but I think celebrating the women in male-dominated fields is the best way to move towards a time where we no longer have to do that, if that makes sense.

  • Marcel

    I heard sometime that thoughts flow through the air, reaching peolpe near you. But today they got a jet stream heading south. Really interesting a few minutes before fiding your blog and this last post I was reading this one:

    http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/09/04/girls-and-boys-in-parenting-magazines/

    Its about the “culture” of “portraying” boys as active and girl as passive persons. And we don’t need to go far to see this, it’s quite obvious I say, because it’s everywhere. Boys are often working, taking initiative, while little girls are just playing the role that they should play, as a non combative position, always smiling, waiting for the lion king’s decision.

    The idea is that does not care what you are, you are what you are not because your mother’s egg, but because the super pro-active espermatozoid of your dad. The egg just keep waiting, smiling, passive, and because of this, it has no contribution in any personality… men’s contribution it is the only that matters.

    =/

    And we keep this game even knowng about it… Great to read about your early days and realize you are the woman you are and not that everbody told you should be.

    Sorry for my poor english. And be greatful for that. It could be a tesis if I was fluent. heheh

    Grande abraço e bons sonhos,

    Marcel
    Sao Paulo – Brasil

  • cherylhe

    Thanks for that article, very interesting. I just sent it to two of my girlfriends who happen to be engineers – but the interesting thing is, neither of them are US born, one is Taiwanese and one is Serbian. I’m in Finance, so not a traditional “women’s” job, but sometimes I wonder if I would have been an engineer, if not for being turned off of math by my high school Calculus teacher. (I later figured out he just didn’t like girls/women, I should have guessed by the fact was 50 and lived at home with his mother and always made snide remarks about her). He treated the 3 girls in the class much different than the guys in the class. I loved math to that point, but he actually said to me once “that’s a dumb question” and the funny thing was one of my guy friends asked the exact same question and he said “that’s a great question”. My two girl friends in the class had taken him for Geometry and knew not to ask him questions. But I’m pretty smart, so I’d give all my questions before class to my guy friend to ask so we’d get explanations. But, sadly it really turned me off math and I really tuned out of the class.

    But really all you can do is try and make a difference in your little sphere of the world.

  • Kiala

    I’m constantly trying to explain to Dane how limiting it is for women to be taught they must expend at least 50% of their energy on looking pretty, 50% on being ladylike, and the other 50% on school/art/career.

    And now you understand why my math skills are SO EXCELLENT.

  • http://twitter.com/nerdygirl_om Nerdy Gir On A Mission

    What I find frustrating is that so many parents refuse to admit that their child’s likes/preferences have anything to do with the way they were raised. Yet psychologists are finding more and more evidence that kids can interpret and mimic gender rolls before they are even a year a old.

    But people insist, “Oh, my 2 year old LOVES pink and wearing frilly dresses–that’s just the way she is, we didn’t force that on her!” Think about that, though. There is nothing *biologically* feminine about the color pink or wearing dresses. That is 100% cultural indoctrination, but people frequently try to use examples like that to ‘prove’ that gender is mostly biological, and that they didn’t ‘teach’ their daughters to behave a certain way.

    I think people just don’t like being forced to admit how much power they have over the way kids are raised. It’s easier to believe that a certain amount of it is predestined, and they don’t have the burden of thinking about it too much.

    There was a study done where mothers were asked to estimate how well their babies could crawl up a sloped ramp. Almost all of the mothers with sons accurately predicted how well their boys would do…and most of the mothers with daughters underestimated their baby girls by 30% or more. Sad commentary on how girls are perceived, isn’t it?

  • Walllace

    I read the article and then your blog, and I can certainly see your point. Girls and women won’t be represented at par with men until they want to be in the tech fields. I made my living as a programmer and systems analyst and have met many talented women in the field, some as employees and some as my boss. Their skills were just as good and just as variable as the men’s were, but they were all as dedicated to their job as the men. I must say, though, that there is a lot to be said for individual preference of the person that over rides any exposure as a child. My own daughter is a good example.

    I was a single Father raising my daughter, an only child, and I did my best to expose her to the technology that I made my living from. She took all the math and science classes thru school, I bought her her own PC in elementry school, she spent a summer in Space Camp in Alabama, she was in the Talented and Gifted programs through out school, and graduated close to the top of her class in HS. When she went to college she decided she didn’t like it, dropped out, and went into the performing arts, and now does acting work in Atlanta. Merely being exposed to a strong math and science background doesn’t mean a person will like it and want to make it their career.

    In the ongoing debate between nature and nurture, your Catholic Monks might put someone on the path, but they won’t necessarily stay on the path if their nature takes them somewhere else. I believe in free choice, but their is something to be said for the innate human desire to follow a path that makes the person feel happier in their life choices. It may be sterotyping, but there is an inbuilt nature that makes little boys want to play with guns and be aggressive and girls to play with dolls and be nurturing. This, obviously, is a generalization, but it’s one that is followed by the great majority of children with little guidence from their parents.

    The greatest guidence given to little children is from other children, both their peers and their older siblings. If their is a perpetuation of stereotypes, it’s by the children themselves falling into roles they see other children following. If four year old girls play witrh dolls, it’s most likely because they see their seven year old sister or six year old neighboor girl play with dolls and want to fit in with them. Go to any playground or school recess and you’ll see the natural segregation of boys playing with boys and girls playing with girls and only minimal interaction of the groups. This is a learned interaction by the children from the older children they see.

    If society wants to promote cross gender historic job opportunities, then it must start at the earliest age and promote gender interaction from kindergarten on up. Not by necessarily having girls play with guns or boys play with dolls, but by intergrating play with scientific and technical toys by both genders and showing it to be gender neutral and something both genders can and should excell at. A microscope has no gender bias nor does writing code to move a robot around the school floor. With a strong and equal background through school, a girl will have the same exposure as a boy and, with nurture as the dominate effect, a girl will be just as likely to take up a career in the science and technology fields as a boy.

    However, if nature is the dominate effect, then, despite all the education and training and encouragement, we’ll still see most of the women choosing a career that tends more to the arts than the sciences. This may not be a popular or politically correct thing to say, but the decline in women in the sciences may just be human nature reasserting itself after the women of the ’60s-’90s proved to themselves and to men that, if they wanted, they could be just as good as any man in the sciences. If they wanted, which for many women, when choosing a career, they find they don’t want and insteed choose a career that they find makes them happier and more fullfilled. A career that is every bit as hard to master as any “male” career, but appeals more to their nature.

    So, in the end, it comes down to do you believe in nature or nurture? Can you nurture into existence a 50/50 female/male representation in the sciences and technologies? Or does human nature play a stronger role and, when it comes time to decide on a career, will a woman most often pick the M.D. over the Ph.D.?

  • Matt

    I agree with you completely. I recently had to buy a present for a little girl’s birthday and hadn’t been down the “pink aisle” in quite some time, but was rather shocked by how limited the selection was. I know there are the occasional “Doctor Barbie” type toys, but the majority of it was related to cooking, cleaning, jewellery, and babies. Instead I bought her a Meccano train (she loves trains), which earned me quite a few disapproving looks at the party. But I was vindicated when it became one her favourite toys. The good thing is that she now has more Meccano, but her parents still comment on it as though it is weird.

    The thing is, when I was a kid my sister had a few girl toys I liked, but she also had Lego and She-ra toys (coincidentally nobody in our family will let me forget my forced performance in the She-Ra inspired ballet my sister wrote). The point is, there seemed to be more toys back then that encouraged us to play together. The consequence of that was that it wasn’t unheard of for He-Man to ride a My Little Pony, or for Rainbow Brite to beat up Tex Hex.

  • carlos

    As the recent father of a girl (i already had a 7 year old boy) im seeing something of this battle right now. I was totally opposed to having her ears pierced (she may do it herself later if she wants, was my reasoning) My wife and parents in law went up in flames (“ofc she has to have her ears pierced. All girls want that and its better to do it when she is still young so she wont remember it”) I already lost that battle as one day i came home from work and found her with two ear rings treacherously attached to her. I guess im going to lose the rest of the war too so i see in front of her a pink and gaudy future, which is not bad in itself if she gravitated naturally to it instead of having it shoved down her throat.

  • http://weblog.siliconcerebrate.com/ Alistair Young

    Honestly, I think you have a good start at an answer right there in your post. My wife and I have long planned, in the event that we have children, to opt for homeschooling, and one of the MAJOR reasons behind that is specifically to escape the cultural pressure-cooker that is our education system. (Or, well, mass education in general.) Even leaving aside the way large groups of children on their own manage to produce some pretty dysfunctional cultures, conformism aside, they’re half-designed as conformity-imposing engines, and given how they have to do what they do, I don’t think there’s any way to have a mass education system that doesn’t stamp whatever the current fashionable cultural stereotypes on whoever’s processed through it.

    And, well, let’s just say that empirically I’m really rather impressed with homeschooling’s products. (Not just yourself, I hasten to add, although should we produce a daughter, it’ll be nice to have a good role model to call her attention to, in a pressure-free way, heh.)

    Of course, as an answer, it does have the problem of applying it universally in a vaguely practical manner, which I suspect is the hard part. Alas.

    Alistair

    (And that *was* a pretty awesome kitchen, wasn’t it? Blasted male stereotypes…)

  • http://blog.guesny.net David Mills

    Very nice article, my comment is slightly OT but this reminds me of an article my mother used to tech english at collage (“class preperatoire” is the exact term, don’t know the english for it :) ).

    The article talked about role models and their influence on how we perceived ourselves: a lot of women spending hours on makeup/fitness and some such where as the only care men took of themselves was shaving which was the same sort of care they took of their lawns…

    It went on to point out that this could be traced to role models imposed when we were young, since girls grew up playing with a doll which, if scaled up, would measure 1m78 and weigh 55kg of which 20 are in the breasts. The article notes that this is a hard standard to live up to.

    Contrast that to the dolls^Waction figures boys grow up with, the example used was the heeman toy ‘Buzz Off’ (http://tinyurl.com/29cmvw2) which the article points out is not good looking, but is extremally self confident anyway…

    I think this illustrates the social pressures that people, especially women face when growing up. It wasn’t too long ago that young girls taught that all they had to know in life was cooking (except when it came to restaurants and becoming a chef) and sowing. Thank goodness that some things have changed even though changing stereotypes is harder than changing a curriculum, and that some people didn’t listen (Ada Lovelace comes to mind).

  • Heather

    Oh, christ, the pink aisle. I had a vehement hatred for the pink aisle as a child. Okay, yes, I was obsessive about My Little Pony (cue my mother weeping and going ‘what did I do wrong in a past life? What’s wrong with Lego?’) but I also stole my brother’s Transformers and all his war/sci-fi comics. (UK comics are traditionally weekly anthologies) And as much as I mutter about it, I’m kinda glad I was sent to a girl’s school for my secondary education – exam factory it may have been, but it meant that there was no stigma in any subject whatsoever, and the harder or more technically complex it was, the more we were encouraged.

  • http://youronions.blogspot.com Liz

    Hey Felicia, I re-blogged this as it’s something sooooo close to my heart!

    I have a 3 year old little girl and we’ve tried so hard to give her a variety of options. Took her to a well known international Toys stoRe yUsterday where the divisions were obvious. But I was so proud: she wanted to look at the Star Wars Lego and trucks, she wouldn’t have even walked down the pink aisle, she was running over to the bikes and ride-ons constantly, but went and looked when I walked down there. The only stuff she cared about was the Disney Princesses, but that’s because we’ve watched the Disney films I guess.

    She started 15 hours a week of nursery today (I suppose that’s like kindergarten?) I know that I’m going to face an uphill battle from now on to counteract the gendered prescriptions of other kids and adults, so reading about your homeschooling was really interesting to me. Not sure I could pull off full time homeschool, but I can definitely keep encouraging her in the time we have together. Thanks for drawing attention to something so important, you’re a star and a role-model!

  • Bel-Rand

    Very interesting and I couldn’t agree more.

    I recently read some articles related to this (I’ll link it at the bottom but all in swedish I’m afraid). It’s about a few “gender-free daycares” that started in the mid-90′s and a lot of it deals with the same things you’ve talked about. The book based on this experiment became immensly popular so there is definitely a lot of people out there that agrees with you.

    The result of the first observation was what you could have expected. The boys took up a lot of the space during lunch, acting very loud which lead to the girls sitting quiet. When interviewing the children, the scientist in charge also realized she and her collegues encouraged this behaviour by asking a lot of follow-up questions to the boys. This lack of attention from grownups meant even less space for the girls.

