I originally wrote this post on August 9, 2014, but unfortunately just got around to editing and publishing it now:
I recently listened to the New Tech City podcast episode “Mindy Kaling, Girly Girls, and the Future of Tech.” To use a phrase given by the dissenting opinion on the episode, it made me cringe.
The episode was about the attempt to get more girls involved in computer programming by “meeting them where they are”–aka by pink-ifying, glitter-ifying, and pony-ifying computer programming. By making it seem **glamorous** to 8-16 year old girls.
Now, I completely agree that we need more women in tech (I wrote my entire gender studies final on the subject last semester), and I’m also all for diversifying the stereotype of what a typical programmer/scientist/mathematician looks like. I hope that soon when someone thinks of one they do not always imagine an old, antisocial, white man with glasses and a pocket protector.
So it’s totally awesome to want to encourage “girly girls” into the sciences. But I guess what my concern is about is this idea of “meeting them where they are”– because they’re not all there. My concern is about losing the middle ground. I think we need to make sure we are not only attracting the girly girls, but also actively encouraging the tomboys and the not-quite-so-girly and the “my favorite color is orange and I like to play softball” girls into the sciences.
Think about the concept of intersectionality, which focuses on an individual’s multiple identities, made famous by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the ’80s. Her emphasis at that time was on the African American WOMEN’s unique set of struggles that cannot be addressed by either the feminist movement or the Civil Rights movement alone. By being part of not one, but two distinct minorities, the complex identity created at the intersection of these two separate identities carries extra weight.
Consider the not-so-girly girl. She likes math. Her favorite subject is chemistry (and no one had to trick her into it!). With this influx of girl-focused programming initiatives, you’re going to lose her.
As referenced on the podcast episode, many boys get involved in computer science because they love video games. She doesn’t. Yet still if you send her an invitation to Google’s “pink lemonade” girl coding gala, she’s not going to be excited about it. The other girls already make fun of her because she doesn’t want a boyfriend, she doesn’t wear makeup, and she likes to ask for the “boy” toy in her McDonald’s Happy Meal. She’s not like them. How is she going to get into coding? She is seeing that if you are a boy, there’s a place for you in the sciences, and if you’re a very feminine girl, there’s a place for you in the sciences. She’s falling through the cracks.
I’m concerned that her intersection of identities–being a girl, but not a girly-girl– is creating extra weight and thus making it more difficult for her to peruse a career in the sciences. Which is ironic because she ought to be easy to encourage– she already likes the subjects.
Bringing more women into the sciences is an excellent and admirable goal. Just make sure there is space left for those of us women who are already standing outside the door, waiting to be welcomed by the still male-dominated STEM world.