Girls and Technology

Libraries are embracing technology programming for kids and teens.

Just in School Library Journal alone, there are articles about programs like ‘Can*TEEN’ Encourages Girls With STEM and Powerful Partnerships, Pi, and Python Behind the Success of Teen Tech Camp and Life With Raspberry Pi.

Technology, coding, all good things. And, with women underrepresented in fields like computer science and technology and math, well, all the better for libraries to be involved.

And then I read about T**stare. I added the stars in case internet filters at schools would screen this out. In a nutshell, a story about sexism in technology. At a recent tech conference, Tech Crunch Disrupt 2013, two young men presented their joke app, T**stare, which, well, is photos of guys starting at t**s. See more at this article at ValleyWag, which also shares how another presentation at this tech conference included someone pretending to masturbate.

In the audience was a nine year old girl, there to present her own project.

Forget being the woman who stands up in front of an audience that just cheered photos of women’s cleavage, imagine being the nine year old girl told you’re only as good as your measurements.

The sad thing is, this isn’t a standalone occurrence. The Atlantic’s Found Poetry: From Years of Tech Conference Sexism has a round up of the rape jokes and jokes about women and their bodies that have happened at these conferences in the past few years: “But the main thing to note is that episodes like this — casual, juvenile objectifications of women in settings where women tend to be outnumbered — are common.”

So I wondered: what if a library or school had said, hey, let’s encourage our kids and bring them to this event?

How do you explain to kids and teens, well, this is what the world is like? Yes, there are articles saying that women in tech deserve better, but there are also ones saying it’s a joke and girls like the nine year old have to learn this is how boys are. (No, really: “one possible lesson would be that some Australian young men are uncultured oafs but then that would be a tautology. Some men of any and every nationality are such. And it’s probably not a bad idea for little Alexandra to know that. Indeed, I’d be rather surprised to find out that any young woman didn’t know this already. And Alexandra is going to find, in a very few and short years, that the males of her peer group are going to be judging her in the typically shallow manner of male teens everywhere. Whether women should be judged by their looks is one question: that they are and will be is another. There’s no more point in complaining about this that there is about Pirsquared. It’s just a fact about this universe that we inhabit.“).

The men making these jokes and acting this way were, of course, once teens and kids themselves.

And I wonder: what are libraries doing about the issue of sexism in technology?

If libraries and schools are encouraging girls to participate in coding and programming, what tools, if any, are they giving them to face up to the “brogramming” attitude they will be encountering?

What is being said to young men so that they stop thinking this is acceptable?

And before you think I’m clever, no, “brogramming” is a thing, where programmers aren’t nerds! But frat boys! Because. See: In Tech, Some Bemoan the Rise of “Brogrammer” Culture.

Edited to add:

As confirmation that sexism, girls and technology is an issue, here is one person’s story: To my daughter’s high school programming teacher. “My daughter emailed to tell me that the boys in her class were harassing her. “They told me to get in the kitchen and make them sandwiches,” she said.

What does it mean, to be the girl, being told that by boys, in a classroom? In school? While the teacher ignores, or doesn’t notice, or doesn’t think it’s a big deal? “My daughter has no interest in taking another programming class, and really, who can blame her. For her entire life, I’d encouraged my daughter to explore computer programming. I told her about the cool projects, the amazing career potential, the grants and programs to help girls and women get started, the wonderful people she’d get to work with, and the demand for diversity in IT. I took her with me to tech conferences and introduced her to some of the brightest, most inspiring and encouraging women and men I’ve ever met. Sadly, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you, sir, created a horrible one for girls in computer programming.”


5 thoughts on “Girls and Technology

  1. You know, all my years as a female math grad student and teaching in a math department — very much in the minority — I never encountered anything at all like that. I may have been clueless, but I think most men know how to behave. My baby sister is now an engineer for Intel, and she has never reported anything but positive experiences.

    I think if some oafs behave badly at a Tech conference, it doesn’t necessarily say anything about Tech in general. Or about groups of men in general. And I sure hope more women will go into STEM fields!

    I think I still have a little chip on my shoulder, wanting to prove women are just as good as men in this area. I recently joined a gaming group, and last week I was playing a game that was new to me. I was unduly happy when the only other woman playing won the game. I still like to see women beat the men! Go women! Go girls! We are every bit as smart! If you run into a few oafs, don’t let it bother you, most men in tech are not like that.


  2. I was a computer science major, math minor and in college I, also, didn’t run into this type of thing, but I can’t speak to work/conferences.

    I think that is part of the reason I continue to be surprised when I hear about this rather than “oh of course, that’s just the way it is.”

    Because I don’t think it is the way it is. Or should be the way it is.


  3. Sadly, I know people this has happened to. One person I knew who was one of the very few women in her graduate computer science program experienced this frequently. When many of the men weren’t saying that she only got in to the program and received her scholarship solely for being female (despite the fact that she had better grades and test scores than they did), they treated her as if she should be sexually available to them up until the point she became engaged. It was disgusting. This happened less than a decade ago, so I imagine things haven’t changed that much yet. I know women this has happened to in gaming communities, at technology conferences, and other such venues. It happens.


  4. Liz, I spent many years working as a programmer/analyst on Wall Street (where the testosterone generally flows pretty freely) and I never encountered much if any sexist attitude or behavior. I’m dismayed to read of the examples you cite – has the atmosphere changed that much in the 10 years I’ve been out of the industry?


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