    The article also points out how the daycare was equally focused on improving the situation for the boys. During lunch, the boys main mean of communication was saying “Ah!” and pointing to the object they desired, such as milk, and then the girls would simply give it to them. Therefore it was not a big suprise that almost all of the boys were lagging behind when it came to developing fine motor skills and the use of language.

    Some of the changes at the daycare was to occasionally have separate lunches. The boys were then taught to be more patient, expressing themself more nuanced and learning such a small thing as passing the food to eachother. The latter had not really occured earlier since there was a constant struggle for leadership within the group.
    The girls on the other hand were encouraged to take up more room in the conversation through lots of followup-questions by a grownup.
    The kids were also divided into a “blueberry-group” and a “lingonberry-group” where one of them wore red coats and the other blue, to eliminate the idea of a certain color belonging to a certain gender.

    A newspaper also did a follow-up article on some of the kids, 10 years later. While they seemed like progressive, modern teenagers it’s hard to judge the scientific value of the piece. But it’s worth noting atleast that they fully supported the idea of gender-free daycares and I know that it has grown more common during the last decade so there is some hope there for sure.

    http://www.svd.se/nyheter/idagsidan/manligtkvinnligt/film-pa-forskola-blev-genuschock_19752.svd
    http://www.svd.se/nyheter/idagsidan/manligtkvinnligt/ingen-hjarntvatt_21269.svd

  • John

    I’ll go one better, coming from a technical background, myself (computer science). Even if the hypothetical girl manages to get through school and college with a technical degree, guess what she faces on the job.

    You can come from a thiird-world country, raised in the absence of electricity and literacy, and nobody will ask you, “gosh, what made you get into computers,” but if you’re a woman, that’s the conversation you will have with at least half your colleagues.

    A couple years back, a technical journal carried the big pathetic headline, “Women in Technology,” and all I could think of were the old-timey Dime Novels heralding the appearance of “The Lady Detective” and the like.

    All that’s to say that, maybe when we stop treating working women as legendary pioneers who have much to teach us, we’ll stop scaring them away from doing interesting things. It’s not about the toys, it’s about the upbringing in general.

    (And hey, I thought those kitchen sets were cool, too. The pink color is nauseating, but those things are neat!)

  • http://www.itaintmeatbabe.com Jennifer

    I grew up like you did, interested in all kinds of different things and encouraged by my family to pursue what I loved, not what was girl-appropriate.

    Your point about the toys struck a chord because of something that happened just yesterday I was traveling for work and stopped into a fast food place for lunch. There was a family with a few kids behind me in line and when they ordered a kids meal the cashier asked them, “For a girl or for a boy?” Because the boy kids meals came with a little building set and the girl kids meals came with a doll. She didn’t even ask the kid, “would you like a doll or a building set?” it was all predetermined by their gender. It made me feel sick to my stomach, and not just because my veggie burger was kind of greasy and gross.

  • http://i38.tinypic.com/104l254.jpg Roland Z. Hayes

    I’ve been an engineer all my life; my schooling only formalized my professional identity.

    I can attest to the general lack of women in engineering/science/math classes, at least when I went to school.

    Is it Nature, or is it Nurture? Yes, it is.

    OK, that was a logically flippant answer, using the inclusive OR rather than the exclusive OR.

    To the point: It’s not one or the other, it’s both.

    To address the debate: Should we Nurture girls to be geeks, if they ‘wanna’? Yes.

    Here’s another angle: While we are Nurturing girls to be ‘all that they can be’, why is there never any talk of doing the same for boys?

  • Peter
  • James

    Wonderful and insightful thoughts Felicia. Having attended two separate engineering and science focused schools, I’ve seen the both sides of the “spectrum” of women in tech. I can’t speak specifically to their upbringing or early influences, but have certainly seen the “stereotypical tech woman” who forgo fashion and what not to the point of being somewhat manly and those women that are not only brilliant in their field, be it physics, chemical engineering, mathematics, etc and still remain addicted to Gucci and Louis Vuitton.

    It’s the second group that I find the most influential as they are the ones that encourage girls to pursue science while maintaining that girls can still be girls through programs and workshops that integrate science and technology with their interests.

    And if that interest leads a little girl to to develop the pinkest extra solar space craft, why not? In the end life is about balance and as the “modern woman” says: “You can have it all.”

  • http://members.cox.net/rlckansas/frontpage.html Robert

    Very good post, Felicia, and the comments so far have been interesting.

    I’m old enough to remember when science & tech weren’t considered “manly” studies at all. Boys who wanted to be “real men” played sports. If you weren’t good at sports (as I was), but did have a mind, you were a little less of man than the athletes. It seems that we might be weaning boys away from that stereotype (might, I say again), but we’re still stereotyping girls’ roles as mommy (or sex kitten, if you take the glamming up to its extreme conclusion).

    The fix is up to us in our own ways. Parents and other caretakers can read your post and the comments and work with their children to combat these stereotypes. Felicia, you’re doing your part by the roles you take and how you present yourself. I’m trying to do my part by creating fictional girls and women who don’t follow the usual path and get rewarded as heroines.

    This isn’t something that’s solved in a day, but I have hope that we’ll get there…

  • Terry

    I’m a 54 year old child of the fifties. I grew up in a small rural Wisconsin town that looking back at was much like Mayberry. I remember from drivers ed class hearing girls talking of driving tractors on the farm and working with their brothers. Something that didn’t happen a generation before.
    So when I married and had a 10 yr old step daughter I didn’t think twice about teaching her about computers and how to use tools and had her help me with house hold repairs and when I taught her to drive I included changing oil and tires and how the car worked.
    I now have a granddaughter and plan on giving her every opportunity to learn about tech.
    As Geeks we just need to keep passing it on.

  • BobW

    Unfortunately, I think we now discourage *both* girls *and* boys from science and technology.

    My 11 year old daughter says she doesn’t want to be a nerd. She likes to play with the toys, mind you: the cellphone, the iPod, the iPhone, the computers. She isn’t interested in the nitty gritty details.

    Boys who are interested in science and technology don’t impress the girls, either. They don’t get warrior points for fixing things. Good grades in school are actually a mark against them. They have to be *cool* which translates into acting like a barbarian jerk.

    We need solutions that don’t require collective action, because we’ll never get it, certainly not in time. We need solutions that don’t require home schooling, because not everyone can do that.

  • BobW

    As a followup, I’d pay money for well done videos about the technical side of what you do. The nitty gritty details of how the story goes from script to screen.

    My daughter has seen the music videos. I haven’t shown her The Guild. I think it’s still too R rated for her. That doesn’t mean she hasn’t watched them…

  • JulieD

    I actually think people make a bigger deal about the “pink” vs “blue” isles in stores than is really necessary. Kids will play with what they are genuinely attracted to- and your attraction to legos and the tricked-out kitchen is a good example of that. I also don’t think it’s fair to credit homeschooling with your affinity for tech stuff. Not that I don’t love homeschoolers- my daughter went to a traditional school until the 9th grade and is being homeschooled now.

    For example- I went to public school, had three younger sisters and a very girly-girl mother. But as a child, I was happier making mud pies than playing dress up or Barbie. My daughter also went to a regular school (as I said, until recently when she entered high-school) and though she was given dolls by cousins and Aunts as gifts, she regularly gravitated toward dinosaurs, legos and scooby doo as a kid.

    Then there is my friend J- she’s a bit of a hover-mother and is constantly trying give her daughter toys that aren’t “girl-oriented”. She does this by buying her a variety of things. her daughter is also not allowed to watch tv, so she doesn’t really get any media push. Still, the only thing her 4 year old wants to play with is princess dress up clothes, baby dolls and baby dresses. She’s completely uninterested in anything else.

    But it goes further. My OTHER friend, N, has a girl and two boys, the oldest boy who is a “typical” boy, likes swords, playing outside, etc. Her daughter also likes to play dress up and carries around a baby doll (although she has access to her brother’s toys, she ignores them). The second boy, however, really likes to play outside and with cars and sometimes makes things out of Lincoln Logs with his brother, but he REALLY loves his baby doll, he even has a stroller for it.

    Now, I understand that this is a select group, certainly not a broad study. Yet you’ll have to admit it’s not an uncommon pattern either. Children are mighty stubborn beasts. They will not play games they are not interested in, and no amount of coaxing can change that. You can refuse to give a boy toy weapons, but he’ll still turn his bologna sandwich into a lightsaber when you’re not looking. ;)

  • http://1889.ca MCM

    “There is nothing *biologically* feminine about the color pink or wearing dresses.”

    You know, I’d fully agree with you, but honestly, my experience shows otherwise (and it bothers me). My girls both grew up without any pink/dress influences. They didn’t realize TVs turned on until they were 3, didn’t know toys came from stores either. And yet both somehow went through the “oooh, everything pink is WONDERFUL” phase. When it happened, I could only just stand and stare, because I thought I’d done everything right, and yet there they were, gawking over princess garb anyway. I mean, it wore off fast enough, but it was still shocking.

    Then maybe five years later, I had the ultimate in offensive statements from my older one: “I can’t do math because girls aren’t good at math.” What? They’re WHAT?! I informed her that by and large, girls score FAR better at math and science than boys, and anyone that told her different is a special kind of braindead. I think she believed me, because she finished the year ranked #2 in her grade for math, and has never looked back. So some of this is nature, and some of it is nuture. I had been concentrating on making it a “blank slate” scenario, but for faster results, meddling may be in order.

    One last oddity that illustrates how any pigeonholing is faulty: my younger daughter has always loved dresses. She’s basically allergic to pants of any kind, and has been since she was able to voice her opinion on the subject. Despite that, she’s as rough-and-tough beat’em-up as they come. She has shredded the backs of more skirts with her bike wheel than I can count, climbs trees like a monkey and thinks jump-rope is for pansies unless there’s an element of real danger added. For a while, I was worried that she was so concerned with fashion and girlishness, but then one day last year, she explained to me the impracticality of asteroid mining for natural resources, and I kinda gave up with stereotypes, one way or another.

    Girls are girls, and I think the biggest mistake you can make is trying to limit their options to shape their future. Just show them anything’s possible, and let them define themselves.

  • Kat
  • Kat
  • http://www.carlkingcreative.com Carl King

    Just a thought, and this is only a personal observation that’s not meant to be applied to all of humanity: maybe we really are drawn towards our opposites, even when it comes to geek culture. Daryl Bem had a theory called Exotic Becomes Erotic. For instance, if you’ve grown up with a style of thinking and behavior (math, logic, organizing stuff)… you could ultimately find you are drawn towards that which you find mysterious — which in that case might be chaos, intuition, adventure. That would explain why a male could at first be drawn towards the “novelty” of a woman obsessed with Star Trek or fixing computers, but realize that what he’s really looking for is his opposite — girls who do those stereotypical girly personality things that are alien to him. I’m sure women run into the same / opposite problem these days. And thanks for the thoughtful, philosophical post — it balances against all the announcement-type posts that have gone up here lately.

  • Kevin

    As the father of two little girls, I’m often confused by all these “pseudo-beliefs” that people hold about how girls should behave and the kind of toys they can play with. I love my girls, and I’ve been raising them to be the unique individuals that they are. We don’t shop only in the pink aisles. The whole toy store is theirs to take interest in. My girls may love Disney princesses and fairies, but they’re also huge fans of Transformers, TMNT, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Star Wars. Recently, my daughter had a birthday party. I gave her a toy lightsaber. He cousin remarked, “A lightsaber?! That’s a boy’s toy.” I quickly corrected her, explaining, “No, lightsabers are for everyone.”

    I play rough with my girls just like I would play rough with boys. My oldest got into some trouble at kindergarten this year because the boys complain to the teacher that she was being too rough. I laughed. Since they were born I’ve always encouraged my girls to be anything they want to be. They are the masters of themselves. And they are the only ones who can choose what paths they want to follow in life. We teach the about science and math, but also the arts. I have no doubt in my mind that when they grow up, they will impact the world with their larger than life personalities.

    This is how EVERYONE should be raised. Not just girls, but boys too. Your children don’t need gender neutral toys. They need the freedom and encouragement to find themselves. Boys are often stifled just as much as girls. Boys are often pigeonholed into having to be the productive ones, the engineers, the scientists, and the bread-winners. No one ever tells them they can be an artist or a writer and be successful. No one tells them how to take their dreams and make them into reality. And that is the saddest part of our current culture. We need to teach our children to chase their dreams.

  • http://www.amberconnw.org Simone Cooper

    As a 45-year-old female RPG player / game writer / convention organizer / and GM, I have hit the wall of “expected girl behavior” over and over again.

    The internet and its anonymity seems to have made some strides in breaking through that particular wall–hence the improved gender mix in games like WoW, but face-to-face it is still challenging.

    I’ve sat in game design meetings with other writers–all men–and witnessed my suggestions repeatedly ignored until one of the men mentioned exactly the same thing I had. Then suddenly the suggestion was taken up and discussed, and the assignment to write that idea up was given … to the man.

    It is harder to fault them, though, when you walk down the “pink and purple” aisle and see what many girls are trained with. If you were a boy, and your attempted activities were constantly interrupted by girls wanting to put makeup on you or to turn your dragon battle plan into a tea party, you might grow up with the idea that girls’ ideas would be at best marginally interesting and at worst trivial and illogical.

    But … these toys sell. Do they only sell to parents, or is the influence advertising-driven, or is it child-driven–or some combination of them all?

    Big questions ….

    Thank you for the amazing and thought-provoking post.

    –Simone Cooper
    Organizer, AmberCon NW

  • http://www.youtube.com/clenbullard len

    “I think that’s the key: mentors.” From FD on Facebook.

    Yes. It is equally true for anyone regardless of gender. Had it not been for being raised in Huntsville with the German Rocket Team and their teams, my life as one of the aborigines would have been very different. Mine was a culture of cars, cotton, football and guitars. Of those, only the cars and the guitar were common denominators among the aborigines and the invaders, but given the TV of the time and those static engine tests in the distance, I had to find a middle path. My Dad was an auto mechanic but his friends ranged from Von Braun to the men who designed heat shields. It was a magical time until I got to the eighth grade. The rigid education system that until then encouraged creativity adopted a shelving system where only the best get to be StarKist. It pushed me hard away from math to English, which for me was an idiot skill. I excelled in theatre but music presented the opportunity to pay the bills and become the only person in my family to get a college diploma. I played guitar to put myself through college. From there, many adventures followed but only because the one thing that wasn’t crushed was obsessive creativity and relentless curiosity which the rocket scientists adored and which earned me a job as a technical writer.

    The irony: English skills are the top key to success in business, not math.

    I add one observation as a technical manager of software engineers: mentoring is risky across genders. People play games and these have little to do with equality and everything to do with advantage. There is more than a little truth to the problem of the human forebrain not being fully developed until about age 30 when an adult actually can escape peer pressure and think rationally about their future. Title VII is a nightmare for managers and personnel alike. Don’t leap to conclusions about sweaty obese men or smart professional women. There is a real dog fight in any business be it entertainment or technology. We’d all like it to be more like Eureka but it isn’t. Never has been. Never will be. Life among the mammals.

  • http://youronions.blogspot.com Liz

    I think you’re right JulieD, about kids gravitating towards what they like, but they need to be given the option to choose what they like, experience different things, and not be cut off by blanket statements from people they care about i.e. “That’s a girls/boys toy”. I’ve heard plenty of anecdotes about little boys loving to dress up, but being told that they shouldn’t wear girly stuff because it’s “sissy” or “girly”, then the child goes on to NEVER do it again. What a sad thing for a little kid, who was getting so much enjoyment out of something, to be told it’s bad and wrong :( Parents and significant elders surely do shape what children enjoy, by their actions and reactions to situations.

  • http://twitter.com/alalcoolj Alan the Penguin Guy

    Interesting stuff. I ended up in math, science and tech, and don’t feel my toys had much to do with it. I had a Meccano set which I never touched, though I did dabble in Lego. I primarily and obsessively played with cars, soldiers and guns, yet now have no interest in engines, mechanics or motor-sport, and hate guns and warfare. I also had an Easy-Bake Oven which I loved, and now I cannot cook worth beans.

    Perhaps I’m being too literal. One can connect cars to physics, and there may be something to that. But can’t one also connect cooking or makeup to chemistry, or nurturing babies to medicine and biology?

    What I think did influence me is:
    - the books I was given – a healthy diet of science and scientists;
    - the TV shows I watched – superheros with all their gadgets, leading to superspies and even more gadgets (Get Smart, I Spy, Mission Impossible, Man From Uncle etc);
    - chess. Being taught chess at an early age did more to influence my thinking than anything else. It teaches logic, rationality, patience, improvisation, memorization, objectivity, and work ethic. Also, quite a thrill for a little kid to find that they can beat and intimidate adults :-)

    What I see in the above is a lot of male-dominated role models. It was male scientists and mathematicians that inspired me, chess is male-dominated, while the superheroes and spies were almost all men.

    Seek out better role models, and I think we can find a better future.

  • Arlynda

    I don’t think it is just little girls. I still get asked “what boyfriend got you into gaming”? Like I could not have loved gaming on my own. I was the girl who asked for (or should I say BEGGED) the Atari 2600 (I just really aged myself there!) I ended up with the Magnavox Odyssey 2 because it had a keyboard and was educational. Side note, I never used the keyboard and did not have one game that used the keyboard! LOL

    I also feel I have to defend myself when I tell people I’m a gamer. Even though I have owned almost every system out there and been playing since the days of Pong! (WOW! I am old! LOL) If I don’t play what people deem as what a “real gamer” plays than I’m not a gamer. Of course, everyone has their own definition of “real gamer”.

    We are all like snow flakes, each one of us is totally unique. We need to embrace the things that make us happy and encourage others to do the same. No matter your gender or age!

  • http://www.youtube.com/clenbullard len

    An aside, from Jon Taplin’s blog, because it reflects on a trend that leads away from tech for some:

    http://jontaplin.com/2010/09/07/dream-on/

    I think the last time this happened was in the middle of the depression.

    “Nearly a third of Americans – some 32% – said being an actor or actress is their “dream job,” according to a new Marist Poll.

    That’s especially true for women and younger people in our neck of the woods, the pollsters found.

    Next on the dream jobs list was being a professional athlete, which was the top pick of 29% of the 1,004 people polled.”

    Why is that when life is really shitty, we get more addicted to fantasy?

  • Angie

    I used to feel EXACTLY that way, until my daughter Darien came along. Well, I still do, but she crushed some of the ideas and plans I had to raise my kids as ‘gender-neutral’ as I could at a young age. I bought her cars and action figures along with barbies and kitchen sets, and dressed her in blue and coveralls as much as pink dresses. However, at age 2(!!), she stopped playing with any toys that only had boys on the box/cover, or that she only saw boys play with on TV/in commercials. She insisted on wearing only pink or purple with as much frills and lace as possible. She even yelled at me to stop playing with a basketball outside because ‘basketball is for mens’. I, who had grown up in the 70′s a ‘tom-boy’, was SO upset. But, it seemed she actively looked for gender roles as soon as she was old enough to know there WAS a difference between boys and girls. She had no siblings and contact with friends her age was minimal at that age, so her sole basis for judging was on the roles her father and I played (I was a stay-at-home Mom at the time) and from Media. While perhaps the Mom as nurturer came from me being at home full-time, I do NOT dress in pink frills, lol. So, mostly I blame the media. Without totally sheltering kids, I fail to see now how we can raise them without the media image, unfortunately. By the way, I did homeschool her until grade 3 (at which time situations required me to go back to work). To this day, at age 20, she still loves fashion and dressing up, is SO into appearances, and manages to get more benefits from her looks than her brains, like getting hired as a ‘model’ for Abercrombie & Fitch (they hire ‘models’ rather than sales people in order to discriminate by appearance). I could cry. :-(

    I saw a great play on the subject, from women who fought for rights to girls today. It was called ‘Raunch’, and has appeared at Fringe film fests the past 2 years. http://www.vueweekly.com/fringe/play/p_raunch_the_rise_of_female_chauvinist_pigs/

    But, really, what do you do when ‘society’ is pushing kids one way, and you’d prefer to instill other values? I guess you just live by your values and hope they ‘rub off’ eventually.

    • http://www.surlycurmudgeon.com Tom

      I agree that men feel pressure, but I disagree that it’s as focused as it seems to be for women. Our society can’t seem to decide what it wants — if anything — from men, vis-a-vis their gender. We’re told to simultaneously be nice guys, bad boys, warriors, poets, “manly” men, metrosexuals, hulked out, lean & ripped, and so on. Chatting up a girl is either creepy or brave, and it’s impossible to know which until you actually try it.

      One might say we have a lot of “options” as opposed to the “hawt chick” box all women are supposed to fit into, which I in truth would probably find more limiting were I a girl. The problem is that as soon as we decide on a particular option to pursue, we encounter some individual or group who is determined to drive it into our skulls that we picked the wrong one.

  • Candace

    I was raised in a single parent home by my dad. My mom left around the time I was in 3rd grade. That left me being raised as a tomboy – I went to the gun range, went on scouting trips with my dad and brother, and then a computer was brought into the house. My dad didn’t know much, but that allowed me to further my investigation into how computers worked and eventually I built my own when I was in high-school. I tried to be girlie, but it never worked for me – so I realized I should just be who I am. I am now a WoW gamer and a linux systems administrator/web admin for a very known company. I even find it hard now in the workplace to find other women like me – cause most guys in IT don’t fully understand women either. And I feel the other women in the building look down at me, because I’m not pretty (I don’t spend over 30 mins making myself something “beautiful” when all I am going to do is sit in a cube for 8+ hours a day). But it is something I cherish, it makes me who I am and that’s what my real friends see me for.

    Also here is a short news article about the most recent Barbie that was voted for: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/barbies-next-career-computer-engineer/ – Computer Engineer Barbie! I am so going to get one. :)

  • Dawn Jones

    This is actually amazing. I hadn’t had the time to read your blog when you posted about it on twitter, but now that I have (+ mentioned articles) I completely agree. I went to public school growing up and was ridiculed for being ‘special’. I didn’t care, even a little bit, about latest fashion or cutest boys. I was into beating my brother at video games, reading shakespear, and taking apart (and rebuilding) the family vaccuum.

    I don’t think enough parents encourage their little girls to expand beyond the expected gender limitations that ‘still’ build a box for us to place ourselves in. I’m glad that I just naturally never fit into that box. And I’m glad for celebs like you, who never fit into it either.

  • http://www.lisagrimm.com Lisa

    As a woman who has been in technology for more than 14 years, much of that article resonated, although in other ways, I’ve always been lucky. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my current position as director of web development is only the second time I have not been in a majority-female IT department – and only since moving to this city have I had the ‘oh, you’re female, you must be in marketing’ reaction. I’m finding it difficult to recruit IT staff, male or female, with the kind of skillsets I was always able to find easily in more tech-centric cities – it seems to me that sexism in tech goes hand in hand with a low level of technology skills across the board.

    One thing I was less concerned about was the number of women in computer science degree courses (probably unsurprising, given that my degrees are mostly in archaeology) – I’d rather see someone with IT skills combined with another type of degree, since I’ve found that the best project managers (and communicators in general) came from humanities or arts backgrounds, with tech skills picked up along the way. Obviously that’s a generalization, but it’s one that I’ve found often holds true. (And don’t get me started on some of the gender assumptions in the beer geek community).

    But the whole issue of gender stereotyping is one I really liked seeing addressed – as a kid, most of my friends were boys, I never ‘got’ the point of dolls (that were not action figures), etc. I am finding it interesting now when my 5 year old son declares that ‘boys like space more than girls,’ based on things he’s heard at school from other kids – we have to have long chats about how that’s not true, and how I will take on any of his little friends in Star Wars trivia any day (as long as it’s not prequel-related, obviously). Clearly, things seep in from the wider world that need to be addressed – I’m sure other parents are doing the same with little girls, but I hope I’m at least helping out a bit by having a boy who ‘gets’ that boys and girls can be into whatever suits them as an individual – not just an either/or based on gender.

  • http://aliciamariecoffey.com Alicia-Marie

    This is why I love Dora the Explorer. As much as you want to bash your head in when you’ve watched too many of them with your kid (as you do any children’s show besides Reading Rainbow), Dora encourages children of both genders to be self-sufficient adventurers, math and science lovers and take charge kind of person. She is kind and always helps her friends, and while she loves cooking, she loves exploring the jungle more.

    I’ve set up Dora as one of the primary shows, my foster children watched and teaching them how to problem solve and behave nicely has always been easy when you use an example from the show later in real life.

    Sorry. This sounds like an ad for the show. But yeah. Also when you get tired of Disney Princesses waiting for their knights it’s always good to pop in a little Mulan, Orphan Annie and A Little Princess. :D

  • http://www.surlycurmudgeon.com Tom

    I agree that men feel pressure, but I disagree that it’s as focused as it seems to be for women. Our society can’t seem to decide what it wants — if anything — from men, vis-a-vis their gender. We’re told to simultaneously be nice guys, bad boys, warriors, poets, “manly” men, metrosexuals, hulked out, lean & ripped, and so on. Chatting up a girl is either creepy or brave, and it’s impossible to know which until you actually try it.

    One might say we have a lot of “options” as opposed to the “hawt chick” box all women are supposed to fit into, which I in truth would probably find more limiting were I a girl. The problem is that as soon as we decide on a particular option to pursue, we encounter some individual or group who is determined to drive it into our skulls that we picked the wrong one.

  • http://www.greengart.com Avi Greengart

    Felicia,

    (Nice meeting you at the Kinect event.) I’m obviously a geek – I make my living as a consumer devices analyst, and my wife is a programmer/project manager. We’ve got three boys and a girl. As much as I’d like the girl to play with LEGO, building toys, and ‘boy things’ she marches to her own drummer, and that drummer is playing house while decked out in pink fairy princess clothing which she begged and pleaded for. She’s into three things: princesses (not the self-rescuing kind), fairies, and monsters. (OK, that last one doesn’t fit, but she’s a strange girl. The boys pull out Snowtroopers, and she goes for the Wampa. Go figure.) Bottom line: we will encourage her to learn Scratch (MIT programming language for kids – my boys LOVE it), we will push her to excel in math, and she’ll be exposed to all kinds of technology. But some kids are pre-programmed to like the pink stuff and playing house. At least my girl appears to be.

  • http://www.surlycurmudgeon.com Tom

    argh… I give up. I was trying to reply to:

    Thomas Im
    September 7th 2010 @ 8:23 PM

  • Candace

    Another thing… How can I help. I would love to help little girls get into technology – are there any programs out there that do this that I could volunteer for?

  • http://www.feliciaday.com Felicia

    This is a REALLY good question! I really don’t know of one, but I’m sure they exist. Can anyone investigate so we can put together a list?
    I know there’s one in LA called “Write Girls” about mentoring girls in writing, but none for tech I know.

  • http://www.feliciaday.com Felicia

    Well, I think they key is to not consider it a “failure” to love pink and fairy castles, which I certainly do too (Unicorn lovers raise their hands! :) ). I guess it’s providing alternatives so that one doesn’t become the ONLY thing.

  • http://zombiedrag.com Laura

    I think sometimes that’s the hardest thing to overcome; your parents can do the best job of not forcing gender stereotypes and then as you grow up and interact with your peers and the media you’re fed a heavily gender-biased world view. The products you buy and mainstream entertainment reinforce that. I recently bought baby clothing for my niece at Target and was dismayed to see that all the interesting, stimulating designs were for boys. The girls’ clothing was pink and had the usual flowers, hearts and butterflies all over it (which is not to say that butterflies are not intellectually stimulating), whereas the boys’ clothing featured zoo animals, rocket ships and quite a wider variety of subject matter. Growing up, I had more building blocks and books than I had Barbies (although there definitely were Barbies).

    And then after your parents work to make you a well-rounded individual who is excited about math and science and learning, your peers are often the product of several generations of gender bias. It’s hard to be that sort of individual who likes school and learning when nobody around you is, even if you aren’t singled out as “special.” So I think that what you’re doing with the Guild and your career is great – it’s visible proof that you can be cool and successful by being smart, and that interests are gender-neutral.

  • http://vonscience.tumblr.com Stephanie Von Science

    I grew up on video games and had no idea it was not the norm until sixth grade. Before then I just assumed that every single person played video games in their spare time. When I actually mentioned playing Starcraft to some boys in my class, they freaked out, which then caused everyone in class to freak out at a girl playing video games. Going through school after that I never, ever understood what other girls could possibly do with all their spare time at home, but I never brought it up.

    Mostly because after that point most of my friends were guys.

    The point of this story…I love video games and science.

    And your article is great.

    Mucho love from a fellow redhead gamer.

  • http://www.feliciaday.com Felicia

    RE: Mentoring programs, my friend @veronica (awesome tech role model for girls) suggested these on Twitter:
    Two that I’ve spoken to in the past are Engineer Your Life, at http://bit.ly/cvcRv5 and Girls in Tech http://bit.ly/baOYhZ

  • Sick of hearing it!

    My problem is not with the fact that girls are encouraged to be girly, because really if that is who they are then that is who they are. I grew up with a programmer father and a homemaker mom, I was a tom-boy who was obsessed with computer stuff and fed my barbies to the dogs, but my sister wanted everything pink from the time she was tiny (she is a math teacher now, but still much more feminine then me).

    My problem is when mothers treat their little boys like they are some kind of gift from the heavens to be waited upon, while their little girls can “take care of themselves”. I am sick of coddling-wubbie-talk to five year boys, and the “I am so glad I didn’t have a girl” talk. I never had any bias as to whether I wanted a girl or a boy (pretty much healthy and human works in my mind), but I am getting ready to go feminazi after all the woman talk about how much sweeter, cuter, and happier little boys are. Maybe their daughters would be sweeter and happier if they didn’t feel like they were less then their brothers.

    Sorry about the rant, but the whole thing makes me feel sick!

  • Guido

    The worst thing about this whole girly stereotype thing is that it makes girls only superficially attractive. I’ve slept with a lot of beautiful girls only to loose interest in them after I could not have a deep conversation. You have this passionate discussion about ideology, but then you try to get to an analysis, some objectives, a breakdown into subobjectives, and finally concrete actions… nothing… Passion is definitely attractive, but so is confidence, commitment, focus and insight. And these all necesserily lead to clear structure.

  • Shannon

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I have two young sons, but my sisters both have little girls. I felt compelled to share this with them, and to keep it in mind as their daughters grow up.

  • Magdalene

    I haven’t spoken to many other adults who were home-schooled as children, but your blog really resonates with my own experience. Now that I’m grown up and for the first time have friends that are not my brothers or cousins, parameters and expectations I’ve had my entire life are being questioned by my peers.
    How can we encourage the individuality being home-schooled affords, but for all children? I’d like to raise my kids as gender-neutral as possible, so they can decide for themselves who they are. At the same time, I feel like I missed so much by not going to public school, I wouldn’t want to deny them those experiences.
    Are you concerned the characters you play feed in to the perception that girls have to be pretty, that male attention is desired above all else? Sure, Penny was altruistic, but would Dr. Horrible have given her a second glance if she wasn’t also very lovely?
    You mentioned women being made to feel like they need designer jeans and purses. You’re an actress in Hollywood, so do you ever feel pressured to buy exorbitant things in order to fit in? Your opinions would be really interesting to me.

  • Alen Baes

    You alphabetized your stuffed animal collection? Is that supposed to be a male or a female trait in your society?

    When I was 8 and I attended school, I wanted to do ballet, but I was told I couldn’t because I was a boy, so my teacher advised my parents to put me in Judo class, which I hated and I quit after 3 months. So, I guess differential treatment to both sex goes across cultures and lands.

    Once you’re born as a boy or a girl, the world (and everybody in it) will expect you to behave accordingly and they will treat you differently depending on your gender.

    Thanks to your post and other like-minded people we will change that, so any little boy or girl will be able to discover his/her own potential and will actually develop it without feeling ashamed or scared.

    :o)

  • Sick of hearing it!

    In my workplace, men only want to hear my opinion if it jives with theirs. For instance, today I went to get a cup of coffee and it obviously had coffee cleaner in it (little flakes of silica). As my cup was the last in the pot I went to HR to tell them about potential poisoning, because it seemed possible that someone left cleaner in the pot and made coffee before cleaning it out. The lady in HR agreed and we cleaned out the pot and made 2 more pots, each had less and less floaters (as we were calling them), but they still had some. So she had the maintenance manager call in the coffee/cleaner company and ask then if there was any serious danger and to see if the machine needed a work over. He came in and said it was the water not the cleaner. So I told him that the flakes looked exactly like the ones in the cleaner so it was my logical deduction that this was where it came from. He said he looked at the water (in a coffee carafe) and that they were there too so it was obviously in the water. I told him that maybe they were in the coffee carafe, and he said “no way” again. I went and got my Brita and put water in it (with no filtering)… No floaters. He was not happy, but still stood by his guns that it was in the water. I will never drink work coffee again.

  • Kielen

    I find it a wonder that I’ve managed to keep my geeky side of me alive throughout 3 tough years of a public middle school in which everybody, even (hell, mostly) my friends, made fun of me when I talked about the video-games and other geeky things that I loved. I was a nerdy tomboy, and teased endlessly for it. People (again, these were the kids I called “friends”) telling me I should change my style and make it more girly instead of just wearing a t-shirt and a jacket. And when I built my own PC for gaming out a kit, no one cared, even though I was very proud.

    Sorry Felicia, I just needed to get that off my chest, and your blog seemed like a good place to rant. :) Let’s hope High School is better (ha.)

  • Katie

    I am part of a group called Society of Women Engineers. We encourage all females to give science a chance. From working with the Girl Scouts to Networking in a professional arena, they provide support for women to be in science fields. I didn’t have anyone really pushing me towards science but here I am a living, breathing nerd princess.
    Another great thing that has come out of the SWE/ Girl Scout partnership is showing girls that you don’t have to give up all the little girl dreams of a family and saving the world. You can do that and be an engineer or scientist.

  • Katie

    If it helps I am greatly impressed that you built your own PC as that is not where my nerd talents live.
    I have no suggestions for high school. I was a nerd and not “girly” enough. But I still made friends and we had a great time. It may not help, as it is still a ways away, but college was a life saver. No one here has ever told me I wasn’t girly enough or anything like that. I also got to start playing with bigger toys…

  • http://the-jerks.com Angela

    I have always found gender stero types interesting, but mostly as I have watched other people. When I was growing up, I never even considered not doing the things I enjoyed because it was “geeky” or forcing myself to do something I didn’t want because it was cool. Nor did I ever feel peer pressure to be “pretty.” I had Barbies up the Who-ha, but my dog chewed on them all so none of them were that pretty either. :) But I did see other people take it to heart. I always thought it was sad that they didn’t just want to be themselves, but at the time I was a bite oblivious to what peer pressure meant. I was (am) perfectly happy being myself, which means I am currently wearing a Star Trek shirt, Batman shoes, and a shawl I knit. It is interesting to note, however, that when I was growing up, we only had three TV channels, so I spent most of my time reading and didn’t receive the “peer pressure” in commercials. Also, I had (have) a younger brother and we shared all our toys. He would play Barbies with me (so much that we got him a Ken doll) and I played Legos and GI Joes with him. We would play with his tonka trucks and my My Little Ponies at the same time. I guess what I am trying to say is that I think my parents did a great job not letting that petty gender stereo-typing curtail our personal growth.

    As I have gotten older however, I have definately noticed it more when other people try to peg me in my social hole. Men not wanting to listen to my opinion/advice even though they will come to the same conclusion about 30 minutes later. And women wanting me to be, apparently, gossipier and bitchier. But to these people, I metaphorically nod and pat them on the head. This usually means we are not friends for long, but if that is the way they like to do things, it is probably best that we not remain friends. As it is, I am in a wonderful relationship with a guy who does not (often) carry the gender stereo types. While he was unemployed, he was happily my little “house wife” and now I have forgotten how to cook!

    Also, I am currently a tech writer for a software company. Seems that the tech writer part of the job is female dominated (my group is 1 guy, 3 girls), but I get my hands in on the software side, which is definately male dominated. (I can’t think of a female Developer off the top of my head.) And on the flip side of all that, our IT deparment is 3 women and 1 guy! Never really thought about that. Funny. :)

  • abby_wan_kenobi

    A program that helped me out when I was a young future engineer was WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering). I’m not sure if there is a national governing body of if it is entirely based out of colleges, but they do a lot of outreach to girls K-12 to expose them to women in science and technology fields and do camps and things. When I was in college they brought high schoolers on campus for a weekend and they stayed in dorms with girls majoring in science and engineering.

    At the college level they did a lot to connect students with women in industry – networking, and they had a strong focus on getting women into graduate programs where the gender disparity is greater.

    As I recall they also offer some scholarships and had a mentoring program on campus that put scared young freshman in touch with successful upperclassman.

  • Kellen

    Thank you Felicia for the Blog and the links to the other articles. I’m a 48 year old woman, who’s been working in the tech sector for half my life. I’m not a math guru, or I would’ve gone into genetics or programming. I still was always the odd one out for my ‘wanting to know how things work’.

    While I have never had the gift of a child, I have nieces and nephews that I have tried to be a good example too and played the auntie mame role, and tried to show them the world was larger than just the stereotypes they were given.

  • Tora

    I read this and a whole bunch of comments… Oh my, 74 comments… mine will certainly get lost in the flood.

    I’m a girl who’s into tech and generally enjoy a lot of male-dominated pursuits (computers, video games, tabletop roleplaying… The list goes on). So this kind of thing interests me for personal reasons.

    We say girls are hurt by the idea that they should be perfectly girly, and I don’t disagree. But when you hear that, one assumes that a girl is going to be peer-pressured into conforming to this standard of female behavior. This isn’t always so.

    Smart, strong and independent were so ingrained in me that by the time I was a preteen, I’d gotten the idea that you could either be a ‘normal’ girl, be a dope and like pink and ruffles, or you could be a guy. Suffice it to say I was very boyish right up until after high school.

    I mean, I couldn’t bear to leave all the stuff I /really/ loved behind, like computers, video games and d&d. But cute stuff? pretty skirts and nice hair? I could give that up. It didn’t occur to me until I was (sort of) a grown up that these two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I can have a sense of style and still play video games. I can wear skirts while I’m fixing computers.

    Now I’m going to school for networking, and my classes are about 97% males, and my teachers are all men. Have I felt a little awkward at times? A little, maybe, but less often than not. Pretty much every teacher I’ve talked to about it has said they like seeing a girl in the classes, and that the few female students they’ve had have been excellent. I was also told that a lot of women who graduate in my field go very quickly to management positions — I assume because women, even nerdy women, tend to have better interpersonal skills than their nerdy male counterparts.

    I don’t even know how to end this comment. The sheer amount of comments on this blog makes me think there are a ton more techie women out there than they think there are — which would make this all a non issue, wouldn’t it?

  • http://blog.novacut.com/ tara oldfield

    I agree with many of the comments made about gender bias in the classroom; I have seen girls ignored in math and science classes with my own eyes, and I agree that one teacher’s cold-shoulder behavior has the power to make a girl think twice about pursuing her interest in the math and sciences. Unfortunately, gender bias is an inevitability in hierarchical (teacher’s in charge), eat-and-regurgitate-information classroom settings.

    As a kid, I found it a lot easier to transcend gender when I was out from under the microscope that is the structured, thirty-kids-facing-front classroom – when I could freely explore a question that I had about natural science out in the desert behind my childhood home. So this experience has led me to believe that exploratory learning environments, spaces in which kids can pursue their own questions in a hands-on way, are where it’s at in terms of girls getting a real chance to get to know what they love about the math and sciences.

    I understand that project-based learning is tough to manage; I understand that it requires small class sizes, but isn’t the money and time that it takes to support smaller schools and after-school programs focused on fostering a kid’s passion worth it? This is question communities and individuals have to continually ask and respond to with meaningful action.

  • Julie

    While I thought the post was interesting it misses one big point. When I was in a CS program in the late 70′s, there were a lot of women. My graduation year women made up 35% of the CS grads. Today a high percentage of those women are no longer in tech. You need to figure out why women who actually get to a career in tech don’t stick with it. Women in tech bale out at a much higher rate than women in medicine and biology. Why is that?

  • http://fashrate.com Chris W

    Great blog post, I wanted to be a hacker after seeing war games, though never had the guts to subscribe to 2600, always bought it with cash …

    “I guess the REAL work needs to be working with children early on, having the right mentors in their life so they are raised less with perceptions of HOW they should be as a girl, and instead WHAT they love as a human being.”

    Your advice definitely applies to guys as well. If my parents had pushed me into sports/hunting or other “manly” endeavors, my true passions for music and comp sci may have not developed to their full potential. I have to give a shout out to mom and dad for having my back in HS!

  • DJ

    Warning : Long winded post coming….I’ve been waiting all day to respond to this but couldn’t because I was at work – mechanical (female) engineer here. I went to large public schools, so I don’t think that necessarily hindered me in any way from any individual attention. I was always interested in how things work, math and science were easy for me, and while I liked reading, I couldn’t imagine what an English major could do (ironically, that’s the field my sister is in, she now teaches college). I couldn’t picture myself being a math or physics teacher, so engineering was a natural fit for me. The worst part of my public school education was when I was accused of getting into my prestigious engineering college (over, ironically, one of my ex-boyfriends) only because I was a female – which didn’t even take into account my better grades, outside school activities and anything else that would have made me a better candidate than he was even if I were a male! It still makes me angry even though it’s years later.

    I did notice at my engineering college that mechanical engineering didn’t attract a lot of women – even if they were engineers, they were electrical or especially chemical. Or computer science majors. I’m not sure why. During my undergrad years, I think we had maybe 10-20% females in my major, which meant maybe 15 females and 85 males. Grad school I think I was 1 of 3 female engineers in a class of 50. At least everyone knew our names!

    I do know that it took me some extra work to catch up some of the concepts that I hadn’t been exposed to growing up – but I’m not sure that some of the males knew all the different parts of the engine. I think people (maybe females especially) are turned off by the engineering field because they think you’re just making lists of equations every day, but you actually work on some neat projects – who else can point to a car on the road and say they helped make it or ensuring toys are safe or fixing the elevators in the Eiffel Tower? It’s fun (most of the time), but I don’t think that people do a good job at really explaining what engineers do – kids can picture what doctors and lawyers do from watching shows on TV, but engineering doesn’t really have a voice, except for the Big Bang Theory, and they make fun of the only engineer in the group!
    Some of my female friends at work always joke that we’re not real girls because we’re engineers, but I think that we’re real girls, we just need to show younger females that we’re just the same as they are if that’s what they’re interested in doing. It doesn’t help that some of us have a supervisor who refuses to sign off on Society of Women Engineering Career Fair Trips because he thinks it’s not fair to have something that excludes males (which it doesn’t – males are welcome to go to the conferences or join the society) – he needs to look around our office and realize that it’s not exactly normal to have mostly males working there either! It’s very frustrating, so we kind of have to work under the radar to get things working on our end.

    Thanks for the links, Felicia and others, I’m going to try to get involved to get the word out on engineering and how interesting it can be. Not having female engineer role models didn’t stop me from becoming an engineer, but I can see that probably both male and females might need encouragement to go into a field that seems so abstract.

  • Colleen

    I grew up in a house with two other sisters where we were encouraged to try everything. Barbies, dress up and cooking sets? Check. Tools, computers, and lego? Check. At 8, I tagged along to the computer lab while my dad worked on his Masters project, at 12 I built a TV with him. My Algebra teacher looked at my test scores and asked me if I ever thought about being an engineer … I wondered why he thougt I would want to drive a train, but I eventually figured what he meant and graduated with a BSEE. I have worked in tech for 20 years.

    I was the product of mostly public schools. I was lucky to have strong male role models at home and at school who expected me to follow my interests and demand I used my brain. I don’t think public, private or home school is the answer or the problem … I think the key is to find a) the right fit for each kid and b) good role models with high expectations. Felicia, I think you and I were each lucky enough to have both. I hope I am providing the same for my girls. My ‘tween goes to a public school on the other side of town where she can take classes that interest and excite her, and where it’s cool to be quirky and different. A total pain to not have her at the local middle school, but also totally worth it.

    Felicia, you rock. Keep this conversation going!

  • http://www.youtube.com/clenbullard len

    Exactly Julie. When I started at NASA in 1980, there were women in the field from the Apollo program but not many. We were getting new ones at the time. Of course tech writing picked up a fair share but we had more female engineers, particularly programmers. When I moved on to Intergraph, the number was quite a bit higher. Observations make of them what you will:

    1. Tech day to day isn’t glamorous. Programming in particular can be quite boring.

    2. At that time, a time of a long economic downturn, tech was considered a fast way to big money. A lot of folks dropped out when they figured out the money wasn’t as easily made.

    3. They get married. Most married engineers. They moved on to being soccer moms. In other words, unlike the women in the 70s, tech wasn’t their passion. It was a career. The 80s were a bit sick in the emphasis on status by money, marriage, the house, the car. It was the era of gordon gecko and in my opinion, it sucked. I worked my job but kept my band work up to have a place to put my heart. I made less money but more records and I still have the music. The money doesn’t last. My grandkids grandkids get those copyrights. Will they be worth something? It really doesn’t matter. The passion for doing it was way more important.

    I suspect that is why math prodigy Felicia is an actress and not an engineer; she follows her passions. And that’s the right thing to do, IMNSHO.

    4. Many did stay. They moved into project management, etc. Keep in mind, unless one becomes a hot designer, it’s a pedestrian career. Hot designers are passionate about it. Men are very competitive about chops and this is where the stereotypes out: women aren’t as competitive in terms of chop for chop knowledge. There are exceptions. A lot of the exceptions I worked with were lesbians. I don’t know why. One I know well worked her way up from being a tech editor to Vice President of the division. She is a tough competitor. This is important in the pink vs blue dynamic: if women are raised to emphasize ‘nurturing’ it doesn’t mean they can’t compete, but they likely won’t do it with the same focus. And IT MATTERS. It’s true of men too. Here I think we are seeing cultural bias but on the other hand, how many articles and books have all of it read that emphasize women’s natural nurturing bias and calling that a business advantage. It can be once they make it, but it might not be when trying to win the race. YMMV.

    Simply put, tech can be very very dull. Anyone without a passion should move on or accept being a weekend warrior. In my opinion, and only that, women are much less tolerant of a passionless career or life for that matter. The downside of the way our culture raises boys to be men is to make them very tolerant of boring gigs and passionless lives. Sad that.

  • Mom of Two Girls

    How many of you have daughters? I am a light gamer, a total geek and married to a total science geek and yet, inexplicably both of our young daughters are drawn to things that we both have aversions to, including exclusively the dreaded pink aisle. What I and my similarly minded mom friends have discovered is that you can keep gender neutral until about age 4 (and in one friend’s case age 2) and then your kids take over and they want what they want. I wonder how it is in other cultures, but I know in our house the “girly” won out. On the flip side of that we do have quite a few pink Legos and a little girl who wanted an Okami party for her 5th birthday. They don’t sell that party kit at Hallmark.

    I ultimately hope that my children will find balance in their lives and that they will be happy no matter what color their interests are.

  • http://melificentmes.blogspot.com melificent

    I wrote a response to the posted article after you tweeted it. After reading yours, I do remember how much I LOVED Legos and clay down to this day. However, many people are foresaking the “pink” section and I disagree with that. What is wrong with being “girly” and “nerdy”?

    Your experience is unique because of the funds of knowledge that were available to you were an encouragement in the sciences. It is quite cool really. You had your family. I can say the same but in a different way. My father was an electrician and the women in his family are independent and are in professions like teaching math, medicine and pharmacy. My mother always encouraged us to be independent of men. My grandmother and grandfather own a farm in Puerto Rico where science is a must. However, many girls do not have this type of access simply because they do not have these reservoir of knowledge or beliefs simply because they may be the first ones to go to college. But how about talking about what they do have?

    It seems that many women find things like cooking to be something inferior and but if you have the knowledge in things like cooking, cosmetics, cleaning etcetera it is Science in itself. They provide for a rich learning experience in Science and Technology. There is too much of a tendency of looking at these funds of knowledge from a deficit perspective. Why not look at what they too can bring to the table in getting girls into technology and science? Who cares if the legos are pink? If anything, the child may want it more because it is. I know I get excited when I walk into home depot and find tool sets in pink. Women in my congregation even bedazzle their hard hats. Shoot, I know one lady who put Hello Kitty on the back of her construction boots. I even want to put Hello Kitty on my construction hat.

    It is not as simple as pink and blue. It is not as simple as shifting attitudes in society. It is also about thinking about how Science and Technology are taught in the school. If a teacher can apply the everyday workings of a girls life into the curriculum in a way that it is meaningful and relevant, she is going to become interested in it.

  • http://melificentmes.blogspot.com melificent

    forgot to post the link to my response to the article, sorry for the mess. :p http://melificentmes.blogspot.com/2010/09/it-is-not-barbies-or-pink-clothes.html

  • http://melificentmes.blogspot.com melificent

    I was just talking about that below. I love all that is girly yet I was and still am considered a tomboy that looks like a girl. Go figure.

  • http://melificentmes.blogspot.com melificent

    I was just talking about that below. I love all that is girly yet I was and still am considered a tomboy that looks like a girl. Go figure.

  • asdfa

    I guess we need to encourage more little boys to become fashion designers, because there just aren’t enough men represented in the field. We should also encourage them to play with Barbie and Bratz dolls more to encourage and instill their interest in fashion. Passion for Fashion!

  • Ibaraki

    Barthes wrote a very engaging essay on toys in his book ‘Mythologies’.

    ‘All the toys one commonly sees are essentially a microcosm of the adult world.’ Also, a girl’s doll is meant to ‘condition her to her future role as mother.’

    Brief reflection on how it relates to gaming:

    http://www.pointlessart.com/education/barthes.html

  • Miss Tree

    Carlos,

    You can counter some of the family influence.

    YOU go out and buy Legos for that kid when she’s an appropriate age.

    YOU buy her the experiments in electricity kit.

    And let your boy have a play kitchen if he wants it. I know a boy who got a kitchen play set as a kid. He’s a teen now and a fantastic cook.

    Break those stereo types.

  • http://bborders.blogspot.com/ Katie B

    You already have almost 90 comments, but I had to throw in my $.02. I’m so glad you linked those articles and wrote this post! My college thesis was on how gendered toys and play can have a significant affect on how kids (and the adults they become) view gender roles. It starts REALLY EARLY. On toy websites the links “toys for girls” and “toys for boys” usually start when the kids are 1-2. It’s rather ridiculous. And it goes both ways. Boys can be disadvantaged by this, too, because they’re not encouraged to nurture and connect with their emotions in the same way as girls.

    The encouraging thing I found in research (and this was about 8 years ago), though, is that parents are less stereotypical in their toy choices for children than non-parents. So parents are more likely to give their kids toys based on the kids’ preferences rather than their sex.

    Basically what it boils down to for me, and you indicated this in your post as well, is that we should allow people to make choices based on their natural interests and preferences, not on what’s between their legs.

  • Mark O

    Hi,

    First time I’ve commented on this blog so I want to say to Felicia: Great Job! Your articles are beautifully coherent and well-written.

    I’m a guy, and I work in the technology/computer industry; whilst I appreciate that there is a serious imbalance in the number of women in our workforce I find the push for gender parity frustrating and mildly insulting.

    I’m entirely for a competent woman being hired for a job if she’s as good or better then the men applying for the same job, what bothers be is the feeling in the industry that “we need to hire more women”. Quite frankly there aren’t enough women out there to hire – my evidence is anecdotal, but in my graduating year of computer science I think there were maybe 10 girls out of 200 graduates and yet computer companies are aggressively hiring towards gender parity. Statistically that means there’s a reasonable chance of a skilled man being passed over because of his gender and I believe that positive discrimination is still discrimination.

    What interests me more is the call to arms over toys for little girls, most feminists seem to be of the opinion that little girls are being “forced” into choosing the pink toys and the “pretty” barbie doll, but are there any scientific studies to back up this assumption?

    Whilst I’m sure that most toy companies are very jaded, I would imagine that package up barbie dolls for girls and wrap everything in pink because that is what sells, that is what most little girls gravitate towards. Are people suggesting that little girls be forced into playing with chemistry sets, even if that isn’t what interests them?

    I agree that little girls should be encouraged to play with the home chemistry set and lego and the bumper book of sudoku – but only if that’s what interests them, and in the same light I think that little boys should be encouraged to play with the cabbage patch dolls and ez bake ovens if that’s what interests them because it seems to me that noone ever gets up in arms about the female dominated industries. Why is noone calling for more men in HR?

    Equal is Equal… I think that pushing anyone to do anything they don’t want is negative action, and if that means that more men then women graduate into the sciences is that really the end of the world, as long as the women who ARE interested in science aren’t made to feel out of place along the way?

  • http://highlatencylife.com/ Rivs

    A great post, theres been so much talk around the blogosphere about more diversity in video gaming. It’s great to get your perspective on this.

  • Cath

    It’s a really interesting subject. But here’s my question: why do we want women to be 50% of the science/teck/geek workforce?

    I’ll begin by saying that I’m a girl working in 3D visual effects. At my company, we’re now about 5 girls for 25 guys. So I’m not a girly-girl who thinks that girls should be in the kitchen. I had a very regular education in public school (High school with a fine arts concentration, CEGEP (I’m in quebec, so the education system is different) in fine arts, then in 2D animation, than private school in 3D). I’ve never felt any gender-related pressure. Not from my parents, not from school. I ended up being a mild tom boy, casual gamer, a bit of a geek, but also a girl, with skirts and sometimes make-up.

    However, I do believe that women (very generally speaking here, we’re NOT all the same!) do not want the same things than men. we’re more nurturing and less focused on our careers. Which is not a bad thing at all. We’re just different. I do think this is why nurses are in big majority women, and sysadmins men.

    With that said, I’m all for boys and girls in non-traditional careers, but I think that the important point here is that we should encourage the kids to pursue what they want to do instead on encourage girls to go in science/tech. I don’t get why we should be equally represented in everything if it’s not what we want. Is it not as bad to pressure girls to like science and math than to pressure them to like barbies and pink? As long as we provide them with all of the options, I think we should let kids naturally decide what they like, and encourage them in their choices. Whatever they may be. If we end up 50-50, great! If not then no big deal!

    Also, as someone else pointed out earlier, it’s worse for the boys I think. But yet, we mostly hear about girls in tech/science. But rarely of boys in nursing or primary school teaching.

    Anyway, it’s my 2 cents! Thanks for bringing up that great subject! :)

  • Cath

    I 100% agree with you. You said in a far better way what I said in my post (2 posts down).
    :)

  • Cath

    Sorry.. previous post was a reply to Mark O. But it didn’t work! :)

    • Laura

      Thank you, Felicia, for starting a great discussion and posting two very interesting articles.

      I am a Chemical Engineering Student at a reasonably prestigious university and gender lines aren’t drawn as clearly as one might think. There are LOTS of women in our engineering school – but the gender divide varies drastically between departments: Biomedical, Chemical and Industrial Operations Engineering are the “girl majors” with about a 1 to 1 male to female ratio. Mechanical Engineering has fewer girls and Computer Science is almost all guys. Outside of the engineering school, girls dominate scientific fields, especially biology.

      The articles Felicia posted focus specifically on the discrepancy in Computer Tech, and I think the second article (Too Few Women in Tech) has the real answer: there just aren’t any role models. I was lucky as a kid- went to school with Professor’s kids in a college town and had lot of female scientists to look up to. For most kids it’s impossible to find science role models- and it’s not a gender thing. Scientists just don’t have the visibility of celebrities and politicians.

      Certainly “celebrity” female scientists exist: Sally Ride, Jane Goodall, Marie Curie. Grace Murray Hopper was a famous programmer- but how many little girls learn about her in school? And who’s out there now to show girls that computer tech is even worth being interested in?

      If we want young girls to grow up to be scientists, or computer scientists we shouldn’t be wasting time holding their Barbie’s hostage. We should be finding them real role models- If you have a daughter and don’t know any scientists personally, search the news for articles to share with kids about inspiring female scientists. Who do you think is going to win your daughter’s attention- a piece of well endowed plastic, or a real woman who’s intelligent, successful and enthusiastic about science?

  • http://www.youtube.com/clenbullard len

    Quite frankly there aren’t enough women out there to hire – my evidence is anecdotal…

    With some years of interviewing and hiring for a software/systems shop, outside the more exciting markets of games, this is exactly so. Culturally I get better female candidates from India. If there are cultural and educational issues here, that’s a data point. A Hindu friend of mine said: “Only three careers matter in India: law, medicine and engineering.” It may be an overstatement but it suggests the emphasis for success does affect the numbers.

    No one should endure a career for which they have little or no passion. Money won’t enable growth. Only spirit does that. Just sayin’…

  • http://starjewel.org Kimberly

    As someone who just got overly excited that her company finally hired another technical female, I wholeheartedly agree, and you have some great insights. Hope you don’t mind, I’ve reposted this to FB, where some other female geek friends reside.

  • Anne Evers

    Thank you for this. As the mother of two teenage girls, I’ve experienced lots of frustration trying to moderate the influence of gender-stereotyping. Sometimes it seems like the feminist movement never happened. They seem to be turning out all right, even if they’re not going to be scientists or video game designers. One thing I’ve done it point them towards good role models, such as Amy Milan (of Stars) and you: women who have taken charge of their careers and not allowed the “machine” to define who they are or limit their choices. They’re big fans of yours and we’re all looking forward to watching your career develop.

  • http://rpgcalledlife.blogspot.com Eleni

    O’Dell is totally on the mark with gender roles being taught to girls and boys at an early age. I remember seeing this commercial just about two years ago for a Playskool/Fisher-Price kitchen and washer-dryer set, showing this four-year-old girl playing with it and giggling. The voice-over said something like, “Give her the tools to learn and grow into whatever she wants to be.” And I thought, “Right, as long as she wants to be a housewife!” My mom has teaches preschoolers, and both boys and girls like the play-food and kitchen, but even at that age they already sort of know that the toolbox set and the trucks are “supposed to be” for the boys, and the dolls are all “supposed to be” for the girls. I remember being drawn to the pink Lego sets in the toy store, thinking that those were the sets that I should get, even though I never did get any of them and played with my brothers’ Legos instead.

    It’s so entrenched in our culture, though, that it will be hard to break the segregation of toys, especially when the parents buying them have these preconceived notions of what their daughters should like based on 1) marketing and 2) their own childhood. Even if a parent does break down the barriers at home, unless every parent in a school is doing the same thing, as soon as the kids go to school they’ll catch on pretty quickly to what the barriers “should” be (here’s where, as you say, homeschooling has an advantage). It’s tough, but I hope we do overcome this inequality eventually.

  • Nikki

    I’ve never been very math/science savvy due to going to pretty crappy schools (usually in states ranked in the high 40′s for their school systems), but I get where you’re coming from as far as “..and didn’t hang out with other girls, because honestly, I think I would have shifted my interests greatly if I had attended regular school. I never had the peer pressure to concentrate on being gorgeous, or have the latest jeans, or attract the cutest boy in class” and “..I’m pretty militant when it comes to how we encourage little girls (AND WOMEN) to be princesses and wear ruffles and buy name designer bags (Reality TV stars anyone?). I loathe it with all my being, because that is soooo the opposite of me and my upbringing and how I think girls should be treated in order to reach their full potential.”

    I used to be a bit of a tomboy when I was younger. I played with barbies, as well as playing video games and running around outside playing with toy guns with my brother and the boys that lived in the neighborhood. Then one day my dad decided I was no longer allowed to because I needed to “dress and act like a lady”, and he forced me to start wearing pink and stop wearing baggy clothes, stop playing tackle football, etc. In my generation of my family, I’m the only girl, so I was raised around my brother and male cousins. I got really into video games, have been since I was around six or seven when I first started learning to use a computer.

    I’ve noticed over the past few years the number of surprised responses I get when guys find out I play games like World of Warcraft, Halo, Starcraft, etc. When people online find out I’m a girl, I usually get treated differently: sometimes better, and sometimes worse. I’ve found it greatly annoys me that people seem to differentiate me from any other gamer out there. I play them for fun and enjoyment, not to be treated special.

    I’m actually going to school to try and become a concept artist for video games, and I’ve been reading a book that Penny Arcade did illustrations for about all kinds of different gaming careers and how to go about getting them, and there is actually an entire section devoted to Women In Gaming and how they’re treated differently. I thought it was a bit ridiculous.

    Anyways, I seem to have gone on a bit of a rant. I have found you to be a great inspiration, though, Felicia, and I really look up to you. I absolutely LOVE “The Guild”, it’s hilarious, even hoped to maybe one day have a guest role on it or something but that’s probably a bit far fetched haha :D Keep up the awesome work on it, can’t wait to see how the rest of season 4 and any more seasons to come play out!

  • Ellie

    Beautifully written, Felicia!

    I went to an all girls school for 5 years and I think that actually helped me sort myself out a lot more – I was 11 when I joined and I didn’t have to worry about make up or how I looked because it was only my friends there, and I didn’t have to impress guys all the time. I also had a lot of male friends outside of school who saw me as one of the lads, so we played Mario Kart and Halo a lot (side note: I’m terrible at computer games.) I am apparently “not a real girl” according to most of my guy friends now, because I go on their laddish days out, like science fiction, understand most of their nerd jokes (and come up with a few) and have a thing for horror gore movies. Actually, being that way has gotten me further in life, I reckon, than if I sat about painting my nails and whining for some knight in shining armour to save me.

    I dabbled with the idea of mechanical engineering – I’m a bit of a car nerd – but I really didn’t get on too well with my Maths teacher, partly because I could never go to his “surgeries” as I had piano practise. I ended up dropping Maths to concentrate on music, something I’m pretty sure he’s never forgiven me for! Music is pretty much my calling though, and I always had so much encouragement from my parents in whatever I chose to do. Although perhaps my Dad would have preferred if I became a Ferrari mechanic… Still, some of the issue is that girls may not get supported in their career choice because it’s been deemed “masculine” – I know some of my friends were often pressured into applying for medicine or more artsy paths, and I’m grateful that mine didn’t do that.

    (Argh, sorry, long post.)

  • John

    This hits home for me, as well. I have two three-year-old twin girls and I marvel at how divergent their personalities are. So much is determined by genetics and it concerns me that peer pressure will quash some of those inherent traits for more “socially acceptable” ones — such as my mechanically-minded girl will trade her fascination with puzzles and building things for a fascination for make-up and boy bands because that’s what her friends are doing.

    I’m not in a position to offer the luxury of home-schooling (food and shelter taking precedence), so I’m afraid this will be a long battle.

  • Joe

    Wow, there’s been a buttload of comments already, so I guess mine is probably treading old ground, BUT- I’m in complete agreement with this. While I do think that artificial diversification is necessary to a point- and obviously we practice it in many different ways – I think that at some level, we need to accept the fact that interest is not spread equally. To use this specific example, I doubt many people would argue that, on the whole, there is less passion for the sciences among women than among men. And, as you’ve said, to get to the bottom of this we need to turn to a more complex explanation than “the employers just aren’t hiring women”, because I don’t really think that’s true. The fact is that society, almost by virtue of its very foundation, herds men and women into different boxes, blue and pink, engineering and teaching, business and domestic. And that’s unfortunate, because here’s the thing- and this has been said a million times before- the differences *within* the genders are far greater than the differences between an average man and an average woman. It’s counterproductive, doodz.

  • Brandon

    I find it fascinating that those articles and the comments you receive seem to prove a sort of correlation on how a child develops in different environments. After skimming through some of the other posters I found that the people who become tech savvy almost always have parents that are professionals in the tech field. That is disturbing to me because for some time I’ve always been a firm believer that what influence a child is not so much their parents but their environment. So naturally a better school or district would seem to have the positive effect on raising a child (at least in terms of education). But the evidence from your articles as well as the responses from these post would indicate that our current educational system puts more of a limitation on our children’s growth. Seems like by sending our children to school we are actually allowing them to be subjected and become well… normal. anyways thank you for the sharing of knowledge.

    • Jimmy

      Absolutely agree!!! You did a lot better job at conveying the same point as I did in a quarter of the words.

  • carlos

    I did quote your advice to my wife and she scored a touché on me: She reminded of how once i rejected a toy she wanted to buy for my elder son as being too “girly”. Its a true anecdote and i had totally forgotten about it. It seems im also caught in stereotypes, without realizing it.

  • dallas

    I wish my grandpa was a physicist.

  • http://animataz.blogspot.com/ Animata

    Hey Felicia,
    I saw you today!! You were my second celebrity sighting of the day. The first one was the latin fellow who played the mexican drug runner in Weeds season 2 or 3, can’t remember. But you were the highlight! I saw you coming out of the food court at Santa Monica Place. You were with an older gentleman, your dad? Anyway, you’re awesome. Keep up the great work!

  • http://www.reddit.com/r/girlgamers Katherine

    I’m kind of freaked out that my childhood also consisted of me trying to learn math to impress my physicist grandfather (which now fuels my obession for AI). Unfortunately, I wasn’t homeschooled so I learned the evils of preteen/teenage girls by losing my friends because “video games rot the brain,” among other things.

    Oh well :(

    Thanks, Ms. Day.

  • Alexandra

    The other day, before I read your post I shared this link on facebook, I just couldn’t believe the ridiculous toys they had on their marketed towards girls… though I did have the flying fairy things as a kid, they were pretty cool.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/02/worst-toys-for-girls_n_701063.html

  • http://average-reflections.blogspot.com Laurie P.

    I’m a first time reader, and visitor to your site. I honestly don’t know much about you, and this is the only blog entry I’ve read so far, so bear with me.

    Your title “Women in Tech” drew me to your blog. This is a topic I am very passionate about, but in a different sense then you are. I understand the passion about the pink vs. blue debate, but mine goes deeper than that. I am a woman in a technical field, well sort of. I am one of the few women going into teaching Technology Education in schools. I have sat through many, many classes where I am the lone female student and am constantly being “plucked from the crowd” because of my gender. I agree with you that work needs to be done to change this trend, and I am currently writing my Master’s thesis on the cause of demographic trends (that it’s mostly middle class, white males) in Technology Education and the technical fields as well. I think it’s going to take more than an introduction to technology early on, but that wouldn’t hurt. It’s going to take changing a closed-mind society that is still patriarchal in many ways. If you would like, I can share my research with you when I’m finished. Hopefully, I find something substantial to the cause.

    Laurie P.

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    Very nice video and song, mlb2233

  • Dunfalach

    I read through both of the articles you referenced, and they make some interesting points. There is one thing I really wonder about, though. Jolie O’Dell makes a really bold risk in saying that there aren’t enough competent women to achieve gender equality in tech. But one of her female commenters added an interesting phrase about getting little girls (who want to) into technical things.

    And that is my biggest problem with gender equality people. The focus should not be “how do we get more little girls into tech” but “how do we enable little girls who want to get into tech to do so”. And that’s true whether we’re talking gender or race, really. 50/50 quotas operate on the assumption that there are exactly equal numbers of each who have both the same interest and the same competence for the job. Jolie mentions the competence, but she limits the interest side to the assumption that it’s purely because we’re teaching girls to not want to be in those things, so we need to push little girls into those roles, rather than making it that we need to allow the girl access to both the lego aisle and the pretty princess aisle and let her explore what she’s interested in from either or both.

    Removing barriers is important. The best QA person I ever worked with was a woman. My developer’s guild and my IT group both have women members, and competent ones. Where there are women who can’t get in, we need to do something about those situations. But at the same time, we also need to recognize that forcing a woman who wants to be a scientist to be a seamstress is *equally* evil with forcing a woman who wants to be a seamstress to be a scientist. Equal opportunity means the freedom to pick what you want to be and go for it, not being forced into being what someone else thinks you need to be.

  • spence

    Have you seen Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show?
    Check it out @
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xCY2K9kQz4

  • Jimmy

    Sorry if I’m screwing this up. This is my second time posting this and I have never posted on anything on teh interwebz before…. ever….

    I have to say that I somewhat agree with the statement. According to the 2000 US Census, the most recent census I could find, the ratio of men to women at the working ages of 25 to 64 was 0.97:1. So, beings that there are more working aged women than men in the United States, one would guess that there would be more women than men in tech careers. Based on numbers alone, of course. I work in a tech type field and I’d have to say that is definitely not the case. Out of a group of 14, only 2 are female. Due to equal opportunity laws and ethics of my company, the only explanation that would seem to fit for the obviously botched math would be personal interests. I think a vast majority of the women not interested in geek work is due to upbringing, not only by their parents, but also society as it has been formed. On the other hand… I had a roommate, whose sister was home schooled by her parents, whom both belong to Mensa. No lack of scientific knowledge to soak up, nor the presence of societies influences to point her in the way of “Clueless”. Long story short, she is now in her early 30′s and lives in a yurt, in her parents’ back yard. A perfect example of how, in the end, it really depends on one’s personal likes and dislikes. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that society is a huge problem with how women perceive what their interests should or shouldn’t be. The same actually goes for men. I am a “normal” guy, I love women, cars, tattoos, but I also like to experiment in the kitchen and watch an occasional show on DIY. Although, most of the men in professions associated with afore mentioned network are either gay or really “metro”. Haven’t made my own opinion on what “metro” is or was. It’s like emo guys. Are they that self absorbed by what their appearance should be or are they in the closet and lying to themselves? Would probably just make me more comfortable if they just said they were really gay. If they are really just that self absorbed, that is kind of disturbing. ? Save for another blog on another subject on another site… Sorry… Anyway, in our society, sewing and decorating tend to get seen as not manly. I don’t actually care for either hobby, but who am I to even care if another guy does. If only this were a utopia. The fact is more men a into tech stuff than women, thus less women are working in tech fields. Women are definitely taught to like girly things as men are taught to like manly things, hence less tech interested women. Then you have individuals that go against the grain of society. My favorite people… If only there was a way to let all of the women in the world know that a geeky, nerdy, intelligent woman is infinitesimally sexier and more attractive to a hetero man or a gay woman, likewise, than a dingbat with an expensive purse and war paint on her face. Hmmm… The internet may be the communication tool to do the job. A lot of progress has been made in the last century, but a perfect world, where all people can make their own decisions on what they like or dislike with all options available to them, is still a long ways away. The day will come when everyone gets fed up with the B.S. Darwin will handle it…

  • Tahiri

    I agree, and the same applies to boys. I hated that I wasnt allowed to be girly.

  • KevinO

    I was never given the easy-bake oven I craved as a child. But the GI Joes were cool I guess.

  • Reya

    Great post, and definitely great conversation to be found in the comments.

    …But then you create ‘Do you want to date my avatar’. It throws an entirely different view on your perspective of female gamers and females in general.

  • http://catsusch.com CAT

    I’ve been struggling with this for years having risen up to be a Chief Technology Architect of a major Media/Publishing company and still being surrounded by men.

    I was always interested as a kid in “girly” things, (i.e. knitting, fashion) etc. but I loved solving puzzles and enjoyed math. I wasn’t a geek in school so I don’t think that its really the pink/blue thing so much as parents who wanted me to do what I enjoyed. I was only one of a few in my high school that went away to college.

    From the very beginning of my technology life in college, I was 1 of 3 women in a class of 50 graduating with a CS degree. I can blame it on the era, since computers were not easily accessible, (i.e. my first computer was a Commodore 64!) but I have a feeling that hasn’t changed too much.

    After school, I continually got pigeon holed into typically female oriented technology roles, (QA, project management) and I had to leave many companies to get recognized for my ability as a programmer/architect. When I finally build up a reputation as a technology architect, I found that even in a room of architects, I was always one of a few women. This was true regardless of the industry or company was in.
    Now that I’m even more senior, I run architecture reviews and designs with all male crowds. I hope that these men who recognize me as a leader can tell their daughters that they can do anything they want too and that perhaps I’ve made a little bit of influence on these men and how they treat their daughters.

    I’m still constantly struggling now that I’ve been hosting LetsKnit2gether, (a knitting show) because it seems like people can’t see an individual who is in technology having interest in things that are stereotypically women’s things.

    We need to break down all gender stereotypes for children, no matter the age. So it’s OK for a boy to wear pink and knit, and it’s OK for a girl to wear blue and play video games.

  • Carlos A.

    Yes, we need a lot of womans in engineering, are you trying to change of profession? :)

  • Laura

    Felicia, I’m very grateful that you covered this topic, as it is something I am very passionate about. I grew up in a family of engineers, mathematicians, and physicists, and my parents always told me that if I pursued these subjects, then I would always have a stable career (and by having a stable career, I could have the money and means necessary to take care of a family — if you want to look at it from the “females are nurturing” p.o.v.). They still encouraged me in the arts and athletics, but since those fields are more competitive for the best, most secure, and well-paying jobs (to my understanding), they always told me that I could still play my instruments or sports as a hobby and enjoy them just the same.

    One of the best situations in which I encountered female role models in technology was in my high school’s FIRST Robotics team. Created by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and various medical technologies, FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.” Although I was the only girl during my one (senior) year on the team, my dad soon became the lead mentor and like he did for me, encouraged girls to join the team. Every year since I graduated high school, the team has been at least 50% girls, a requirement set by the organization Women in Technology to receive sponsorship. As my dad puts it, “Geeks will naturally migrate to the team; what we need are the other students to make it a well-rounded and dynamic team.” Now girls from cheerleading, band, math team, etc. work together with an equally diverse group of boys in what is now a far more exciting and esteemed team than that of which I was in. Admittedly, he has faced problems with certain types of mothers that believe that girls shouldn’t be interested in robotics, and it’s been hard to convince them otherwise, but he has succeeded in getting their daughters to at least try robotics (because you never know if you’ll dislike it if you don’t try!). Also, FIRST offers more than just robots; gracious professionalism, web design, business modeling, animation, video production, graphic design, and so much more can be done under its umbrella for lots of fun, numerous awards, and sometimes even scholarships (btw, over $12 million dollars in scholarships are offered to FIRST participants every year).

    Nevertheless, I have met so many women engineers and scientists and businesswomen through FIRST that indeed, I am truly inspired and appreciative of what these fields have to offer. I just hope that I can be just as much as a good mentor and role model for future generations as they have been for me.

    Keep up the good work, Felicia!

  • Threu

    amen

  • http://jennascupcakes.blogspot.com Jenna

    Thank you so much for posting this.

    Given the way that both my husband and I are, we expect our children to be somewhat like we were – gawky, intelligent, sensitive, creative, and mellow, quite possibly with a massive overbite. We were both bullied (I was bullied by my *teacher*), and are considering homeschooling the little one(s) when we have him/her/them.

    This post just clinched it for me. I never thought about these benefits! If someone as interesting, creative, and fun as you are was homeschooled and are so positive about it, then that’s the tipping point for me!

    I know you probably have a zillion things to write about, but I think many of us would love to hear more about your homeschool experience.

    Cheers!

  • June

    The problem isn’t that it’s 50/50, it’s that women are not getting jobs in the first place when they have computer science degrees. I know of many women who had to give up their dream of working in the tech field (and actually would jump back in in an instant) because of discriminatory hiring practices.

  • June

    I’ve also known more incompetent male programmers than I have female. The women I knew were better programmers on average than the guys.

  • Sammie

    len stated: : women aren’t as competitive in terms of chop for chop knowledge

    ugh….you are so wrong. A comment like that is disgusting.

  • http://22january2011 Ramij

    Thank you, Felicia, for starting a great discussion and posting two very interesting articles

  • Chris

    I realize how old this is.

    But I just discovered your blog today. I haven’t seen any of The Guild or your other works. Quite frankly, I just saw a picture of you on Facebook and started hunting. Shallow of me, huh?

    I have to say this, though: For this blog post alone, you’re pretty much my hero–and I’m a guy. Thumbs up, Felicia.

  • Amy

    Late as usual… :)

    This is a great topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time and love DJ’s observation that most women aren’t that attracted to Mechanical Engineering (I used to be an Electrical Engineering Major before I decided to transfer and get a Bachelors of Sciences as a Recording Engineer. My parents were not happy.)

    The main reason I wasn’t that attracted to mechanical is honestly because I was worried I would have to do a lot of heavy lifting or be working with a lot of heavy machinery, which was intimidating to me being a girl of small build and weight. Obviously, thats a myth and I’m actually dealing some with both mechanical and electrical engineering (mostly electrical) now that I’m studying recording technology and working in the audio maintenance shop. I haven’t a clue why women prefer electrical or chemical, but it’s just very interesting.

    Jumping to a different topic

    Felicia has a good point. I think all of this goes back to childhood development and one thing my parents did for my development was bribe me to do math. They bought math and science workbooks and I got a quarter for every problem I solved correctly. The money I got was then spent on Barbies, but you know what, it worked. I’ve always scored above average in math and science.

    Children have to be encouraged (bribed) into doing things they don’t want to do (like study). It sounds terrible, but it definitely worked. I love my parents.

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  • Draciron Smith

    As a long time IT worker I have seen this topic bandied about quite
    frequently. There are few if any artificial barriers. Nobody set out to
    exclude women from IT. Quite the opposite. IT professionals in general
    would LOVE to look at somebody besides other geeky dudes over the course
    of the work day. IT is not exactly a bastion of masculinity. There are
    no testosterone frenzies like in sports. It is simple nature rather than
    nurture which causes the IT gender gap. Many horrific things have been
    done to unfortunate programers & IT workers in the name of making
    IT more women friendly. COBOL for example. 4GL languages as another
    example. In the end no matter how you buttered the UI you still had to
    think like a programmer to program. This has nothing to do with how
    people are brought up. Even Locke given neuroscience research done in
    the last 20 years would have to admit that nurture is not everything. We
    are not quite that clean slate he spoke of 300 years ago. Women and men
    use different parts of the brain differently. We are not trained to use
    grey matter vrs white matter, it is something we are genetically
    predisposed to do. In most endeavors there is no natural advantage for
    either gender. In linguistic endeavors women are going to on average
    have an advantage. In IT you have one of those rare areas where one
    gender has a distinct advantage over other the other. People who take
    an atomist approach opposed to a holistic understand are going to be at a
    major disadvantage in IT regardless of their gender. IT is a field for
    self starters who after cocooning emerge as a full fledged geek. You do
    not learn HOW to do something, you learn how something works and infer
    how to do something form that knowledge. Then spend countless hours
    arguing with fellow geeks over what is the BEST method to do something,
    plus experimenting and then after that process through a better
    understanding find an even better way. This process terrifies most
    women’s sensibility. The sheer chaos involved slaps their need for order
    and the constant questing for a better way leaves them befuddled. At
    least most women. There are rare women whom fit right into this world.
    Most women in IT however seek out niches, analysts, DBAs & other
    safe structured environments where they can take what I call the spell
    book approach. That is if they do xyz then result A will pop out, no
    understanding of what is going on beyond that is necessary. A geek
    doesn’t see a log in screen, they see drivers being loaded, system
    checks, what hardware is being operated in what order and often scheme
    on ways to improve that loading. It takes that kind of mind set to
    succeed in IT. Even a good desk monkey has to step out of the wipe and
    load scenario from time to time and produce solutions based on an
    intimate knowledge not of process steps but actually being intimate with
    what makes the damn thing tick. This relates back to the grey matter vs
    white matter approach. Let me phrase it in a MMORPG perspective. For
    example when facing a boss, do you memorize what steps work, or do you
    have an obsessive need to know WHY that works? People who do well in IT
    are going to go OCD over the mechanics of why it works. Not
    understanding will actually bother them. Beating the boss is half the
    fun, beating the boss by discovering through understanding what makes
    the boss tick, that is the real victory. Think of programming or sys
    admin or network security as a never ending series of bosses. If you
    combat them using the spell book approach that would be tedious and
    frustrating. IT is rarely a matter of repeating a process. The reason
    you are hired is to do something nobody else has done before. Otherwise
    they would just use COTs & be done with it. So there is no path
    except the one you trailblaze. For somebody who does not enjoy this, it
    would be sheer torture. The attempts to make IT mundane and predictable
    such as COBOL is like trying to force all painters to paint forgeries
    of the masters and all musicians to do nothing but cover tunes. It robs
    the programmer of the artistic element of the craft. Doing so also puts
    all the chaos into a really tiny stomach churning pill. What happens is
    the spell bookers feel lost and insecure and the programmers feel
    smothered and ineffectual. As such on average women are just not going
    to do as well in IT. No amount of changing how they are raised is going
    to change which parts of their brain are larger and most heavily used.
    Hormone therapy could conceivably achieve this but with some really
    nasty side effects lol. Research still hasn’t really shown if this is
    genetic or based on exposure in utero to specific hormones, which is
    essentially genetic unless there are some serious environmental
    alterations in the normal development of the fetus. In short this all
    happens before the baby has ever opened their eyes or taken a breath. It
    cannot possibly be a byproduct of nurturing. In most areas of life,
    white matter, grey matter, it’ll give you a different perspective but in
    terms of functionally there is no significant difference or advantage.
    Women today have embraced technology even more so than men from an end
    user perspective. Smart phones in particular. That element was indeed a
    factor of nurture, not a deliberate man only thing, primitive UIs made
    computer usage until recently very primitive and required a stronger
    understanding of the mechanics than todays UIs which require very little
    understanding of what’s going on under the covers. This removes any
    barriers to women which existed in terms of application usage. IT work
    itself however is not about the UI. Change the UI all you want, it still
    comes down to having an IT mindset. A UI is nothing but a bridge to the
    task. A calender is a calender whether analog or digital. A good UI
    makes a digital calender easier to use than an analog. A good UI makes a
    programming language easier to use, but if you do not have a
    programmer’s mind you are not going to enjoy it or be good at it no
    matter how good the UI is. A good UI just makes a programmer more
    efficient, it does not make a programmer out of a non-geek.

  • http://thesfscrivener.blogspot.com/ me

    Yep!

    I couldn’t agree with you more. There’s so much culture crap stilting women from expressing themselves in as open a way as men can. I feel like that’s why so many talented and successful women end up cashing in on plastic surgery. Oprah Winfrey, Roseanne Conner, Star Jones, (getting younger) Lindsay Lohan, Hillary Duff (No offense to any of these women)… There’s so much pressure to be beautiful that even when a woman does well for some other aspect of who she is, we find that she still is deeply affected by the influences of her childhood mentioned in your post.

    I’m a dude, so maybe I have no right to be negative, but seriously… gender roles can be kind of screwy and destructive IMHO

  • abby_wan_kenobi

    I’m a woman and an engineer – I had some bad teachers over the years, including my small high school’s calculus and physics teacher. He certainly favored the boys in those classes, maybe because he hated women, maybe because he thought it was more worthwhile since only the boys would end up in careers where they needed those skills. Whatever, I made it through on my own.

    It’s discouraging because just one bad teacher or bad experience can ruin a teen’s confidence and push them off the path that leads to a tech career. And sadly, all the high level math and science teachers in my high school were men. Not ideal role-model-wise.

    Perhaps in a push to get women into tech fields we should look at the resources they are being provided or denied in a basic way. In the classroom.

  • Allison

    I posted on facebook before I read your blog post, but I think we’re on the same page.

    I agreed with almost the entire article – except for the line “Tell her not to worry about flirting or her hair.” I don’t consider being interested in math and boys to be mutually exclusive, and I think teaching girls otherwise is part of the problem. Like you said, you can play with lego AND dolls. I think you and I were both lucky, in that we were never taught otherwise.

    After that, I think it’s about exposure. I’m an engineer, and when I like it (ahem… I’m in a PhD program, it’s tough sometimes!), it’s because it can be really satisfying. Solving a math problem or building something gives me the same feeling now as doing jigsaws did when I was three. I don’t know if everyone likes puzzles, but if people do, I don’t see why they wouldn’t like science and math, at the right level.

  • Noelle

    I’ve always wondered why people would say things like “Why we don’t need more women in tech.” or my personal favorite, “Guys don’t make passes on girls who wear glasses.” But, I guess that its hard for most people to swallow that you can be good at serveral things, like being science-based and geeky AND be girly at the same time. I mean, my Barbies went to space, for goodness’ sake.

  • http://i38.tinypic.com/104l254.jpg Roland Z. Hayes
  • http://iris-impressions.com Iris

    My favourite toys when I was little were Lego and Barbies. Both of which I still have and both of which I will give to my kids (who I don’t have yet). Actually, that makes me think about another issue, maybe it’s difficult to break out of this kind of society imposed ‘pink/purple aisle’ or ‘blue/green aisle’ group, but it strikes me that girls playing with lego is more socially acceptable than boys playing with dolls/Barbies.

  • http://www.lisagrimm.com Lisa

    As far as organizations that help get young girls into technology, there are a few around – the local Philly one is Techgirlz, but I know similar groups exist in other cities. I’m hoping to get to an event, since I think it sounds like a great program.

  • KG

    1stly, great articles (both yours, Felicia, and your linked articles). It definitely struck a chord with me as I have always seen myself as a “girl geek” which tends to just get re-interpreted as “tomboy” growing up. One of my biggest peeves to this day is when someone, especially a fellow girl, looks at me in horror or disdain when I say I love building stuff with Lego and know more about video games than the latest fashion trend. Right now, I’m doing a 1yr crash course in Computer Science and I think it’s safe to say the number of girls in the class can be counted with just my 2 hands. No big surprise there…

    Anyway, I’m not sure if this is something popular in the US, but I there’s a sort of “girls in tech” social/support group around called the Girl Geek Dinners. I got to attend a few Girl Geek Dinners in the city i’m in (Bristol, UK) as a PhD student in my university and department decided to start one up here. What I liked about it was that it got girls in tech and girls interested in tech together for talks by girls in tech ranging from a Computer Science lecturer/researcher to a video game producer over dinner. A side activity that some of the girls did, an off shoot from networking at these Girl Geek Dinner sessions, was volunteer at science and engineering fairs for students as an avenue to get young girls interested in science, technology, engineering and/or maths while they’re at school. Being told by another older girl that it’s perfectly fine to be interested in techie/geeky subjects is anytime more effective/inspiring than being told the same thing by a guy, in my humble opinion.

    I suppose the Girl Geek Dinners aren’t exactly the sort of thing you and Candace meant, but I think it’s a good starting point anyway.

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